What is the menstrual cup (aka. period cup)? How do you use it? Why would you want to? Find out about this sustainable women’s product.
One of my first posts on this blog told about my experience using a menstrual cup for the first time. I’ve since removed the post, but this was my conclusion…
I tried it on a whim. Sometimes I have these crazy ideas about how to be more sustainable. (Like when I cooked fish in the dishwasher.) I didn’t love it (quite yet), but I was pleasantly surprised by it. In fact, I said that I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would (or as much as I hate pads and tampons)!
Years later, I continue using the cup and am much more enthusiastic about it. So, I figured I’d sum up my thoughts in a post in the hopes of helping those who are on the fence about giving it a try.
What is a menstrual cup?
For those who don’t know what a menstrual cup is, it’s a small, flexible cup that is used to collect menstrual fluids. The menstrual cup is usually made of medical-grade silicone, but some are made of latex. It gets placed in the vagina at, more or less, the same place that you would place a tampon, but, unlike a tampon, the cup collects fluid rather than absorbing it.
Why use it?
There are several great reasons to choose the menstrual cup over other options like tampons or pads.
It saves money
A menstrual cup can be used over and over again for up to 10 years. Because the cup is reusable, once you have invested in one, you don’t have to keep going out to buy more pads and tampons.
It’s more sustainable
Because you can reuse it from month to month, the menstrual cup doesn’t generate landfill waste like disposable tampons and pads.
Not only do pads and tampons fill our landfills with a biological waste that isn’t easily decomposed, but most are made with chemicals that are potentially toxic to us.
As opposed to pads and tampons that absorb the liquid from the menstrual fluid leaving a smelly mess, the menstrual cup collects all of the fluid. While they’re collected, the fluids don’t come in contact with the outside air. So, they don’t oxidize and give off an odor. That allows you to feel cleaner and freer to do what you like.
When you empty the cup, you can quickly rinse it out in the sink before reinserting it. Then, between uses, you can sterilize it in boiling water or use a microwaveable sterilizer cup.
The menstrual cup adapts to your body and forms a vacuum that helps prevent leakage, unless, of course, you don’t periodically empty it and it starts to overflow. Some people say that because of this vacuum, the fluids are drawn out more quickly, and their period lasts a shorter period of time.
Another advantage is that they don’t need to be changed as often as a pad or tampon. Because they don’t fill up quickly, you can leave them in for up to 12 hours at a time without emptying them.
On the first and second days, I empty mine every few hours or it starts to fill up. By the third day, though, I can leave it in for most of the day without having to worry about emptying it. How often you need to empty yours will depend on your flow.
The menstrual cup vs. tampons
Tampons work by absorbing fluids which, in theory, sounds great. The problem is that as they absorb fluids, they give a drying sensation that is uncomfortable for many women. Plus, that means they are associated with a rare condition called toxic shock syndrome. Menstrual cups are less likely to cause that condition.
Also concerning is the possible toxicity of tampons which are often bleached or may have rayon, viscose fibers, or dioxin.
The menstrual cup vs. pads
For many years, I used disposable pads. Apart from not being environmentally friendly, they can be unpleasant to use. The moment menstrual fluids leave your body, they react with the air and begin to smell bad. I could go into more details about why I hate them, but I’d prefer to focus on the menstrual cup.
Reusable pads are more enviromentally-friendly, but still have the other issues.
Isn’t it uncomfortable?
It took me a while to actually try using a menstrual cup. Let’s face it. It’s scary to put something up there and not know if you’ll be able to get it out again.
My biggest concern, though, was comfort. I was never able to use tampons because I found them very uncomfortable.
The menstrual cup is bigger than a tampon, so you’d assume it would be even more bothersome than a tampon. Interestingly enough, that’s not the case (at least not for me). Because it isn’t drying in the same way a tampon is, I barely notice it.
When I wrote my first post, I was able to notice the menstrual cup more than I do now. That could be because I was getting used to it and was constantly thinking about if it was bothering me or not. Once you get used to it, you actually have to tense the muscles around it, specifically trying to feel it, to notice that it is there.
How to use it
First, wash your hands and make sure your menstrual cup is clean. (You can even buy microwaveable silicone cups for sterilizing your cup easily!)
To get the cup in place, fold the cup, position it, and let it pop open on its own. Once open, it should move into place on its own.
To remove the cup, relax your muscles and gently pull on the stem until the cup can be easily reached. (women with a lower cervix may already have it low enough to easily reach.) Gently squeeze the bottom of the cup itself to release the suction and remove it.
On heavier days, you may find yourself needing to empty the cup every couple of hours, especially if you have a heavy flow. Otherwise, you can leave it in for up to twleve hours at a time.
Which menstrual cup is best?
Over the years, I have tried several menstrual cups. I’ve used some inexpensive menstrual cups from Amazon and have also tried the Sckoon menstrual cup. (In full disclosure, Sckoon gave me a cup to try years ago in exchange for a review. I paid to have it sent to me here in Spain. I’ve since removed most of that post but am leaving some of my thoughts here.)
Which one is best? That will depend on your priorities and likes. I’ll try to explain what I like (and don’t like) about each one to help you make a decision.
Bodybay menstrual cups
On one of my trips back to the US, I realized that I was going to get my period during the last days of the vacation. Not having planned ahead, I didn’t have my cup with me. I had no intention of traveling with pads. Yuck!
So, I quickly ordered a set of inexpensive menstrual cups. I ended up getting the Bodybay menstrual cups on Amazon. These menstrual cups were very inexpensive and are actually quite comfortable. I like the shape, which is actually somewhat similar to the more expensive Sckoon cup. I also actually like the black cup they offer because lighter, “prettier” colors can get dingy looking with time.
The only issue I had with these was the fact that the stem (used to remove the cup) is hollow. That makes it difficult to clean well.
Sckoon menstrual cup
The Sckoon menstrual cup is a bit pricier than most of the other cups I tried.
It does have some advantages, though. The Sckoon is available in a variety of colors and comes with a nice organic cotton pouch. (Not that you can’t easily whip up your own pouch from a t-shirt sleeve in 5-10 minutes!) It is also formed in one piece, making it seamless. That helps make it more comfortable. The holes around the border are angled diagonally to help prevent leakage when the cup fills. (The holes are necessary to hold the cup in place.)
What I didn’t like was the stem (which some women love).
The Sckoon Cup has a slimmer, softer stem. While it was meant to be a great design feature, I didn’t like it. Depending on their anatomy, some women are bothered by menstrual cups’ stems. Many, with a low cervix, find it hangs out of them and they even cut part or all of it off. If you have a high cervix, though, which it appears I do, the cup positions itself a lot higher than it does in women with a lower cervix. So, the stem comes in handy for removing the cup.
You’re supposed to remove the cup by pinching the bottom (vs. pulling on the stem), but I found it impossible to get it low enough without pulling the stem to reach it. With such a thin stem, not only did I snap myself with it more than once (ouch!), but the stem on mine eventually broke. So, I stopped using it and switched again.
Croing menstrual cup
When the Sckoon broke, I decided to try a new model. Having been pleasantly surprised by the Bodybay menstrual cups, I looked for something similar (but with a solid stem). I settled on the Croing menstrual cup set.
When I bought the set, it came with 2 small cups and 2 large cups. It also came with a silicone sterilizing cup. I decided that the smaller cups would be perfect for giving to friends’ daughters to try. The value of these was outstanding. I don’t really have anything negative to say about them. They were inexpensive and are very comfortable. (And I find the stem to be (finally) just right.)
Which size should you choose?
Menstrual cups usually come in two sizes:
- The smaller sizes are recommended for women who are under the age of 30 and who haven’t given birth vaginally.
- The larger size is recommended for women who are older than that, like me. 😉
Not surprisingly, the larger cup also holds more fluid. That means you can wear it a bit longer without needing to change it. The photos above show the measuring markers inside the Croing cups. The 15ml mark is much closer to the top border on the smaller cup.
Should YOU be using a menstrual cup?
My short answer is a resounding YES!
I think every menstruating woman should try one, at least once. If you can get over the intimidation factor, you may be pleasantly surprised. I definitely will never be going back to tampons or pads (and I was about as skeptical as you can get)!
I tried it because I knew I could save money and have a better impact on the environment. I stuck with it, though, for a very different reason: comfort.
This post combines two older articles on the blog about my experiences and why to use a menstrual cup. The first was published on November 5, 2013. The latter was published on March 12, 2015.
If you have any questions but are embarrassed to comment below, feel free to send me an email, and I’ll try to help out however I can.