Disclaimer: Yes, this post is about the use of a mooncup and other non-disposable methods of sanitary protection during a period. That means there'll be some frank descriptions of things such as the pill, periods, bodily functions and possibly vaginas. Yes, if you're the type to be offended or feel uncomfortable reading about those topics, you can run away now. You've been warned.
I first heard of menstrual cups just after I started this blog and Liz from Pocket Farm left a comment (on this post) asking if I had ever considered using a diva cup. I followed her link and seriously thought it was a joke. I few months later I came across a thread on one of my favourite discussion forums and realised there was a whole world of disposable sanitary towel and tampon alternatives out there. That discussion can be found here and is highly recommended reading.
For those who aren't already aware, a menstrual cup is a small medical grade silicon receptacle which is inserted into the vagina during a period to collect the fluids, which can then simply be tipped out and the cup re-inserted. Washable cloth sanitary towels/pads are also widely available or can be made at home. There are different types and lots of lovely, lovely different fabrics to choose from. Sea sponges are another alternative to tampons but as I've never used them, I can't offer any other information on them than that they exist.
On reading the thread mentioned above, as I was trying to 'green' my life, and also because I was intrigued by people on that thread mentioning a noticeable decrease in pain and cramping after switching from disposables, I decided to give it a go. Although by now I had accepted that menstrual cups weren't actually a joke product, never having been a fan of tampons, I wasn't sure I'd like using one and so I opted to get some cloth pads instead. I ordered 12 from Wee Notions and honestly never looked back. They come in lots of lovely different fabrics and I have to admit that especially at the beginning, I got a real kick every time I went to the toilet and instead of looking down at the same old white, I was looking at swirls of blue and pink or black and white. That might be just me though. I get the same kind of kick when I (very, very occasionally) paint my toenails, even though I don't ever wear open-toe shoes. My own secret little splash of colour, so to speak.
I became a dedicated fan of washables and although I still liked the idea of the mooncup (that's the type I have now, there are lots of different brands available - menstrual cups have been around since the 1930s!), I decided that I was so happy with my washable towels it didn't matter. I went from needing to take the pill and using strong prescription painkillers just to make it through some days when I had my period and even then sometimes having to miss a day or two of work to having minimal pain that could be either just borne with or handeled using ordinary painkillers and being able to come off the pill, too. A while after starting to use washables, I was invited to a wedding and happened to have my period. Not wanting to have to carry around dirty towels with me all day, as well as having bought a ridiculously tiny handbag to use, I decided to just go ahead and use up some of the always towels I still had lying around. Within a couple of hours I had started to have the most incredible cramps. Of a type that I hadn't even realised I was missing. Definitely different than the ordinary cramps I had since gotten used to and it reminded me that when I first started using them, I had noticed that the type of cramps I was having were not only far less severe but they reminded me of when I first starting having my period. I managed to get through that day and after that made sure to get rid of any disposable towels I still had left and have never used them since.
That day convinced me, however, that I should consider at least trying the mooncup, as it would be ideal for a day when you don't want to be carrying supplies with you. So I bought one. And then did nothing but take it out of the packaging for a look and think to myself, "Must try that sometime". Eventually I did try it once or twice but really didn't click with it at all. I waited until I got my period at a weekend, and luckily it was a weekend when my housemate was away, too, so no-one to notice if I was spending longer than usual in the bathroom or wonder what the hell this silicon thing was boiling away on the cooker. I didn't heed the advice I'd heard over and over again to cut as much as possible off the stem and, well, ouch! I eventually did get it down to something I feel comfortable with, probably a little bit over half a centimetre. But I also really struggled to just contort my body in such a way as to be able to get the bloody thing (pun intended) in or out. Once the contortions had finished, I really did like it, but it just all seemed like too much hard work somehow and since I loved my washables so much I just left it in the cupboard.
A while after moving to Germany I decided I really should give it a proper go again. Same thing, I used it once and then felt like it was too much like hard work and gave up. But at the beginning of last year I really, finally, actually made a proper effort. I re-read through the thread I've mentioned above, I read through all the FAQs on the mooncup website and anything else I found that I thought might help and I gave it a proper go, telling myself that I was going to use it every month for at least six months, even if I only used it for one day each month, and that if after that I still didn't like it, I'd just leave it be. It took about three months for me to get it figured out and by the end of six, I couldn't imagine ever being without it.
I had blamed a lot of it on being overweight and therefore not as agile as I felt I needed to be but really, it turns out that I just needed to find the way that really worked for me. For what it's worth, for me that means a slight squat and then going up on tiptoe. I discovered this completely by accident but this position seems to tilt my pelvis at just exactly the right angle to allow me to really easily insert the mooncup. The body is a funny old thing. Before I figured that out I had had some success with making sure that my back was against a wall (otherwise I sort of kept pushing myself backwards and could never get a grip on the ruddy thing). Lots of people say that using the mooncup really made them feel more in touch with their bodies and I must say, I have to agree. I had already had some of that feeling from using washable pads but using the mooncup took it to a whole new level. I've always been a big fan of masturbation so I would have thought that I was fairly well acquainted with my body. But now I really am (maybe it's just because I'm less, er, distracted when I'm putting the mooncup in or taking it out and therefore I'm paying more attention) and I've found that to be a fairly powerful thing. I wasn't brought up to be ashamed of my body but women aren't generally encouraged to pay too close attention beyond what's absolutely necessary to "down there" (oh how that phrase annoys me, even if I do use it on occasion) and that, I find, is a pity.
So anyway, the mooncup gets a big thumbs up from me. It is especially wonderful when travelling and as I managed to time my long holiday to Australia in December to be having my period on both the flight there and the flight back (only me!), I was extra pleased to have taken to the time to really give it a chance and make it work. It may not be for everyone but if you do decide to try it out, please do give it a few months. It takes time to get used to but it is well worth it. Although I did have the initial cash outlay for the washable pads (which I still use as panty liners) as well as for the mooncup, I had recouped that money after only a few months of not having to buy disposable towels. So over the five plus years I've been using non-disposable forms of sanitary protection, I have saved myself a LOT of money. And saved a huge amount of unnecessary waste adding to landfill or worse, ending up polluting our seas. If you're a woman who gets periods, please do consider switching to non-disposables and for all men and all women, even if you don't have a use for it yourself, please do consider telling your daughters, friends and anyone you think might listen.