Menstrual cups: Everything you need to know
A menstrual cup is a small, bell-shaped cup that a person can insert into their vagina to collect menstrual blood during a period.
They are made of medical-grade silicone, rubber, or plastic and are usually reusable. People simply empty the cup, wash it with soap and water, and insert it again.
Some brands are disposable, so a person can throw them away after each use or menstrual cycle.
A person can wear a reusable cup for up to 6–12 hours before it needs to be removed and washed. Anyone with a heavier menstrual flow may need to empty their cup more frequently.
In this article, learn more about menstrual cups, including the pros, cons, and how to use one.
Menstrual cups are a comfortable and eco-friendly alternative to tampons.
There are many advantages to using a menstrual cup, including:
- Financial savings: A cup can be a higher upfront investment, of around $25 to $45. However, one can last for several years, depending on the cup. Using a cup will ultimately save money, compared with the regular purchase of tampons or pads.
- Comfort: Many people report that a menstrual cup is more comfortable than pads or tampons. Cups tend not to cause vaginal dryness, which is a common complaint about tampons.
- Fewer cramps: There are some anecdotal reports of people having fewer or less painful menstrual cramps while using a cup. However, others find the opposite to be true.
- Less mess: When inserted properly, the cup should not leak or spill, and a person can wear one while working out, swimming, or showering. Some brands report that their cups are safe and comfortable to wear during sex.
- Reduced environmental impact: Pads and tampons are usually single-use and come with lots of packaging, but cups are designed for years of use. This can drastically reduce how many menstrual products wind up in landfills.
Inserting and removing a menstrual cup can be messy when a person is first using one. Some people feel squeamish or uncomfortable about their menstrual blood. Using a cup may not be a good option if this is the case.
A menstrual cup can also feel uncomfortable if a person does not insert it properly or if they are using the wrong size.
In addition, a person with a very heavy flow or who frequently get clots in their menstrual blood may experience some leaks.
Some people are concerned about contracting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is an infection that sometimes develops after prolonged use of tampons.
However, TSS is extremely rare when using menstrual cups or tampons. Using the cup as intended and emptying and washing it frequently can help reduce the risk of infections.
How to insert and use a menstrual cup
There are two main parts of a menstrual cup: the cup and a thin stem at the bottom to make removal easier.
Before using a cup for the first time, it is important to read the directions on the packaging carefully and wash or sterilize it accordingly.
It is best to wash the hands well with soap and water before inserting or removing a menstrual cup.
To insert it, fold the top of the cup and push it into the vagina, aiming it toward the lower back. Some people find insertion easier when they are squatting. Others prefer to be standing, sometimes with one foot raised, on the edge of the bathtub, for example.
Folding the cup correctly can seem complicated at first, but there are several methods to try. Some of the more popular folds include:
- C-fold or U-fold: Press the sides of the cup together so that from the top it resembles a long oval. Fold the cup in half, so it looks like the letters C or U.
- Punch-down fold: Put a finger on the top rim of the cup and push it into the center of the cup (near the base), forming a triangle.
- 7-fold: Press the sides of the cup together so that from the top it resembles a long oval. Fold one side down diagonally, so it looks like the number 7.
Once the rim of the cup is in, continue to push the cup into the vagina until the entire cup and stem are inside.
The cup should “pop” open, preventing any menstrual blood from leaking. To ensure this, hold the cup by the base (not the stem) and turn it one full circle, or 360 degrees.
Some people run their finger along the rim of the cup to ensure that it is in the right place and has opened correctly.
When it is in the right place, most people cannot feel it and can forget that it is there.
How to remove a menstrual cup
To remove the cup, a person can bear down slightly, as if they are having a bowel movement. Some people find it helpful to use the vaginal muscles to push the cup farther down.
Using the forefinger and thumb, reach into the vagina and grab the stem of the cup, gently pulling it down. Pinch the base of the cup to break the suction and remove it from the vagina. Try to keep the cup upright to avoid spilling any blood.
Some people find it hard to feel the cup or stem. Do not worry — a menstrual cup cannot get lost in the vagina.
It can help to take a break and try again in a few minutes, especially if a person is feeling anxious or frustrated.
Cleaning a menstrual cup
Cleaning and storing a menstrual cup properly is important.
Keeping a menstrual cup clean is essential. Every time a person removes it, they should wash the cup with soap and water right away.
It is also a good idea to boil the cup in water for 5–10 minutes between each menstrual cycle.
To keep the cup from touching the sides or bottom of the pan and burning, a person could place their cup inside a metal whisk. This precaution is not necessary with certain brands.
It can be difficult to empty and clean a cup thoroughly in a public bathroom.
In this case, a person can wash their hands before entering the stall, then remove the cup and use a piece of toilet paper to wipe it out before reinserting it. Some people carry a small bottle of water to rinse their cup over the toilet.
Make sure to clean the cup well at the next opportunity.
A menstrual cup can be a great option for period hygiene, especially if a person no longer wants to use pads or tampons.
Always read the instructions on the packaging and become familiar with the cup before trying it for the first time. It may take several attempts to figure out how to use a cup, so patience and perseverance are key.
There are dozens of brands and types of menstrual cup available for purchase in stores and online.