I’ve known for a while I should give Mooncup a go. Touted as a cleaner, greener and cheaper alternative to tampons or towels, the first I saw of the menstrual cup was a sticker on a toilet door in the Green Fields at Glastonbury. I’d just watched a line of women pull down their knickers and stand – sun’s out bums out – using Shewees. Neither gizmo appealed.
I’m fairly unsqueamish about pee, poo and period blood, but a menstrual cup sounded unwieldy and, if I’m honest, a bit vampiric. I’m not alone in my reluctance. “I know I should, but I can’t even...” is the general vibe among our all-female team when I volunteer to try one. Less than 33% of women globally know they exist.
Besides, I’m a late adopter and, when it comes to periods, a late starter, getting mine last of all my friends the year I turned 14. I almost threw a party I was so excited (apparently these days people actually do). Finally, I could crack open the Always Ultra I’d been stockpiling since I was 11.
[Read More: We All Tried Period Pants and Got Brutally Honest]
In practice though, I found sanitary pads bulky and chafing, and switched to applicator tampons. And when I realised I could insert a wad of cotton into my vagina without the help of a plastic tube, I never looked back. Until now.
That tampon habit is harder to defend once you know that there’s plastic in your tampons and even organic cotton is bad for the environment. What’s more, the first major study into menstrual cups suggests they are as effective at preventing leaks as pads and tampons.
First Things First, Sizing.
Thanks to the likes of Lynn Enright, author of Vagina: A Re-Education, we know our vaginas come in all shapes and sizes. Mooncup , however, comes in just two: one for the over-30s and those who’ve had a vaginal birth (A); and one for the under-30s (B). Which makes me an A. Nothing like feeling your vagina age.
When the box arrives, it’s got a tasteful picture of what looks like a thistle on it – and I really don’t want one of those nestling up to my cervix. Thankfully, inside another layer of wrapping – a reusable cotton bag with a rather twee pink ribbon – sits my new Mooncup, which resembles a little tulip with a bobbly stem.
Though not so little. The Mooncup is 46mm by 50mm of medical-grade silicon, designed to sit inside your vaginal canal, where it collects your period blood. You trim the stem to fit – again like a flower – so it doesn’t poke uncomfortably into your labia. Essential, as I learn, squirmingly, later.
Trying It On. Or In.
A familiar twinge in my abdomen tells me my period has arrived, so I head for the work loos. I’m not someone known for her dexterity or precision, but the Mooncup feels so flexible I blithely assume I can sort of just shove it into my vaginal canal – past the rim of muscle at the base – like a tampon. It goes in fine, but I’m acutely aware of it once it’s there, so maybe I’m not doing it right. I return to my desk until nerves get the better of me – SURELY IT’S LEAKING? –and I scuttle back to the bathroom. It’s only been an hour. It has not leaked.
“When I finally manage to yank it out and empty the contents into the loo, it’s kind of awe-inspiring.”
You can wear your Mooncup for up to eight hours depending on flow. But think you know your period blood? Until you’ve taken out a menstrual cup, you’re on casual terms. When I finally manage to yank it out and empty the contents into the loo, it’s a scarlet deluge. I mean it’s kind of awe-inspiring – deep red and viscous, unlike the sorry sight of a used tampon, which, let’s be honest, can look more like a piece of offal.
My awe is tempered, however, by how hard I found it to get the Mooncup out. In fact, the poking about feels so uncomfortable that I immediately replace it with a tampon, hide the cup in its little bag, and avoid my editor for the next five days. This is the quitter’s attitude that also meant I never made it past Grade 2 piano.
The Joys of ‘Vaginami’.
Then I discover something at the bottom of my Mooncup box. Some instructions. Oops. It turns out you’re meant to fold the cup into your vagina a bit like origami – or “vaginami” as my colleague gleefully renames it. Each of the two recommended ways takes practice as you work out which suits your vagina best.
Sure enough, when I trial the double-fold method on my next period, the Mooncup slips in naturally and lodges itself in the right spot. I can still feel it, unlike a tampon, and I don’t love the sensation of taking it out. But with my newfound knowledge that the cup has little vents you squeeze to release the vacuum, it’s definitely easier to extract. And there’s more free advice – and videos! – from Put A Cup In It.
Keeping It Clean.
A Mooncup will last for 10 years, the brand says – one of its major claims to sustainability. But only if you look after it, which means washing it out after every use. And because my second period falls entirely over a work week, this means spending a lot of time on the lookout in the women’s loos.
“Washing menstrual blood out of a little goblet in the work sink? I’m embarrassed how embarrassed I feel.”
As colleagues, we’re prepared to do make-up in front of each other, eavesdrop for office gossip and even – when absolutely necessary – poo at work. But washing menstrual blood out of a little goblet in the sink? I’m embarrassed how embarrassed I feel. Call it internalised misogyny, but I vow to mind less.
Other notes: I’ve still not mastered a spill-free removal every time I take it out and, though I don’t have particularly heavy periods, no one can answer me a crucial question: how you get to the sink to wash your Mooncup without having to stuff tissue down your knickers to catch drip-dripping period blood? Plus, don’t get me started on how this would work in a festival long-drop loo.
(Pretty Much) Converted.
By the time my third period comes round, it feels good to be armed with my little cup in its little bag. We’re not in a 100% committed relationship, yet, but I’m persevering because living more sustainably matters – and because it feels motivating to be down to just a few leftover tampons in case of emergencies. I’ve worn the Mooncup to go swimming without any leaks, and each time I use it, things gets that little bit easier.
But do I honestly love the way the Mooncup feels? Not really, I tell my BFF and former housemate who sometimes used to leave her own (clean!) cup out in our shared bathroom. No shame in that game, I now realise. Her advice is to try out some other brands, as they are all designed differently. MoonCup is the Hoover of menstrual cups, if you will – a brandname that’s become synonymous with the concept. But it’s far from the only one out there.
Some Brands To Try.
There are some 200 brands on the market worldwide. If you want to try the original Mooncup (£21.99) – lots of people love it. My friend uses Femmycycle (£30.90) – “a name that makes me want to vom a little but the product is awesome,” she tells me. This cup looks like a teeny-tiny zorb ball with a ring-pull – a bit surreal, but she swears by it.
I’ve also been recommended the Mooncup-lookalike Lunette (£19.90), which comes in a rainbow of different colours, as well as the less obtrusive Fun Cup (£34.90) – from sex toy company Fun Factory, sold in a handy pack of two that could resolve the ‘drip-drip’ sink problem. Meanwhile, Intimina’s Lily Cup range (£19.99-£24.95) has different shapes for different ages – and its Ziggy Cup (£34.95) is designed specifically to wear while having sex.
Of course, purchasing a lot of different menstrual cups would be as bad for the environment as someone stockpiling tote bags or owning three reusable coffee cups (ahem). But when it comes to matters of the vagina, I do think it’s worth shopping around for the best fit.
Even if I’m not ready to use mine at Glastonbury just yet.
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