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One of the unexpected upsides of changing my career and working from home has been the way I’ve rethought my day-to-day consumption of goods. Without the daily stress of a frustrating commute, tons of meetings, and everything else that goes along with working in an office, I spend more time in my home than anywhere else. That means when it comes to what I use on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, I take notice of how long things last me and how often I’m running to the pharmacy or convenience store to buy more. And as it turns out, you go through a lot more paper towels and toilet paper when you’re not at an office (or commuting to/from said office) for 12 hours a day. Something else you notice how quickly you go through, if you happen to have a period? Tampons.
When I started working from home and no longer had access to an office with an endless supply of period products, I somehow found myself in the same predicament each and every month. I would end up rushing to the pharmacy in an emergency, usually a few hours before my period came, stocking up on the cheapest box of tampons I could find.
After seeing someone on Instagram talk about menstrual discs, though, I was intrigued. Unlike tampons, you could wear discs for up to 12 hours before changing them. You still disposed of them every 12 hours, though, unlike a menstrual cup, which you reuse again and again. As someone who was terrified and overwhelmed by the idea of a menstrual cup, discs seemed like the perfect alternative. Not quite as sustainable as a cup, but hey, it was a start.
Though it took a bit of trial-and-error to get used to them, I eventually replaced tampons with discs altogether. The pros? I could change them less often and I experienced fewer leaks than with tampons. The cons? On the first day or two of my period, I’d almost always have a leak after a few hours. Also, there was still the issue of waste (even if it was less than with tampons). After a few months of using discs, though, I found myself less intimidated by the concept of a cup — and I was curious, too. If I could have the same experience as I had with discs (occasional leaks and all) but with zero waste to deal with, it would be perfect. So I ordered a Saalt cup on a whim, boiled it (to sterilize it), read the instruction manual, and waited patiently for my period to arrive.
By the time my period did show up, I was fairly confident that this whole process would be a piece of cake. I had been through the hit-and-miss adjustment period for inserting and removing a disc—how could this be any different? So I re-read the manual, folded the silicone cup up, and after a few fails, managed to insert it in what I hoped was the correct way. It was about 12 hours before I had to remove it, and I was impressed that it was totally comfortable when inserted. In fact, I couldn’t feel it at all. Everything was fine... until I tried to remove it.
Consider this a warning: The first time you go to take out the cup, it may be a little panic-inducing. I briefly thought that I wouldn’t be able to get it out at all, but after trying a few different squatting positions, I figured it out just fine. This process can also be a bit messy when you’re first getting used to it, but again: practice makes perfect. By day four of my period, I felt like a pro—and I was also convinced that I would never, never use anything but a menstrual cup ever again. Aside from a minor one on the first day of my period, I haven’t experienced a leak a single time. Not once. But the best part? There is no waste. Zero. No wrapping discs or tampons in wads and wads of toilet paper. No smells. Nothing. Plus, I will never, ever again be in the situation of running out of tampons or discs. The concept of never having to pay for either of those things again (or at least not for many, many years)? Pretty amazing.
But while I tried out a menstrual cup in an effort to make my everyday routines more sustainable and less complicated, there are other benefits to menstrual cups to consider, too. “Another advantage of the cup is that it can hold more blood than other options such as the pad or tampon so it can be changed less frequently. It is recommended that the cup be replaced every 6-12 hours, depending on how heavy your flow is,” Dr. Jodie Horton, MD and Love Wellness advisor says. “The cup is also more cost-effective when compared to other feminine hygiene products even if replaced once a year. This is particularly important for those who experience period poverty or have inadequate access to menstrual products.”
Dr. Yvonne Bohn, Cystex Chief Medical Correspondent and OB/GYN, shares that menstrual cups also come with less risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as compared to tampons and tend to produce less odor because the blood is never exposed to air, unlike tampons.
The Learning Curve
While most experts I spoke to agree that there are many benefits to using a menstrual cup, they also agree that the main con of cups is the learning curve. It can take some practice and time to figure out how to insert, remove, and change out the cups and some women can find it frustrating. It’s also very important to find the correct size (when it doubt, start with the smallest size).
“When a menstrual cup is too large, it prevents or delays the bladder from emptying fully. This retained urine creates a higher risk for UTIs because its bacteria can grow and multiply. UTIs are preventable with the proper cup size and by checking that urine flow isn’t slowed or obstructed by the cup, “ Dr. Bohn shares.
The Bottom Line
Though I would agree that there is a brief learning curve, I already know that switching to use a menstrual cup will be one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long, long time. I would encourage everyone with a period to, if nothing else, at least give a cup a try for a cycle or two. Because never spending money on tampons ever again? What could be better than that?