Menstrual cups are becoming the increasingly popular period product of choice for many women around the world. Here’s your guide to what they are, how they work, their benefits, how to find the best one for you and how to take good care of it once you start using one.
So what is a menstrual cup exactly? Like pads or tampons, menstrual cups are used during a woman’s period to collect menstrual blood and prevent it from getting on the woman’s clothing during her cycle. Similar to the mentality of a tampon, a menstrual cup is inserted with the fingers and sits inside the vagina to work its magic, but the difference between a cup and a tampon is the part that is getting women all over to make the switch.
It’s a cup, usually made of a soft silicone or rubber, and it's reusable! You can use the same cup for years if you care for it correctly. Unlike tampons, cups usually have to be “emptied, washed and reinserted at least two times a day,” according to The Diva Cup website. Each cup is different, though, so make sure to follow their directions.
This is a big win for the environment, because it eliminates a very large amount of waste created by feminine care products piling up in landfills. According to The Chic Ecologist, "A typical woman can use anywhere between 8,000 to 17,000 tampons in her lifetime."
That's a lot of tampons. In the U.S. alone, the author goes on to say that each year, an estimated 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons go to the dump (or into the septic system, if flushed, where they do not biodegrade). Each one has an impact, from the effects on the planet that come from the production of the products themselves, to the transportation costs of distributing them, to their actual breakdown based on their packaging, wrapping and insertion materials (plastic or cardboard applicators?).
The switch can also benefit you financially because you only have to purchase the cup once every few years. Some brands even claim the cups to be more sanitary for a woman to use than tampons, because she has to touch the opening of her vagina fewer times per day during her period, therefore less bacteria from the fingers make contact with her lady parts---an area very susceptible to infection.
So you’re interested in trying out a cup? Where do you even start? Always begin by doing some research, since there are many trusted brands currently on the market and a lot to choose from. Cups usually range between $15-$30, but can go as high as $60, depending on what the cup offers and what it's made of. There are many different factors that go into picking out what cup is the best fit for you, but the most important issues to consider first are the size and capacity of the cup.
Typically, cups will be available in two sizes; small and large, called sizes 1 and 2, or A and B by some companies. These sizes correlate with the size of your vaginal opening and the elasticity of your vaginal muscles. Most brands recommend the size based on whether or not you have given vaginal birth and how old you are. The Eco Friendly Family advises that “women under 30 who have never had a vaginal birth should wear the smaller size.”
The second most important factor in choosing your cup is capacity, or how much blood the cup can hold. Brands vary in capacity, so this should be based on your own normal flow. The chart below shows the capacity of several popular brands, but for context, a regular sized tampon can hold 6-9 ml of blood when fully saturated; a super sized can hold 9-12 ml, and a super plus 12-15 ml.
Other factors that go into choosing a cup are what material they are made out of and how firm they are. Most cups are made out of silicone, a soft, flexible and easy-to-clean material. There are other choices, such as hypoallergenic silicone and rubber, for those with allergies. There are even organic materials and color options that a few brands sell.
Some brands offer different levels in firmness when it comes to the cup. You should consider your level of bladder sensitivity and how physically active you are when considering how firm you'd prefer your cup. If you have a super sensitive bladder, a firm cup may press against it, causing you to feel the need to urinate, so opting for a softer cup might be best. If you're very physically active, a soft cup may slide or tilt, causing leaks, so a more firm cup is probably better for you. If you are obese, you should also opt for a firm cup.
Regarding the insertion process, softer cups may take some work and wiggling to get popped open once you fold them up and get them where you want them in your vagina (see the diagram below). Cups on the slightly firmer side pop back open more easily, meaning that you may find them easier to insert. It all depends on your body. For a list of common brands ranked 1 (softest) to 10 (firmest), check out this post from Menstrual Cup Info.
Some great additional resources for researching cups include Menstrual Cup Reviews, which is a great place to read about the benefits and downsides of certain cups, and then our personal recommendation: good ol' Amazon, because of how many reviews you can sift through. This can be overwhelming, but with the chart above, and information on which size you need, hopefully you've got a head start.
Once you've found your cup, what should you know about maintaining it? ALWAYS read the instructions and care guides that come with your cups. Most brands have FAQ pages on their websites that you can refer to if you have any additional inquiries. However, there are some basic guidelines to follow when using most cups.
Be sure to clean your cup thoroughly and correctly. Most brands recommend washing in warm water with a mild soap that has no fragrance, and avoiding harsh soaps and antibacterials, as those chemicals can be extremely harmful to the inside of your vagina. Some cups can be cleaned by being placed in boiling water, but read your guide before doing so. There are a number of brands that include a sterilization cup in their kit to assist in cleaning the menstrual cup.
It is recommended you replace your cup if there is a strong odor that cleaning cannot alleviate, or if there is extreme discoloration. It is also recommended to throw away the cup if you develop a vaginal infection, such as a yeast infection, or if the cup comes in contact with any unsanitary surface, such as a toilet. Never use a lubricant to insert your cup, as it can damage the silicone. When you are not using your cup, make sure you store the cup in a place that allows airflow after washing, to avoid moisture development. Most cups come with a silky or lightweight cloth pouch for storing that allow air to pass through. NEVER store your cup in a plastic zip bag.
Finally, keep in mind that it's going to take some time and probably several tries to learn to insert your menstrual cup correctly---and that's okay! It helps if you are familiar with where your cervix is located (both on and off of your period, since it drops lower during your period), since this is where the blood will be coming from, and near where you'll ideally want to place your cup. Don't give up if it takes you several tries. Remember that resources are everywhere online, including diagrams, cartoons, videos and more to help you learn to use your menstrual cup.
Thanks for joining us for Menstrual Cups: 101. There are so many varieties of cups for you to explore, so take some time to do a bit of research, and to play around with different types to find what is right for you. It’s your cycle, so do whatever it is you find comfortable. Whether that be using a cup, a pad, or a tampon; the choice is up to you.
Lead Image Credit: Pexel