Ramblings

Menstrual Cups 101 for 2021: From a long time user

Banner for Menstrual Cup 101, 2021 Edition

Over the New Year’s, I asked friends on FB and Discord to give me their menstrual cup questions, and it was an eye-opening experience. So here’s a handy FAQ:

Basics

What is a menstrual cup?

It is a bell-shaped cup made of either medical grade silicone, thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) or latex, used during periods.

Menstrual cups come in a variety of capacity, length, firmness, and stem types. Fun fact: you cannot put a menstrual cup in your anus for post anal sex. I feel like I need to mention this (mainly because years before I saw a troll asking this).

How much does it cost?

Depending on the brand, it can cost anywhere from RM50 > RM200. This is before considering the 1168313148 versions on Shopee and Lazada. I hesitate to use these super el cheapo brands because this is something that goes into your body, so I prefer to stick with familiar brand names.

Side note: Several years ago, a brand called RebelKate gave out free menstrual cups. I was one of those who managed to snag a pair. In my opinion, the cups are usable, but also way too firm for my tastes. I think a lot of people who normally wouldn’t have tried menstrual cups decided to take the plunge thanks to this brand. In case you’re wondering, they went out of business several years ago.

Surprise find: While researching prices, I discovered local zero-waste brand The Hive actually came out with their own menstrual cup. It looks mighty interesting and the price is alright, but don’t take this as an endorsement, it’s just a surprise find.

What brands are you familiar with?

Prior to my fibroid removal surgery, I was using the Ladycup, which I consider my "holy grail cup." Unfortunately due to personal hijinks I needed to replace the Ladycup after surgery. As there were no more local sellers I ended up first trying the RebelKate free cup. After two cycles I bit the bullet and got myself a Meluna from Lazada instead as I found the RebelKate cups too hard.

The Meluna feels significantly stiffer than my Ladycup, but it’s quite comfortable for me otherwise.

Does a menstrual cup interfere with daily activities?

Not in my experience. In fact I find it much more preferable than pads and tampons, especially when I was an avid gym-goer. I didn’t have to worry about changing pads or tampons while exercising, and yes this includes swimming and yoga as well.

Usage questions

How do you put it in?

The method that works well for me is to sit on a toilet bowl, fold one side of the cup and then insert into my vagina. Usually I will feel it "pop" open inside of me when it’s fully inserted. If not, I will grab the base and try to rotate it so the cup can open.

Note, this is what works for me. I’ve heard some people have greater success with the "one leg on a raised platform/chair in the shower" method. This is something you’ll need to experiment with.

Pro-tip: Yes, you do want the cup to "pop" open. When the cup pops open, it creates a watertight seal that should catch all menstrual fluids and lining.

If you want to Google the fold I’m using, it’s called the punch down fold. Period Powerful Hub has a pretty good write up and illustrations of the most popular folds to use.

Note: It’s very common to NOT get it right the first time you try a menstrual cup. I think my first attempt years ago took me about half an hour or more, and I tried quite a few different positions then too. If you find yourself getting frustrated, relax, wash your hands, put the cup away and try again later. Periods last several days, so it’s completely ok to take a break and come back later.

Pro-tip: I don’t really recommend dry runs unless it’s close to your period as your vagina does change throughout your cycle. For me, I cannot insert the cup if my period hasn’t begun. Even at the smallest point, the cup simply won’t go in.

How do you remove and clean it?

I sit on the toilet, bear down, press on the base of the cup, and then slowly pull it out of me. This is mainly to ensure that when the cup is out, I can tip its contents into the toilet bowl. If I misjudge my timing and my cup is overfull, breaking the seal will usually result in some blood over my hand.

Then I use the bidet to clean the cup with one hand (yes all this is one-handed) before folding and putting it back. At the end of my cycle, I will usually wash the cup in hot water. It air dries pretty quickly and then I’ll store it in the little bag that came with my cup. :p

Does wearing a menstrual cup hurt?

Generally no. However, some users (including myself) do experience irritation with the menstrual cup stem poking (dependent on brand).

Filing the edges with a nail file can soften the edge and reduce irritation. I generally don’t do this because the irritation reminds me I’m wearing a menstrual cup (this is also how I use contact lenses – I would rather have the irritation to remind me that it’s there than to risk completely forgetting and having it in longer than I should).

That said, if you are a virgin (aka never had sexual intercourse before), inserting a menstrual cup for the first time can hurt. This is due to the muscles around the opening, which can be significantly tense that first time.

In this case, I highly recommend you explore your own body first before attempting to use a menstrual cup. Relax and take your time understanding how your vagina works, where your cervix is, and what insertion feels like. First time insertions generally hurt due to a person being tense. If needed, use lube to aid insertion.

Lunette has a good guide for first timers.

Note: If you can use tampons, you should be able to use menstrual cups. However, some cannot use menstrual cups due to the shape of their vagina/other medical conditions.

How do you know when it’s full?

As a general rule I usually take my cup out when I need to pee/poop. This is mainly because the uterus contracts to expel the lining (hence why period cramps exist). The same hormones that cause the uterus cramps are also the same one that makes a person want to pee/poop more often, so I treat it as a signal to go and empty the cup.

Yes, this means I have had pee over my hand when removing my cup, so that’s something to be aware of.

Can you lose the menstrual cup in your vagina?

Yes… and no. I’ve not had this happen to me, but I have had experience of my menstrual cup riding high into my vagina that makes it difficult to remove. In those cases, I usually take a deep breath, bear down like I wanna pee, and then attempt to at least grab hold of the stem. If that doesn’t work, I’ll just walk away and come back later – my cup generally tends to travel lower when it’s full anyway.

From what I’ve heard, if you have a long canal, short cup and short fingers, removal can become a challenge. And this brings me to something new I discovered while researching.

Surprising find: There are new menstrual cups on the market with alternative stems that purportedly help you break the seal when you pull on the stem. In theory it sounds good, but looking at the actual design doesn’t fill me with confidence.

Who should use it?

If I’m a virgin can I use a menstrual cup?

My general rule of thumb is that if you can wear a tampon you can wear a menstrual cup. However this is also highly dependent on how comfortable you are messing around down there. However, before you go out and buy one, do the research. Lunette‘s earlier’ guide is a pretty good starting place.

I have an allergy to latex/silicone/TPE, can I still use a cup?

If you intend to use a menstrual cup please ensure it’s not the material you are allergic to. I… can’t believe I still need to write that.

Can I use a menstrual cup if I have an IUD?

I would… not recommend it.

An IUD is also known as an intrauterine device, which is a device put into your uterus to prevent pregnancy. It is usually attached with some strings. While the menstrual cup itself does not have enough suction to pull out your IUD, it may entangle your strings instead, which can cause the entire IUD to dislodge or come out of your cervix and vagina when removing your cup.

So no, I personally would not recommend it, but again, don’t take my word for it. Do your research.

What if I have a tilted uterus?

As a general rule, you should have no issues wearing a cup, but broad advice seems to indicate it’s best to insert your cup way lower and use a smaller size. Pixie (linked above) has a great piece on what users with tilted uterus need to know about positioning.

I heard that menstrual cups can cause prolapses!

A BBC article last year, reported some women believed their prolapse could be attributed to their new menstrual cup use. However, note that in the article, there’s been no studies made of menstrual cups causing prolapses, and I am personally a little wary of these claims, simply because we’d have seen more of these incidents considering how many women have been using menstrual cups since the mid 1970s.

That said though, there is good advice about how to remove your menstrual cup to minimise risk (I’m using that phrase very loosely). Saalt has a good article on how to "bear down" if you need to to remove a cup (TL;DR you should be bearing down like you’d be moving your bowels for a light movement. Anything more is cause for worry).

Can I use it if I have fibroids/PCOS/endometriosis?

Yup, you should not have problems, I had fibroids and had no issues wearing a cup, but again, do your own research. When in doubt, speak to a trusted gynae. I CANNOT STRESS THE LATTER ENOUGH. If you’re not comfy with your current gynae, consider finding another.

Sadly in Malaysia gynaes are not covered under med insurance unless it’s an emergency. All I can say is get recommendations from friends and always double check against Google Maps reviews (if the doc is truly problematic there’s a good chance people will complain about it on GMaps) and always research their names.

Hope that was useful! As always, you can leave a comment if you have a question.

MCO thoughts

Taking a 15 minute break from work to talk about the MCO and some small things yesterday. 

So the MCO started in the middle of the week last week, aka Wednesday, 18 March, 2020. Calling the first few days utter chaos is a massive understatement – we were only told to stay home but that we could go out for groceries and it wasn’t a holiday but no clear guidelines about how interstate travel would be handled and well…

Basically the first 2 – 3 days of the MCO saw a compliance rate (according to the government) of 60%, driven no doubt by confusion and panic. For the most part, quite a few restaurants that could afford to stay closed, did. Those that could not, remove their chairs to ensure people could not sit down to eat but only takeaway. This included the coffee shop restaurants near my home. But not all of them were open – there were only a few stalls that took the risk to continue operating. 

So when I ventured out then to get some tapau (packed) food, the road was quiet but not too quiet – it reminded me of the streets during the recent Chinese New Year and Christmas holidays when people went travelling. Life goes on albeit with a soft kind of change, I thought. 

Fast forward to yesterday. 

My family and I stayed home over the weekend, and I managed to get my mom to stop her daily quick runs outside to get the weekly newspaper thanks to the Star opening up their e-paper so she could get her daily fix without navigating their website. On Monday though I needed to get groceries, so I went out to Tesco. 

It was quiet. So, very, very quiet. 

I was actually quite amazed when I stepped out from the front door on the way to my car. I had never heard the street so quiet before, even with the same amount of cars. It took me till today to realise why. 

The highway was silent. 

I never noticed before, but the highway less than a km away was actually really quiet, with nary a car on the road. Before this, there would be a low, below the threshold of conscious thought kind of hum that never quite went away. Yesterday though, it was conspicuously missing. I admit I was very confused when I stepped out of the house, wondering what was so different about it. 

So I did a grocery run and for the most part, both the mall’s parking and most other parts of the lower ground floor was empty, except for the produce section for some reason. Got almost everything I wanted and then came home. It rained later in the evening, bringing blessed comfort from the hot sun. 

A day later, aka today, I realised that I’ve actually never heard this area this quiet before. I grew up in this neighbourhood, in this taman that’s maybe about 10km wide? Maybe more, maybe less, but I’ve never actually heard… silence like this. It’s kinda nice, and a bit unnerving for a city girl like me. 

And now I get what it would sound like if there’s a zombie outbreak. 

Working from home tips

I figured I could either rant about the uselessness of my govt’s communication skills, or I could write something that I’d been meaning to anyway while being under Malaysia’s MCO (aka the Movement Control Order). The MCO is not quite as harsh as a quarantine or lockdown, but it does mean that anyone who isn’t working in a country-essential service capacity is to stay home and basically drive each other mad instead of your colleagues and more importantly, the health system. 

I work as a copywriter for an Australian company in my dayjob, following Melbourne hours. My team is essentially a remote team, though now we’re going to be working from home instead of the office. There are a few benefits to this: 

  • No commute (some of my colleagues regularly drive 40 minutes or more to work when there’s no traffic) 
  • Relaxed dress code (the company who pays our salary has a fairly strict business wear policy) 
  • And for my cigarette colleagues, no need to go 16 floors down for a quick break

However, the thing about working from home is that it’s very easy to get distracted. So here’s what I do to make things easier: 

Setting up a morning work routine

My alarm is still set to my pre-MCO wake up time. This is because my working hours haven’t changed. The only thing that has changed is that I can now snooze a bit longer before I head to “work.”

Things I do as part of my regular routine including showering, brush teeth, and (this part is an MCO bit) grab my office laptop out of the bag. I’m actually quite lucky that the office gave me a new laptop that has a USB-C port. My second monitor, keyboard, and mouse all go through a USB-C hub, so I don’t have to unplug 400 different cables to use my home monitor and peripherals, I just need to unplug 4 – headphones, charger, microphone and the USB hub. 

Doing this gets my mind ready for “work”, so when the laptop finally boots up, I’m ready to start the day. 

Instant noodles with a soft boiled egg
Forgot to eat lunch on time, ended up with just instant noodles

Keep breaks regular

I try to keep my routine as similar as I can with when I was going to the office – this means taking toilet breaks every hour or so because I make sure to stay hydrated, and I take longer breaks (5 minutes minimum) when switching between  brain heavy tasks. It’s very similar to what I do in the office… except I no longer feel the need to time myself because I don’t want to be seen as lazy for taking a long toilet break (leftover from my callcenter days). 

I also try to take my meals around the same time I usually do in the office, so this means having a bun or biscuit or something at 7.30am (basically something more than a cup of coffee) and possibly lunch at 11pm (though mom gets confused because to her that’s late breakfast). 

Recording by hand

Not like that. 

I began keeping a bullet journal to track my tasks in December, and it’s a system that’s worked for me pretty well since then. Writing things down help a lot, and they give me a sense of “what’s next” so I stop feeling lost. 

I also have a habit of drafting brief paragraphs in a throwaway notebook, so I brought both of these back from the office. It fools my brain into thinking that it’s work mode, so… I seem to have stayed productive at least. 

Socialise!

I talk with my colleagues a lot online, but I didn’t realise how much I relied on face-to-face communication until the second day of working from home. When you’re in the same area, it’s easier to holler/call/reach out literally to have questions answered, but when you’re working from home, it’s definitely not quite the same. 

So I am trying to reach out to my colleagues casually outside of just talking about tasks, and in the process I’m learning patience because I really can’t expect them to reply to me immediately (and vice versa!). 

TL;DR

  1. I make the effort to dress up
  2. Follow office timing as much as possible
  3. Record tasks by hand 
  4. Remember to socialise 

March 2020

We’re only a few months into the new year and it seems like it’ll be crazier than last year. WHY.

Popping in just to say that I’m alive. Hopefully something more soon.