A menstrual cup is a type of reusable period product. It is worn inside the vagina, either around or below the cervix. During menstruation, the cup is used to catch menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. It is a product that can be a good alternative to those that are typically seen on the shelves such as disposable tampons and pads.
A menstrual cup normally holds more than a single super-sized tampon, which will allow you more freedom throughout the day. When a menstrual cup is positioned properly, it is undetected. It cannot be seen or felt.
You can use a menstrual cup safely for up to twelve hours, depending on your flow. The cup needs to be removed periodically to be emptied and cleaned. After emptying and rinsing the menstrual cup, it can be immediately reinserted. Because a menstrual cup collects your flow instead of absorbing it, it won’t interfere with the delicate pH and bacterial balance in your vagina.
Parts of a Menstrual Cup
Depending on the shape of the cup, it can have a regular rim style rim or a flared rim. There are also cups that don’t have a defined rim.
- Visible – Includes a clear transition from the body to the rim indicated by either a raised edge or a slope. This area is normally thicker and firmer than the body.
- Invisible – There is no visible transition like an edge or slope on these cups; however, the silicone thickens as it nears the top rim.
- There are also cups that lack either and, therefore, have no secondary rim.
A menstrual cup may or may not include air holes. The number of air holes, their size, placement and travel path all vary from cup to cup.
The number of air holes and their size help keep a cup open by allowing it to fill with air. Air holes can also create a good seal to ensure the cup stays in place.
If there are no holes or if the holes are very small, the cup might cause the user some issues by staying collapsed. It may even cause the cup to seal too tightly, and removal can be painful if the seal is not broken beforehand.
If the hole placement is too low or if the holes are too large, they can compromise the full capacity of the cup or cause leaking sooner than expected.
The travel path is not something that should “make or break” your decision in buying a cup. A straight travel path is the easiest to clean but a dental brush or toothpick can help make sure the area is thoroughly cleaned for any design.
The main area of the cup. Menstrual cups come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, their general shape is similar to a bell.
The base of the cup is the area between the body and the stem. It is the area that you need to pinch and hold while removing the cup. The majority of cups have grip rings of some sort at the base of the cup.
The seal is the piece of silicone separating the base and the stem. This piece can be thick or thin. It is important to pay attention to the seal when trimming a stem (if needed), so that you don’t cut or file into the cup’s body; this will render it useless.
Like cups, stems come in all shapes and sizes with varying thickness, firmness, etc.
Some people don’t take stems into consideration if they are already comfortable retrieving and removing a cup without one. However, if you are unsure, you might want a cup that has a longer stem; you can always trim the stem of a cup to shorten it, but you can’t add length to it. Read more about menstrual cup stems (recommended!).
Cups may or may not have measuring lines and/or numbers. If you would like to log the amount of menstrual fluid that is released, this may be an important feature for you when selecting a cup.
- Medical grade silicone (most common!)
- Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE)
- Natural gum rubber
Most menstrual cups are made of silicone. Medical grade silicone is biocompatible, which means it is safe to be used inside the body. Other silicones that have not been tested for biocompatibility may not be safe for internal use. Cups made of non-medical grade silicones are not recommended because the material and grade of the silicone are unknown and, therefore, pose a potential health risk.
You can also find a few menstrual cups that are made of TPE (thermoplastic elastomers), also known as thermoplastic rubbers. TPE is created with a mix of polymers, usually a plastic and a rubber, and is commonly used to create catheters in the medical field.
There is also one menstrual cup made of natural gum rubber. This cup is not recommended for those who have sensitivities or allergies to rubber/latex.
A Bit of History
You may think that menstrual cups are a new invention or a hot new trend. In truth, a type of menstrual cup was patented in the 1860s. These were designed to be inserted into the vagina but were attached to a belt. Many more types were invented over the years until 1932, when the more modern style menstrual cup was patented by two midwives named McGlasson and Perkins.
In 1937, Leona Chalmers patented the first usable cup. It was made of latex rubber. Although we now know how hygienic and practical a menstrual cup can be, people at the time weren’t familiar or comfortable with the idea. During World War II, there was a shortage of latex rubber and production of the cup was halted. After the war, Leona Chalmers made some changes and patented a new design.
In the 1960s, the Tassaway brand of menstrual cup was introduced but it was not successful.
It wasn’t until 1987, when The Keeper was introduced, that menstrual cups made their turn around. This cup was created using latex rubber, just like those before it. The MoonCup, using the same design as The Keeper, was released as the first silicone cup fifteen years later. Both of these cups are still around today.
Over the years, many other brands of menstrual cups have been created with many different designs; they now come in various shapes, sizes, and colors with different stems, rims, firmness, and diameters.
Although this gives a potential cup user a wide range of options depending on their wants and needs, cup selection can be daunting to someone just starting out!
How to Use a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup may appear large at first, but it is folded into a smaller shape prior to its use. It is then inserted like a tampon without an applicator into the vaginal canal.
The cup then unfolds and may create a slight seal just under or around the cervix.
Menstrual flow collects into the cup and stays there until you remove and empty the contents. Most companies suggest emptying the menstrual cup at least every 12-hours or twice a day depending on how heavy your flow is.
To remove the menstrual cup, bear down with your pelvic floor muscles (PFM) and bring the cup closer to the vaginal opening. Use the stem to wiggle the cup down enough for you to reach the base. Once the base can be reached, pinch it to release the seal and wiggle the cup the rest of the way out. Dump the contents into the toilet or drain, rinse and reinsert as needed or store away for your next cycle.
Are They Comfortable?
When a menstrual cup is the right size and shape for you and it is inserted correctly, it is undetectable and cannot be seen or felt.
A menstrual cup collects your flow instead of absorbing it, and it won’t interfere with the delicate pH and bacterial balance in your vagina. This also means that it’s less drying and may be more comfortable because it doesn’t absorb your body’s natural lubricants.
Pros and Cons of Menstrual Cups
Cost-effective – Most companies state that their menstrual cup should last upwards to ten years with proper care. That’s right! You may only need to buy ONE menstrual cup for the next ten years! That’s a whopper of savings!
Eco-friendly – Because menstrual cups are reusable, there will be less disposable menstrual hygiene products rotting in landfills!
Can be worn for up to 12 hours – Menstrual cups normally hold more than a regular absorbency tampon or pad, so they need less attention throughout the day. Most companies state that you can use their menstrual cup for up to 12 hours depending on your flow before it needs to be removed, emptied, and rinsed. It can then be reinserted or stored for your next period.
These benefits make menstrual cups perfect for overnight protection, long days of work, or a full day of doing whatever your heart desires!
More comfortable – Tampons absorb everything, including your body’s own natural secretions. A menstrual cup collects your menstrual flow and doesn’t interfere with the delicate pH and bacterial balance or the natural lubricants in your vagina. No more cringe-worthy, painful, dry removal!
Odor-free – When blood comes into contact with air and allowed to dry, bacteria starts to grow and create an odor. Because menstrual cups collect the flow instead of absorbing it, blood is kept in a liquid state. When the cup is removed, the contents are emptied into the toilet or down the drain. The cup is then washed and reused or stored. No more stinky trash cans!
It takes a little practice – Like almost everything else we learn, it may take some practice. For some individuals, inserting, using, and removing the menstrual cup will come easy. For others, it may take a few cycles to get the hang of it.
It may seem messier – When you first start using a menstrual cup, it may seem a bit messier than removing a pad or tampon and tossing it into the trash. New users might need some practice keeping the cup upright until they’re ready to dump the contents into the toilet or down the drain. You may even find your fingers or hands covered in blood. As time goes on and you get more practice using a cup, you’ll find easier and less messy ways to insert and/or remove the cup.
It can take time to find the right one; menstrual cups are not “one size fits all”. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, which is pretty awesome because people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, too! Finding the right cup that will be both comfortable and right for your needs may take a bit of time but there are some things you can think about when trying to narrow down your selection.
Knowing the approximate height of your cervix can be a big help in finding your “Goldilocks” cup. Don’t know how? We can help! Locating & Measuring Your Cervix.
Public bathrooms – You got us there. Yes, it may be easier to just throw a disposable in the trash while using a public toilet. But, remember: most menstrual cups hold more than a regular absorbency tampon or pad, so you won’t need to deal with it nearly as much! If your flow is light enough, you might be able to use a cup all day until you get home. You can also seek one of the many higher-capacity cups on the market.If you do find that the need to empty your cup in a public restroom, you can bring a water bottle with you, a wet wipe, or just grab a couple of paper towels provided in most bathrooms and wet them before you enter a stall for easy cleanup.
Initial cost – It’s true that a single menstrual cup will cost you more than a package of disposables – possibly more than even two or three packs. However, once you find the perfect cup, you won’t need to purchase another one for up to TEN years! Purchasing a 2-pack of cups containing a small and a large size cup may be beneficial. Not only does it normally cost a little less, but you get to try each size and see what feels the most comfortable to you! You never know, both sizes may come in handy on different days of your period.
But, no worries! We’ve built a really awesome menstrual cup size comparison tool to help match you up with your Goldilocks “just right” cup.
It may cause issues with an IUD – If you have an IUD inserted, there’s some concern that the suction of the menstrual cup could pull the IUD out of place. One study found no evidence that this actually happens, but it makes sense to get the okay from your doctor before using a menstrual cup if you have an IUD.
Where Can You Find Them?
There are a few select brick-and-mortar stores that sell menstrual cups, but there’s a MUCH wider selection available online. If you want to get right to the goodies, check out our list of the best menstrual cups. We also suggest to check out our article on where to buy menstrual cups.
Do You Have More Questions?
We’re sure you do. (You should have!) Here are some helpful sections on our website.
- Menstrual Discs Frequently Asked Questions - October 25, 2020
- How To Use a Menstrual Disc – Everything You Need to Know! - October 20, 2020
- How to Choose a Menstrual Disc – What to Consider? - October 11, 2020