A Beginner’s Guide to Menstrual Cups

Alternative menstrual products have become a mainstream topic and feminist obsession. While concerns about the safety of ‘traditional’ products like tampons have fueled some of that, the actual benefits of using the products themselves seems to be the driving force behind their increasing popularity. One of the most talked-about products is the menstrual cup.

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a reusable, generally somewhat bell-shaped internal device made from medical grade silicone, natural rubber, or TPE (thermoplastic elastomer). They average approximately 2 inches in length and 1.5 inches in diameter, though sizes vary from brand to brand and size to size (more on this later). Some cups are available in different shapes.

 

How does a menstrual cup work?

Simply, it collects menstrual flow rather than absorbing it.

How do you wash it?

Because they are made of non-abortive materials, menstrual cups can be safely washed and reused. Cup manufacturers often make specialty washes, but any non-toxic and unscented soap will do. Simply wash, thoroughly rinse, and insert. Between washes, the cup can be sanitized by boiling it.

 

How do you use it?

One of the magical things about the menstrual cup is the length of time you can wear them. Because they don’t absorb any fluids and do not contain any fibers that allow bacteria to grow against the cervix (which is how tampons carry an increased risk of causing Toxic Shock Syndrome), they can be safely worn for up to 12 hours.

New cup users generally need (as with anything) a bit of a learning period. Give yourself a few cycles to get comfortable with insertion, removal, and cleaning. You may choose to wear a liner for backup protection until you do.

To insert the cup, wash it, flick off the excess water, fold it in half (there are more folds, but this is a simple one to start), and insert and give it a turn to be sure that the cup is fully open. If the cup isn’t fully open, you can turn it more or run a finger alongside it to help it open. Once you get the hang of insertion, it really is a quick process.

If you need the cup to go higher, you may be able to give it a gentle push upward, perhaps bearing down a bit as well. If you find that the stem is bothersome, you can simply trim it or cut it off. The cup works perfectly with or without the stem!

 

To remove the cup, bear down, grab the bottom of the cup (the stem can be helpful to coax the cup down if you have a high cervix), and then gently remove it, being careful not to spill the contents. Once it is out, just dump it into the toilet, wash, and reinsert.

 

How do I wash it when I’m away from home?

Again, the beauty of the cup is that it can be worn for up to 12 hours. Chances are you won’t have to change it while you’re at school, work, or running errands. If you happen to need to empty it, you can choose a single stall with a sink and wash as usual, or choose the ‘wipe method’ — remove, wipe with a clean tissue or cup wipe, and reinsert. Wash your cup normally when you return home or have a private restroom. That’s it!

Can I ask a few TMI questions?

The intimate nature and novelty of menstrual cups usually inspires many questions, which is totally normal. We have selected a few of our favorites here to help ease your mind before you take the plunge.

Can you feel it inside you? Does it hurt? The answer to both is “you shouldn’t.” When worn, and inserted correctly, your menstrual cup should be 100 percent undetectable and unnoticed. Many often forget they’re wearing one! If insertion is uncomfortable or painful try smaller folds like the labia fold.

Does it smell? Can anyone tell I’m wearing one? No! Menstrual fluid only begins to have an odor when it meets oxygen. Worn internally, no one, not even you, should detect any odors. Others have asked if you can hear the blood “sloshing” inside — no! Unlike tampons, there are no strings either. Not a soul will know you’re wearing one but you.

I’ve never had penetrative sex and/or consider myself to be a “virgin”. Can I use a cup? Yes. Age and sexual experience has nothing to do with the type of period protection that you choose. It’s all about what you feel comfortable with! Not to mention that virginity is a social construct, but we won’t get into that here.

Can you have penetrative sex with it in? Not really, but oral is fair play. The cup is worn below your cervix and the cup itself is about 1.5 inches long. The average vaginal canal is 3 to 4 inches long, and though it does lengthen when aroused, and some cervixes are higher than that, we do not recommend traditional penetrative sex with a cup in. We won’t say it’s impossible, but a menstrual disc would be a much better choice, or you can opt for external methods until your vagina is unoccupied.

Can menstrual cups be worn for postpartum bleeding? No. This is an absolute no! You should only use pads (we recommend cloth) for postpartum bleeding. Using tampons or cups is not a good idea for many reasons — risk of infection being the biggest safety concern.

Where do I buy a cup, and what one do I choose?

You can purchase a small selection of menstrual cups from specialty health stores and some chain stores like Whole Foods, Target, and CVS — though there is a much wider range available online. Our menstrual cup comparison is a great way to explore all of the options and our menstrual cup quiz can help you narrow down the choices to find a cup that will work best for you.

 

Where can I learn more?

We have a wealth of information here at Put A Cup In It. Here’s a good list to get you started!

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