For a long time, the only choices most women have known when it comes to menstrual products have been pads and tampons. Over the past few years, however, other alternative options have emerged more prominently and become more widely used. One of the most popular of these alternatives is the menstrual cup.
Although many women are just hearing about menstrual cups recently, the modern design has actually been on the market since the 1930s! If you’re not exactly sure what a menstrual cup is, or whether or not it’s right for you, we’ve put together a run down on the basics to help you get a better understanding.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a small, flexible cup that is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood. Today’s menstrual cups are typically made of either latex rubber or silicone and are reusable. They are also available in soft, disposable varieties.
How does a menstrual cup work?
If you’ve never done it before, the process of using a menstrual cup can seem confusing. Fortunately, once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty simple. Start by speaking with your gynecologist to determine if a menstrual cup is a good option for you and to figure out which size you need—small or large. Generally, small cups work best for women under 30, with a lighter flow, and/or who have never gone through vaginal birth. For women over 30, who have a heavier flow, or have given birth vaginally, a large cup is usually recommended.
Once you’ve acquired the right-sized menstrual cup, follow these steps to use it:
- Wash your hands and wet the rim of the cup with water or water-based lube (this makes it easier to insert).
- Find a comfortable position for insertion. This may take some trial and error, but many women choose to insert their cup while squatting, sitting on the toilet with their legs spread, or even with one leg up.
- Fold or squeeze the cup and use one hand to insert it into your vagina. It should be sitting just a few inches below the cervix. If inserted correctly, you shouldn’t be able to feel it.
- Remove and empty the cup every 6-12 hours, depending on your flow. Some cups come with a stem you can pull to bring the cup down and then squeeze the base to remove. If yours has no stem, you’ll just have to reach higher into your vagina to squeeze the base and pull down.
What are the advantages of using a menstrual cup?
A lot of women like menstrual cups because they’re better for the environment. Since they’re reusable, they cut down on the waste and paper production that goes along with using pads and tampons. Being reusable also makes menstrual cups a more cost-friendly option. Many cups can last for years, saving you the money you spend every few months on new period supplies.
Women also enjoy menstrual cups because they don’t have to change them as frequently as a pad or tampon. A cup can hold 1-2 ounces of blood, compared to 1/3 of an ounce that can be absorbed by a tampon.
Another advantage that cups have over tampons is that they preserve the pH balance of your vagina—tampons absorb your natural vaginal fluids along with menstrual blood, throwing off your pH, whereas cups just collect it—which helps reduce odor and the risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome. Additionally, disposable cups can be worn during sex, so you can remain active even on your period.
What are the disadvantages of using a menstrual cup?
Like any product, menstrual cups aren’t right for everyone and can have their disadvantages too. Some women, for example, find that insertion and removal is too difficult or uncomfortable (although it does take some practice to find which methods work best for you). Perhaps the biggest complaint about menstrual cups is that they’re messier than pads and tampons. They can be easy to spill when you remove and empty them, as well as awkward to clean if you’re in a public restroom.
Something else to keep in mind is that you must take the time to properly clean your cup and sterilize it in between cycles. Failing to do so can cause bacteria growth that leads to vaginal infection and/or irritation.
If you need help deciding if menstrual cups or any other women’s healthcare product is right for you, make an appointment with South Avenue Women’s Services! Our medical professionals are always on hand to provide the confidential, compassionate gynecology services and other women’s wellness services you need to lead a happy, healthy lifestyle.
Reach out online or give us a call to book your appointment!