By Archeeta Pujari:
Periods. As if the pain, discomfort, swelling, acne and mood swings weren’t enough, there also comes the added dampness, messy leakage and stains associated with the use of sanitary pads. I only remember all too well the horror of my school days, surreptitiously asking female friends to check my backside for tell-tale signs of impending disaster, and inevitably during the most inconvenient moment possible, i.e., during an exam, discovering that my precautions had been to no avail and the back of my white PE skirt resembled the gory remains of a medieval battlefield. This was always followed by a shame filled slink to the filthy school loos, panicked washing of said skirt under the taps and a trip to the condescending school nurse who repeatedly admonished me for not behaving like a lady and allowing the same disaster to occur repeatedly. But try as I might, even well into adulthood, my clumsy school days far behind, I just don’t have the time, desire and mental togetherness to be singularly focused on stemming my menstrual flow throughout those 4 days, and the hassle associated with trying to balance periods with a normal working life has become no less challenging than it was all those years ago.
The problem with sanitary pads, for me, was that far too many things can go wrong. They can fill up, they can be in the wrong position, they can slip, they can be wet and messy and smelly. Until very recently, I wasn’t even aware that there existed even a single alternative, if not in fact several. My second foray into menstrual-related sanitary items was my short-lived tryst with tampons. I found that they solved none of the problems of pads, and in fact added a few extra dimensions of inconvenience to the whole sorry picture: they leaked freely and wildly on the days of heavy flow and had to be changed more often including in the middle of the night, they became fluffy and painful on days of light flow and couldn’t be used at all, and then there was the added risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease associated with leaving tampons in the body for too long.
It wasn’t until I was well into university that I discovered menstrual cups on some obscure online forum, and wasn’t until years later that I actually plucked up the guts to try it out! In fact, I am shocked that awareness of these products is so low, not only in India, but worldwide, despite the fact that the advantages of using cups over other forms of sanitary items are endless, while the downside is virtually non-existent. I have never met a woman who has had an unpleasant experience with the sanitary cup, and the online reviews are full of praise. I for one can definitively say that it solves all the problems associated menstrual hygiene that pad and tampons fell short on, and it makes periods an easier and less stressful experience overall.
A menstrual cup is a reusable device, around two inches long and made from soft medical grade silicone.
It is worn internally a lot lower than a tampon but, while tampons and pads absorb menstrual fluid, the menstrual cup collects it. A light seal is formed with your vaginal walls, allowing menstrual fluid to pass into the cup without leakage or odour. This seal is released for removal, allowing you to empty the contents, rinse or wipe and reinsert.
The menstrual cup is designed to be folded and inserted into the vagina, then removed, rinsed and reinserted up to every 8-12 hours. To remove, gently pinch the sides of the cup to break the seal and slide out. Since the cup is worn low in the vagina, it is easy to reach and remove. Although the prospect of inserting/removing a full-blown cup may be alarming at first, it is in fact quite easy if you follow the instructions carefully, and it gets easier over time. Additionally, since the cup holds up to 3x more fluid than a pad, you don’t need to worry about frequent removal/reinsertion.
During periods, the cup only needs to be emptied 2-3 times a day, and can be left in all night. During periods, once removed, you can empty the contents into the toilet, rinse with plain water and immediately reinsert. Since medical grade silicone is used, this inhibits the growth of bacteria, ensuring the cup is always safe and hygienic. If you are in a public toilet, and too shy to go out of the cubicle and rinse in the basin, you can take a small bottle of water with you to rinse in the toilet. Or if you forget that, you can just wipe with toilet paper and reinsert immediately! Be careful not to use soap or disinfectant, as this can cause irritation.
At the end of the period, you may choose to clean your cup more thoroughly. You can either immerse in boiling water or use sterilization tablets. Again, don’t use harsh detergents/chemicals as this will damage the silicone.
When inserted correctly, the menstrual cup forms an airtight seal with the walls of the vagina. This means that as long as the cup is not full to the brim (this is unlikely), there is virtually no possibility of leakage and it cannot become accidentally dislodged.
Since the cup is worn internally, there is no feeling of dampness or stickiness at all. It is also completely invisible from the outside. In addition, when inserted correctly, you should not be able to feel the presence of the cup within the body at all. While removing, all of the blood is contained within the cup, so it should be virtually a mess-free experience. It is painless to insert and remove.
The menstrual cup contains up to 3x more fluid than other methods of absorption, which means it can be left within the body for up to 8-12 hrs. At any one time, a cup can hold up to a quarter of total monthly discharge, so you can avoid emptying in public toilets altogether. Medical grade silicone prevents the growth of bacteria/allergies/fungal infections. Since the cup does not absorb any fluid, it maintains the natural pH balance of the body. There are no known cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome associated with leaving menstrual cups within the body for too long.
The menstrual cup collects fluid rather than absorbing it. This means that it can be inserted before or after a period, or during days of very light flow without causing dryness or irritation.
On an average, a woman spends anything between Rs. 100 to 150 on sanitary packs every month. This amounts to Rs. 3,600 in two years and Rs. 9,000 in five years. The SheCup (an Indian manufactured menstrual cup) retails for Rs. 760, and can be re-used for up to 5 years! You do the math!
Only 12% of the 355 mn women of menstruating age in India can afford disposable sanitary napkins. Despite this, these 42.6 million women will throw 21.3 billion sanitary napkins into a landfill in their lives. Again, the menstrual cup is reusable for up to 5 years after a single purchase.
The cup cannot be felt after insertion and cannot become dislodged easily, as it forms a tight seal. The seal is also completely water-tight. This means you can go about all every day activities while wearing it, including sports and swimming.
For the shy people out there, most brands of the cup come with a discreet pouch. The cup can be placed in the pouch and left in the schoolbag/handbag between use. It can also be inserted before the period starts, to avoid any messy surprises! You don’t need to carry any spares or worry about disposal.
The cup is made from soft medical grade silicone and is latex-free, hypoallergenic and contains no dyes, BPA, phthalates, plastic, bleaches or toxins. It is not associated with TSS or vaginal infections. It is non-absorbent, it will not cause dryness and does not disrupt your body’s natural pH levels (35% of the fluid tampons absorb is natural moisture!). The cup has measurement markings, enabling women to report menstrual blood loss to a doctor or gynaecologist. It does not contain any absorbency gels, additives or perfumes. Unlike some conventional cotton sanitary products, it is also free from pesticides and GM materials.
These are few and far in between, but worth addressing none the less.
As with any method, removal and reinsertion of the cup takes some getting used to (maybe 2 or 3 cycles). Always read the instructions THOROUGHLY. Also, take some time to practice and find positions that work best for you. However, you will most likely have no difficulty and be a pro in no time! If you are worried about incorrect insertion, use a pad simultaneously to catch any leakage until you get it right.
The menstrual cup cannot get stuck inside. The worst that can happen is that it travels too far up to reach. However, the cervix acts as a wall at the end of the vagina, so it cannot escape the vagina and get lost inside the body! If you can’t reach the cup, first of all relax! Tense muscles will send it higher up the vaginal canal. Sit down or squat and use the pelvic muscles to push the cup down till you can reach it. Then pinch the sides to release the seal and slide out.
The cup is actually un-messy to use. Yes, when you insert it you may come into contact with some blood, but no more than any other method. When you remove the cup, the outside of it is relatively clean, with the vast majority of the blood collected inside of it. It stays upright (and is rarely full anyway) until you tip it up to empty it down the loo. Then you simply rinse, or wipe, before re-inserting. You will see your blood, but you will not have much actual contact with it.
The use of menstrual cups will stretch or tear the hymen. However, this is NOT the same as ‘losing your virginity’ (the definition of ‘losing your virginity’ is pretty tenuous, but it does hinge on having some kind of sexual contact). The hymen often breaks before adulthood due activities such as sports. However, if you or your family feel strongly about keeping the hymen intact, it is probably best to not use internal methods of menstrual sanitation.
SheCup is a menstrual cup manufactured in India. It retails online for Rs. 760. Mooncup, a UK distributer of menstrual cups also delivers to India. Other brands include DivaCup, FemmeCup and Lunette.