Periods are not fun. It’s no secret that the cramps and hormonal flare-ups can be insufferable, but when it comes to menstruation products, the options are downright archaic.
I find myself grappling with the reality that women have probably been searching for menstruation solutions since the beginning of time, yet we’re still largely left with sub-par options like expensive pads and tampons laced with chemicals in 2020. On top of that, the amount of waste generated by pads and tampons have a serious ecological impact. According to National Geographic, a person uses anywhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons in their lifetime, which all ends up in landfills. That’s a shocking amount of plastic. Not only do we have to deal with biological aspects of period misery, but we also have to carry the burden of contributing to the decimation of the environment simply by managing this natural function of our body. We have self-driving cars and fridges that tell us when to stock up on eggs, but somehow that innovation is lost when it comes to creating menstrual products that are better for us and the environment.
It would be unfair to generalize the category though–over the last few years, new brands like Rael have sprung up to disrupt the Tampax’s and Playtex’s of the world, promising safer, organic products. Even if they work the same, it’s a step in the right direction to limit our exposure to unsafe ingredients in traditional tampons and pads.
We have self-driving cars and fridges that tell us when to stock up on eggs, but somehow that innovation is lost when it comes to creating menstrual products that are better for us and the environment.
Then I learned about the menstrual cup. It’s a reusable cup made out of silicone that’s inserted like an application-less tampon and is meant to collect up to 12 hours of your flow. It sounded like the answer to all of my woes. A few friends switched to it and had rave reviews. I was fascinated with how cups worked but had so many questions. Does it fit snugly? I have to shove my fingers up how far? Will it leak? How can I take it out without making a mess in a public bathroom?
I had reservations but decided to give it a chance since I was so desperate for another choice. I felt excited about the potential of replacing the thousands of tampons and pads I’d throw away with a more sustainable product that could be reused over and over again, and, as a result, absolve me from my sinful period waste.
After doing my research, I chose to start my menstrual cup journey with the Sensitive Lena Cup. I had trouble deciding on the size, but opted for the smaller one to ensure a snugger fit, which would minimize the chance of leaks. Before using it, I was advised to sterilize it by boiling the cup in water for 10 minutes. It felt pretty strange using the same pot that I cook with, but I figured the more I did it, the more normalized it would be. Or I’d eventually get a small pot just for my menstrual cup sterilization needs.
After the boiling, it was ready to be inserted. This was easier than I thought it would be. There were clear instructions on how to fold the cup for easy insertion, and it popped open inside without me even noticing. Feeling proud of myself, I slapped on a pantyliner and went about my day. I didn’t feel it at all and breathed a huge sigh of relief, wanting to believe that I finally found period nirvana. But little did I know at the time, it was all downhill from there.
Within an hour, I felt that unmistakable leaking sensation. I was at work (this was pre-COVID) and ran to the bathroom. Just as I expected, a blood bath that my flimsy pantyliner couldn’t save me from. My pants were soaked, and I had to quickly switch to an emergency tampon. I also had to reschedule meetings so I could go home and change.
I didn’t feel it at all and breathed a huge sigh of relief, wanting to believe that I finally found period nirvana. But little did I know at the time, it was all downhill from there.
The next obstacle was rinsing the cup in the public sink without anyone noticing. Some would argue that I should have rinsed my used cup, clots and all, with pride instead of caring what colleagues would think. I wasn’t there yet mentally and would probably never get there. So there I stood in the stall, my cup wrapped in toilet paper, waiting for the restroom to empty so I could make a mad dash to the sink and rinse it. When I finally had an open window, I ran out and did my best to clean it before someone else walked in. It’s not the most stressful experience I’ve endured, but rinsing period blood from a menstrual cup in a public bathroom is definitely up there.
I did more research that night and read that the reason my cup leaked was likely due to a lack of suction, meaning there wasn’t a tight seal around my cervix where the cup attached itself. The tip here was to give it a twist a few times to ensure it was attached properly. I gave it another go the next day and I was met with success! No leakage all day! I didn’t have to think about my cup until I took a shower that night.
Another tip my friends gave was to remove it in the shower for easy cleanup. When I reached in to take it out, the cup’s suction was so strong that it didn’t budge. Instead, it pulled my cervix with it, which was a whole new level of discomfort that I never felt before. It was as if I was yanking my entire uterus out. I got out of the shower and turned to the trusty internet for advice and tried it all. Squatting and pulling. Lifting one leg up and pulling. Pinching the cup and turning it counter-clockwise. Bending the cup at a 45-degree angle. Someone even advised pushing as if you’re birthing the cup. Nothing worked, and I started to panic-text my friends. They never had trouble removing it, so the only thing they could share was words of encouragement that everything would be okay, and I wouldn’t be stuck with a silicone cup in my vagina for the rest of my life (dramatic, I know, but I was scared).
After pushing, twisting, poking, and pulling for another agonizing 40 minutes, I finally dislodged the cup. I was extremely frustrated but didn’t want to give up. This was supposed to be my golden ticket to period happiness! After my two failed attempts, I wanted to keep trying. And I did continue trying for the duration of my period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a happy medium with the cup that prevented leakage without it getting stuck to my cervix.
I ended up going back to organic tampons and pads after my menstrual cup experience. There are devout cup users who went through four or five cups from different brands before finding one that worked for them based on their unique cervix shape, but I chose to table that process for now.
After my two failed attempts, I wanted to keep trying. And I did continue trying for the duration of my period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a happy medium with the cup that prevented leakage without it getting stuck to my cervix.
Even though it was discouraging for me to go back to the same old products as before, I haven’t given up the search for something better. Reusable pads and period underwear are next on my list. Hopefully, the industry continues to evolve so that everyone has better period options in the future. In the meantime, I’ll be focused on alleviating the discomfort that usually accompanies my period each month by eating lighter foods and practicing targeted yoga flows.