This post was sponsored by OrganiCup, use the code ‘FRAN20’ for 20% off at checkout! All thoughts my own.
There’s a kind of collective tradition when it comes to menstrual cups. They make their way to us through recommendations and assurances: friends and family insist they’re worth trying, we give in after months of hesitation, and then we find ourselves joining the recommenders ourselves. The baton passes on to the people we start telling, and friends reach out to us for assurance instead. And so the cycle continues.
This was my experience, as I found myself moving from panic texting my best friend in 2016 to receiving the exact same texts from other friends I’d convinced to give it a go. At this point, I know exactly what questions to expect and how to answer them. So, when OrganiCup (whose menstrual cup is cruelty-free, vegan, hypoallergenic and, of course, sustainable) reached out and asked if I’d like to work together, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to compile all the knowledge I’ve gathered over the last three years.
If you’re thinking of trying a menstrual cup and want more information, here are all the things I think you need to know:
Does it hurt?
No. I know that menstrual cups can seem intimidating and scary, but I also remember that I felt that way about tampons when I was 14 too. Unless you have something like vaginismus (in which case that’s fine and don’t beat yourself up! There are other options out there that may work better for you) then this should be painless and comfortable. In my experience, I’ve found that menstrual cups are more comfortable. Tampons absorb everything, this made them fairly uncomfortable for me because they ended up causing dryness and irritation. Menstrual cups don’t come with this problem, meaning that it’s actually way easier to forget you’ve got one in at all.
Your menstrual cup will definitely be more comfortable, however, if you make sure you’ve got one that’s the right size and shape for you, and that it is positioned right. You want to place the cup beneath the cervix and make sure it is fully open. Additionally, you can look into the firmness of your cup. If your cup is too firm for your body it may apply pressure to your bladder, which could be uncomfortable, so you can always use a firmness guide like this one for some more advice. The OrganiCup is fairly soft and a good size for me, so I’ve found it works really well.
How the heck do I get it in?
When you first get a menstrual cup, it’s inevitable that as soon as you start trying it you’ll frantically text someone you trust, telling them it’s impossible that this thing is going to fit inside you. Don’t worry, this will get easier with a little time and experience. Larger things can definitely go in and come out of your vagina, we just haven’t been conditioned to understand and view menstrual cups as commonplace, whilst tampons are a lot more widely recognised and understood.
If you can, try practising putting the menstrual cup in before your period has started, just to begin to get used to what that feels like. This gives you a chance to try squatting, standing, raising one leg, and trying out other variations while you get used to interacting with your own body in this newer way. Once your period comes, for the first few months you can try changing the cup in the shower, removing any pressure or stress about making a mess when you’re still learning. This is all normal and part of the process, we just haven’t been talking about this enough to know!
I use warm water and the punch down fold (as demonstrated here) to insert and have found that to work well for me. It took about three cycles for me to feel fully confident with insertion, now I barely have to think about it.
Some other important things to remember is to make sure your cup is fully unfolded once inserted, as this video demonstrates, and to work on keeping your body relaxed. This will come with practice, but the more relaxed you are the easier this becomes.
Inserting the cup at a 45-degree angle, pointed towards the spine, will be easiest as it’s the most common shape of the vaginal canal. The cup usually sits a bit lower than a regular tampon, below the cervix, and it can be worn with a tilted cervix or uterus, as long as it sits below the cervical opening to catch flow.
How the heck do I get it out?
Getting a cup out is a different experience to getting it in. I remember that this took me a little bit of time to master, and I was particularly frustrated on my third month because I was finding insertion pretty easy, so why was taking it out proving to be such a hassle?! Once again, I texted my friend in desperate anger. But this also got better with practice, as has my ability to reply to friends going through the same thing themselves.
In my case, I had a good ability to use my pelvic floor and stomach muscles to push the cup down (thanks, years of ballet lessons), but I realised that trying to wiggle the cup out beyond that point just wasn’t working for me. Instead, I realised I needed to reach further in and fold my cup a little to get it out easily. I now use the c fold to remove it while sitting, and it’s far easier.
So don’t be afraid to take some time and exploration to figure it out! Get all up in there and you’ll find a way that works for you.
Is it hygienic?
Yes! The OrganiCup is made with approved medical grade silicone, meaning it is completely safe for your body. Cups also don’t cause toxic shock syndrome and don’t contain bleaches, pesticides and dioxins like conventional tampons.
The main thing you may want to check before using is if you have an IUD. In this case, talk to your doctor before trying a cup. Additionally, a silicone cup won’t be for you if you have a silicone allergy, however these allergies are extremely rare and there are other cup material options out there. Cups can also absolutely be used if you have endometriosis, despite myths that suggest they can’t. In fact, some cup users have found cups to be a better experience, as they don’t cause further irritation to the area like chemical-heavy tampons can.
In terms of keeping your cup clean, all you need to do is place your cup in boiling water for 5 – 7 minutes at the start of your cycle before you start using it, and at the end when you’re finished. If you want you can also use something like Organiwash when washing your hands and changing during your cycle, or Organiwipes if you do something like go camping. I have worn a cup while camping before and can confirm that, as long as you keep your hands clean, it works just fine.
You may also notice that after a while, your cup starts to have some discolouration. This doesn’t mean your cup is dirty, it’s actually fairly normal and doesn’t mean you need a new cup. You can remove discolouration by either leaving your cup in a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide 2% and water overnight or boil the cup in water with 2 – 3 tablespoons of baking soda in it.
What about public toilets?
Not a problem. This is a question that comes up a lot, but there are two benefits of cups here. Firstly, they last much longer than mainstream products, holding more than 3 times as much as an XL tampon. This means that often you can put them in in the morning and not have to change them until you get home at night. They can last up to twelve hours without needing to be changed, and without interfering with any physical activities (I swim with my OrganiCup in all the time).
If you do find yourself needing to change the cup in a public bathroom, all you have to do is rinse with water before reinserting. If the public bathroom you’re in doesn’t give you private access to a sink, you can wipe with toilet paper and rinse when you get home, or use Organiwipes if you don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’ve used the toilet paper method many times, and have had no issues in over three years.
Additionally, when it comes to actually using the toilet there are no hygiene risks. Unlike tampons, which have strings that can end up soaking up unwanted fluids, cups are inserted fully into the vagina so don’t come into contact with urine or anything else that may be leaving your body.
How does it help the environment?
This is where a menstrual cup really starts to shine. A cup can last up to 10 years, meaning that through your whole period having life you could go through maybe four or five. Compare that to the 11,000 tampons the average person goes through in their life, or the 20 billion sanitary towels, tampons and applicators dumped into North American landfills every year, which won’t biodegrade for hundreds of years, and you’ve got some stark numbers when it comes to waste. Add to this the processing of LDPE for tampon applicators and plastic back-strip of sanitary towels, which requires a lot of energy, and the devastating impacts of mainstream cotton production and pesticide use for conventional tampons, and the numbers get even bigger. Overall, a year’s worth of conventional period products carries a carbon footprint of roughly 5.3 kg CO2. A menstrual cup is much less carbon-intensive, chemical-intensive, and virtually waste-free (added bonus: OrganiCups also come in one small, minimal and recyclable box!)
When your cup finally does reach the end of its life, it doesn’t need to go to landfill either. The cup is made from silicone, aka sand, so you can actually burn it yourself. The silicone quantity is small, meaning it only produces a tiny bit of CO2, just be safe about how you go about it!
But what about the price?
This is another thing that can put people off, but menstrual cups will start saving you money pretty soon. The OrganiCup costs £21, so around four months after the initial investment, you’ll start saving money. One box of tampons can easily cost £5, so a few months in when you no longer have to buy them (or pay that tampon tax) your wallet will definitely love you. I remember how annoying my period used to be, knowing I was going to have to shell out money for tampons when I was trying to save. Well, no more of that. I haven’t bought a period product in years, and I’ve loved it.
You can calculate how much money and waste you’ll save by switching, right here using the savings calculator.
Plus, you can never run out of a menstrual cup. No more stuffing your underwear with toilet roll because your period started unexpectedly and all the shops are closed. No need to stock up, no need to worry. The cup is always there and ready to be used.
Finally, this also carries the added benefit of not having to weirdly sneak a tampon up your sleeve to go to the bathroom or take your whole bag and risk weird questions. Whenever you need to change the cup, you’ve already got it with you. Just head to the bathroom and do your thing. Easier and cheaper all round.
One size doesn’t fit all
Every vagina is a different shape and size, so each one deserves a personal approach. When it comes to your menstrual cup, it will sit very differently depending on the size of your vaginal canal. While the stem is there to help with removing the cup, if it sits outside of the vagina at all or causes any discomfort, you don’t want that! I’m very small in general, so I ended up removing the entire stem, and have never had any problems.
The OrganiCup comes in three sizes: mini for teens or those who need a small size, size A for those who haven’t given birth vaginally, and size B for those who have. Size A is only 0.4cm smaller than size B, but is important as most post-birth vaginas won’t completely return to their pre-birth shape.
If you want to learn more about different cup sizes, you can also check out the comparison chart from Put A Cup In It.
Changing the world
This last one is dedicated specifically to OrganiCup, because I think it’s worth mentioning! Beyond making a sustainable product to help menstruating people lessen their impact, OrganiCup also works to make menstruation safer and less taboo for everyone around the world, by working with a variety of NGOs.
Some initiatives they’ve participated in so far include:
- Working with partner NGOs to provide scalable solutions to end period poverty, working across more than 15 countries and donating over 4500 OrganiCups so far
- Donating cups to sex workers through a pilot project run by WoMena
- Donating cups to a pilot project in a refugee camp in Greece where the cups are distributed and girls and women received education on menstrual health management
- Working with school nurses and gynaecologists to increase information and education around sustainable period products
Which is pretty great, if you ask me.
Overall, making the switch to a menstrual cup is a process. But, it’s a process that is totally achievable and well worth the journey. One moment it may seem impossible, but in no time at all, I think many of you reading this will find yourself spreading the gospel of the menstrual cup to anyone who’ll listen, and receiving texts from friends asking you how to get it out and what to do. But that’s ok, because you’ll be informed, chill, and able to answer those questions. Conventional tampons and pads will seem like a distant dream of the past.
So I encourage you, if you’ve been wondering about cups for a while, take the leap! It’ll take some time, but it’ll be worth it.