Considering how long menstruation has been around, the options for managing it are, frankly, limited. About 7 in 10 people in Western Europe, Canada and the USA use tampons, or a combination of tampons and pads (1). While the first menstrual cup was patented way back in 1867, they’ve only recently risen to mainstream appeal.
For some background, menstrual cups are small flexible cups that you slip into your vagina during menstruation. Unlike tampons and pads, cups collect your menstrual blood rather than absorbing it. It might seem a little gory, but a recent study showed that 9 in 10 people who tried a modern menstrual cup for three cycles said they preferred it to a tampon or pad (2). They may not be right for everyone, but they’re definitely worth trying.
In fact, you just might love them.
There are so many reasons to love menstrual cups… once you get used to them. It takes about three cycles to get a realistic idea of how they fit with your body and life (2)(3).
How they work:
Most menstrual cups can stay in for up to 12 hours before being emptied and rinsed.
This means you can wear one when you’re sleeping, or all day long. You may need to empty a cup more often if your flow is at its heaviest, but you can use the same cup for your heaviest and lightest days. You can even wear it when you’re anticipating your period, or not sure if your period is over (though if you have regular cycles, you could just check Clue!). Menstrual cups might have fewer leaks for you than tampons or pads, and usually have less odor (3). You’ll also have fewer trips to the pharmacy and no tampon string at the beach. The environmental impact of menstrual cups is also significantly lower than disposable products. Certain cups are even safe to leave in during sex. These cups are typically flatter when empty and cover the cervix, sitting higher in the vagina. Other cups are round and sit low, close to the vaginal opening.
The health benefits:
Where to start!? Unlike tampons, menstrual cups keep all your other healthy vaginal fluids right where they should be: in your vagina. Tampons absorb anything they can get their cotton-y fibers on. This includes healthy bacteria, hydration and lubrication. Tampons also cause friction in the vagina, especially when they are too absorbent for the amount of blood flow. This can cause little tears in the delicate vaginal wall (4). Menstrual cups have almost no history of causing toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare, but dangerous, buildup of certain bacteria in the vagina mainly associated with high-absorbency tampons (5)(6). Lastly, menstrual cups let you monitor exactly how much you are bleeding. This can help you spot a change, or keep an eye on an existing health condition.
The downsides (and how to handle them):
Menstrual cups are easy insert and remove, once you get the hang of them. Even so, adjusting to a cup can take time and be inconvenient. Be patient and don’t expect to make the switch flawlessly or all at once. Try your cup when it’s convenient at first, and carry a pad or tampon for back up.
Cups can also be pain to deal with in public restrooms. You can get around this by carrying a tampon or pad for just-in-case situations. You can also carry a little bag for your cup (this one collapses into a convenient case) . If rinsing it at the sink isn’t an option, you might try peeing on it to rinse it off. Then clean it when you get home, and re-insert. In general, reusable cups need to be periodically cleaned with boiling water.
How to insert a menstrual cup:
It can take a few cycles to come up with the cup position and routine that works for you. You may put it in too high at first and spring a leak, or too low and have pinching (depending on the cup you use). It can also be tricky to get the hang of removing a full cup. The first few times you do it can be messy. These are all normal bumps in the road on the way to becoming a dedicated cup-lover.
Each menstrual cup is a bit different, so read the instructions before you try. Most cups will have you fold them up, and insert them horizontally towards your tailbone. You may need to rotate or adjust certain cups to get them in place. Be sure your cup isn’t suctioned to your vaginal wall. To remove, go slowly at first and expect to feel a bit unsure. A great place to get used to removing your menstrual cup is in the shower.
As always, the best thing to use is what’s best for you. Whatever your choice, read the instructions carefully and use your products as they are intended. If you have personal experience with the cup you’d like to share, let us know on social media. You can also contact our support team if you have questions about the cup and we’ll do our best to help you.
Like what you're reading? Help us make more great stuff by supporting our research efforts.