The Truth About Menstrual Cups

The Lunette cup!

The Lunette cup!

About a month and a half ago I was in New York for a couple of weeks, and decided to stop by the new Package Free shop in Williamsburg to check it out and see if it lived up to all the buzz it was getting on the internet.

The shop is, in fact, a wonderful place and I took my time browsing all the awesomeness on offer.  I spent a lot of time sheepishly lingering over a table stocked with feminine products, namely reusable cloth pads and silicon Lunette menstrual cups, trying to work up the guts to ask questions about them.  

The Inherent Waste in Feminine Products

For a long time, I’ve felt uneasy about the amount of waste I create every time my period comes around.  Tampons and pads, even the ones made of natural materials, require a lot of natural resources to produce, and stick around in the environment a long time after we throw them away.  Even though I only ever use cotton tampons without an applicator, which up until now was my least wasteful option, I still felt guilty about the waste I created every time I disposed of one. 

I creeped around the feminine products table in Package Free long enough that a very nice salesperson came over to help me.  She immediately disarmed me and gave me a lot of information about my options.  

Taking the Plunge

The cloth menstrual pads seemed pretty straightforward and didn’t frighten me so much, but I had my misgivings about the Lunette cups.  I mean, let’s be real, the idea of putting silicone cup in my vagina and leaving it there didn’t exactly give me warm and fuzzy feelings.  But the salesperson assuaged my fears and gave me some guidance about how to choose a size (there were two options), how to insert it, remove it, and sanitize it.

I decided to give it a try, and though it was not cheap ($39.99/£30.50), I figured over the long haul I would save money, as Lunette cups are made to last 2-3 years, when properly cared for.  I paid for my goodies (which included a set of cloth pads) and walked out of the shop patting myself on the back for all the good I was about to do for the planet. 

This little silicon doodad fits in the palm of your hand. 

This little silicon doodad fits in the palm of your hand. 

The Uncomfortable Truth

I assumed, since so many zero waste bloggers and enthusiasts use them, that the Lunette cup would be easy to use, and that once I figured out how to get it properly inserted, I wouldn’t feel it at all.  I even bragged to my friend Erica of Free Union Grass Farm about how I’d bought one and would be forever free from the guilt of tampon wastage.

Then she asked me if I’d used it yet.  I hadn’t.  

She told me that she had tried one a while ago, but that it made her cramps so horrible that she couldn’t stand it and threw in the towel.  This got me scared.  My period was due in a couple of days and I had planned to abstain from all other menstrual products (apart from my new cloth menstrual pads) for the duration. 

My period arrived a few days early and I had no choice but to jump right in to using the Lunette cup.  I was a little panicked, and the Package Free salesperson’s instructions were escaping me, so I referred to the leaflet that came with the cup.  The directions and illustrations were very clear on paper, but in practice the first time was super awkward.  

It took me a while to figure out in what position the cup is most easily inserted; for me, it was one foot on the floor, one foot on the toilet seat, on hand maneuvering the cup, folding it as the diagram instructed, and the other maneuvering my lady bits.  I wasn’t exactly sure how far in this thing was supposed to go, so I just worked it back and forth a little bit until it felt like it was secured.  Then I washed my hands, got dressed, and headed out of the house for the afternoon.  I had made plans to go to a museum with my dad, and we had about a 20 minute drive to get there.  

The cup folds in on itself for easy insertion. 

The cup folds in on itself for easy insertion. 

As soon as we walked in the museum doors, I bolted for the ladies room, went into a stall, and ripped the thing out as quickly as I could, I was in such discomfort.  I always have bad cramps on the first day of my period, and it felt like the cup was exacerbating them, not to mention pushing on my bladder and making me feel like I had to pee.  I felt such relief to have it out of my body that I decided I had had enough of the cup for one day, and resorted to the emergency pad I had stashed in my purse.  

I was bummed out, as I thought this product was the key to a trash-free period, and it seemed like we were just not a good fit (no pun intended). 

The Adjustment Period

When I got home I did a little Googling, and found some online forum topics about menstrual cups.  I was relieved to read that a lot of women had experienced the same thing.  Many of them said that the cup pushed on their bladders, as it had on mine.  But I also saw responses to their posts saying that it can take your body some time to adjust to using the cup, and the uncomfortable symptoms will fade with continued use.  

I couldn’t face it again this period, but I decided to give it another try next time around. 

I’m happy to say that on the second go, I experienced much less discomfort.  I still felt a slight pushing sensation on my bladder, but it usually faded after the cup had been inserted for a few minutes.  Moving around helps the cup to settle into its natural position in your body, and after getting on with my usual routine, I couldn’t even feel it.  I even went running and cycling with no discomfort.  

A Couple Tiny Bugaboos

The only thing that was slightly alarming was that the cup recessed farther into my body as the day went on.  Fortunately, the salesperson had told me that it was impossible for the cup to get lost inside my body, and that if became harder to retrieve, I should use my pelvic muscle to push the cup down so that I could grab it with my fingers.  This worked like a charm.  

The stem caused me a little irritation a couple of times, but rotating the cup so that the stem sat at a different angle usually alleviated the irritation.  I read that some women trim the stem to avoid discomfort (you should aways pull the cup out by pinching the bottom anyway, never by pulling the stem).  

Cleaning & Care

The cup can remain inserted for up to 12 hours, so I left it in almost the whole day, which meant I could rinse it out at home, rather than in a public bathroom.  It can even be worn at night, though for comfort’s sake I opted for the cloth pads I had bought.

I rinsed the cup out every time I took it out, and when my period was done I sanitized it in boiling water.  When sanitizing by boiling, just make sure you don’t let the cup rest on the bottom of your pot, as it can burn and damage the cup.  See below for a quick video demo.

I’m only two months in to my Lunette cup life, but the second time around was definitely much easier, so if you’ve tried it and not liked it, I’d recommend giving it a second chance.  Your body is surprisingly adaptable, and it’s worth the adjustment time to have a waste-free, planet-friendly period! 

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