One Size Does Not Fit All: Navigating Entry Into The World of Menstrual Cups.

Menstruation happens. Repeatedly. Ad nauseam.

It serves a purpose but I’ve yet to meet any woman who counts down the days until her next period with glee as opposed to dread or at best resignation. Fingers crossed it doesn’t fall on a vacation or big meeting; been there, done that.

But I’ve a confession to make; I was eager for this last cycle. I couldn’t wait. I endured the time hungrily, living each moment but greedy for the next that brought me closer to the critical Day 1.

At this point you may be wondering how you can reach out to me, you know, in order to suggest counselling or meds or maybe just to (kindly?) tell me I should seek help…and four weeks ago, I would have been right there with you.

So what happened? What could possibly improve this crinkly, smelly, uncomfortable, inconvenient, messy and waste producing portion of life? What beyond wine, chocolate and a heating pad is left for us?

Let me start at the beginning. Five weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and after years of waffling and listening to friends of friends give rave reviews I bravely hit the drug store and bought my first menstrual cup.

There is only one brand to choose from and only two sizes. Size 1 for those under 30 who have never been pregnant and Size 2 for those who have been pregnant or are over 30. Nice and simple, right? No price checking, no measurements just select the appropriate size, pay your $40 and change your life.

It’s largely the price tag that I had been debating, the women I know who use a cup love them, but it’s a decent initial outlay for something I might hate. What if it’s messy? What if it’s hard to use? On the other hand I have another 10-30 years of menstruation ahead of me….what’s 40 bucks if it’s awesome?

I proudly brought my cup home, I was being green, I was changing the world. I read all the instructions and boiled the cup for five minutes to sterilise it. I scoffed at the part where it tells me that it might take me several cycles to get the hang of things, to make it work. Ha! I doubt that! I wore it for most of a day before my period started just to try it out without issues. Insertion was simple, I did need to trim the stem a little but that was no trouble. I am ready for this. Bring it on! When the time actually came I was stoked, no more packing supplies or worrying about TSS, no more granny panties or back up pads. I inserted the cup and began my day.

But then…Oh… I am so not ready…apparently I suck. I can’t keep the cup in, I can’t keep it from leaking, the remaining stem is acting like a cheese grater for my undercarriage, cutting the stem all the way off makes little difference. I comb the manufacturer’s website looking for help and keep coming back to the statement that it takes time to get it right. This is crap. I am over 30, I’m a parent, I work in health care, I’m intelligent and willing to learn, I’m not squeamish about my own body or blood. Why is this silicone cup making me feel so unworthy? So un-female? So stupid? I tried for two days and then reverted to pads and tampons for the rest of my period. I felt like a failure. I was angry.

I can’t be the only woman on the planet incapable of making these things work! I spent that weekend researching menstrual cups. What an eye opener! There may only be one brand in stores around me but the UK and Europe have at least 20 brands; some with up to eight different sizes. Most of these are easily ordered online.

Here’s the key though, your cervix migrates. It is an organ of no fixed address. Part of your cycle that sucker hides so far up inside you that you might think it had found a secret entrance to your lungs but when you menstruate it slips so far down that you can bump into it just inside your vaginal opening. This is crucial. It’s why I could happily wear my cup before my period but not during. My cup is 5 ¾ cms long. My menstruating vagina is not.

Turns out I’m not the only one who has suffered this fate, it’s a common occurrence in Canada and portions of the States where there is only one option readily marketed. With new information in hand I ordered a smaller cup online and began eagerly awaiting my next period. The new cup (sans stem) is 4.4 cms, this may not seem like much of a difference… but!

This time it was bliss as advertised. It took me two tries initally to get it right and I haven’t looked back. It is forgettably comfortable, entirely leak-free and oh so easy to deal with and care for. Did you know that the only reason menstrual blood smells is because it oxidises? It only stinks when it hits the air, if you wear a cup it stays in it’s happy little vacuum sealed world until you remove and dump it. Your vagina doesn’t get covered in dying tissue as the cervix empties straight into the cup. Clean vagina=happy woman.

Some things to know before wearing a menstrual cup:

  • Before you buy, use a finger to check the spacing you have between your cervix and your vaginal opening DURING the first day or two of your period. Then measure the finger, it’s less pokey than inserting a ruler. ?
  • You can wear a silicone cup for up to 12 hours at a time. It is an inert substance; some people have silicone implanted in their bodies for their whole lives.
  • When you start wearing it, empty it when you would remove a tampon or change a pad and this will give you a good idea of how much you fill it; then you can choose your own interval.
  • You CAN dump it in a public bathroom stall, wipe the outside with toilet paper and put it right back in. You will have a hand no dirtier than with any other bathroom activity.
  • Wash your cup once a day in soap and water and boil it between periods, store it in the breathable cotton bag it comes in.
  • You can sleep with it in, you can swim with it in, you can even stand on your head with it in.
  • Always read and follow the instructions that accompany your cup, when in doubt believe them, not me.

There is a lot of information out there, these were the websites I found most helpful. I am in no way associated with or reimbursed by any of them.

An excellent video about insertion and avoiding common mistakes:

This is an example of a comparison chart for menstrual cups, it is by no means the only one nor is it comprehensive but it is a good start :

There are some cups not available for purchase in Canada (like my new one!) and in that case you can order from here:  for a price similar to any other cup, despite exchange and shipping.

This is a pictorial list of folding-for-insertion methods: The same fold doesn’t work for everyone and options are nice.

If you currently adore your tampon/pad experience I am not here to tell you that you’re wrong. Just hoping to de-mystify a little-known option that has got me excited and simplified my life. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go back to counting the days until my next period.

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