Public Information Warning
This is a review of a feminine hygiene product. It's going to mention blood and women's bits. If that's not the sort of thing you want to read, don't read on. Easy, eh?
So, what's a mooncup then?
It's a reuseable silicone rubber cup which can be worn inside the vagina similarly to tampons and collects your menstrual blood. There's lots of information about it at Mooncup.co.uk which is the site where I bought mine, although it's all rather unrelentingly positive. I believe in the US you can buy something similar called a Keeper.
I took some pictures of mine with a ruler so you can see how big it is.
Why would you buy/use one?
The major marketing for mooncups is from the environmentally-friendly angle: 1 mooncup lasts up to 10 years. That's about 120 period's-worth of tampons and sanitary towels and their packaging not being manufactured and not going into landfill or needing incineration after use. This is sometimes accompanied by hippy tripe about women being closer to nature because we bleed etc etc, but the essential argument stands up.
This also implies an economic benefit: 1 mooncup costs less than 20 pounds. I used to go through 20-30 tampons per period and hazy memory is they cost about 3 pounds for a box of 30. Call it 2 pounds per period on supplies and you've got payback in less than a year.
There's some health benefit: you won't get toxic shock syndrome from a bit of silicone. Nor will it shed fibres that embed in your vaginal wall (apparently all tampons do this to some extent). You do need to wash it out thoroughly whenever you empty it, preferably in hot water. It should also be sterilised in boiling water before your first use each period, possibly more often if you are particularly paranoid.
The environmental and economic arguments are weakened a bit by the requirement to sterilise at the start of each period. Despite being on the pill I don't always start on the same day, and not being in the habit of boiling up my sanitary products in the office, I tend to keep a couple of emergency tampons on me for the 'start-of-period' time and switch to the mooncup at the first convenient opportunity after starting. At the moment this is just taking me through my leftover pre-mooncup tampons but eventually I can see I'll have to buy more.
So what's it really like to use?
I think I should start this with some context about the way my periods work and what I'm used to, because we're all different in what we have to deal with.
My usual period pattern is a first light day, start time uncertain, followed by 2 very heavy days, then a light day, then a slow trail off of increasingly pathetic amounts of bleeding that still require some kind of clothing protection. Tampon marketers would have us buy different absorbencies to cope with this kind of thing, but I tended to default to lots of medium absorbency ones and vary the change intervals (down to 2 hours on heavy days, up to 6-7 hours on light, risking TSS more there). I also developed a strong sensitivity to that little moistness that says the blood is past the tampon but not yet at your knickers. Occasionally I tried panty liners and would end up swearing at them for being uncomfortable and not terribly effective. I have used pads in the past, but I find them uncomfortable and smelly, even with one-way dry-weave top-sheets etc. Also I like to swim, so tampons are a better default. Years ago I stopped bothering using applicator tampons because non-applicator tended to be cheaper and are much easier to carry around. So I started my mooncup experiment from a position of being used to getting a little messy placing tampons inside my vagina several times a day during my period.
The first time is by far the hardest, and to be honest a bit of a hurdle. It does get much easier once you are used to it, but I think you need to set aside some quality time to get to know your mooncup if you're going to make the experience work well. Or try the stubborn approach 'I've paid 18 quid for this thing, it's bloody well going to work'.
To insert the mooncup, you fold it in half, and then in half again, so the top is all squashed together to about 3cm across. You then push that into the vagina about as far as a tampon, let go so it expands, and then turn the narrow end about 180 degrees to make sure it's completely unfolded, so the open end can form a seal (which it will quite naturally). You then jiggle it about a bit so you're comfortable. This is all messier and time consuming than a tampon, and quite difficult the first time because you don't quite know what comfortable feels like.
On your first use you also have to decide how much to adjust the stem at the bottom. This long thin bit comes by default too long for almost every woman - you get the mooncup settled and you're being stabbed in the labia by a bit of silicone at every step. So you have to trim it (sharp scissors will do), but you're supposed to leave *some* there to give you something to grip for removal. In my case it was a series of cycles through 'insert, walk, get stabbed, remove, trim, wash, reinsert'. (I did wonder part way through if this qualified the mooncup as a geek toy, because you had to customise it.)
The mooncup doesn't have string and sits about as high as a tampon. To remove it, you have to feel inside for the stem and pull. I actually find I need to grip part of the round base too for confidence. Sometimes you can't quite reach, but what the leaflet describes as 'bearing down' will push it out a little until you can. All of this can be a bit panic inducing until you are used to it, and puts you in rather undignified positions on the loo.
Having got a grip on the base, you then need to pull it gently down, keeping the base pointed downward. The rim of the open top has formed a seal with your vaginal wall and you want to release this gently, not in a big 'pop', so as the seal approaches the vaginal entrance, tip slightly to one side so it breaks one side first, then it comes out quite easily.
I've never seen mine reach half-full, even on a very heavy day when I haven't changed it for 10 hours because I've been at work. I think tampons and pads make it look like there's far more blood than there actually is volumewise (and clearly don't actually absorb much per tampon).
To empty I normally just tip it over and pour the contents into the loo. They vary in how easily they pour, between periods and during an individual period, and you will get more or less out depending. Then I rinse very thoroughly in a basin, under hot water, and then reinsert. From this you will gather that you really only want to change the mooncup somewhere where you can be private with both loo and basin (i.e. *not* most public toilets). You also need somewhere clean to put the mooncup while you clean yourself up.
It all sounds too complicated and messy
That's always going to be an individual decision. I certainly don't think the mooncup is going to appropriate for everyone all the time, which I think is the impression the marketing tries to give, glossing over the little difficulties in use.
Bad usage points
- Fiddly and messy emptying process
- Need for private area to empty (or lack of embarrassment)
- Steep learning curve
Good usage points
- Only needs emptying twice a day if that (compared to 5 or 6 times a day minimum for changing tampons)
- Smell is reduced even more than tampons do over pads, because the blood is sealed from the outside air
- Light-flow days don't feel like a waste of sanitary product
For me, the use advantages, and the environmental/economic/health benefits outweigh the extra fiddliness. In particular not having to worry about bleeding over my clothes while at the office one week in four is a huge weight off the mind. I wouldn't go back to not using it. For others, that won't be the case. Some of you will know straight away that it's not for you, some might not be sure. I'd suggest trying if not sure: Mooncup.co.uk currently offer a full refund if you don't like it after trying for 3 cycles.
Oh, and now that I've finished writing this, I found another review on Google: http://pewari.may.be/archives/000187.