It’s pretty common knowledge at this point that periods mostly just suck. They hurt, they stain all your good underwear, they ruin your beach vacations, they keep your boo from going down on you… nothing rains on your parade the way a period does. Not to mention how expensive and bad for the environment it is to not bleed all over yourself.
Let’s do a little math. I hate math, but here we go anyway:
Let’s say that I bought a box of 36 Tampax regular absorbency tampons at Target for $6.99. There are cheaper off-brand options and more expensive organic cotton woven in the Swiss Alps by naked cherubs or whatever, but this brand is one of the more popular options.
An average person will use five or six tampons per day while on their period, and the average period last around five to seven days give or take — mine are stupid and last, like, two weeks, but my period is just especially obnoxious. For the sake of this experiment, we are a person who has a five-day period and uses five tampons every day during that time. That’s 25 tampons for one cycle. Not the worst, and pretty doable… but we have way more than one period every year. Most of us get one every month. So what are those numbers by the end of the year?
You might find yourself speeding through over 300 tampons throughout a single year, each one of those delightful little vampire lollipops heading off to hang out in a landfill with all of their plastic wrappers and plastic applicators, and I guess also the $63 it most likely cost to put them there. Woof.
Some of us unlucky humans find ourselves starting our periods as early as 9 years old, but for most people, you can expect to start sloughing around 13. After many delightful years of Jaws sequels in your pants, you can expect to hit menopause somewhere in your mid-40s to your late 50s. That’s a lot of periods… close to about 500, in fact. So what’s the final number here? If you regularly use tampons throughout your lifetime, you can expect the grand total to be well over $2,000. Additionally, and the part that hurts me the most to hear, is that you could contribute over 12,500 tampons to landfills. And that’s just one single person! Imagine how many people around the world throw away tampons and pads every day. Yowza. If all those numbers confused you, I put together this handy dandy infographic you might find helpful:
I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of money and a lot of trash just to keep ourselves from looking like Carrie on prom night.
So, how can we fix that mess? Luckily, it’s not too hard to solve both of those problems in one swoop: reusables!
Once upon a time, back in, like, the Dark Ages, there was actually no such thing as disposable menstrual care products. The first disposables were made from wood pulp bandages in the 1880s and caught on in the 1920s when Kotex introduced their line of disposable napkins. Otherwise, being “on the rag” was literally exactly that. At first we got some of the good ole fashion organic materials like cotton or wool, but we’ve developed away from that towards synthetic, chemically-treated materials. Granted, it doesn’t feel like waddling around in a giant diaper anymore, but unfortunately, those kinds of materials stick around in landfills for ages, not to mention how the chemicals might affect your dainty lil’ Georgia O’Keeffe.
Lest we go back to knitting our own pads by candlelight, there’s been some awesome innovation on the reusables front. What works for one bearded clam may not work well for another, so some trial and error might be in order, the way it probably was back when you were 13 and trying to figure out WTF to do with a tampon. There are so many different reusable menstrual products available today that it can feel super intimidating to choose one, especially when their upfront cost is higher than a single box of pads or tampons. How do you know you won’t waste even more money on stuff with the sole purpose of mopping up blood? Fear not! Here is your beginner’s quick n’ dirty on reusables…
What is a period cup and how does it work?
A period cup is a flexible silicone “cup” generally shaped like a funnel that fits the shape of your cervix. Rather than absorbing menstrual blood like a tampon does, a cup catches the fluid so that you can dump it out later. One of the biggest hurdles is getting that goofy sucker in there the right way. First, you’ll want to try a few different “folding” techniques like the ones in this video:
Don’t worry, it may take a million tries before you can make it work. Rather than getting frustrated and giving up, stop, take a minute to let yourself relax, and give it a second go. One you get it in, wiggle it around until you feel it pop open. Once it pops, you should be able to move your finger around the cup in a full circle to make sure it isn’t squished behind or in front of your cervix. Your cervix should be able to fit right on top of your cup so that it can do its job and empty directly into it without leaking over.
There are so many kinds! How do I know what cup to buy?
One of the biggest frustrations I had with tampons growing up was that they just didn’t want to fit. I spent many a swim vacation crying over a toilet trying to force a tampon in, finally resorting to just being benched instead of enjoying the beach. Way too many years later, I realized that vaginas are not One Size Fits All. My cervix is much shorter than the “average” person’s, and most tampons are not created for people with shallow cervix. Luckily, the companies that manufacture menstrual cups recognize that there are a variety of differently shaped vaginas out there. Put a Cup in it put together this awesome quiz that will help you find out what sort of cup you need, but here are some of the basic factors:
- How old are you?
- Have you ever had a baby?
- How physically active are you?
- How high is your cervix? You may have a shallow cervix if you can easily touch it with your pointer finger. You may have an average cervix if you can go about knuckle-deep and touch it. You may have a high cervix if you cannot reach it at all
- Do you have a tilted uterus?
- How heavy is your flow?
- Do you experience incontinence (AKA, peeing on accident sometimes)?
Asking yourself these things is important because things like age, physical, activity, incontinence, and if you’ve made some little rug rats or not factor into the firmness of your cup. A younger, physically active person with no kids is more likely to have stronger vaginal muscles and may need a firmer cup than the latter. Knowing the shape and depth of your cervix is important because that will help determine how big of a cup you might need.
A lot of people make the mistake of running over to Wally World and picking up the first Diva Cup they see because it’s generally the only option available in stores. After taking this neat little quiz, you’ll have a better idea of what you need and can poke around on Amazon and other websites that have a bigger selection than you might find in a store. The first cup you buy may not always be the one for you, but just because that one didn’t do the trick for you, it doesn’t mean you should give up on cups entirely. If you want to save a little money and don’t mind the idea of cup sharing while looking for one that works for you, there are lots of great Facebook cup-swapping groups out there. Don’t worry; it’s really easy to sanitize cups, and it’s not as gross as it sounds.
There are so many kinds of menstrual cups available, but to show you what sort of options exist, here are a few to check out!
The Lunette is my personal weapon of choice with my shallow cervix.
The Super Jennie is a soft, large capacity cup great for folks with kids.
High, tilted cervix? No problem! The Saalt cup has your back.
If you’re a little older and have a weaker pelvic floor, the Lilly Cup may be your new best friend.
How do I clean my cup?
OK, so now you have your cup and you figured out how to get it in — great! Now, how do you get it back out and clean it?
First things first: break the seal.
When your cup first popped open, it probably suctioned itself against your cervix, which helps with leaking. Now, you have to break that suction, because it can definitely be a little painful to try and remove it without doing that. If you wear an IUD, you also risk dislodging it and pulling that out with your cup, which wouldn’t be great either. It’s super easy to avoid that, though. All you have to do is give your cup a pinch and a wiggle— it should pop right off. Next, continue pinching and wiggling until you can pull it out. If you have a deeper cervix, you might need to use the stem of the cup to pull it down a little so you can reach it first, but you shouldn’t be pulling on the stem too much, because that won’t help break the suction at all. The stem is only there to help you reach the top of the cup.
After you get your cup out, you can be super gross like me and inspect the contents and see what the daily catch is like, but you can also just bypass that step and dump the goodies into the toilet.
At this point, your cleaning method is up to you. Personally, I find giving it a quick rinse under the sink faucet works fine. To unplug the suction holes, you can fill the cup up with water, place your hand over-top, and then turn it upside down and squeeze so that the water is forced through the little holes. Some people prefer a more thorough clean using unscented soap, a special cup cleaning soap, or sex toy cleaner. However, I think trying to use any sort of cleaning fluid puts your hoo-ha at risk of drying out or messing with your pH balance, so I prefer to stick to plain ole water between insertions. However, when your period is all over, or you are just getting ready to start a new cycle, boiling your cup on the stove for about 30 minutes is a great way to sanitize it, as is giving it a soak in hydrogen peroxide for 20 minutes.
Another thing that sends people into a panic is trying to empty the cup in a public restroom. The good news is that the high capacity of a cup, as well as the low risk of toxic shock syndrome, means you can leave a cup in for up to 12 hours. The only times you will probably need to empty it at all during the day is when you first wake up and before you go to bed, so the likelihood of needing to empty it in public is pretty low anyhow.
But what about traveling with a cup?
Great question. If you are in the midst of a long haul flight or camping trip, there are a few options here:
- Toilet paper. In a stall, remove and empty as usual, then give it a wipe with some toilet paper. Boom. Pop that bad boy back in, and carry on to Europe. You can rinse it when you are back in a regular bathroom.
- Water bottle. Remove and empty as usual, but rinse with a bottle in lieu of a sink. Pop it back in and return to your s’mores.
- Cup wipes. Some people always use cup wipes, but they can be a little pricey, so I would reserve them for traveling when I don’t have access to a sink. These come in little individual packets, so you just open one and wipe out your little friend, then put it back in like normal.
Easy peasy! Just make sure to sanitize with a good boil or hydrogen peroxide as usual when you get home.
Can I have sex with my cup in?
Let the angels sing because, yes! You can totally have sex with a cup in! Feel free to proceed as usual with your sexcapades because your partner most likely will not be able to feel that you have a cup in. Having sex while on your period can be a great thing because it helps alleviate pain from cramps. Of course, the same rules for birth control and condoms apply – you are not immu