I have been thinking about getting a menstrual cup for what feels like years. It probably has been years. Several things held be back from getting one: the price, the sizing dilemma and the fear. Also, for a while menstrual cups seemed to have a reputation for being the menstrual method of choice for outlandish hippies making feminist art projects with their uterine linings… and lastly, I had an abundant supply of tampons sitting on my cistern. There was no urgent need to re-evaluate my red menace routine.
However, two periods ago my tampon supply ran out just as the last few ruddy drops slithered past my labia. This almost never happens, I’m usually either stocked up or panic buying a multipack on day 2 and devouring the entire impulse-buy chocolate display while I wait in line. I took it as a sign, and Googled “menstrual cups” for the 800th time.
Step one – choose your cup
The Diva Cup (there’s a pre childbirth size and a bigger size) seemed popular, but it was around £20. Mooncups and Dutchess Cups weren’t much cheaper. Yes, this is reusable thus stopping me having to buy tampons and would soon pay for itself, but dude, £20 seems a lot for small piece of rubber. I know sod all about the manufacture of silicone products but that inner voice that demands that you have strong opinions about things you have no business having opinions on without facts to back them up (you know the one), well that voice tells me that these are so cheaply manufactured that £20 a pop seems like an outrage.
I did the maths. My periods last about 4 days. Day one is the heaviest and the most painful. If I ever go on a murderous rampage or instigate a brutal military takeover of a small European country, it will be on day one. Day two is still heavy, but basically pain free. Maybe a little twinge. This is good because I’m not an impulsive person by nature and military coups tend to take longer than one day to organise, so my day one violent tendencies are kept under control by these practicalities. Day three and four are just showing up for the hell of it.
My point is, I estimate using four tampons per period, and four sanitary pads (one each night). I can buy 20 tampons from Sainsbury’s for £2, and 14 pads for £1.50. One box of tampons will last me five periods, one pack of pads will last three. This even gives me some pad leeway in case the bastard decides to drag on for a fifth day, which happens occasionally. This means one Diva Cup is worth 25 periods worth of pads/tampons to me. That’s more than two years’ worth, especially as my cycles are longer than 28 days.
A lot can happen in two years. My vagina could change size. There could be a large star in the east and I could get pregnant. I could decide I absolutely hate the Diva Cup and never want to use it again, all before my 25 month “it’ll pay for itself” period is up.
Look, I know I seem cheap here, but £20 is right on the prickly spot when it comes to throwing money away. If it was £5 I’d happily try it and eat the cost if I hated it and never wanted to use it again. Whereas £20, well that kind of money will buy you one portion of boneless buttermilk fried chicken from Chicken Society, one impulse buy drugstore lipstick in a snazzy mood-lifting colour, and a bottle of cheap Prosecco. Hell, you might still have enough left over from that to get something sparkly or to dunk something you already own in glitter. This is essential self care, and I don’t like to recklessly throw away my self care budget.
The second part that always made me wary about menstrual cups was the size issue. They all come in two sizes. I haven’t had a child, so figuring out my cup size seems like guess work and not an absolute science… if I waste £20 on the wrong size, it’ll then cost me another £20 to rectify this error. It’s not like I can sell the used one to a friend, that’s a little too intimate for most people’s tastes. This is quickly getting very expensive.
However, I saw on Amazon that some enterprising souls were selling menstrual cups from China for less than £2! There was the Chinatera Lady Menstrual Cup for £1.98 and the Smilucky for £1.38. For a moment I was jubilant – I could try the cup out and if I bought the wrong size it wouldn’t matter. Hell, I could buy Size A and if I found I liked the concept but needed Size B I could buy one of the more expensive deluxe models in Size B without worry. This solved everything.
Except… the little opinionated inner voice still wouldn’t shut up. This time it worried that these were too cheap. What if I was saving too much money and this was super unethical? What if they’d saved money by using some kind of experimental silicone that made my vagina angry? What if the cup was scratchy and uncomfortable, instead of soft and supple like the more expensive ones? Why risk it? The vagina is not the part of the body you want to take unnecessary risks with. The vagina is filled to the brim with bloody revenge tactics.
So I found a middle ground. There are a few cups in the £5-£10 range. There’s the The Mercy Cup, the LEASEN Cup and the Non specific brand name cup to name a few. I went with the Well Done Cup for £6.99, because I like some positive reinforcement after a hard day bleeding.
Step two – choose your size
As mentioned above, this was the biggest mind fuck for me. There are two sizes, the small one for young ladies who haven’t had children, and the slightly bigger one for ladies who have had children. If you’re childfree and over 30 they recommend that you get the bigger one, as your vagina gets bigger with age.
Judging by this, I should go for the bigger size. But, latest statistics from the internal affairs department of knowing your own goddamn body suggest otherwise. Cervical smears are always awkward for me. I’ve been told that it’s long and narrow down there. 30 years old is just a guess at what age your vagina becomes too big for the little cup and everyone’s body is different. It’s also a nice round number that looks good on packaging, which seems a little too convenient for my liking. I just had a feeling that the smaller cup would fit. For £6.99 I was happy to try it out.
Step three – get it in there
The Well Done cup arrived. It looked humongous. I had no idea how this thing was supposed to fit inside me and was thrilled I’d ignored all advice and chosen the smaller size. I stuffed it away and waited patiently for the big red monster to arrive.
Arrive it did. After washing out the cup, I squished it together and folded it in half. I assumed a squatting crab like position. I fed it in. It took a couple of attempts but I didn’t waste a lot of time on it. Basically, once it started going in I let the silicone cup lead the way, as far up as it felt comfortable. I wasn’t really sure how to unfold the cup once it was up there, and I think the first time I inserted the cup it wasn’t properly unfolded for the first hour. Then it kind of put itself in place and created a suction. It didn’t feel as big in my vagina as it did in my hand (things your boyfriend doesn’t want to hear).
Some online advice had recommend cutting off the stalk, but I had no idea how much of the stalk I wanted to cut off, so I just figured I’d go the first day with the annoying stalk. The stalk never annoyed me once.
I did some more Googling and found that a regular tampon soaks up about 5ml of blood, a super tampon holds 10ml. I never use anything more than one super tampon over a eight hour period, so I was confident I could leave the cup in all day as it had a line denoting 15ml about half way around the cup.
Once I got that first tricky hour over and done with the cup was comfortable and sealed everything in. Over the following days my usage became easier – good seal, no leakage, comfortable placement.
Step four – get it out
12 hours after that insertion I decided I needed to get this sucker out. Sucker being the operative word, as it really does create quite a vacuum seal. I wanted to do my first “removal” in my own bathroom, simply because I’d read horror stories of squelchy bloodbaths. Damn you, internet research.
I tell you, I was thankful for every millimetre of the stalk that I never trimmed. The stalk had little nodules sticking out every so often and if it wasn’t for them I’m sure that night would have ended with an embarrassing conversation with my husband and a lot of sobbing while he prised it out of me. Grasping with a finger nail behind those nodules I managed to pull the stalk further and further down. I really went for it with crab position. I knew I had to break the seal, I just didn’t have any idea how to. Shoving a finger up beside the cup sounded like a good idea; in reality it was a very, very bad idea.
It felt like I was in a tussle match with an octopus that was using its little suction cups to cling onto my inards for dear life. All I could think about was tentacle porn. Which is an odd thing to be thinking of when – AARGH OH GOD IT CAME OUT AND IT SPRANG OPEN RIGHT AT MY OPENING OUCHIES.
Yeah. That was surprising and a little bit painful if I’m going to be a princess about this. I’ve since learnt that you just have to pull it down with the stalk until you can touch the base of the cup, then pinch the base a little to break the seal. This works a treat. I still do find it a little surprising when it actually pops out, but I think I can only get better at this with practice.
The most entertaining part is actually the little cup of blood. That first day blood is almost magical. It’s the most vibrant red, with all kinds of streaks and membranes and thicknesses that swirl around in the toilet water when you dump it all in there. I’m not gonna lie, I was enchanted. I couldn’t shut up about it. My husband turned green and threatened to divorce me after a solid half hour of detailed description. Day two I was totally Jackson Pollock dripping blood down the drain. By the time we hit day three it was dull, brown and boring. Not worth another sentence.
I am happy with my purchase and I will continue to use it. As different brands come in slightly different shapes, when it gets to the stage where I need the bigger cup I may do a little more research surrounding that, as I won’t be afraid of the higher price tag at that point.
I do, however, keep using pads at night. For some reason once the cup springs out of me like jack out of the proverbial box the last thing I want to do after washing and cleaning it is to put it back in. By the morning though, I’m fine. Maybe this will change with practise.
Note: I’m using affiliate links in this, because: capitalism. Ergo, if you click a link and buy a cup, I’ll get a couple of pennies and probably store them in the spare room until I have enough pennies to recreate my very own Scrooge McDuck fantasy. It could take a while. More than 25 months, in fact.