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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 49 seconds
“Can you tell me about menstrual cups?” she said. “I’m moving overseas and I don’t think they’ll have the products I want to use there, so I’m thinking about getting one before I go.”
Just one of many ways this conversation has started for me with many different types of people. Some are looking for new solutions to their menstrual hygiene or simply curious about this new device they’d had yet to hear anything about.
I’m pretty good at giving the low-down at this point:
Menstrual cups are a small, flexible device you insert into your vagina to collect fluid from your period. It sits directly under your cervix and can hold ounces of blood with no leaking.
They are usually made of surgical grade silicone, but can also be made of tree rubber. Be sure to confirm what material your cup is made of before purchasing as the silicone is hypo-allergenic whereas rubber is not.
Contrary to what Divacup would have you believe, there are *MANY* brands of menstrual cup.
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Which menstrual cup you choose can depend on something as simple as how much money you’d like to spend or other factors like the shipping cost/time, the size of the cup, the cup design, and the business model of the company who sells it (Ruby Cup operates on a “TOM’s Model” where each cup you buy automatically donates one).
In terms of cup design, I personally wouldn’t pick one with a loop at the bottom (like the MeLuna Shorty, pictured above) because the more crevices the cup has, the more chance it has to grow bacteria in the holes and grooves. This probably isn’t really an issue with this design, but something I’m personally cautious about.
Also about design, let’s talk about size. How are you supposed to know if your vagina is the right size for a “small” cup rather than a “large”one? First off, the cups usually only come in two sizes (if that). So you have a 50/50 shot of picking one which will work well for you.
Most of the cup company websites I’ve pawed over, say that the “small” cup is for those people who have not had penetrative intercourse. I would also recommend this to someone who has a light flow or who feels a larger cup might simply be uncomfortable for them to wear.
The “large” cups are for people who have had penetrative intercourse, who have birthed children, or who have a “normal”to “heavy”flow as these cups are larger and can hold more volume without needing to be emptied.
Right, yes. You have to empty the cup. I found that, even when I was having a VERY heavy flow (2 ounces of blood or more per 24 hrs), I only needed to empty my cup 2 or 3 times per day. You can sleep with the cup in and it will not leak! This really cuts down on the number of times you have to empty it when you’re away from your base camp (wherever that may be). I found that I would empty in the morning when I woke up, maybe once at lunch, and then again before I went to bed.
Let’s dive into the strategy of the lunchtime empty. It’s one thing to empty your cup in a bathroom where you feel you have some sort of privacy. If you do need to empty it in a public bathroom, here’s how I managed. Pick a stall, any stall. I’d remove my cup (here’s a page with some how-to’s), and then pour contents into the toilet. Now, you have some options. You can purchase a sanitizing spray or wipe, or you can do what I do which is to simply wipe the cup down with some good ole’ fashioned toilet paper and then give it a quick rinse in the sink, and reinsert. I found I never had a problem with this and it’s discreet. There’s also not really any noise associated with the cup, whereas pads and tampons have that horrible plastic wrapping which alerts everyone in the entire building to the fact that you’re menstruating (I don’t miss that!).
The cup varies in price depending on where you order it from. There are finally some companies who are starting to manufacture and sell cups in the United States. Everyone before that was imported (even DivaCup is made in Canada). Imported ones cost roughly $38 dollars depending on brand and inflation and shipping. The brand “Lena Cup”seems to be running about $25 and has some good resources regarding FAQ of menstrual cups. They are made in California and are FDA registered. However, being FDA registered is kind of a moot designation as long as the device is made of %100 silicone.
I notice on Lena Cup’s website they have a sCaRy article about the dangers of tampons. While I am a HUGE proponent of menstrual cups and their ability to change people’s lives, I’m not selling them. So I have no reason to make you hate tampons (and I personally think that’s kind of a sh*tty thing to do); I just personally don’t use them anymore. However, there are a few things worth noting about the differences between tampons and cups.
Cups do not absorb anything; they collect fluid instead. This means the cup will not suck up the natural moisture in your vagina (which is NOT the same as your menstrual fluid) which, if it did, would otherwise eff up your PH balance. I often recommend people with chronic yeast infections try cups because of this.
Tampons, when left in for too long or overnight, are notorious for causing Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). This is a rare, but serious illness which can easily lead to death. Cups are much less likely to give you TSS*. I believe this is because they are made of silicone which does not degrade in your body, and does not (I believe) cause the tiny scratches in your vaginal wall which allow for the TSS causing bacteria into your bloodstream.
You can also have sex while using your cup. I would not recommend having penetrative sex with a cup in. I accidentally did this once (long story), and while it wasn’t terrible, after I realized what had happened, it fully explained why something felt “funny” the whole time. The cup is flexible, however, so you can engage in penetrative sexual activity and (up to a certain extent) not leak (I say “a certain extent” because I’m not sure how raucous you’re planning to get).
Oral sex is a whole ‘nother story. If that’s what you were hoping for, GO FOR IT. Literally no reason not to (as long as it’s safe, sane, and actively consensual). It’s probably going to be great and you may even forget you’re on your period.
Then, yes, there is that cool factor of not having any environmental waste. Some cup companies say you can keep the same cup for ten years, others say five, and still others (Diva) recommend you replace it every year. I personally don’t see any reason why you can’t use a cup that’s made of the same medical grade silicone for more than a year, but I think it has to do with customer retention and getting people to make recurring purchases (Think about it: If you only bought a cup once every ten years, that’s great for you and terrible for Diva cup. This is part of why I don’t purchase their products).
Environment aside, even a $40 cup pays for itself within three months of use (when replacing tampons and pads).
To clean, I boil my cup. I have a two dollar tiny pot from Goodwill and it is my “cup pot”. I use it exclusively for boiling my cup because, well, I felt like it was kind of weird to put it in the dishwasher with our plates, glass cups, and silverware- but that’s just me! Everyone’s preference are different and it is totally acceptable to use the dishwasher to sterilize your cup. I would be wary of using any kind of soap though, because some residue might remain in the tiny air holes at the top of the cup, causing irritation if it came into contact with sensitive skin.
CAVEAT: If you have an IUD or want one (which, omg we should totally also talk about 😀 ) you need to be aware that it is possible to “dislodge”your IUD if you decide to use a cup. In theory, it is possible that when you pull out the cup, you could accidentally pull on your IUD string and remove the IUD in the process. I have had an IUD for four years now and have been using cups for that same amount of time. This has literally NEVER even sort of happened to me, but I wanted to be sure you were aware. Some people even say the suction of the cup pulling out of your vagina could suction the IUD out of place. While I’m sure this might be true in some cases, again this has never happened to me and simply doesn’t outweigh the amazing benefits I have personally experienced from using my cup.
I truly hope this has been helpful and I really love talking about this particular subject. If you have any questions, please do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to chat about this, birth control, or other sexual health subjects.
*This post has been updated to reflect that menstrual cups have been, in very rare instances, linked to TSS per this scientific article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4556184/