TMI WARNING !!!
This post contains what some readers would consider to be mature content. I agree. In order to talk about menstruation, you have to be emotionally mature. If you are at all squeamish about the frank discussion of feminine matters, including sex, anatomy and menstruation, please spare yourself and don’t bother reading on. I cannot give a proper review of this product without discussing with some degree of intimacy these things. On the other hand, we might want to ask ourselves some deeper questions about why, in our society, we feel so comfortable discussing sex in all its gory details, but not those functions of the (female) body which make it possible. I am not an ecofeminazi, but I do believe in good information and, where possible the sweeping aside of unhealthy taboos for the good of all, especially women who, like me, travel and need better solutions than the ones we have at the moment. So you have been warned. Really warned.
We are unbelievably squeamish when talking about periods, but not when we talk about sex, to the point that television commercials vending the necessary wares related to “menstrual management” are unbearably patronising and silly. The way these products are marketed alternate between nigh-Victorian euphemism and the preservation of our “delicate feminine sensibilities” (running along a beach at sunset dressed all in white), to stupid “girl power” (dancing in a carnival in skin-tight white capris).
The reality though, is much more visceral, as you would expect. Our menstrual taboos – and every culture has them – preclude the frank discussion of what our periods end up doing to the environment, how are lives are impacted by the mess, inconvenience and medical complications, and how much the bloody things cost in the first place. I full accept that during my fertile years my body will bleed once a month. I find it really hard to accept that I must, ergo, put up with allergies to the absorbency gels in STs and tampons, and shell out US $300 a year to “protect” myself from …er…myself.
It’s also a very bitter pill to swallow when I consider that the products I dispose of so discretely end up – with millions of others – in not-so-discrete landfill sites, along the coastlines of the world, or clogging drains which (mostly male) plumbers must unblock. Discrete? Ask a plumber, a refuse collector, or anyone who works in a government Environmental Protection agency how discrete our periods really are. Kind of puts the lie to the long floaty dress and the beach at sunset, doesn’t it? Ask any woman too, whether she can REALLY wear those skin-tight white capris during her red days with complete confidence. Tampons cause thrush and toxic shock syndrome, STs cause thrush and slip, bunch and leak. Travelling too, if you are a girl, is a pain in the neck. I usually have to use a sizeable portion of my valuable luggage space carrying hypo-allergenic products, which are expensive and still cause issues of environmental damage wherever I go. They always leak, as well, but I had to put up with them. In vain, for years, I have been searching for alternatives. Only recently did I manage to find a viable one: menstrual cups.
What are they?
Menstrual cups are bell-shaped silicone or latex containers which are worn internally (by women who prefer internal products) which collect menstrual fluid rather than absorb it. They can be worn for up to 10 hours at a time, and last for about 7 years, and cost about 30 euros/dollars, or about 18 pounds sterling.
Where can I buy one?
Menstrual cups on the market include the Keeper, the Mooncup, The Lunette and The Divacup. I got the locally manufactured Mooncup from Boots in the UK for £20, but you can also order them directly from the manufacturers websites and from other sites promoting “green” menstrual management, such as Gladrags in the USA or Plushpants in the UK.
How do you use them?
No bones about it – you fold it up and shove it in (as you would a tampon), except that you need to place it much lower down in the vaginal passage than a tampon, angling the up towards your back tail bone. ather than “up”. They come with instructions, but in practice you really need to practice – the learning curve is much steeper than with tampons. When you release it inside your body, the cup springs back into its former shape and the rim of the cup forms a light seal with your vaginal wall and the fluid collects in the cup.
To remove, you pinch the base of the cup and ease it out of your body (this is easy, but it takes practice), tip the contents down the loo, wipe clean with damp tissue and then reinsert. If you are at home, you should rinse it with very hot water and soap. If out and about, you can get away with cleaning it with damp tissue or a babywipe and reinserting, and then cleaning it more throughly with hot soap and water when you get home. You should sterilise it before use and in between cycles.
Here’s a wee video I made on how to insert it (don’t worry, no gore involved):
Menstrual cups look much scarier in reality than they look on the manufacturers websites. Even with my experience as a sexual health counsellor (one of the weirder but more rewarding jobs I had as an undergraduate), I baulked at the size at first. Several hilarious attempts ensued which involved the mooncup pinging across the bathroom, a lot of earthy anglo-saxon, and a significant amount of discomfort before I got the knack. Like many women, I cut the stem off completely, and after that I had no problems. I was glad, however, to be on my own, in my own apartment. I don’t think I would have had the courage to do this in Handong Universities highly public communal washrooms (and believe me, you haven’t defined the meaning of the word communal until you have lived in a Korean University dorm).
OK removing was a bit scary. The blessed thing had moved up slightly and I couldn’t get a proper grip to remove it. I had nightmare-ish visions of me down at the “Women’s Hospital” in PoHang asking the “gynaecologist” to remove it: ( for this read sleazy abortion clinic run by soju-pickled perverted quacks who assume I am a Russian hooker, and on finding out I am a student at a conservative Christian university, will gossip about me round town). This is not a good prospect. I have no wish to answer questions on the Mooncup before the Holy Inquisition (Handong’s Honour Code Committee). I log on to the Mooncup website and it tells me to bare down with my “birth-giving” muscles. I go back to the loo and do it. I grasp the base, squeeze gently and a suctioning noise that sounds like a toilet being unblocked echoes round the room. Reinsertion is easier. As I said, it takes practice.
But the noise, the noise. Expect conversations like the following if you live with someone or have to “see” to your mooncup while over at your beau’s house to watch a movie…
Mr Boomerang: “Are you ok?”
Me: ” Yes, why?”
Mr Boomerang: “There was all these weird noises coming from the bathroom”.
Me: “You don’t want to know”.
Mr Boomerang: “Why what’s up? Did you barf?
Me: “No. You really really do not want to know.
However, his curiosity was sufficiently arouse for me to tell him exactly why weird noises had been coming from his bathroom and my “product testing” project this month.
Mr Boomerang: Eeeeew. I really didn’t want to know that.
So, whats the verdict?
- Very cost effective (30 dollars versus 2,400 dollars that you’ll spend in a ten year period, no contest really.
- Truly discrete, (unless you count the noise). I CAN go dancing in skin-tight white capris, if I wanted. AND I can run all in white along a beach at sunset. So there.
- After the learning curve has been scaled, very very little fuss, mess, waste.
- Healthy. No risk of TSS, reduced cramps and incidence of yeast infections. Great if (like me) you are algeric to the gels STs and tampons.
- I’ve worn mine and been to the loo (for number 1s and number 2s) and gone swimming, gone to the sauna, on longhaul bus journeys and worn at night with no problems.
- It’s THE best solution if you travel, camp, play sports (with the exception of inverted Yoga positions), or can’t get to hygienic toilets during the day.
- You need to be REALLY comfortable with your body to be comfortable using one of these. You see EXACTLY what comes out of your body, and if you are squeamish, it might not be for you. On the other hand, you might become more in tune and knowledgeable about your body, so this might be a good thing.
- The Divacup website stupidly implies that the menstrual cup will not break your hymen. That is bovine excrement of the first order. It will if you have an intact one, and it’s going to hurt. This may not be the best choice if you are a virginal pubescent teenager, and is best (in my opinion) for woman who already use tampons, who have had a baby, or who are a bit older and more comfortable with their bodies. You might want to look at the other options available if you come from a culture where you are expected to leave a “rose of honour” on your wedding night – (like rural Kentucky). Far more accurate and modest claims are made on independent websites such as Plushpants and Gladrags.
- Likewise, its also not best if you come from a traditional culture which has strong separation rules and menstrual taboos (we have them too, just not so pronounced). What I mean is this. The manufacturers recommend sterilising it on the stove in a sausepan of water. In the UK and North America that might be fine, but in Europe and indeed ALL the developing world countries I have been in, you CANNOT do this because bathroom stuff is kept separate from Kitchen stuff. Ditto for Jewish or Muslim homes. Instead, I have a lockable tupperware box I fill with saline or surgical spirit that I sterilise it in in the bathroom.
- It can cope with heavy periods, but if your flow is really heavy, regardless of the manufacturers crooning, wear extra protection on those days, because you are likely to leak. This is because very high moisture levels cause the seal to become compromised a little. Even with slight leakage, its still a million times better than pads or tampons though.
- During the learning curve, it can get messy. Once you’ve got the knack its a breeze.
- The noise. I would recommend running taps while you remove it, or singing loudly, or waiting until everyone has gone out if this is going to bother you (or those you live with). Once you get used to it, though you get the knack of removing it without the suctioning.
- If you are married (you should have this anyway, it may save your marriage) you have your shelf and he has HIS shelf in the bathroom cabinet, you might find it better for all to keep your cup on YOUR shelf in its wee bag. It’s got nice pink ribbons on it.
Well there it is. The great Mooncup review. While I’m on the subject though, I would also have to say that there are other really good solutions out there which are kind to your body, the planet and your pocket. If you are not comfortable with the idea of the cup (and lets face it, the idea takes some getting used to), you could try cloth menstrual pads (yes, you reuse these too, but its not as gross as you think. Check out Wemoon Menstrual Pads (Australia, ship worldwide), and Lunapads (North America and Europe, ship worldwide). They can also be purchase on Gladrags and Plushpants.
This is quite a nice demonstration video: