Does the idea of using a menstrual cup fill you with fear? You are not the only one. The problem is that many women don’t know what a menstrual cup is, how it works and they feel uncomfortable asking about it. Thankfully there is now a lot more information available online than there used to be.
Table of Contents
- How to insert a menstrual cup
- How to remove a menstrual cup
- How to use a menstrual cup in a public bathroom
- How to clean a menstrual cup
- How long do you need to boil a menstrual cup?
- The best menstrual cup for beginners
- Are menstrual cups sustainable?
- Swap to menstrual cups
Despite initial reservations, Kristy found that menstrual cups were the least messy period product she had used. This has a lot to do with finding the right product and using it correctly, so let’s start with how to insert a menstrual cup.
How to insert a menstrual cup
A menstrual cup is inserted into the vagina in much the same way as a tampon, but there are a few differences. Here are 4 easy steps for how to insert a menstrual cup:
- Fold the cup
- Insert into vagina
- Rotate it
Before you use your menstrual cup, always boil it and sterilise it first. Wash your hands before starting.
First, fold the cup. This can be done by folding in half and then in half again. The aim, according to Lucie Fink is to make the cup as small as possible before inserting it.
Asima likes to use a punch down fold, which she finds is easier. Put A Cup In It describes a punch down fold as folding one side of the cup down into the bottom of the cup.
Whichever way you choose to fold the cup, keep holding it folded while you insert it. Try to relax, this may sound fiddly, but you will very quickly get used to it (in the same way you got used to tampons if you ever used them).
Insert the cup into the vagina. Slant it back rather than up and try to follow your natural curves. You want the cup to be a few centimeters below your cervix and fully inserted. If it is not inserted far enough, you will be able to feel it.
Let the cup go and see if it pops out naturally. If not, give it a quick rotation. The idea is to let the cup create suction against the edges of the vagina. This is a bit like using a plunger or suction cap if you can bear to think about it like that!
So far, so good. The cup should be comfortable but do not forget it is there! The menstrual cup will need removing and rinsing regularly. At least once every 12 hours. So how do you remove a menstrual cup?
How to remove a menstrual cup
Removing your menstrual cup is the reverse process of inserting it. Here is how to remove a menstrual cup in three easy steps:
- Pinch the cup
- Remove it
- Hold it upright
Pinch the cup or fold the cup with your fingers so that it breaks the suction.
Lucie Fink says that one of the things they don’t tell you about menstrual cups is that they can be painful to remove. Just pulling the stem of the cup doesn’t always break the suction and it is the suction that is painful, so fold or pinch the cup before removing it.
Jen says she squeezes the base of the cup to break the seal. Then she removes the cup. The advantage to this method is that it keeps the cup from spilling while she removes it. She says “It’s not painful for me and there is no spillage this way!” Great tip, Jen.
Which brings us swiftly on to the last step: remove the menstrual cup carefully, keeping it upright all the way so that you don’t spill the blood on the way out.
How to use a menstrual cup in a public bathroom
One of the things that worries new users of menstrual cups is how they are going to manage in public bathrooms. It is all very well experimenting in your own bathroom with a locked door, but what if you are a college student or work in an office.
One option is to use toilet paper. Simply empty the cup into the toilet and then wipe it clean with toilet tissue.
If you are carrying a replacement cup, you can buy cup holders. These are collapsible silicone cup holders with a lid that are similar to folding coffee cups. Pop your menstrual cup into the cup holder once you have wiped it and stash it in your bag for later.
The second option is to rinse the cup there and then. You can buy specialist cleansing drops to use while you are in the bathroom or you can carry a bottle of water with you to rinse out the cup while in the toilet cubicle.
How to clean a menstrual cup
Once you are finished your period you will want to clean and store the menstrual cups ready for the next time you need them. Again, you can buy specialist cleaners for this purpose. Check your menstrual cup for instructions on what cleaning agents you can use.
Alternatively, Lucie Fink suggests that you can boil your menstrual cups to sterilize them for next use. One of the big advantages she and other users of cups mentioned is that they are getting less yeast infections since they swapped using tampons for a menstrual cup.
As always, observing hygiene by changing the cup regularly and washing your hands before and after use will reduce any risk of infections.
How long do you need to boil a menstrual cup?
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist suggests that sterilizing cups between each use is best practice. This may mean that you need to purchase multiple cups.
The length of time you need to boil your menstrual cup depends on the manufacturer. Ruby Cup suggests 2-3 minutes. Saalt suggests 4-5 minutes and no longer than 7 minutes. Mooncup suggests 5-7 minutes. Lunette suggests a 20 minute boil between cycles and to remove odors.
Finding the right size menstrual cup is key to both comfort and no leakage, which is after all, the main goal.
The best menstrual cup for beginners
The best menstrual cup for beginners is one that fits them properly. This prevents any leakage. Finding the right menstrual cup is dependent on three main criteria:
The diameter for the cup is important. As PACII so graphically puts it, your vagina can expand to accommodate a larger cup but the muscles might not be able to hold onto a smaller cup.
Menstrual cups come in literally every size and lots of different shapes, and they are not consistent across brands so a large for one brand might be a regular in another. Broad brush rules say that if you are under 30 and have not had children, you will likely need a smaller cup. If you are older than 30 or have had children, you will likely need a larger cup.
Any woman can tell you that we are all different. A woman who has not had children might have a weak pelvic floor and a woman who has had children might have a strong pelvic floor. We are all different, so use this information as a guideline rather than a rule.
The length of the cup is important too. A cup that is too long may be uncomfortable. If it is too high it may shift in the vaginal fornix (Ruby cup). If it is too long, it may also protrude outside your vagina, and this can feel uncomfortable. PACII estimates that the average cup length is between 45mm-48mm. They range from 35mm to around 48mm.
Capacity is the third criteria. You might be surprised to learn that an average cycle is only two ounces or four tablespoons of blood (PACII). This means an average cup capacity of 30ml is more than sufficient to hold the blood flow. This is between 2x and 8x a tampon. However, heavy blood flow can be as much as 200ml and much of that can be on day one. In this case, choose a larger capacity menstrual cup and change it more frequently.
Who can’t use a menstrual cup?
Menstrual cups are not suitable for everyone. Fernanda was told she could not use one at the same time as an IUD birth control device. Heloise found that her perineal muscles were not strong enough to use them after childbirth.
Some users are allergic to the materials in menstrual cups (most are made of silicone, rubber or TPE (thermoplastic elastomer). Others might find they are an irritant.
Always talk to your doctor or medical advisor if you have any concerns about using a menstrual cup.
Are menstrual cups sustainable?
The final question is how sustainable menstrual cups are in comparison with tampons. We have just seen that most menstrual cups are made of silicone, rubber or TPE (thermoplastic elastomer).
Silicone is petroleum based. TPE is made from non-toxic recycled plastics. Rubber can be produced sustainably, and as long as pristine forest is not cleared to plant it, it can increase biodiversity and sequester carbon (WWF).
Lucie Fink estimates a saving of between $1,500 and $3,000 compared to the purchase price of menstrual cups over 5-10 years.
As well as being expensive, tampons cause waste. In 2018, the United States purchased nearly 6 billion tampons and most of those end up in landfill (National Geographic). An average user uses between 5 and 15 thousand tampons during their lifetime.
Tampons are wrapped in plastic, applicators and strings are plastic and some contain plastic and pads are, of course, lined in plastic to prevent leaks.
Swap to menstrual cups
Since menstrual cups are less expensive, less messy (if they are the right size and used properly) and better for the environment, they make a good sustainable swap.
There will be some people who cannot use a menstrual cup for one reason or another but the vast majority of women who commented were happy that they had made the change. Will you use a menstrual cup?
Note: The information in this article is mostly from personal experience and is not intended to replace medical advice. Always speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.