6 Things To Know Before You Try A Menstrual Cup

by Gina M. Florio

An acquaintance once told me I was "edgy" after she found out I was a menstrual cup user. No one really seemed to think of me as such before I converted to the cup life, mind you; I had actually been described as "wholesome" for the majority of my teenage and adult years. But something about giving up the burden of tampons is so satisfying and liberating that you inadvertently up your level of awesomeness the second you start using that silicone cup. You just kind of become a badass.

If you're considering making the switch and becoming a badass menstrual cup user yourself, your head might already be spinning as you try to process all the information out there about the product — especially menstrual cup insertion instructions. But before you dive in, let's streamline things. Yes, you need to know how to insert it, how to clean it, and how to store it when you're period-free. But there are also a few other things that you should just know before you get started — things that I wish I knew before I purchased my trusty Diva cup in 2011.

But don't worry — none of this information will convince you to not make the switch to menstrual cups or anything like that. It will just help you be more prepared. And once you get past the initial discomfort of the whole process, which is admittedly more emotional than anything else (you'd be surprised at how attached we've all become to our tampons), you and your vagina will come out on the other side happy, happy, happy.

Here are six things to know before you try a menstrual cup for the first time.

1. Using One Helps The Environment — Seriously

According to some estimates, the average female uses between 8,000 and 17,000 tampons in one lifetime. Include everything out there that we use — tampons, pads, pantyliners, etc. — and you'll find that we each throw away around 300 pounds of hygiene products before we're done on the planet. And disposable menstrual products don't evaporate the second they go out of our sight, either; tampons take years to decompose. Add in all the other menstruating people around you and you end up with 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons thrown away annually.

If this information all leaves you feeling uneasy, know that by switching over to menstrual cups, you're making a serious impact. Silicone cups, without a doubt, are the greenest option known to menstruating womankind: they contain no rayon, dioxin or other harmful chemicals, and they're reusable. In short, they're the most eco-friendly way to look after your period, and Mother Earth will be as happy with your decision to switch as you are.

2. There Is Almost No Risk Of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

Toxic Shock Syndrome, the dangerous bacterial illness that caused 24-year-old model Lauren Wasser's leg to be amputated in 2012, is no longer a concern if you part ways with tampons. When you use a cup, no menstrual blood is absorbed, vaginal mucosal tissue isn't irritated, and vaginal flora isn't changed — all of which means there's pretty much no effect on the growth of S. aureus, the bacterium responsible for TSS.

Women have more than enough health issues on our worry plate; when you switch to the cup, you can do yourself a favor and scratch TSS off the list. You can leave a menstrual cup in for up to 12 hours without increasing your risk of any funky bacteria growing and taking over your lady parts.

3. You Really Will Save Money

It's no myth, my friends. Your online bank statement will smile back at you once you commit to no longer buying box after box of tampons. You could save $1,000! You could use that money to go on vacation! Or buy, like, 10 Kindles! Purchasing a menstrual cup will run you $40 or less — you can sometimes get one for less than $30, depending on where you buy it — and it will last you for a whole decade, as long as you take care of it properly. Compare that to the $120 or more a year you spend on feminine hygiene products, and switching over is a no brainer.

Owning a vagina isn't a cheap endeavor, as you may already know. But there's no reason to always spend heavily on your lovely jade garden. We dish out enough money for pap smears and birth control and Midol as it is; finding a way to reign in the cash flow can be a very good feeling, and this is your ticket to immediate savings.

4. Things Could Get Messy

Holding a menstrual cup in your hands for the first time? Congrats! Using that cup means you'll have to reach far up into your own vagina at times while using it because, well, that's just what you have to do to retrieve the damn thing — especially on those lighter days when the flow isn't flowing all that much. Blood gets on your fingers; it might even drip onto the toilet seat or the floor, especially if you're a beginner. But don't worry about it. Clean it up and pretend as if it never happened, like the boss that you have become.

I wish someone had warned me about the mess before I locked myself in the bathroom for the first time with my Diva cup. Which is why I'm here to tell you that you may get grossed out the first few times you use the cup — but that will wear off very soon. My advice? For your first couple periods with a cup, don't attempt to change it in a public bathroom or a new partner's house. Use your own sanctuary of a bathroom so that you can feel relaxed about any potential spills.

5. You Might Panic At Some Point (But Everything Will Be Fine)

In a way, having a menstrual cup freak-out is a rite of passage for cup users; everyone runs into one at some point. Mine came when I read some obscure blog post about how incorrectly removing the Diva cup could snag the small thread of my IUD and subsequently yank it out, setting off a painful apocalypse in my underpants — none of which actually ever happened. Odds are, your fears will be unfounded, too: a menstrual cup can't get stuck inside you, or lodged in any part of your reproductive anatomy where it isn't supposed to be.

When your flow isn't heavy and the cup is so far up your vag that you can't reach the tip of it, you might find yourself in panic mode, sobbing on the tile floor and wishing you had never given up the safety of maxi pads. As much as you think this won't happen to you, it probably will, so prepare ahead of time. Above all, remember that it can't actually get stuck, so imagining that it will only cause you unnecessary stress. Relax and use your Kegel muscles to push it further down your vaginal canal, until you can get a solid grip on the tip with your fingertips.

6. There Is More Than One Way To Insert It

When it comes to cup insertion, you've got options — more than you did with your old tampon, that's for sure. First of all, there are two different folds you can use while inserting the cup — the "U" and the "Push Down" (there are also plenty of adorable cartoon pictures online to guide you through the process). The "U" shape is my personal favorite: pinch the rim of that bad boy in half, then fold it in half again and push it into your vagina. You can also try the "Push Down" version, which isn't as scary it sounds: press it in half, but this time, press the top rim downwards so it takes a triangle-like form. This selection might be good if you need the tip to take the smallest possible form prior to insertion.

Experiment with it until you find what fold feels best. No matter how you fold it, it will suction itself to the walls of your vagina and do its job. Along the way, you can also play around with what position to take with the lower half of your body as you're putting it in. Some like standing, while others swear by squatting like a Sumo wrestler. Shut the bathroom door and work it out for yourself — because one of the coolest things about using a menstrual cup in general is that you get to do things your way.

Images: cocolia/Fotolia; Giphy (6)