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Menstrual Cups

The Vegan and Environmental Alternatives to Pads and Tampons

Sketch of my menstrual cup by artist Clare Green

This might seem like a peculiar first article to post as a creative writing student. After all, menstruation isn’t usually the first thing to get people’s imagination going, and it’s regarded as taboo by some. However, the more I think about it, the more I realise they encompass many of my beliefs: they are vegan and environmentally friendly, economical, and hold a lot of menstruation, giving people with periods more time and freedom to do what they want (such as jogging, swimming, or sleeping).

Like most other people I know, I was never introduced to menstrual cups when I first started my period. This was left to various Facebook adverts showcasing the pros of money saving, as well as never running out of pads, as you would always have the cup on hand. However, I was very skeptical. I wasn’t sure if they were safe, or if I would be able to use one: they looked huge, and I was only used to pads.

When I got into veganism and zero-waste lifestyles, the menstrual cup came back to mind. If I could find a way to replace single-use pads, I would dramatically reduce my waste production at least in one area of my life. I researched a lot before I bought one. Although they can be very economical, the initial cost can be expensive, so if I couldn’t figure out how to use it I would end up wasting money. I watched some videos on YouTube, and I recommend Precious Star Pads, as she has videos about all kinds of cups and gives great insight into how to use them.

So anyway, I decided I was going to buy one, and it was probably the first time I was excited about my period coming. It is recommended to disinfect the cup before the first use. There are several methods such as Milton sterilising tablets, but I prefer to simply leave the cup in boiling water for about ten minutes. It is also recommended to do this after each cycle, though I only do so every once in a while, I find soap and water to be sufficient.

Now it comes to actually using the cup. There are several types of folds, but I prefer the punch down method, as shown in my photos. I personally find that it helps the cup open better, but you’ll probably need to test a few to find the one that is best for you. I’ve read that some people like to use lube or coconut oil to help insert it, but I just use water and I’ve had no issues. Again, it is a bit of a learning curve that can take a while to get used to. For this reason, I would recommend a back-up, such as reusable pads until you are fully confident.

The first time it came to using it, it took a long time to insert, so don’t be discouraged. Once it was in, I couldn’t tell I was wearing anything. I went to bed and forgot about it. However, when it came to the morning, and the removal time, I just couldn’t. I was kind of worried, I didn’t want to have to book in with the GP to have it removed. Of course, I had that fear that it might be lost forever, but it’s important to remain calm and remember that this cannot happen. The cervix prevents this. I quit trying for a while, and just went on with my day. I was very pleased to see there were no leaks! Eventually, with enough trying, pushing, and pretending to give birth, it came out, but it spilled all over my floor. It can be a very messy process, especially when you are just starting, so I would recommend getting used to this idea before trying. The tip I found the most useful was the pinch the bottom of the cup once it’s inserted, and to then turn it around inside.

After a few cycles, I became fully confident with my cup, so much so I can now go swimming and not worry about leaking. I can also empty it in public places and just empty it in the toilet before re-inserting it. It has many advantages over disposable pads, firstly the main reason I bought one was the fact it creates much less waste. Secondly, it helps me save money, and I no longer need to worry about having to keep stock of pads on hand. This is very ideal for traveling. Most menstrual cups have a stem, and you can cut this to whatever size you prefer, but I suggest doing so gradually. I only needed to cut a tiny amount for it to feel comfortable. You can use this before your period even starts, as unlike tampons, it does not absorb fluid, so will not cause dryness. This means that vaginal pH and bacteria stay in place. It can hold quite a lot of blood, so much so that at the end of my period it lasts over twelve hours, but at the start, I change more frequently. Some people have also noted less odor, as the fluid isn’t in direct contact with the air.

Some people wonder if you can use a cup if you have an IUD, as did I. Personally, I’ve never had any issue, I’ve had the strings of the coil tested before and many months after I first started using the cup and there has been no effect on the IUD. I’ve asked a gynecologist, and they said there is usually no issue, and to just check the strings every so often.

In Summary:

Pros

  • Reusable, so you can make savings over time
  • Environmentally and vegan-friendly, creates less waste
  • Collects rather than absorbs the fluid. This can help people who suffer from vaginal dryness
  • No (or very minimal) risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare, but potentially fatal bacterial illness
  • Can last up to 12 hours, at the end of the cycle sometimes even more, with no leaks
  • Less odor as not in contact with air

Cons

  • Learning curve: it can be difficult in the first few cycles. I suggest pinching the cup once it’s inserted, and to twirl it around a few times to make sure it’s fully open.
  • If not inserted properly, can cause leakage
  • Initial start-up cost can be expensive

Menstrual Cup

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