I have been using menstrual cups for a year now and have written several articles about the topic.
What Are the Benefits of a Menstrual Cup?
Menstrual cups are reusable plastic cups used to collect your period blood. They come in various sizes and are made of surgical-grade silicone: a durable, anti-microbial material. There is a plastic edge or ring on the top that creates a hermetic seal to prevent leaks. There are also several tiny holes around the top to help release the seal when you need to remove the cup. Removal is usually done by pulling a rubber stem at the bottom.
Menstrual cups have been around for more than 80 years, but they've been overshadowed by the disposable products in the market. Many women are going back to cups for their ecological and economical benefits. You can cut down the amount of waste products and the amount of money you spend on menstrual products by switching to the cup.
Another positive is that you won't need to visit the bathroom as frequently. Menstrual cups can be used continuously for 12 hours before they fill up. Once they're full, just flush the contents down the toilet, rinse the cup, and put it back in.
Some women also say that cups are more comfortable than pads or tampons. Once you master the art of placing the cup and sealing it, you won't feel the cup or any dripping or leaking sensations. If properly sealed, accidental leaks are extremely rare.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Menstrual Cup
Saves you money in the long run
Can be expensive up front
Tends to be messier than tampons or pads
Less frequent trips to the bathroom
Can be difficult to use, especially at first
You can learn more about your menstrual flow and look for clots
Not for anyone who is squeamish with blood
What Are the Disadvantages of a Menstrual Cup?
Despite the benefits discussed above, menstrual cups aren't for everyone. People who are squeamish at the sight of blood or gore may not want to use a menstrual cup since the cleaning process can be a bit messier than simply tossing a pad or tampon.
It may also not be your first choice if you aren't comfortable feeling around down there. Placing the cup may require a lot of trial and error—especially when you first start using it.
As with all menstrual products, there is a real risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Some studies suggest a higher probability of urinary tract or vaginal infections, but with the right cup size, good hygiene, and proper storage, menstrual cups can actually reduce your risk of an infection.
Before you start using a menstrual cup, read about real experiences from someone who has used them for over a year. Here are 10 things I wish I knew before I started using menstrual cups:
1. It is really hard to place
Make sure you take your time reading the instruction pamphlet when you first use the cup. Here are the basic steps for inserting the cup:
- Fold the top part to make is as slim as possible.
- Place it inside and release. You should hear a “plop” sound.
- To remove, pinch the walls of the cup without completely folding it, empty the contents in a toilet, and flush.
Sounds simple, but in practice, this process is far more intricate. There are many ways to fold your cup, and it is up to you to find which one suits you the best. A popular method is the C-fold, created by simply folding the top twice to make a 'C' shape. Another popular method is the V-fold, created by pushing one side of the cup down to make a triangle shape.
Proper insertion can take a lot of practice.
Cups usually come in two sizes, but the capacities vary from brand to brand. No matter which brand or size you choose, insertion will not hurt you in any way (though it might be a little uncomfortable if you have not used a tampon before).
Once you manage to get the cup inside without it unfolding (prepare for some struggle here), you have to push it in all the way until you reach your cervix. This is the tricky part because no matter how many anatomic diagrams you look at online, you'll likely still get lost. Just take your time, relax, and feel your way around until you locate a bump that feels a bit harder than the rest of the tissue. It should feel—and it's okay to be a little freaked out about this—like you are touching the tip of your nose.
Then, let go of the cup and allow it to unfold around your cervix. This is when you would usually hear a plop sound, indicating the cup unfolded and created a seal. You may not always hear it, but speaking from experience, it is a really distinct sound.
2. It's not as bloody as it sounds.
Let's face it. Periods can get very bloody and isn't very pleasant for most women. Having to stick your fingers down there and feel around can be intimidating, but it will also be a way to learn about your body. For instance, you might realize that you're not bleeding as much as you previously thought. Most cups include some markers to measure your flow, and it can be shocking to see the real amount of blood involved in the process.
Be careful when you pull the cup out because it will be slippery. The key is to take your time and do it carefully—especially the first few times—until you can master the "grasp and pull" movement.
3. You can pee and poop with it.
You may be wondering how to handle going to the bathroom with a menstrual cup—totally valid question, as disgusting as it might be. With a cup, you don't have to deal with any external pieces like the cord on a tampon. If you feel the seal might break when you are pushing, just readjust the cup, but this is usually not necessary.
4. The seal can be broken, and you should learn how to feel it.
One of the hardest things about using the cup is achieving that airtight seal. Once you get the seal, the cup will stay securely in place, but it may take some time to get there. I suggest using pads as backup on days when you have a heavier flow. If you have clots or heavy flow, it might be good to check every couple hours to see if there are any spots. If so, this means that your cup has not been well-placed, and you should take it out, rinse it, and reattempt your insertion.
5. Cleaning up and storing it can take a lot of work.
There are a lot of concerns about infections when using menstrual cups, but these fears are unfounded—especially if you follow basic hygiene rules.
Here are a few tips to reduce your risk of an infection:
- Empty your cup very eight hours and wash it with water.
- Do not use scented soaps that could irritate your body.
- The first time you use the cup, you will have to boil it for ten minutes without letting the plastic touch the pot to avoid burning.
- Some people also recommend boiling after each period to kill off any microbes.
- If you don't have access to a stove, you can also microwave the cup. There are even special plastic containers for this purpose.
- Store the cup in a well-ventilated bag (usually the same one that comes with the cup).
6. It can get stuck, but it's not as bad as it sounds.
There are some horror stories lurking on the web if you Google "stuck menstrual cup." It is a possibility, especially if you have a high cervix. But don't fret. Even if it gets stuck, the cup will not be lost forever.
One thing you can try is simply wait until the cup fills up and let gravity do the work. If you feel any pain or more than 10 hours have passed, don't be afraid to go to the doctor. It is not unusual for medical professionals to face this issue.
7. Learn to spot fakes.
The high price of some menstrual cups can deter a lot of girls and women. Looking for an alternative, many girls fall into the trap of settling for cheaper cups. A lot of fake, low-quality cups that are made out of unsafe materials are sold online. This can lead to infections and injury—even if you do everything else right.
A good way to spot a fake cup is to look for a thin, raised line dividing the cup in two. This is the result of the casting process and can be the source of irritation. The surface of the cup should be smooth, without any texture, bubbles or protuberances. Some cups will have identifying marks for the brand or measuring lines, but these should be the only details that stand out on the surface of the silicone.
If you want to play it safe, choose brands approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
8. It's really hard to change (at least when you're not at home).
Okay, seriously, you are going to have a hard time changing the cup the first couple of times, so try to do it at home. Some girls even do it in the shower, although blood and water can be a messy combo. If you have to change it when you're not at home, the best bathrooms to change it in are the ones with the sink inside the stall. Luckily, the cup doesn't need to be changed that often, and you can wait until you're able to get back home.
9. You'll get to know your body a lot better.
Okay, just placing the cup inside will require a lot of Googling to look at anatomy pictures and diagrams. It almost feels like an anatomy crash course. Spoiler: it will feel like uncharted territory inside. But seriously, this is a good thing. I have heard a lot of girls discover they have an inverted uterus when they found out they couldn't place the cup properly and went to the doctor to find out why.
The level marks on the cup also make it easier to track the amount of blood you're shedding every period, which is often surprisingly less than what you would imagine. It can also help you spot clots or other tellings signs of health issues.
10. It's not for everyone.
As with every eco-friendly trend out there, there is a certain pressure to join the menstrual cup wave. It is portrayed like an ideal, must-have item, but it may not be the right solution for everyone. If you feel uncomfortable after trying it out for a couple months, or you don't like the idea of getting bloody, don't do it. Seriously, no hard feelings. There are plenty ways you can help the environment without feeling uncomfortable with yourself.
If you do decide to buy a cup, I would recommend the Diva Cup. It is comfortable, inexpensive, and the sizing is precise. I have one in natural color, but there are many other colors to choose from. Be aware that the coloration might change through repeated use of the cup, but this doesn't necessarily mean it is ruined. If you'd like to reduce the discoloration, place the cup in some peroxide for a few hours. However, you shouldn't do this too often because the plastic will start to thin and tear more easily.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.