I know what you're thinking right now: this is probably just another article praising the period cup for its benefits and disparaging the use of traditional pads and tampons. However, as someone who has never inserted a tampon prior to using a period cup, I struggled a lot with learning how to use one, and thus I can acknowledge both the benefits and hassles of the product. Overall, however, the cup has changed my life for the better, and I'm here to share my side of the story — not-so-pretty facts and all.

How It All Started

I've been a life-long environmentalist (check out my articles on thrifting and being an eco-friendly foodie), and with the introduction of the period cup on the market, I knew instinctively it was the right switch for me. A menstrual (or period) cup is feminine hygiene product usually made from silicone that replaces the need for pads and tampons. The cup only needs to be changed twice in 24 hours, can be used for up to five years, and promises leak-proof, comfortable protection for the rest of your life (as well as savings in as little as half a year).

After doing a bit of research, I went with the Intima Lily Cup Compact period cup in Size A (pictured above), for women who'd never given birth vaginally before. The problem was, I purchased the product, then let it sit in my bathroom drawer for five months before finally summing up the courage to learn how to use it once and for all. I didn't get it on my first try, or second, third, or even my fourth, but that's okay — you've probably guessed I finally got it on my fifth try. 

Inserting the Cup for the First Time

Though many articles exist that are probably more detailed than my brief overview here, I'd like to offer some insights I learned about inserting a menstrual cup. First off, you fold the period cup (see options below) with your dominant hand and separate the labia of your vagina with your other hand. Then, you gently push the cup in. This part hurts the first few times and feels like you're trying to jam something into a brick wall, but it will get in there eventually. This is how I imagine inserting a tampon feels like, but I'll admit that I still have never used a tampon to this day, so I may never know.

Basically, the key is to relax your pelvic and vaginal muscles, squat almost to a full sitting position, and even do a little dance to wiggle the cup inside. Since your vagina is made of many muscles, it's important to relax and work with your body while applying a gentle, consistent force the whole time. 

What I've learned over time is that if it isn't immediately comfortable upon insertion, you just have to squat lower and relax more, then push it farther in. 

The First Day with the Cup

Once I finally got the cup in there, I literally cheered and did a little victory dance in the bathroom. The moment marked my departure from period products for the rest of my life — and the beginning of complete autonomy while on my period. 

As soon as I left the bathroom, however, I felt a weird burning sensation and the distinctive feeling that something was, you know, stuck down there. It wasn't intolerable, but it was enough to be noticeable when I walked or sat down, which makes up a majority of my typical school day. I decided to push through and just remove the cup at the end of the day. 

Removing the Cup (Or, How I Reached a New Level of Discomfort in My Life)

Inserting the cup hadn't been too bad after I finally got it. Now, however, I had to remove the cup from way deep inside my body. To my initial horror, I couldn't find the tip of the cup sticking out of my vagina anywhere, and I thought it'd fallen out while I was peeing (I've since learned this is impossible). After bearing down a few times, however, the tip emerged and I sighed in relief. I Googled different sources and concluded that the best strategy was to gently work one index finger up your vaginal canal, then press down on the cup's opening (it's silicone, so it's flexible), to break the seal. The seal basically forms a small suction around your vaginal opening to prevent leaks. 

Using my dominant hand, I worked my index finger up there, and realized with panic that it took my entire finger's length to reach the cup's opening. Additionally, because the cup was collapsible (hence,  "compact"), it had weird gradated ridges that made it more difficult to work my finger inside. (If you're super concerned about this part, my friend uses the Diva Cup, which has no ridges, and says it's no problem for her, so I'd give that a shot). After breaking the seal, I folded the top of the cup down to reduce the size of its opening as it came out of my vagina. With my other hand, I grabbed the tip of the cup and gently pulled it out. 

And...thankfully, that was basically it. What I've learned after two periods using the cup is that it's much easier to take the cup out in the shower because you can spread your legs farther when you squat and bear down. On the toilet during the day, you have to position yourself over the toilet so that the cup's contents will be caught by the bowl. 

The Cons of the Cup

All that being said, the bad parts of using a period cup come down to this: removal and insertion can be painful if you aren't on your heavier flow days (your period blood basically lubricates the cup as it goes in); the cup can discolor and smell a little after a few days, although it's nothing boiling it in hot water and vinegar can't fix; it occasionally still feels uncomfortable during the day; during the first two days of my period, when flow is heavier, I have to wear a light pad just in case there's leakage from the cup; and it can be inconvenient to wash a bloodied cup in a public bathroom sink during the day. 

This last part is something I'm still struggling with — my sister does it fine, but I'm still shy about washing it in front of strangers, so I mostly remove it at the end of the day in the shower. It's up to you whether your bathroom environment makes you feel comfortable enough to do this, but hey, it could be a good conversation starter. 

The Pros of the Cup

Whatever the cons of using a cup are, I firmly believe that the pros far outweigh them. I've stopped buying or carrying pads around, haven't had a stain on sheets or clothing since using the cup, and feel genuinely good about reducing packaging waste from disposable period products. Additionally, it's become more comfortable over time, and when I'm at the gym or even running, I can't feel the cup at all. At all. This is a true testament to the wonders of female anatomy, and I love how the cup perfectly uses the inner cavity of the vagina to women's advantage. 

The cup has strangely also given me more confidence. When I wear it, it feels like my secret, and it's empowering to know you've taken matters of menstruation into your own hands (quite literally). I've since told many of my friends and even strangers, and have encouraged them to make the switch as well. 

The Future of Periods

Are period cups a movement that could empower women of our generation for years to come? I certainly think so, even with the initial learning curve and cons that persist. If you're curious, give it a try, and it just might be the best personal care decision you'll ever make in your life.