Period Cups: What? Why? How?

Young Nigerian women on the internet have been talking about feminine hygiene - specifically, the cost and availability of sanitary products. These discussions revolve around sanitary pads as the product of choice. A few have mentioned tampons, but there have only been whispers about period cups. So I’ve decided to contribute to the information already available by sharing my experience with period cups over the past year. This is going to be a long read, so hold tight.

What.

A period cup, also known as a menstrual cup, is a bell-shaped receptacle which is inserted up into the vagina to collect menstrual fluid.They hold about 25ml — 30ml of fluid. After some time, depending on the intensity of flow, the cup is removed, emptied, washed and re-inserted. This is the main difference between the cup, tampons and pads — while the latter two absorb menstrual fluid and are thrown away after each use, the cup is re-usable.

Period cups are usually made of medical grade silicone, which makes them flexible and safe for use inside the body.

Why.

I would love to say that I was most compelled to use period cups because they’re safer for the environment, but that wouldn’t be honest. Having said that, environmental impact is probably the biggest point for the period cup. Sanitary pads and tampons build up a huge pile of non-biodegradable waste.

Most sanitary pads are made of synthetic material which can take as long as 500 years to decompose. Women generally, will menstruate for about 50 years. If you use 15 pads each period for 50 years, that translates to piles of menstrual waste filling up land on our planet.
Period cups, however, are reusable for up to 5 years (some 10 years). This translates into between 5–10 cups for each woman’s lifetime, reducing waste and saving the environment.

Now back to my main reason, cost. I currently use a Fleur cup, which I got as a gift(of sorts). A little digging on Google showed me that it costs 14.99EUR which is about 5200NGN. Say this lasts the next 10 years, I’ll need to buy 3 more. That’s 15600NGN (at present day value since I haven’t adjusted for inflation).

Let’s compare to the price of pads and tampons. One value pack of Always costs 450NGN and it contains 15 pads. For my flow intensity, I use up about 10 every month. If I keep that up every month for the next 30 years, the cost comes to 10800NGN — nearly 10 times as much as the cup. A pack of tampons which contains 20 tampons costs about 1500NGN. 16 every period for the next 30 years will cost 405000NGN — nearly 30 times as much as a cup. The numbers speak for themselves.

This next reason is really a matter of opinion, but maybe you can take my word for it — comfort. Using pads, I always felt like a baby with diapers walking around with a bulk in my pants; generally feeling clammy and uncomfortable. Now the cup shares this advantage with tampons; you barely feel that it’s there. In addition, when I used pads/tampons, using the bathroom was always a hassle. In cleaning up after yourself, there’s usually a lot of blood in the way. With the cup, all the fluid is collected inside you, so there’s no mess to take care of.

Information is useful, and a period cup gives you some information about your flow namely, how much you’re bleeding. You might be wondering why you need this data, but it might be useful medically (or otherwise). For instance, since using the cup, I noticed that after the day 1, I don’t bleed at night. I know how much I’m bleeding, what’s normal, what’s not and so on.

A weird one

I’m here for all of you, so I’m going to cover this. In searching the internet on female hygiene products and the habits of Nigerian women, I stumbled on some unusual information: some people use(or are afraid of their)period blood (being used) for rituals. Now this sounds hella ridiculous to me, but to each her own. To prevent this, Nigerian women go some length to “safeguard” their menstrual waste:
Burning the evidence (pads).
Rinsing out the blood before burning the evidence.
Wrapping and re-wrapping the evidence before dumping it in the bush.
Wrapping and re-wrapping the evidence before putting it in the trash.
Burying the evidence in the ground.

For my sisters who have this fear, the cup is right for you. You throw your waste in the toilet and nobody can reach it. Nothing safer than that.

Why Not.

It’s beginning to seem like I only have great things to say about period cups, so let me go on and throw in my not-so-great experience.

Let me start this paragraph by saying that I subsist on pain killers during my period. I get (sometimes) debilitating cramps when I bleed, usually more intense on day 1 and day 2. Now, the first day I put in the cup, I felt my cramps get worse. Like double worse. I took out the cup immediately and felt some relief. I think it’s something to do with the pelvic muscle and the cramping mechanism, but I’ll need a doctor to figure it out.

On the 4th period after I started using the cup, I started to leak out of it i.e. the blood was somehow flowing out of me and not into the cup. My first thought was silly— using a cup had caused my vagina to expand. That wasn’t what happened though. In putting the cup in, it didn’t fully open up. So it couldn’t collect anything. After figuring that out, I corrected the problem and “12 hours no check, check! check!”. There’s also the day(s) I put the cup too far up and had to go into mini-labour. Was not fun.

How.

I have to tell you, using a cup for the first time is difficult. My first time, I tried inserting it again and again unsuccessfully, and when I finally got it in, I put it too far up. If you use tampons, this might be easier.

The first step is to relax.

Yes. Have a drink. Put on some calming music. Just relax your mind and your pelvic muscles. If you tense up, your muscles contract, reducing the width of your vaginal canal and you won’t be able to fit the cup in. While you’re relaxing, put a kettle to boil.

You need boiling water to sterilize the cup.

Once your water has boiled, pour it over your cup, cover, and leave for 15 minutes. When the 15 minutes are up, drain out the water and it’s ready to use. Also, wash your hands, since you’ll be using them as well. Now comes the crux of the matter.

Spread your legs.

Get into a comfortable position with your legs apart — squat, lift one leg up on a stool or toilet seat. I prefer to get into a sumo squat.

Fold the cup.

I fold the cup in one of two ways. The first is pretty basic: I fold it in two lengthwise, so it looks like so,

Source: www.fleurcup.com

Second method is to push the top of the cup down on one side, then fold both sides over the middle.

Press down, fold once, and then again. (www.fleurcup.com)

This method produces a smaller product making insertion easier. It is, however, more difficult to achieve. There are a bunch of other methods which I haven’t bothered to try, but you can check them out.

Put it up your vagina.

This is where your relaxation matters now, hope you haven’t dropped it. Hold the cup by the base, keeping its folded shape, and push it up your vaginal canal. If you’re like me, the first time you try, it will open up halfway and pop right out of you. Don’t fret. You just have to try again. You can choose a different fold method and see if that makes a difference. To ensure that you haven’t put it too far up, the stem should be sticking out of you just a bit. You can gauge this by checking if you see the stem poking out between the labia majora. If you feel the stem, congrats! You have successfully inserted the cup.

To remove, wash your hands and get in your position of choice. Next feel for the stem sticking out of you. Now, reach for the base and pull gently. You want to be holding the cup like this.
I usually grip with three fingers, to be extra safe.

Be careful, so you don’t spill the contents. Empty the cup, wash it with a mild soap (or just water if you don’t have any). I try to have a small bottle of water and soap handy. You can now re-insert.

In case of emergency,

You know, like if you still put it up too far; all you need to do is push. Push like you’re taking a dump (just try not to actually dump), and the cup will slide right out. If it doesn’t come out, please go to a clinic. Also, if you notice you’re leaking then either the cup is too small for you or it didn’t open up inside you. Put your (clean) hand up in your vaginal canal and feel for the base of the cup. Now try to slide your index finger around the cup. This allows you feel that it is truly open and latches the cup to the walls of your vagina, creating a seal.

Where

I said earlier that I use a Fleur Cup, and it says on their website that they deliver internationally, so you can get one from them. I’ve heard of the Diva Cup and they have international stockists, unfortunately not in Nigeria so Amazon is your best bet. There’s a whole bunch of other brands, Google is your friend on this one.

FAQs

The cup will not break your hymen.

Regardless, there are 2 sizes (of the Fleurcup): a small size for virgins and women who haven’t had children, and a large size for older women. If you notice you’re leaking out of the small one, you should probably size up.

You can insert the cup before your period starts, however, it’s advisable to re-insert every 12 hours. I have a story about this which I’m a bit embarrassed to tell, so we’ll leave it at that.

You can’t have sex with the cup in.

The cup does not work as a barrier contraceptive, therefore it can’t be used during penetrative sex. Please don’t try – it’s not far up enough in your vaginal canal for that.

On maintenance, you should sterilize your cup after every cycle. I use Milton’s sterilising liquid or tablets for this purpose. Just follow the instructions on the packet. Keep it dry, but not in an airtight container. Don’t be worried if it starts to stain a bit, that’s normal.

Yeah, so that’s it. Feel free to ask me any questions. Thanks for reading!