How Using A Menstrual Cup Improved My Period & Might Improve Yours, Too
by Kate Bader
I started using a menstrual cup this past fall in an effort to be more eco-friendly. But, what I wasn’t prepared for was how much the cup would improve the experience of my monthly bleed. And, honestly, I’ll do anything to increase my comfort while blood comes out of me. No matter how miraculous it is, it takes a toll on my energy.
I hadn’t realized before how stressful it was for me to manage my tampon backstock. Perhaps you’re more organized than I am, but I sometimes came close to not having tampons when I needed them, because I only kept a small box in my tiny NYC apartment. Also, I needed to keep several types of tampons for varying absorbency needs (“super” for the first day, “medium” for the duration,and “light” for the last days). It’s a small thing, but it’s more relaxing not having to worry about being prepared for your period to begin. One cup saves you 11 tampon box purchases a year, on average.
Tampons Can Increase Pelvic Pain
I didn’t know that tampons can actually increase pain, due to their sponge-like nature. But, once I stopped using them, I noticed a clear improvement. They aren’t necessarily responsible for cramps, but they can increase discomfort for some people, especially if you experience a heavy flow and opt for more absorbent or larger tampons. I first experimented by swapping my tampon for a pad, which is said to be more comfortable because there is no obstruction to the blood flow/release of blood. When I opted for the cup, my pain remained lower than it was during my tampon days. Turns out, (for me) it’s true.
It’s more discreet
Ok, hear me out–I am *not* ashamed of bleeding, in fact, over adulthood I’ve embraced menstrual bleeding as the powerful, divinatory occurrence that it is… a literal sign that I might be able to easy-bake-oven a human inside of me! But, similar to any other sort of bathroom waste, blood-soaked cotton is largely unpleasant to humans. There is a tendency in western culture to want to hide some basic parts of being human, like defecation and body hair, and blood is no different. When I started getting my period, my mom taught me to always wrap my period products in toilet paper before disposing of them, because that was the “polite” thing to do. And, I suppose that makes sense. Nobody is longing to see a blood-soaked tampon in their waste bin. But, at the same time, it almost encourages this feeling of shame to carefully hide these signs of health, fertility, and life. The cup is a relief in this regard… I wish I had it when I was in middle school, anxiously hiding signs that I had developed, seemingly before most of my peers.
It’s a relief to have less plastic waste
Tampon waste is also stressful if you’re someone that feels concerned about environmental waste. According to Glamour Magazine, plastic tampon applicators can take 500 years to decompose and can end up causing health problems in animals that ingest them. After switching to the cup, I realized the ritual of dumping my plastic in the garbage was weighing on me, and I was relieved to not be doing it anymore.
The menstrual cup feels more comfortable
… eventually. There is a learning curve with menstrual cups… you need to find one that’s a decent fit, and you need to experiment with it. When I first used it, I was afraid of it getting stuck inside of me, so I kept it low, which did NOT feel good! Raising it a bit higher, but still reachable, was perfect. Honestly, sometimes I forget it’s there. If the menstrual cup is not causing you pain, try it for about two days before you decide to move on to another. Try this quiz to find the right cup for you.
It feels more hygienic
I hated having the dreaded tampon string hanging from me. Let’s face it… it was awkward… where does it go? The ugly truth was, you needed to make sure it stayed up by your labia, or in the cove of your vagina, or you risked it grazing your tushy, which is no bueno (and increases risk of a bacteria or yeast infection). Menstrual cups feature a small stem much shorter than a tampon string. (Note: The cup is not removed by pulling the stem. To remove, you collapse the suction of the cup by pressing it with a finger before using the stem to gently remove it. If it’s causing you pain, do not keep pulling, but readjust where the cup is situated.)
Saving money is nice!
Yes, it is an upfront investment to purchase a menstrual cup–initially, it costs significantly more than a box of tampons. I purchased the Saalt cup for $29 at my local zero waste store (it is also available at chains like Target or Madewell & online). It’s a relief knowing that I’ll be able to use this product for up to 10 years.
It’s not that messy
It’s not as messy as you’d think. When emptying the cup in a bathroom with multiple stalls, I bring a water bottle in the stall with me to rinse the cup, any blood on my bits, and my hands. You can pour water on toilet paper to create a wet wipe, or dump the water directly on the object you’re cleaning (over the toilet, so the water is collected). Wet wipes are also an option if this sounds complicated. You also will get pretty good at taking the cup out without the blood tipping at all (tipping is how it might get on your hands or vaginal area).
Menstrual cups don’t cause dryness like tampons do, because their material (silicone) doesn’t pull moisture out of the body like spongy tampons do.
Better for travel
How many times have you had to throw out a tampon because the packaging around it broke in your purse, leaving the tampon unsterile, and therefore unusable? Truthfully, I try to still carry a tampon with me in case someone else needs it (cancer placements vibes). But, it’s a relief knowing that I have something that’s more durable & dependable now. Most cups come with a small bag you can store it in after it’s been sanitized. You should still be careful to avoid keeping it stored near anything sharp, like tweezers or keys. And, be sure to sanitize it at the end of each cycle & store in the clean bag it comes with.
This is sooo millennial of me to say, but having less is really making me happier. And, just one small change, like having one cup and just a few tampons for visitors, saves me space, and that makes me feel calmer.
The Bottom Line
I recommend menstrual cups to anyone looking to make a change in their period experience, but if tampons or pads are more your style, there’s no shame in that! There are even eco-friendlier ways to use them now, like applicator-free tampons and organic cotton or even reusable pads. Your period is your period–it needs to work for you and honor your body.