What is a menstrual cup?
The menstrual cup is a reusable alternative to tampons and pads that’s convenient to use and less of a burden on the environment than disposable single-use hygiene products. One 2019 study showed that menstrual cups can be used for up to 10 years if maintained well. It’s not just that you are doing the environment a favor, but you’ll also save a tremendous amount of money.
Menstrual cups have been around in the U.S. since the 1930s and saw first commercial success in the 1980s when they were still made from latex rubber. Nowadays, menstrual cups typically are made from medical grade silicone because silicone is a very durable and non-allergenic material. A menstrual cup is shaped like an elongated bell with a protruding stem at its outward-facing end. This stem’s purpose is to help you insert and remove the cup with ease.
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If used correctly, a menstrual cup can hold three times as much blood as a large tampon. Depending on how heavy your menstruation is, the cup can stay inside for about 4 to 12 hours before it requires emptying.
Over the years there have been many acceptability studies on menstrual cups to find out if women prefer them or at least view them equal to tampons. The findings generally have positive, with for example one 2011 study with 110 Canadian women resulting in 91% of the women saying they’d continue to use the cups in the future.
How to use a menstrual cup?
There are only a few things in life that you’ll know as well as your period. So, you definitely know when it’s about to start and you can preemptively insert the cup. Squeeze and fold the cup and then insert it like you’d do with a tampon. The cup will open automatically and snuggly fit against the vaginal walls, which will prevent leakage. Rotate and adjust the cup as needed until you no longer feel that it’s there. It’s quite similar to diaphragms or vaginal rings in terms of not really feeling it much once it’s on the inside.
Compared to tampons, the cup sits a bit deeper inside the vagina and the cup’s stem will no longer be visible. Normally, there’s no lubrication needed to insert the cup. But if sometimes you think a little help is needed, make sure to only use water-based lubricants, as other lubricants can damage the cup’s silicone.
Most menstrual cups are reusable — after all, that’s their primary purpose — but you can also buy disposable ones. When you first use a menstrual cup you won’t know yet how quickly it fills up. For most women, it’s 8 to 12 hours, but if you have a heavy period, it could be as short as 4 hours. That’s why when first using a cup, check after four hours to see how full it is. Removing the cup is easy: pull the cup’s stem and pinch the cup’s base to loosen the seal. After disposing of the blood, wash the cup with water and (optionally) a mild soap, rinse it and reinsert or replace it. As your period ends, you can sterilize the cups in boiling water.
- Howard, Courtney, et al. “FLOW (Finding Lasting Options for Women).” Canadian Family Physician, vol. 57, no. 6, 1 June 2011, pp. e208–e215, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114692/. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.
- van Eijk, Anna Maria, et al. “Menstrual Cup Use, Leakage, Acceptability, Safety, and Availability: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” The Lancet Public Health, vol. 4, no. 8, Aug. 2019, pp. e376–e393, 10.1016/s2468-2667(19)30111-2. Accessed 14 Apr. 2020.