QOTM September 2021: What is a menstrual cup?

Posted by Candice Simpson on

Menstrual cups are a type of reusable feminine hygiene product. They are small funnel shaped cups, usually made out of silicone or rubber which are inserted into the vagina to catch and collect menstrual fluids. Menstrual cups have been around since 1860s, but only became widely promoted since the 1930s. With recent design changes and the availability of soft silicone materials they have become more widely accepted.

Cups can hold more fluid than other period products, so (depending on flow) some people can wear cups for up to 12 hours at a time. Most cups can hold about one to two ounces of period flow, while tampons can only hold about one third of an ounce.

There are many brands available on the market. Most cups are reusable and so some people use them as an eco-friendlier alternative to tampons and pads. There are, however, some single use designs available which have their own pros and cons.

You can wear a cup with an IUD. There has been rumors that menstrual cups could dislodge IUDS, but a study from 2012 disproved that. Cups are perfectly safe to use with IUDs.

Advantages of cups

  • Cups are more affordable/cheaper in the long run. They are reusable and after a one time buy there is no longer a need for a monthly expense
  • No risk of toxic shock syndrome. Since cups collect period fluid and don’t absorb it the user is not at risk of getting TSS
  • Eco friendly. Since the cups are reusable, less waste is produced
  • Sex is possible while wearing a cup (the soft disposable kind). Most cups need to be removed before having sex, but the disposable kind can be left in place

Disadvantages of cups

  • Can be messy. Cups can be messy to remove, especially if you are not used to them or you find yourself in a location/position where it can be awkward or difficult
  • Can be hard to insert or remove, especially if you are still trying to find the right brand/design or are not used to it. It may take a bit of practice to insert them successfully.
  • You need to find the right fit. You may need to experiment with a few different brands or designs to find the right fit or size
  • Can cause irritation or an allergic reaction to the material. Most menstrual cups are made from latex free materials, but there are some rare cases where you could be allergic or sensitive to the silicone or elastomer used.

What size cup should I use?

There are different sizes of cups available. Most brands sell a smaller and a larger size. Which size you need depends on a few factors such as age, strength of pelvic floor muscles, length of your cervix, if you have a heavy or a light flow and if you have given birth vaginally.

In general, you can try a small cup if you are younger than 30 years old and haven’t delivered vaginally. If you are older than 40 and have delivered vaginally you may want to consider using a large cup.

Putting in a cup for the first time

  1. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly
  2. OPTIONAL: Try and use a bit of lube on the rim of the cup (that is compatible with the cup material) or make it a bit wet.
  3. Fold the menstrual cup in half, with the rim side up
  4. Insert the cup with the rim side facing up. This works like with a tampon without applicator. It should sit a few inches below your cervix
  5. Then rotate the cup, so that it unfolds again and forms a tight seal

If inserted correctly you shouldn’t feel the cup. You should also be able to perform physical activities without the cup falling out. If you are having trouble with any of this, you may need to consider using a different size or talking to your gynecologist.

If you have very strong pelvic floor muscles, it can be harder to put the cup in until you are used to it. You may have to practice a few times or use a bit of lube/water.

How do I know when to empty the cup?

You should be able to wear the cup for 10 to 12 hours (depending on flow). But either way, you should not go past the 12-hour mark.

If you feel like the cup is losing its seal, it is full and needs to be emptied.

How do I take the cup out?

  1. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly
  2. Pull the stem of the cup gently until you can get to the base
  3. Pinch the base slightly to release the seal, then pull down to remove the cup
  4. Empty the cup into the sink or toilet
  5. Wash the cup with warm water (if you’d like to use soap stick to oil free, unscented soap) and wipe it clean before reinserting it.

Should you find yourself in a public bathroom where it is impossible or impractical to wash the cup with soap in between uses, wipe it clean with some toilet paper (make sure to remove small pieces of tissue if they get stuck to the cup) and reinsert it. Then give it a thorough wash once you make it home.

Should you find yourself in nature (hiking or camping) or in areas where the tap water is not safe, try and bring some bottled water to wash the cup.

Taking care of your cup

With proper care most cups can last up to 10 years.

Use oil free soaps to wash your cup. Avoid scented and antibacterial soaps.

Avoid using vinegar, rubbing alcohol, bleach or baking soda on the cup to avoid irritating your vagina.

Sanitize your cup between menstrual cycles by boiling it for 10 minutes. Try to make sure it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot to prevent it from burning or degrading the elastomer or silicone. There are sanitizing cups available by some vendors that let you use a microwave to accomplish the same process in just a few minutes. Whichever method you use, allow the cup to return to room temperature before inserting it.

Most cups come with a storage pouch. Try and keep the cup in there when not in use to keep it sanitary. If your cup did not come with a pouch, try and keep it in a breathable cloth bag to keep it dry and clean of germs, but so that there is a bit of air circulation possible so that it can dry (if it isn’t fully dry already). Store the cup in a cool, dry place (such as a drawer in your room).

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