Let's Talk Menstrual Cups

Menstrual Cups

This advice is of a general nature: I am not a medical professional. Please contact your doctor for any medical advice you may need, or questions you may have.

An estimated 1.9 billion people (around 26%) of the population were estimated to be of menstruating age in 2017. Most people who menstruate will spend around 65 days per year experiencing their menstrual flow. Menstruation is a completely normal and healthy bodily function, and is indicative of good reproductive health. Around the world, people who menstruate may face stigma and shame, often as as a result of ignorance or misinformation. Another barrier sometimes experienced by those who menstruate can be of a financial nature; accessing pads/tampons or other kinds of menstrual products can be costly. A lack of access to adequate menstrual hygiene products can also pose a risk to one's health; using products made from poor quality materials can increase one's chances of experiencing a bacterial infection, and in some instances this can result in a more serious illness. Menstrual cups are a viable alternative to tampons or pads. Whilst menstrual cups have been around for decades, it is only more recently that they have begun to gain more traction, largely due to their environmentally friendly and cost effective benefits.

What is a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cups are just that - they are cups inserted internally during menstruation. Their job is to collect blood flow; they very similar in function to a tampon, but they are also quite different in that they are generally made out of silicone and they collect, rather than absorb blood. Menstrual cups are reusable: they can be sterilized in boiling water and with proper care can last a few years. The first commercially available menstrual cup was patented in 1937, in the United States. This first cup was made from latex rubber, and was patented only four years following the patenting of the first tampon. In comparison with tampons, menstrual cups are far more environmentally friendly.

According to the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Magazine (O & G Magazine):

The average user of menstrual products will throw away around 125-150kg of tampons, pads, and applicators in their lifetime. That's a lot of waste!

This waste eventually ends up in landfill, or in the ocean, or on beaches

Two BILLION menstrual products are flushed down the toilet a year

Menstrual products are responsible for 75% of all cases of blocked drains

The time required for a tampon or pad to degrade in landfill is CENTURIES longer than the lifespan of the individual who used it

In other words, pads & tampons produce a LOT of waste, which doesn't go away easily or quickly. It takes a LONG time for it to breakdown, meaning that your footprint on earth simply from using these menstrual products is HUGE. But, it isn't our fault we menstruate. We deserve to be comfortable and hygienic during our periods, and that is why menstrual cups are so awesome.

How are they different to tampons?

First: they're a whole lot cheaper. Whilst many of them may cost around $20-$50 upfront, the fact that they can last up to a few years means that they are going to be saving you a ton of money in the long run. On average, a woman may use around 240 tampons per year. This can add up to over $10,000 spent on menstrual products throughout one's lifetime. For many people within Australia and around the world, 'Menstrual Poverty' is a real and pervasive issue. Many people are unable to afford sanitary items, or if they can they are unable to purchase ones  made from high-quality materials, putting them at risk of infection. O&G Magazine claims that a menstrual cup could last you up to ten years (with proper cleaning and care). This means, that if a person is menstruating on average for about 40 years of their life, even some of the most expensive cups (at $50) will only cost about $50 x 4 (if the cup is lasting you around ten years) = $200. At worst, even if they were only lasting you 4/5 years, you would still be spending less than $500. That is dramatically cheaper than $10,000.

Second: the environment. It is important for us all to reduce our impact on Mother Earth - as anthropogenic (human inflicted) damage on earth gets worse and worse as the years go by, it is all of our responsibilities to do what we can. That can truly be something as simple as switching to a menstrual cup; knowing how much money and waste you can save simply by exploring a new menstrual product option gives you an incredible amount of power over your body and your impact.

How do I use them?

Many people may feel intimidated by the way in which menstrual cups are inserted. That's totally understandable; I used to feel the exact same way. Unlike tampons, which tend to be unwrapped and simply pushed on up there, menstrual cups can be slightly trickier and require getting the hang of a certain insertion technique. These techniques utilize 'folds' that allow the cup to both be inserted comfortably, and pop open adequately once inserted. Ensuring that the cup pops open properly is essential for achieving a seal, and thus reducing the likelihood of any leakage. Once inserted, cups can stay inside for up to twelve hours! If your flow is quite heavy, I would recommend checking it after about 5/6 hours, but otherwise you're good to leave it for quite a while! As most menstrual cups are made from silicone (which is a non-porous, anti-bacterial material) they tend to be a lot safer than tampons. See further down this post for safety tips. 

A brand of menstrual cups that we carry here at The Pleasure Chest by Fun Factory provides a detailed guide on two of the folds, as well as even more information on the benefits of the cups. Here is the link: https://thefuncup.com/en/use-fun-cup/

Fun Factory's cups are awesome because they come with a hygienic antimicrobial storage bag, two cups within the set, and the option to purchase an 'explore' kit, which comes with two different sizes. When it comes to sizing, I personally purchased the explore kit, as I was really unsure which size would work best for me. The explore kit has one small (2.1 in, Ø 1.56 in, 0.68 oz / 5,3 cm; Ø 4 cm; 20 ml) and one large cup (2.29 in, Ø 1.7 in, 1.01 oz / 5,8 cm; Ø 4,3 cm; 30 ml), ensuring that you can be confident you will have something that works for you.

According to Fun Factory,

The SIZE A (or small) cup is made with firmer silicone to make it easy to place and adjust. This cup is good for: lighter flow, people  with shorter vaginal canals.

The SIZE B (or large) cup is made from a softer silicone, which holds your heavy flow without any uncomfortable pressure. This cup is good for: heavy flow, people  with longer vaginal canals.

Fun Factory's kits (Fun Cup Kit Size A Fun Cup Kit Size B, and the Explore Kit) retail for $58, or $29 a cup. If this is too expensive, the magical Satisfyer also produces medical grade silicone cups that retail at $21 for a set of two (incredible, right?). Satisfyer cups have a guarantee of 15 years (through the brand) and are soft and comfortable enough for both beginners and connoisseurs alike. Each set comes with 1 x 15ml cup, and 1 x 20ml cup, meaning that you're more than set for both your lighter and heavier days. You can browse Satisfyer's range of cups here

Tips & Tricks

Safety should always be a top priority, for us as retailers and for you as the consumer. It should be made clear that menstrual cups do not protect against TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome). Whilst TSS is rare, it has still been noted in users of menstrual cups and thus you should always take care to thoroughly wash your hands before inserting a cup, whilst also ensuring that you adequately clean the cup in between use. Soaking the cup in boiling water is the best way to clean it: as the cup is made from silicone, the boiling water will not damage it.

When removing the cup, some users have reported difficulties. Whilst there is no need for alarm if you cannot remove the cup, it is important to stay calm and take the necessary steps to ensure a safe retrieval. First, take a deep breath and try to relax. You got this! Second, ensure those hands are clean (soap, please!). Then, get yourself comfortable. Put a foot up on the toilet, or on the bathtub. You can gently open up your labia using your fingers. Using your forefinger and thumb, gently tug on the stem of the cup until you can feel the cups base. Pinch the base of the cup, not the stem and gently move it from side to side whilst simultaneously pulling down. You did it! If, in extreme circumstances you still cannot retrieve the cup, enlist the help of a partner, parent, friend, or sibling. It is highly unlikely that you will not be able to remove the cup, so do not panic! Simply breathe and work on pulling it out slowly. 

Pelvic Prolapse: Okay, this sounds scary. And yep, it is definitely something to be wary of. When attempting to remove a cup, it might be tempting to want to use your pelvic floor muscles to push the cup out. This is where damage to your pelvic organs can occur; pelvic prolapse involves a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic prolapse involves 1 or more of the organs within the pelvis actually moving from their normal location and bulging into the vagina. This is usually NOT life-threatening but it can certainly be painful or discomforting. When it comes to menstrual cups, the issue is; the science is tricky. Whether or not menstrual cups can actually cause this to happen is often disagreed upon between various medical figures. If you are concerned, there are two things i would recommend. First: consult your doctor. I am NOT a medical professional, so i cannot offer medical advice, nor advice tailored specifically to your body. Second: take care when removing the cup. Use your fingers to gently 'break the seal' and pull it out slowly, with care. Treat your body with respect, listen to what it tells you!

To Conclude,

Menstrual cups are definitely a fantastic way to do your part for the environment, whilst simultaneously saving money. They can also be a LOT more comfortable than using tampons; I find that with proper insertion, I completely forget that I have it inside of me. Menstrual cups can be liberating, but they also come with new and different responsibilities. Ensuring that you have clean hands, a clean cup, and the ability to pay attention to your body is essential - and it might not be for everyone! If you are thinking of trying cups, but are hesitant I would recommend getting online, reading some further articles/blogs/forums in order to research more broadly and get a feel for the experiences and opinions of others who have used these products. There are also some fabulous Facebook groups that are specifically made for people to get together and share tips/information/support around cups, which is awesome. Here is a link to one: https://www.facebook.com/groups/menstrualcupsandmore

I hope that this information has been helpful to you! If you ever have further questions, or need further advice please don't hesitate to get into contact! You can message us at info@pleasurechest.com.au, call us on: (02) 9212 6440 or come directly into store. We're always happy to help!

Love, Chloe

 

** Within this blog post, I have chosen to use the phrase "people who menstruate" rather than women who menstruate, as not all people who menstruate are women, and not all women menstruate. We understand that many women experience unique struggles and experiences as a result of their gender, however this does not negate the fact that menstruation is experienced by those who both do and do not identify as women.

Sources:

Budden, A., 2018. Q&a: What is the role of a menstrual cup?. Women's Health, 20(4).
Van Eijk, A.M., Zulaika, G., Lenchner, M., Mason, L., Sivakami, M., Nyothach, E., Unger, H., Laserson, K. and Phillips-Howard, P.A., 2019. Menstrual cup use, leakage, acceptability, safety, and availability: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health, 4(8), pp.e376-e393.

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