women's health

Menstrual cups and discs: A primer

Bea Cupin
Menstrual cups and discs: A primer
Thinking about switching to a menstrual cup or disc? Here's what you should know.

When I was young, I thought periods were a wonderful thing. After all, commercials for menstrual pads and feminine washes always featured young girls who looked fresh, happy, and active. 

Damn, was I wrong.

It was messy, usually painful, and – at least when I was still in high school – just a little awkward. Jumping high up in the air was definitely not part of the monthly experience. 

As a result, my relationship with my menstrual cycle and, ultimately, my body was fraught with disdain and, sometimes, terror. Once a month for five to seven days, I suffered. If it wasn’t the dysmenorrhea, it was fear that it’d leak through my pads. If it wasn’t tagos, it was the fact that I’d go through at least three packs of disposable pads or one box of eight tampons in one cycle. More often than not, it was all three. 

But I trudged on – because I had no choice. By my early 20s, I had figured out the over-the-counter pain medication that worked best for my body, as well as the kinds of pads and tampons that offered the best absorption while not breaking the bank.

So you can understand why I did my very best to resist change of any kind – especially if change meant inserting a silicone bell into your vagina. 

It was around 2015 when my roommate – who knew all my struggles by heart – suggested that I try a menstrual cup. She said it was more comfortable and, even if it cost more upfront, would be cheaper in the long run. For months, she insisted. Cycle after cycle, I said no. 

I only relented when she offered to buy me a menstrual cup as a gift. I’ve barely used any disposable menstrual product since.   

What the cup? 

Menstrual cups are typically made with flexible medical grade silicone, latex, or a thermoplastic isomer. They’re shaped like a bell with either a stem, ring, or ball on the pointer end that’s meant to make removal easier.

Unlike a napkin or a tampon, a menstrual cup catches the blood (and other fluids) you shed during your menstruation instead of absorbing it. The outer rim of the bell-shaped cup creates a seal against the vaginal wall, which means so long as you insert and position it correctly, you won’t get tagos.  

There are different ways to insert the cup but more or less, they’re variations of folding the rim over itself horizontally, inserting it into your vagina with your fingers, and wiggling it in place until a seal is formed (you will feel it, I’m telling you). 

It stays inside your body for up to 12 hours (or much shorter, if your flow is extra heavy). When it’s time to remove it, you simply yank it out using the stem, ball, or ring, empty the contents, rinse it quickly, and reinsert. You only need to clean and sterilize it before and after your period starts, presuming the cup or disc doesn’t come into contact with any external surfaces during your period.

…and discs? 

A menstrual disc is also typically made of the same kinds of materials as cups, but unlike the menstrual cup, the disc simply rests at the base of your cervix, creating a barrier so the liquid doesn’t flow out of your vagina. 

They’re wider in diameter than the cup and a tad bit softer. Discs can also stay inside the body for as long as cups, but the dumping process is a little different. 

Since the disc doesn’t create a seal in the vagina, the disc usually “auto-dumps” the blood while you’re peeing or pooping. Why? When you’re seated and flexing your muscles, the disc moves around just a little bit. It’s both a nifty and strange feature, especially if you’re used to the menstrual liquid-proof seal that cups create. 

Like the cup, menstrual discs are only meant to be cleaned and sterilized at the start and end of your period.  

Is it worth it? 

If you’re used to disposables (pads and tampons), I’m sure the last paragraphs have sounded like a lot. And it honestly is. Menstrual cups and discs take a cycle or two to get used to and in my own experience, everything becomes second nature after a few months. 

When I covered the 2016 elections, I had to contend with bathrooms on the road that weren’t always the cleanest and didn’t always have clean, running water to wash my menstrual cup between dumps.

The solution? Set aside a used (but clean!) plastic water bottle, fill it with clean water, and bring that to the washroom when you need to dump and rinse on the go. Alcohol sprays, tissue, and wet wipes are your best friends when you’re using a cup or a disc on the road. 

An unexpected advantage to switching to reusables has been understanding my cycle and my body better. Using a cup or a disc forces you to understand your own anatomy just a little better. 

I know my vagina (that’s the body part inside, not what you see outside – those are the labia) and cervix intimately, and because of the cup, I know, in milliliters, just how much menstrual fluid and blood I shed in a cycle. I’ve learned that the clots in my menstrual fluid are insane when I’m cramping – which explains why I’m cramping in the first place. I’m also able to see the consistency and color of the fluid I lose monthly, which makes it easier to track if something is amiss. 

Since 2016, I’ve gone through probably four to five cups, with one falling victim to a puppy who thought it was a chew toy. That means I’ve spent between P4,000 to P5,000 for period products over a period of 6 years, compared to the P2,000 in tampons or P2,400 in pads I would have spent in just a year. Of course, the caveat here is that I go through disposable products like there’s no tomorrow when I’m on my period. 

My very first menstrual cup was MeLuna, a Germany-made brand that offers several variations for different needs. Locally, Sinaya, Loop Store, and BeautyMNL all sell cups online – their designs are more basic, but they do the job well. Loop Store also recently started selling a menstrual cup.

The “perfect” menstrual cup or disc is a matter of personal preference and can only truly be discovered through trial and error. For instance, I’ve learned that I prefer cups that are softer and have shorter stems. It’s admittedly prohibitive since a cup or disc could set you back upwards of P700. 

If, like me, you have extra heavy periods, investing in a cup or a disc is definitely worth it. The menstrual disc has another bonus: you can have it on while having penetrative sex, and it shouldn’t get in the way. I personally prefer the cup over the disc, but I suspect that’s mostly because I’m more used to a menstrual cup at this point.

People with lighter periods might find the menstrual cup or disc too much of a hassle. If you’re looking for sustainable options, you can check out reusable and washable pads instead. 

Finally, with all my praises and hymns for the menstrual cup and disc, I’ll be the first to remind you: It’s not for everyone. Some people might find that it doesn’t suit their lifestyle, anatomy, or preference – and that’s perfectly fine. 

Surviving (or thriving?) during your monthly period means figuring out what works best for you, and if that might involve a menstrual cup or disc, I hope this guide helped just a little bit.  – Rappler.com

Bea Cupin

Bea is a journalist.