Thinking about buying a menstrual cup, but have no clue where to begin? Maybe you’re not even 100 percent sure what one is? In recent years, period cups have invaded the tampon aisle, and women everywhere won’t stop raving about ditching their pads for good. Should you hop on board? Maybe. But first, a little homework is in order. Here is everything you need to know about menstrual cups. They might just be your new best friend.
What exactly is a menstrual cup?
No reading between the lines required for this one. A menstrual cup is precisely that — a cup women use during menstruation. It’s a small, very flexible “cup” made of silicone or rubber that collects blood when inserted into the vagina. (As opposed to a pad or tampon, which absorb blood.)
“I think it took a long time for three reasons. First, taking them out and cleaning them is messy, especially in a public location. Second, there’s not much of a financial upside to selling a menstrual cup to a reproductive-aged woman who uses a single cup for five years. And third, it took climate change and the peril of our planet for women to start questioning their use of disposable menstrual products and how they contribute to landfills.”
Currently, the most popular menstrual cup out there — and the one Dr. Gottfried recommends — is the DivaCup, which is readily available at most major stores. Like most period cups, the DivaCup is made of silicone and comes in two sizes (one for women who have given birth and one for women who have not).
It is extremely rare to have an allergy to silicone; it’s biocompatible with the body, so there’s typically no reason to worry about irritation or sensitivity. That said, if you have a latex sensitivity, it’s best to make sure the cup you purchase is not made of rubber. According to reviews — and its website — the DivaCup can be used in basically any situation. In other words, no yoga pose is too difficult and no hiking trail is too steep for it. They’ve got you (and your pants) covered.
Not long after the DivaCup gained a devout following, a variety of other menstrual cups started popping up, including:
-Intima’s Ziggy Cup, which is specifically designed for intercourse, making period sex a lot less messy (although note that it does not protect against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases).
If you’re unsure which cup would work best for you, take the quiz on the site Put a Cup In It, which breaks down all things related to menstrual cups. It also has loads of how-to videos, which come in handy when you’re trying to get the hang of things.
How does a menstrual cup work?
Learning how to use a period cup may require a little trial and error. Good thing there’s a video for that. “I highly recommend that women watch a YouTube video before trying to insert a menstrual cup for the first time to benefit from other women’s experiences. But be sure to search for the specific type of cup you are using,” notes Donnica Moore, M.D., a gynecologist and president of the Sapphire Women’s Health Group.
Dr. Moore recommends Sarah Tran’s tutorials to patients and advises women to practice inserting and removing the cup when they don’t have their period. “Some women find that using a lubricant helps. Others prefer wetting it with water first,” she adds. (Note: DivaCup advises using water because lubricants can potentially damage the silicone.)
There are two common ways to insert a menstrual cup. The first is by folding the cup in half at the rim, then in half again, and then popping it in with the stem facing down. “Your first attempt at using a menstrual cup may take a few tries,” Dr. Gottfried says. “Once it’s in properly, the cup will unfold to cover the cervix.”
Another way to fold the cup is by placing a finger on the top of the rim and pressing down in the center to form a triangle. This makes the top much smaller to insert. Once the cup is in, you can rotate it to make sure it’s fully open.
Many menstrual cup companies — including the DivaCup — recommend removing, washing and reinserting the cup twice in a 24-hour period, but Dr. Gottfried advises patients to err on the side of caution and remove it more frequently.
“I recommend reinserting menstrual cups every four to six hours,” she says. “Some of the manufacturers state that the maximum time to keep a cup inside your vagina is up to 24 hours, but there is a case of toxic shock syndrome in a woman using a cup. To be safe, change it more often, depending on the volume of your flow.”
It’s also important to know that most manufacturers recommend that menstrual cups should be removed before sex (and they do not protect against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases).
How should you care for a menstrual cup?
One of the main advantages of menstrual cups is how long they last. Depending on how well it’s taken care of, one cup can last years. The DivaCup doesn’t give an exact timeline of when it should be replaced, but says that a new one should be purchased if there’s an odor, severe discoloration, deterioration or it’s been exposed to unsanitary conditions, such as a toilet.
Thoroughly cleaning and correctly storing a period cup is crucial. When you’re taking the menstrual cup out to empty it during it your period, you simply need to dispose of the contents in the toilet, wash it with mild soap (many cup users swear by DivaWash, which is made from plant-derived ingredients) and reinsert.
But at the end of your period — when the cup comes out dry — it should be washed, boiled for at least five minutes, air-dried and stored in a something that allows for ample airflow. (Most cups come with storage cases.) Also, it goes without saying that menstrual cups should never be shared.
Why should you switch to a menstrual cup?
It lasts forever: While the shelf life for menstrual cups isn’t set in stone, with the proper care, many people have reported that their menstrual cups lasted two, three or even four years.
It’s convenient: Menstrual cups provide longer protection than tampons or pads, less leakage and a far less bulky feel and appearance.
It’s environmentally conscious: In a lifetime, the average woman uses 10,000 to 12,000 disposable menstrual products. Multiply that by the 500 to 800 years it takes pads to biodegrade, and the environmental impact isn’t looking pretty. The reusability and longevity of a menstrual cup keeps extra waste out of landfills.
It saves you money: According to the Huffington Post, you’re likely to spend about $1,773.33 on tampons during your lifetime. The DivaCup retails for $30, and other menstrual cup options come at an even lower price point. While the cup’s lifetime could be longer than one year, even replacing it yearly would put the total at $1,140. That’s an extra $633 in your pocket.
It’s safer: The incidence of toxic shock syndrome hasn’t been as widely reported for women using menstrual cups as women using tampons (though, as Dr. Gottfried mentioned, there has been a case).
Are there any disadvantages to switching?
While no one enjoys having to go on a tampon run each month, maintaining a menstrual cup takes a little more work than its traditional period-protection counterparts (i.e., it needs to be cleaned frequently and sterilized in between uses). And just as the case with tampons, there’s a small chance that a menstrual cup can get stuck.
“The good news is that this typically only happens once. Then you figure it out,” Dr. Moore notes. “Remember: It can’t go anywhere ‘higher’ than your vagina. Trying to relax and either squatting or lying flat on a bed with your knees elevated can help you remove it. If you can’t get it out, you can ask your partner for assistance or see your doctor.”
Menstrual cups also shouldn’t be used if you have a yeast infection.
Is it safe to use a menstrual cup if you have an IUD?
Using a period cup with an IUD is perfectly safe, but there is a slightly higher risk of your IUD becoming expelled than without one. “Menstrual cups rely on suction to prevent leaks. So when you remove the cup, you should first release the seal on the cup,” Dr. Moore says. “If you don’t, it might pull on the IUD.”
If you have an IUD, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the string and its length before using a menstrual cup. When you empty it, make sure there’s nothing in there, and after each period, check that the string is the same length as before.
Let’s be real: Periods just aren’t a fun time. So if a menstrual option can provide longer protection with less leakage and help the environment while it’s at it, we’ll take it.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you considering switching to a menstrual cup? If yes, what makes it appealing? If no, what is contributing to your hesitation? Let us know in the comments section.