I'm a woman doctor and here's why I recommend the menstrual cup

Using it allows women to move past the taboos attached to periods and period blood.

 |  5-minute read |   15-09-2017
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In a previous piece for DailyO, I had shared my predicaments, experiences and memories associated with menstruation.

One of my acquaintances felt that I should not have described in "first person" how uncomfortable I felt during my period.

She suggested that in the future I should write in third person about such "intimate" stuff! This is the outlook shared by many women, including educated ones, who still feel awkward when it comes to talking about menstruation publicly.

I feel it is essential that women deliberate, discuss and communicate about issues that are of utmost importance to them for their own sake as well as others'. Narrating my personal experience of using a menstrual cup and how it has transformed my menstrual days is an attempt in that direction.

Before using a menstrual cup

Like most women, I used sanitary pads before I was introduced to menstrual cups. Once or twice, I did try tampons but I had to use sanitary pads additionally — this I found even more difficult.

The disposal of tampons and sanitary pads has always caused distress and high levels of anxiety, especially during travel.

My initial experiment with menstrual cups

Though I was born in the '80s, around the time of the commercial introduction of menstrual cups in the US market, I was unaware of their existence until two years ago.

Since menstrual cups are reusable and provide a low-profit margin, manufacturing companies seldom spend money advertising them.

Thus it took almost 30 years for the information to reach me by word of mouth! I cannot remember the brand I purchased initially, but can still recollect the physical and mental trauma I sustained in the process of learning to use that cup which was ill-fitting and as hard as a plastic funnel!

Due to my inherent lack of perseverance, I abandoned the whole idea and disposed the cup.

Lesson 1: You should choose the cup wisely. Product quality does matter.

Lesson 2: You should have enough perseverance to master the skill (easier said than done)!

How it went

After reading a couple of blogs and watching YouTube videos on how to use a menstrual cup, I decided to give it a try. This time I chose a brand recommended by a friend (SheCup), which is available only in one universal size (small and large sizes are available with other brands). 

I found information on size specifications based on age, parity and blood flow quite confusing and preferred to try something that came in a standard size.

mc-690_091517024315.jpgThankfully, the vagina is a flexible muscular tube that can expand and securely hold the menstrual cup. 

As always, YouTube videos and discussion with friends helped me gain confidence and motivation.

With a little practice, even a lackadaisical person like me was able to manoeuvre the cup without any difficulty.

Lesson 3: Watch YouTube videos and do not hesitate to speak to a friend.

Why it works

Once I found a suitable cup and a convenient way of manipulating it, life became simpler and easier during menstrual days. It fits snugly and many a times I had to set a reminder on the phone to caution me about the cup, which means you will not feel any sensation of its placement inside your vagina.

Thankfully, the vagina is a flexible muscular tube that can expand and securely hold the menstrual cup.

So worrying about the cup getting displaced and stuck "high up" in the vagina or the cup falling while you are walking is irrational and unwarranted. Since I started using the menstrual cup, I have noticed definite improvement in my routine, especially at work.

Once placed in the morning, I had to think about it only in the evening — it can be retained for 12 hours continuously without any hazard. Women who experience heavy flow might need to clean the cup frequently.

I found that there was a significant improvement in my sleep pattern, minimal discomfort and I didn't have to wake up in the middle of the night to "replace" the cup, unlike changing sanitary pads.

I have used the menstrual cup while travelling and found it convenient because it is easy to carry and I did not have to worry about how to dispose it. Unlike used sanitary pads, blood in a menstrual cup is odourless, which is indeed a real blessing.

The price of a cup varies from Rs 700 to Rs 1,000 and one cup can be used for up to 15 years. It has been proven mathematically that the menstrual cup is much cheaper than sanitary pads.

Minuses

The cup should be used with caution at public toilets because of substandard public utilities, including hand wash. If tap water or hand faucet are not available, it is difficult to clean the cup. Clean water and soap are necessary for the proper use of menstrual cups. My experience of using them while travelling on the train (Indian Railways) has not been particularly pleasant.

So it is advisable to have a backup, especially while travelling.

It takes some time to master how you introduce the cup into your vagina and retrieve it after use. The trick is to understand how to manoeuvre the cup in the direction of the vagina - this would make the insertion of the cup easier.

Yes, the direction of the vagina. Even though I studied Obstetrics and Gynaecology as an MBBS graduate, I was unaware of the unique angle of the human vagina until my colleague explained it to me!

mc-cup-da_091517024537.jpgIt is advisable to have a backup, especially while travelling.

Learning the technique to fold the cup before its insertion is also important.

I feel retrieving the menstrual cup requires more skill than inserting it. We should forgive ourselves for spilling or soiling during the initial days of trial.

The chances of leakage cannot be ignored until one becomes confident of the proper positioning of the cup. The cup cannot be used by women with an altered position of the cervix or those using intrauterine contraceptive devices.

Why I prefer a cup

It is a revolution in menstrual hygiene and women's health. I yearn that every woman gets a chance to give the menstrual cup a try overcoming the financial, social and psychological barriers.

It can't be said enough that this method is environmental and pocket-friendly and plays an important role in improving the way we deal with our menstrual days.

But more than that, I believe, using a menstrual cup allows women to move past the taboos attached to menstruation and menstrual blood.

Also read: How Indian women use medicines to alter menstrual cycles to fit orthodox customs

Writer

Dr Dhanya Lakshmi N Dr Dhanya Lakshmi N @dhanyalakshmin

The author is a medical geneticist interested in popularising science. She works as an assistant professor of medical genetics at Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences, Punjagutta, Hyderabad.

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