After that rather embarrassing episode while scuba diving in Manado where I had to change tampons on the roof top of a boat, I started looking around for other feminine hygiene products beyond the standard sanitary pad and tampon – surely society has come up with other ways to manage periods that happen to half of our population. I wanted something that would be good for travelling as well, and I think I have found my solution with the Menstrual Cup.
Read on for why I’m a menstrual cup convert and how I think it’s great especially for female travellers. Also, a review of the first menstrual cup I bought, the Lunette.
Updated 2017 – I’ve been using menstrual cups for 4 years now, so I’ve added on a few more thoughts and tips based on my own experiences.
First things first:
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a little cup-like object that you insert into your vagina to contain your period. Instead of soaking it up like a tampon or pad which is usually made up of absorbent material, the cup is usually made of a rubbery or silicone type material that acts as a mini-plug of sorts, keeping your period from flowing out of your body. It needs to be emptied every few hours depending on your flow, or you risk it leaking.
You insert the cup with your fingers – you fold it up so it’s small enough to insert into your vagina. You wiggle it about a little bit until it pops open again and sits in your vagina, creating a bit of a suction that allows it to stay in place and block the blood from leaking out of your body. Removal involves pinching the cup to break that mini-vacumn seal and pulling it out of your body – there’s usually a bit of a stem on end that pokes out of your body, acting like the string on a tampon – you empty the discharge before reinserting.
Why a menstrual cup is great for female travellers
The one thing I love is how space saving menstrual cups are – you just need to carry around one cup for all your period days as opposed to multiple pads or tampons, which is especially useful if you pack light and are carry-on only, or when travelling to places where your favourite brands or tampons are not easily available.
When I travel, I usually have a menstrual cup stored in a little pouch that I carry around when my period is close, but I also have an emergency compact one that I carry around all the time, just in case.
Menstrual cups are also much more environmentally friendly and generate a lot less waste then if you were using pads and tampons every month. You can’t recycle a used pad in any way, so that’s purely landfill and each period you’re using anywhere from 10-20 pieces depending how often you change them and your flow. This really starts to add up over time, so if using a resuable menstrual cup can help cut down on this, I’m game to do my part.
And for any budget traveller, an overall lower cost in the long run is also a good thing. The initial cost of a menstrual cup definitely outweighs that of a pad or tampon, and you might end up spending a little more at the beginning trying to find our which cup fits you best, but in the long run, you won’t have to spend money every month buying pads and tampons.
You can also keep a menstrual cup on for a longer period of time (12 hours) as compared to a tampon (6-8 hours), that’s useful when you are on the road and don’t always have access to decent toilets in public spaces. I especially like the Victoria’s Love with the valve because it means I don’t even need to remove the cup from my body when I’m on the go. Tampons can be quite drying if you leave them on for too long.
A 12 hour maximum doesn’t mean it won’t leak though – on my heavy flow days, I need to empty the cup every 3-4 hours, on lighter days I can definitely leave it in for longer quite safely without a leak. There is pretty conflicting advice from the internet about whether there is increased/decreased risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome from menstrual cups, which is basically a bacterial infection that has been linked to both tampons and menstrual cups. I recommend using common sense – taking it out from time to time just to give your bits some room to breathe, not always pushing the limits and always keeping your cup clean through hygienic handling.
You wear it inside your body, so no more unsightly rashes or abrasions caused from pads – you know what I mean girls – especially if you have sensitive skin and get up to a lot of physical activity like climb and run. Also, it’s great for water sports as well, because it doesn’t soak up water like tampons do. If you are in the pool with a tampon on, you’ll definitely need to change as soon as you emerge because your tampon is super soaked, but with a cup you don’t have that problem. I’ve been scuba diving without any issues.
Wearing a menstrual cup just makes you so much more intimately aware of your body and your bits, whether you want to or not. I’ve always had a general idea of my flow, but being able to see it visually as liquid discharge and not just a stain on a pad makes it that much visceral. Also, you’re going to be reach up into your vagina on a regular basis, so you’ll definitely know your private bits much better, which is good for your health in the long run as you will be able to detect any anomalies and hopefully catch any weird growths or tumours early.
And maybe why it’s not
I love menstrual cups now but they aren’t the easiest things to use, not at first at least, and you definitely need a bit of practice. Compared to a pad, the learning curve on how to stick one of these cups in your vagina is much higher, and compared to a tampon, these are much larger and you do need to know the technique to folding and inserting it securely.
I will admit that the first few times it took me a good 20 minutes to get it inserted properly, and when I didn’t manage to it felt really uncomfortable, or sometimes ended up leaking – so maybe have a pantyliner or some period panties on standby the first few times, especially when you are figuring out your flow. It took a few cycles before I got the hang of what worked for me in terms of insertion and removal, and how long I could go before I needed to empty the cup.
Definitely practice at home or in a familiar toilet if you can the first few times – you don’t want to be holed up in a tiny airplane toilet or hostel bathroom trying to jam it up your vagina.
It gets messy – nothing is being absorbed in a menstrual cup, so the act of removing and reinserting the cup means you might get your hands quite bloody at times as you have to reach up inside yourself to remove the cup with your fingers. I’ve had people describe it as a bit of a blood bath when they first start out, so always make sure you have tissue paper or one of those bum guns on hand (so good for cleaning up). Finding a toilet with a sink in it – even better.
The menstrual cup is also not something you can just yank out or remove discreetly – definitely no way I could have done what I did on top of the boat in Manado. You do need a bit of privacy to deal with emptying the cup, and somewhere to empty the cup’s contents – a flushable toilet is best of course, I’ve never had to go camping or spend time out in the wilderness with the cup before though.
Not all menstrual cups fit all bodies – there is a lot of variety out there these days, in terms of shape, size, colours and even functions – I even funded a kickstarter where they are developing technology that tells you when your cup needs to be emptied, which is like woah. Every body is also different whether it’s the height of your cervix, size of your vagina or your flow type, so it might not be something you get right on your first purchase or try. My advice is to do your research and stick it out for a cycle or two, have a bit of patience and don’t get too stressed out by it.
Protip – if you are a beginner, start with a smaller size just because it will probably be easier for you to insert. Something too large might just be intimidating and feel quite uncomfortable if you are not used to it.
Also, the menstrual cup is a pretty personal item – I wouldn’t be sharing mine with anyone, so unfortunately, you are going to become one of those girls others can’t rely on for having an emergency pad or tampon around. That said, I actually do carry 1-2 tampons around just in case, and also because they don’t take up a lot of space.
Review of the Lunette Menstrual Cup
The first ever menstrual cup I used was the Lunette – I got myself a green one (back then it was called the Lunette Diana) because I didn’t want a white/clear type which most of the brands then had, and also because for some reason green was on sale and not the other colours.
The Lunette is pretty good for a general menstrual cup:
- I like that it comes in fun colours – this wasn’t so common previously when I did my initial research, most of the cups came in a clear silicone which I don’t really fancy.
- The material is medical grade and FDA approved, it’s a bit firmer so it takes a bit of practice to fold and hold the cup for insertion, but it pops open more easily as well. I like the Lily Cup‘s material better though.
- There are these 4 little holes in the lip of the cup, which is apparently what is needed to create the suction effect to keep the cup from shifting around. I honestly don’t know if it makes a difference, but I do know that you need to make sure those holes are kept clean.
- The stem and bottom of the cup has a few ridges on it which helps your fingers grip and pinch to pull the cup out. You can also safely trim the stem if it’s a bit long for your body
I also got myself the FeelBetter cleanser which is a light soap for cleaning your cup between uses. I used to clean pretty religiously and thoroughly right at the start because I was a bit paranoid about infections, but I’ve found just once or twice a day is enough.
I don’t carry the cleanser around with me and I either just wipe down or rinse the cup when I’m out of the house. Back then they sold the cleanser in 250ml bottles instead of the 150ml tubes. I wish they made them in 100ml tubes for travelling though – I transferred mine into travel friendly tube sizes, but 4 years later, I still have so much cleanser left. You are encouraged to boil or steam the cup when you first start using it to properly sterilize it, and maybe do this every once in awhile.
Other menstrual cup reviews
If you want to learn more about the other menstrual cups I’ve reviewed, check out:
- Victoria’s Love – the menstrual cup with a stem valve that you don’t have to remove from your body to empty
- Lily Cup Compact – the collapsible menstrual cup that becomes a tiny round disc when not in use
I definitely recommend the menstrual cup, whether you are a traveller or not. I love the convenience and all the ways it just uses less. Drop me any questions if you have them here in the comments, happy to help out as best as I can!