I’ve been trying to reduce my carbon footprint.
Last year, I talked about how shampoo bars reduce the number of shampoo bottles you buy, but it’s not always a plastic-free experience. This year, I’ve made it a habit to bring my reusable straws whenever I go out, but I don’t always buy milk tea, iced coffee, or anything that requires a straw, so I don’t feel like I’m making much of a difference.
So I wanted to try out another eco-friendly product that I know I’ll use often. And then I learned from one of my friends how menstrual cups are a great way for women to go green without sacrificing time comfort and convenience on their period.
Luckily, Sileu – a menstrual cup brand based in Europe – sent ModernFilipina.ph its Sileu Travel Pack, which is supposed to be the perfect starter kit for those who want to make the switch.
Here’s what happened when I used it.
What are Menstrual Cups?
Menstrual cups are a reusable feminine hygiene product. If washable cloth pads are the greener alternatives to sanitary napkins, menstrual cups are to tampons. They’re funnel-shaped and made of rubber and silicone, and inserted into the vagina to catch and collect your blood. You then have to remove and drain a cup at least every 12 hours or so, depending on how heavy your period is.
Menstrual cups come in various types and sizes. Since women’s vaginas look different, some cups can work for certain women and some can’t. Women can use two to three napkins or tampons per day, but a menstrual cup is supposed to last about 10 years. So aside from the water, you’ll be using to sterilize and wash your cup in between uses, it produces no waste in the time you’ll be using it.
Sileu Menstrual Cup: First Thoughts
My Sileu menstrual cup was shipped all the way from Spain. My college Spanish lessons finally served a purpose, and I was able to read the instructions on the box.
We ended up receiving Sileu’s standard menstrual cup that came in a large size. The main reason I never bought a menstrual cup prior to this was because they came in different sizes, and I wasn’t sure which one I had to pick. But since I’m a plus-sized girl, I figured that, like a lot of the things I wear, I should also pick the larger size.
Inside the box, you’ll find a manual (with English instructions), the menstrual cup, a cloth bag for the cup, a hard case, and a collapsible silicone sterilizer. I saw videos telling me to boil my cup to sterilize it, so I was unsure what the sterilizer was for. I later learned that it was in case you didn’t have access to a pot or stove and only had a microwave to boil water.
My Pre-Period Trial
My officemate, Nikki, said she has fully switched to menstrual cups after finding a brand she liked. However, she warned me that there’s a learning curve to using one and recommended trying it out before my period actually came.
I first watched videos that said women may have different strategies for inserting a menstrual cup: some sit on the toilet, others stand, squat, or place a foot on the toilet. Sitting and standing weren’t working for me, and when I tried to do it with one foot on the toilet, I couldn’t tell if I was inserting it at the right angle.
Squatting was the most effective position for me, but when I squat, I try to distance my feet as much as I could. I could do this in a home bathroom when I’m alone, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it in my office’s toilet cubicles where the space was much more limited.
It took a lot of tries before I was pretty sure I got it in right.
At times, I felt like I inserted it incorrectly because it could easily slip out when I tugged on the cord. At other times, I think I got it wrong because I didn’t know how deep it was actually supposed to go and I was scared that pushing in it too deep might lead to hurting my vagina or cervix.
I figured I finally did it right after there was some resistance when I tugged at the cord, it was suctioning itself in place when I stood up straight.
I wanted to give it some time and see what it would feel like when I went about my daily activities. I kept it on for about 30 minutes while I prepped and cooked lunch, so I was mostly standing up during this trial. For some reason, I couldn’t ignore or forget the fact that I was wearing a menstrual cup.
Even when I was trying to go about my day, I could still kind of feel it. It wasn’t painful, but it was hard to ignore.
I wasn’t sure how comfortable it would be when my period finally came.
Using the Menstrual Cup on My Period
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DID YOU KNOW the menstrual cup was invented by a woman? Leona Chalmers patented the first cup in 1937 and just as it was gaining a small amount of traction, the war broke out and rubber became too scarce to continue production. After the war the menstrual cup was revived BUT women's bodies, wearing anything internally and periods in general were still so taboo, explaining how to use the cup and sell them was a feat. It wasn't until the 1980's, the invention of silicone and a rebrand that the cup finally found success. Today I'll be trying a few different kinds of cups and talking about the pros and cons! How lucky are we to have choices like this new design from @bloodybuddycup #themoreyouknow🌈 #menstrualcup #bloodybuddy #periods #period #menstruation #menstrualhygeine #happytoshare AND YES I KNOW PERIODS DON'T JUST HAPPEN TO WOMEN. But they happen to a lot of women, and look at that red on red on red!
My periods are relatively light, so I have spotting for one or two days and then actual bleeding for two or three days. Fortunately, my last period was relatively light, so I only had to use it for four days. Even more fortunately, those days fell on December 29, 2019 to January 1, 2020, so I was at home throughout my whole period.
After sterilizing my cup in boiling water and letting it cool, I tried inserting it in after I took a shower. I didn’t know why, but I was having a more difficult time putting it in compared to the first time I did. I think I spent an additional 20 minutes in the bathroom.
After a while, I wasn’t being careful holding the fold of my menstrual cup and it snapped open.
Like, have you ever been hit by a rubber band? Imagine that, but on your sensitive vaginal muscles. After sitting on the toilet for five minutes breathing deeply and wondering if this is how men felt when they get kicked in the balls, I tried again.
This time, however, the area that got hit stung when I tried sliding the cup in. So I gave up. I figured I’d let the painful area rest a bit and just use a pantyliner since I only had a light flow.
I posted about my experience on Twitter. A friend shared how some girls go through several menstrual cups before finding the right one. The one she bought fit her perfectly, but she, too, had a learning curve.
MENSTRUAL CUP LIFE HACK: Stem bothering you? Suction not quite right? Try flipping your cup inside-out = no stem and fresh suction action.
Have any cup hacks to share? Comment below!
.#menstrualcup #lifehack… https://t.co/u37Slwc35B
— The Vagina Blog (@thevaginablog) February 4, 2020
The next time I tried the cup, I still struggled to slide it in even after watching more videos on how to do it. I figured that since there’s a chance I won’t get it right, I should just try to get it in, to the point that it doesn’t stick out or slip out and then wear a pantyliner in case of leakage.
My next problem was that it was hard to ignore the feeling of the menstrual cup being there. Just like the trial period, I did the week before, I could feel the cup when I sat or stood.
Surprisingly, there was no leaking throughout the day.
Because the box said it could last for up to 12 hours, I didn’t take it off. It felt weird when I needed to use the toilet, but the cup didn’t affect anything. When it was time to change, I was sitting down on the toilet when I pulled the cup out. It wasn’t painful, but I dumped the contents into the toilet before I saw how much it collected. Despite its effectiveness, I was hesitant about keeping the cup in while I slept, so I decided to take it off and switch to an overnight pad for bed.
I was hoping to finally not wear a pantyliner and felt a bit more confident putting on the cup. However, since it was December 31, my family decided to go out for dinner for New Year’s Eve. It was the first time I went out while wearing the cup, so I didn’t want to risk it and used a regular napkin since I was getting a normal flow. Luckily, there was still no leakage.
I was getting used to the feeling of it being there, but still a bit uncomfortable. I talked to my friend again and she mentioned that I got the large size. She said that that might be the reason it feels uncomfortable.
So I did the research and found that menstrual cup sizes have nothing to do with your body size: smaller cups are for women with lighter flows, smaller vaginas, and beginners, while larger cups are for women with heavier flows and those who have already experienced natural childbirth. Seeing as I was neither of those two, I figured that I might have been better off with the smaller cup.
I went through Sileu’s website and found that they have a lot of types of menstrual cups. Looking back, I think I’d have a better experience with a smaller Classic size before deciding whether I need a harder or softer cup. When I got my menstrual cup, Nikki mentioned how it’s a lot harder than the cup she’s used to, and I saw why.
On a scale of 1 to 10, SIleu’s Classic menstrual cup has a flexibility of 5. If I had gotten the Sileu Soft, it would have been an 8 (the softest in Sileu’s collection), while the Sileu Sport has a flexibility of 1. The former is appropriate for women with sensitive pelvic floors and don’t want so much pressure on their vaginal walls. The latter, on the other hand, is for active women who need the pressure to prevent leaking.
Check out Sileu’s guide on choosing the perfect menstrual cup to help find which one is best for you.
My period was already light by Day 4, and we weren’t going out to celebrate the New Year; it was a relatively quiet day. Not much to say on this day, but it took fewer tries for me to insert the menstrual cup, so that was progress. However, I heard that some girls can go through multiple periods before they got the menstrual cup down.
My period was gone the next day. I had my menstrual cup sterilized and dried before placing it in its pouch. The hard case has enough room for one cup and the sterilizer, which is perfect if you’re traveling on the go or if you just need to store it when you’re not on your period.
The Stigma of Menstrual Cups and Tampons in the Philippines
I thought my experience trying out the menstrual cup would be limited to how I use it. But I wanted to write about this next part because I feel like this might be the reason some women are hesitant to try out menstrual cups.
Before I wrote this article, my mom found the box.
She later confronted me, asking if it was a tampon, if I really needed to try it to write an article about it, and if I’d lose my virginity using it. It annoyed me because she was so worried about me losing my virginity to a small piece of silicone. And the fact that she actually said it will “destroy me” down there just made me roll my eyes at such an outdated patriarchal belief system that implied that if an unmarried woman wasn’t a virgin, she was considered “destroyed.”
But then I realized that, in a conservative Catholic country like the Philippines, millions of women may also have misconceptions and misplaced fears about menstrual cups, tampons, and other feminine hygiene products that require you to shove things up your lady bits in a non-sexual way.
It made me remember an old Tweet from a girl who was looking for tampons in a Watsons store. None of the salesladies knew what a tampon was, with one even thinking “tampon” was another word for “dildo.”
skl i asked a saleslady at watsons where the tampons are shelved. turns out that she never heard of tampons before. more salesladies started to crowd around me as i anxiously described tampons “ate yung pinapasok po sa puke” to which an ate with a confused look replied, “dildo?”
— Meg (@megdzn) July 5, 2019
I could go on about how virginity is a social construct and the lack thereof does not make a woman inferior to women who still have it. However, that’s a whole can of worms I don’t want to open for now. But when you consider that a menstrual cup means not having to buy one-use napkins for up to ten years, you start to wonder why menstrual cups haven’t taken off as successfully as reusable straws and mesh bags for groceries.
If you want to try a menstrual cup, don’t worry about your virginity.
Your hymen is a biological part of your body that exists, assuming you were born with one (yes, some women are born without hymens). However, you’re just as likely to lose it doing non-sexual daily activities that stretch your hymen than you are to have sex and not lose your hymen.
Virginity, on the other hand, is a social construct with an arbitrary definition but generally refers to a person who has never had sex with another person.
Are Menstrual Cups the Greener Option for Feminine Hygiene?
I feel like once more women become more confident about using a menstrual cup, it’s going to be the greener option for women, not to mention the financial implications of it.
According to National Geographic, a woman will use between 5 to 15 thousand sanitary napkins or tampons. And all of these unrecyclable plastic-based napkins end up in landfills. That’s 40 years’ worth of added garbage to a landfill, given that that’s the average number of years a woman menstruates in her lifetime.
A menstrual cup, by comparison, has a lifespan of up to 10 years if cleaned and maintained properly. The cup and its accessories are reusable. Given that an average woman will bleed for 40 years, she can use up to 15,000 sanitary napkins in her lifetime and leave a large carbon footprint, or she can use four menstrual cups, buying one every 10 years, and have a much smaller footprint. When I received Sileu’s menstrual cup, the only thing I had to throw away was the plastic packaging used to protect the box.
The napkin brand I always buy costs around P4 to P12 per pad, depending on whether I buy pads with or without wings and regular or overnight pads.
Let’s assume I spend P8 per pad and use about 10,000 napkins since most of my flows are fairly light. That means I spend P80,000 in a span of 40 years. The Sileu Travel Pack I received is €29.99 (P1,700). It seems like a lot, but remember you’re also getting the hard case and the collapsible sterilizer.
The Sileu Classic menstrual cup alone is €19.99 (P1,100). If you’re comparing Sileu’s prices to unbranded menstrual cups you can find on Shopee and Lazada, it’s definitely going to be expensive. But when you compare it to menstrual cups from known brands that promise durability and quality, then it’s actually cheaper or around the same price range.
Although I can’t say that I had a smooth first experience with a menstrual cup, I think this was a good experience as a first-timer.
So I’ve decided to make the switch. But at the moment, I’m doing my research and looking for local brands, though I’m also considering just getting the smaller size from Sileu as well.