Menstrual cups are great in theory. Who wouldn’t want to help stop the environmental impact of tampons and pads with a re-usable contraption? But in reality, they’re kind of scary. Healthista’s Yanar Alkayat tried the Intimina Lily Cup – here’s her verdict
The average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of pads, tampons and applicators in her lifetime according to the book Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation. Given that the average British woman will menstruate for almost 40 years, that’s a lot of unsustainable stuff hitting our environment. But there is an alternative – menstrual cups. Re-usable and eco-friendly, they’re usually made of silicone and designed as cups that you insert into your vagina to literally collect period blood before it gets to your pants.
For about a year I’ve wanted to ditch tampons in favour of something more environmentally friendly but haven’t had the courage to try a menstrual cup. Then I recently noticed friends talking about it – some said they’ve switched to using cups others were open to it. According to research by Intimina, creators of the new Lily Cup range of menstrual cups, four out of five women change to a menstrual cup after a friend’s recommendation and 91 per cent of users would recommend it. The more I thought of all those sanitary products going to landfill or worse, down the loo, the more I knew I had to give it a go.
The environmental cost of your period
The Women’s Environmental Network estimates tampons, pads and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year in the UK alone, and they all contain plastic. In fact, pads are around 90 per cent plastic, which end up in landfill, seas and rivers. Worldwide, Intimina says around 100 billion tampons and sanitary pads are discarded each year. Each tampon is thought to take six months to biodegrade whereas plastic applicators can last indefinitely.
Cotton sanitary products are not much better as non-organic types are sprayed with pesticides (as all non-organic cotton products are) but then bleached white to purify the cotton fibres. There is on-going debate whether this bleaching process leads to health-harming dioxins but while the jury might be out on the impact on women’s health, what’s certain is sanitary product waste has created an enviromenstrual nightmare.
Going for the menstrual cup
I spent several months psyching myself up for the cup. The concept and idea of a menstrual cup terrified and confused me in equal measures – how will this thing actually work, how will it stay in place, how will spills be avoided, and will it be messy? A good friend talked through her experience at length which helped put me at ease.
To prepare myself to try the new Lily Cup, I tried another brand’s menstrual cup for a couple of months in the lead up. I’m not sure if I was inserting it incorrectly but it was a disastrous mess every time I tried to pull it out as it was sliding up too far. I consulted my friend after a frenzied episode in the office toilets where I thought I was never going to reach it and get it out, and she said I could be inserting it too high, which would explain the bloody drama. She also said it gets easier every time but there shouldn’t be so much contact with menstrual blood so I was hoping the Lily Cup would be less of a hands on experience.
The Lily cup comes in two designs. regular (pictured, right) and collapsible.
It also comes in two sizes for each: size A for women who have not given birth and Size B for women who have given birth vaginally.
What makes the Lily Cup different is that unlike other menstrual cups, it folds into the size of a tampon before insertion. Here it is in action.
We tried the Lily Cup Compact (below) which is collapsible – the only collapsible menstrual cup on the market – which comes with a neat case smaller than your palm (about the size of a tin of lip balm) that’s discreet, portable and hygienic. I tried the collapsible size A.
Before I get into the details of my trial, here’s a discreet video explaining how both models work:
After popping it in a saucepan of boiling water for a few minutes it was ready to use. I tried it on my second period day when the flow is not as heavy as the first. The instructions are clear so I had no problem with folding the cup, inserting and checking it was fully open inside. Skimming the rim of the cup when it’s inside helps to double-check it’s open and in suctioned place.
At this point it’s worth pointing out a menstrual cup is one way of bringing you closer to your body, inside and out, and all its natural functions. Emptying the cup down the toilet and seeing how much you bleed may feel a bit gross at first but it’s really not that bad. Having said that, I imagine it’s not for everyone – I’m thinking of super queasy women who can’t stand the sight of blood – but for the rest, it’s actually ok (I promise!) and even a good way of getting to understand your feminine health and personal cycle.
Here’s a gif of the collapsible Lily Cup Compact doing its thing:
Removing the Lily Cup was much easier than the previous brand I’d tried. Instead of migrating upwards, the cup stayed low down with the little stalk half in and half out of me so all it took was a little pinch of the cup to remove the suction, and a little tug and pull to fully come out. The experience couldn’t have been easier and more different to the previous cup – no mess, no stress, no rooting around and no bloody drama.
How about spills and leaks?
Everyone wants to know about spills and leaks. Honestly there’s been no spotting for me at all with the Lily Cup, which is a relief (unfortunately I had more than a few accidents with the previous brand which put the fear in me) and although I was still wearing a pantyliner to feel safe this time, I didn’t need it at all. I was impressed with how this cup sits tight, suctioned in, and doesn’t move which ensures no leaking. It’s also undetectable once inside – no edges or rim digging in – I literally couldn’t feel a thing (a bit like how you can’t feel you’re wearing a tampon).
The only difficulty I found was working out when to remove and empty my cup throughout the day but I think that comes with a bit more trial. On a heavy day it seemed I needed changing three to four times. On a lighter second or third period day I could change it once or twice and still be ok – pretty much the same as changing a tampon or pad. One note of warning though, you do need a sink to wash out the cup before reinserting which might make it tricky to use in public toilets. I guess you could wipe the cup clean with tissue though.
Going forward I will probably use a combination of Lily Cup Compact Menstrual Cup with and tampons (such as Natracare organic non applicator tampons) depending on whether I’m travelling about with no access to private toilets.
I’m so pleased I finally bit the bullet and tried the Lily Cup. Considering I was so apprehensive at first, I would 100 per cent recommend it to any woman, however scared or reluctant she might feel. Like any new experience, once you give it a go and work it out, the fear vanishes and turns out it’s never as difficult as you imagined it would be. Discovering this has been a revelation and can’t wait to use fewer tampons and less waste.
Curious to try one? INTIMINA’s Lily Cup range can be found online at INTIMINA’s website, on the shelf in CVS (for those of you living in the US) or in Planet Organic (for UK readers).
Healthista’s digital director is Yanar Alkayat, also known as Healthista’s Glow Girl and a health and beauty writer for the UK national press. She blogs on ethical beauty and lifestyle at brightershadeofgreen.co.uk and tweets at @YanarBeauty.