By now, you’ve probably heard of menstrual cups, but you may be unconvinced by the idea. If that’s you, today I’d like to answer some questions that many people have about menstrual cups, and hopefully convince you to take the plunge and try one out!
For those who are unfamiliar with menstrual cups, I’m going to start by explaining what they are and their benefits. Feel free to skip this section if you’re already familiar with this information.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a squishy silicone cup that you place in your vagina when you have your period. When you insert it, it forms a seal, preventing leakage. The blood is collected inside, rather than being absorbed like with a tampon.
Why use a menstrual cup?
There are so many reasons to use a menstrual cup. Here are the main ones.
- Sustainability. Think how many pads and tampons we throw away worldwide. They don’t biodegrade, making them an environmental disaster. They are a huge waste of resources, a source of pollution and damaging to wildlife.
- Price. Menstrual cups may seem a little expensive upfront, but they last years and will likely pay for themselves within a few months. I paid about £20 for my cup 3 years ago, and haven’t had to buy a single pad or tampon since. That’s a huge saving.
- Comfort and convenience. Like a tampon, you shouldn’t be able to feel your cup once it’s in. And you can leave it in for up to 12 hours at a time, meaning you don’t have to worry about changing it whilst at work or school.
- Minimalism. A cup takes up much less space than a box of pads or tampons, which is especially convenient when you’re travelling.
- Safety. Unlike tampons, there is no known risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) with menstrual cups.
- Hygiene. Menstrual cups are easy to clean and should not leak if inserted properly. Using a cup often allows me to forget I’m even on my period.
Which menstrual cup should I choose?
There are so many cups on the market that it can be overwhelming trying to decide which one to buy. I went for a Ruby Cup because for every one sold, they donate one to someone in a developing country. They aren’t the cheapest option, however.
Everyone’s body is different, and you’ll want to take this into account when choosing a cup. There are various different shapes and sizes, with some softer than others. I can only advise that you read reviews and decide which you think would suit you best.
In terms of sizes, those who have given birth will need a larger cup than those who haven’t. Most brands have two sizes for this reason. There may also be other sizes you can choose from based on your flow; I chose the smallest available size because my flow is quite light.
Can everyone use a menstrual cup?
If you have a health condition like vaginosis which makes it difficult or painful for you to use tampons, you probably won’t be able to use cups either. But otherwise, most people should be able to use them. For those who have just started their periods, smaller sizes are probably best.
How do I insert my menstrual cup?
It’s easiest to do this sitting on the toilet or squatting. Start by folding your cup up – I fold it in two, making a C shape. Then you should be able to put it in. Cups sit much lower down than tampons, so don’t be tempted to push it up too far. The stem may even stick out, depending on your body. If the stem feels uncomfortable, you can trim it or even cut it off completely – just be careful not to damage the cup.
Now for the tricky part – you need your cup to open up and form a seal. If you’re lucky, it may do this on its own. Otherwise, the easiest thing to do is turn it once, clockwise or anticlockwise. You should hopefully feel it open up – you can check a seal has formed by running your finger around the rim of the cup.
If it doesn’t open, you’ll need to do some adjustment. Some peoples’ cervixes are tilted, so it may just be a case of experimenting till you find where it sits best. You can also try allowing it to open just inside the vagina then pushing it further up. Find what works for you.
Putting in your cup can be fiddly when you’re not used to it. Exercise patience and perseverance and you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Could my cup get stuck?
You may have seen horror stories floating around on the internet of cups getting stuck too far up and having to be medically removed. I think the only way this could happen is if you inserted it way too far up. I made this mistake the first time I used my cup, since I was used to tampons. It migrated even further up in the night and I had a lot of trouble getting it out! But since I learned how to put it in properly I’ve had no issues whatsoever, so don’t be put off.
What do I do when it’s full?
If you suspect your cup is full, or it’s been in for 12 hours, it’s time to empty it. Again, you’ll want to do this sitting on the toilet or squatting. If the cup is too far up to grab hold of, push it down a little (as if you’re giving birth!) then fold it to break the seal. Take it out carefully, so you don’t spill the contents. Empty it into the toilet, then give it a rinse to get the blood off. If you’re in a public toilet, you can wipe it clean with toilet paper instead. You can then reinsert it.
How do I clean my cup?
Once your period is over, you need to clean your cup. The best way is to sterilise it by boiling it. I put mine in a glass jar, cover it with water and microwave it on full power for 2 minutes. You can also do this in the oven, or in a pan on the stove.
My cup came with a fold-up silicone container to boil it in, but it kept popping up open in the microwave and spilling water everywhere – gross! Eventually the lid broke off so I threw it out. The jar works way better, though it’s not ideal for travelling.
I know some people prefer to use a menstrual cup wash rather than boiling their cup, which could be easier if you are travelling. Personally, I like to know mine has been sterilised, but it’s your choice.
Help! My cup is leaking
There are two reasons why your cup may leak:
- It’s full. If your flow is heavy, your cup will fill up quicker than expected, so try emptying it.
- The seal hasn’t formed correctly. Reinsert it, making sure the cup opens up properly.
I always wear dark underwear on my period in case there is a bit of leakage. You may want to use a reusable cloth panty liner for extra security if your flow is heavy.
Could a cup make my cramps worse?
Many people actually report that their cramps improve after they start using a cup – this could be because it helps to train your muscles.
Once, when my cramps were really bad, I wondered if my cup was to blame. I experimentally removed it and put in a pad instead, and my cramps got even worse. Needless to say, I went back to the cup.
A couple of times, I’ve felt an odd tugging or pinching sensation after inserting my cup. Removing and reinserting it always solves the problem – I think it happens when the cup suctions itself onto the wrong place!
If your cramps do seem to worsen after using a cup, it may be that your cup is the wrong shape or size, or too firm. Consider trying a different one. But most people should not experience any problems.
How can I remove staining?
After you’ve been using your cup for a while, it may begin to stain. Though it’s harmless, it does look kind of gross. Luckily, there’s an easy fix. Go to the pharmacy and get some hydrogen peroxide solution – 3 to 9%, the kind you can use to clean cuts. Put your cup in a glass or jar and add roughly one part hydrogen peroxide solution to 3 parts water (I never measure). Leave it to soak for at least a few hours – you’ll soon notice the stains starting to disappear. I leave mine in the jar till it looks completely clean.
Note: many manufacturers recommend against using hydrogen peroxide on cups. I did my research and found no evidence that it could have any negative impact on the cup. Many people say they have used it without issue; I’ve soaked my cup multiple times with only good results. I suspect the manufacturers just want you to buy a new one!
How long will my cup last?
Most manufacturers say that their cups will last about 10 years. I can easily see them lasting even longer if properly taken care of. Mine is showing no sign of wear after 3 years.
Can I wear my cup at night/to go swimming?
Yes to both!
I can’t/don’t want to use a menstrual cup
For those who can’t, don’t want to, or need a break from using a cup, please consider getting some reusable cloth pads to help the environment. Again, they may seem expensive upfront but will be far cheaper in the long run. I won’t go into detail about those – this post is already long enough.
So that’s it. I hope I’ve convinced you that a menstrual cup is more than worth a try. Let me know what you think, and leave any further questions or tips below.
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