How to Use a Menstrual Cup: The Most Complete Guide You Will Ever Read
It’s been about 10 years since I started using a menstrual cup (I use a Diva Cup). I’ve now started on my third cup. Yes, they really do last that long! I’m not sure how I got started using a menstrual cup. I imagine that, at the time, the idea of putting a little silicon cup in your vagina probably sounded a bit weird. But, if you think about it, it isn’t any weirder than the idea of putting tampons up there. And if you really think about it and do your research, the idea of putting conventional tampons inside of you is totally crazy.
I love my menstrual cup so much that I tell everyone about it. I’ve even been known to take it off its shelf and show guests at my house (to men sometimes too – why shouldn’t they be educated about female hygiene practices as well?). For all you women who haven’t had the opportunity to get a first-hand viewing, here is pretty much everything you need to know about how to use a menstrual cup and why you should ditch tampons for good.
What is a Menstrual Cup?
If you hadn’t heard of a menstrual cup, you probably would have no clue what the thing was. They are bell-shaped and have a little “stem” coming out of their bottom. Menstrual cups are made from medical-grade silicone so they are flexible. You put the menstrual cup inside your vagina and it collects blood. Then you simply remove the menstrual cup a few times during the day, empty it, wash it out, and reinsert it.
Why Not Just Use Tampons?
Women have actually been using tampons for a really long time. Ancient Egyptians are credited to inventing the first tampons in 15000 BC out of softened papyrus, but other cultures also made their own versions of tampons.
Generally speaking, tampons were pretty safe to use. But, of course, manufacturers had to “improve” their products by introducing harmful components into them.
The first tampon scares were in the early 1980s. At the time, women were asking for tampons which could hold more blood without needing to be changed. So Proctor and Gamble came out with Rely tampons which were made from Carboxymethyl cellulose and polyester. Apparently, it isn’t a good idea to let menstrual blood sit inside your vagina all day! Numerous cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome suddenly came forth, a disease which was pretty much unheard of before the advent of super-absorbent tampons.
With menstrual cups, you don’t have to worry about Toxic Shock Syndrome. Even if you leave your menstrual cup in all day (which I do sometimes), you still don’t have to worry about TSS. The reason is because, unlike with tampons, the blood sits within the menstrual cup. It isn’t getting reabsorbed by your body. There have been NO cases of TSS associated with menstrual cups! (Source)
Health Risks of Tampons
Aside from the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, there are still many reasons why you shouldn’t use conventional tampons.
Tampons look all nice and sterile with their super-white cotton-rayon blend and individual packaging, but they contain a host of worrisome chemicals. For starters, to get the cotton and rayon all white, manufacturers bleach tampons. The bleaching process produces dioxins as a byproduct. Research shows that dioxin disrupts the endocrine system and mimics estrogen, thus affecting hormones. It is linked to problems like breast cancer and reproductive problems, amongst many others (dioxin is in the same family as Agent Orange). Tampon makers like to point out that there are only tiny amounts of dioxin in their products. But this underestimates how serious dioxin is. Dioxins remain in the body indefinitely and build up with each new exposure.
Cotton is one of the most heavily-sprayed crops in the world. And the idea of putting a wad of pesticides up your who-haw isn’t exactly thrilling! Keep in mind that the mucosal lining of the vagina is one of the most absorbent parts of the body. You might as well be rubbing pesticides all over your body.
There are now plenty of non-bleached and organic tampons available. These are definitely better than conventional tampons. I am still not a fan of them though. For starters, tampons are absorbent – which means tampons dry out the vagina. When removed from a too-dry vagina, tampons can cause lacerations. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it provides an entry point for bacteria and other pathogens. Yeast infection, anyone?
Environmental Reasons to Ditch Tampons
Depending on which report you go by, the average women in the US uses 11,000 to 16,800 tampons or pads in a lifetime, or upwards of 250-300 pounds worth of pads, tampons and applicators. (Source 1, Source 2). That is a lot of trash going into the landfills!
Aside from the trash which is produced from these hygiene products, consider all of the wasted energy which goes into making them. And, since chemicals are being used to produce tampons, these also make their back into the earth. The company Seventh Generation (which admittedly is probably biased in their research) found that, if every woman of menstruating age in the USA replaced one 16-pack of tampons with organic tampons, they would prevent 17,000 pounds of pesticides from polluting rivers, lakes, and streams! (Source)
How Menstrual Cups Have Made My Life Easier
When thinking about how great menstrual cups are, a specific scenario comes to mind: I was traveling in Mexico with my best friend. As common with best friends, our menstrual cycles were synchronized and we both started bleeding at the same time. I had my menstrual cup. She had to rush off and buy tampons. Apparently, it isn’t easy to find tampons in rural Mexico! And they were EXPENSIVE.
My friend and I proceeded to board a bus to Guatemala. The bus ride was 20+ HOURS. I calmly slept, knowing that my trusty menstrual cup didn’t need to be changed all day if necessary. Since bathroom breaks were on the side of the road, she couldn’t really change her tampon easily. You can bet she got blood on her underwear! This is just one example of how menstrual cups have made my life easier.
Benefits of Using a Menstrual Cup
Aside from the health and environmental benefits of using a menstrual cup, you will find these personal and lifestyle benefits too.
1. You’ll Save Tons of Money with a Menstrual Cup
A menstrual cup costs about $25-$35 and they last for about 5 years. That comes out to approximately $5 to $7 per year! By contrast, I was using about 1 box of tampons per month. According to Jezebel, a box of tampons costs $6.79 and the average woman will use 9 boxes per year. That comes out to $61.11 per year (if you are using organic tampons, it is going to cost A LOT more!). So, in the last decade, I’ve saved over $561 by switching to a menstrual cup! Imagine the savings over my lifetime!!!
2. Menstrual Cups Make Travel Easier
As an avid traveler (I’ve just gotten my 27th country), I can tell you that menstrual cups are a life saver. No need to worry about whether tampons are available in middle-of-nowhere-istan. No need to worry about changing tampons on a train, or blood stains on your underwear (or, worse, on your host’s couch!). If you go camping, no need to worry about carrying your bloody waste out with you!
3. Grocery Shopping Is Easier
If you don’t use a menstrual cup, then “tampons” or “pads” are probably on your regular grocery shopping list. Not on mine! One less thing to remember to buy.
4. You Don’t Have to Change a Menstrual Cup a Million Times Per Day
I am a super heavy bleeder during my first 2 days, so I was changing tampons every few hours. What a major hassle! Manufacturers recommend changing tampons every 4 to 6 hours, but I found that I also had to change them every time I peed because I’d end up peeing on the string. Menstrual cups only need to be changed twice per day.
5. No More Tampons In Your Purse!
It is super annoying to have to remember to carry a tampon in your purse. I’m not one for privacy, but I don’t like the idea of opening my bag at the checkout line or whatever and publicly displaying that I’m on my period.
Read to get started? Buy a Menstrual Cup Here
How to Use a Menstrual Cup: All Your Questions Answered
How do you insert a menstrual cup?
First, wash your hands. Then squeeze the sides of the menstrual cup together and then fold them so they make a “U” shape. You can also fold it into other shapes (see the picture). Holding it in this shape, put it inside your vagina. Trust me – it is easy!
***Unlike with tampons which you are supposed to push waayyy up inside, menstrual cups are meant to sit down low! Do not push the menstrual cup deep inside of you! The little stem of the menstrual cup should be right at the opening of your vagina.
How do you take a menstrual cup out?
First, wash your hands. Then just reach up, gently squeeze the bottom of the menstrual cup, and pull it out. Then empty it, wash, and re-insert. If you are in a public toilet, you don’t even have to wash the menstrual cup. Just reinsert it. If necessary, you can wipe the menstrual cup down with some tissue before reinserting it.
Image: How to use a menstrual cup from menstrualcup.co
Isn’t It Gross?
No. The blood only gets on the inside of the cup. If you let the menstrual cup get REALLY full, it might spill a bit when you take it out. But it is just blood for gods sake! Just wash your hands. Or, if you are emptying it in a public toilet and don’t want to leave the stall with blood on your hands, make sure to have some baby wipes or toilet paper to wipe your hands with.
How often do you have to empty a menstrual cup?
Most manufacturers recommend emptying menstrual cups twice a day. On your heavy days, you might need to empty it more frequently.
Does it leak?
If you let your menstrual cup get too full, it might leak. More likely, it might spill when you take it out – so don’t let it get too full, or be cautious about holding it over the toilet when taking it out. If you are really worried about leaking, you can always wear a pad with it. But menstrual cups shouldn’t leak (not anymore than a tampon would).
Doesn’t it hurt?
The first time you put a menstrual cup in, it does feel a bit weird. The weirdness generally goes away after 5-10 minutes. Then you don’t even notice you are wearing one. Remember, tampons probably felt a bit weird the first time too!
How do you clean it?
After emptying it, just wash it with warm water and soap (it should be unscented and oil-free soap). I always boil mine in water for about 5 minutes before and after my cycle. Again, if you are in a toilet stall and can’t wash the cup in the sink, then you don’t even have to wash it. Just reinsert it, or clean it with some tissue and then reinsert it. Don’t use oil products (oil breaks down silicon) or alcohol to clean your menstrual cup.
What are those little holes for?
You’ll notice that menstrual cups have little holes under their rim. At first, I thought these were just part of the manufacturing design. It turns out that they actually help create a seal so the menstrual cup stays in place. One really annoying thing about those little holes is that blood can get stuck in them. Be careful to wash the blood out of there! If the blood dries and gets stuck, then you can use a toothbrush (for this purpose only) to get it out.
Yes, the menstrual cup will get discolored.
After about a year of use, it is normal for a menstrual cup to get discolored. It is still perfectly fine to use (I use mine for 5 years each!). I haven’t found any method of cleaning to get rid of the discoloration. If the discoloration really bothers you, just buy a new one.
Menstrual Cup Tips
The one problem I had when I first started using a menstrual cup was this: blood splashing all over the toilet. Try to take out the menstrual cup while sitting over the toilet. Then, carefully pour it into the toilet. If you just dump the blood into the toilet bowl, it might end up splashing all over the place. I’ve never had it get on the toilet seat like in this picture, but it does get all inside the toilet bowl and you have to flush multiple times.
Also, if you take the menstrual cup out, empty it, and waddle over to the sink with your pants down to clean it, you might get some drops of blood on the floor or your underwear. Before you do any waddling action, make sure to wipe really well.
Which Menstrual Cup to Buy?
When I first started using a menstrual cup, Diva Cup was the only brand on the market (or at least that I was aware of). After going through my second Diva Cup (each last 5 years each), I am now using the Dutchess Cup. It comes in a 2 pack so is a better deal. They are almost exactly the same except that the Diva Cup seems to hold its shape better, so it opens up easier when I insert it. Even though the Dutchess Cup is a slighty better deal, I will buy a Diva Cup when it is time to get a new menstrual cup.
You can also find disposable menstrual cups, but that kind of defeats the point. Since the Diva Cup worked for me, I haven’t bothered trying any other brands. Other popular brands include The Keeper, Moon Cup, and Lunette. If anyone seriously thinks that another brand is better, let me know!
As far as I can tell though, the only real differences between menstrual cups are the:
- Stem type
Menstrual Cup Material
Most menstrual cups are made with medical-grade silicon. The Keeper Menstrual Cup is made from natural gum rubber. It isn’t as flexible as silicon, but it is a good choice if you don’t want to/can’t use silicon. The silicon menstrual cups will be clearish and the rubber ones will be solid.
Menstrual Cup Stem
Another notable difference I saw with some brands is that they have a kind of pull tab instead of the standard “stem.” The tab looks better, but I think the stem makes more sense because you can (and are supposed to) cut it to your desired length.
Menstrual Cup Sizes
Menstrual cups generally come in two sizes: Pre-Childbirth and Post-Childbirth. I’ve also seen the sizes called other things, like “Light” and “Heavy”. Older women, due to vaginal elasticity, should probably get the larger size even if they haven’t had kids. Use your own judgment about which size is best for you.
Also, make sure that your menstrual cup comes with a little cloth bag! Menstrual cups should always be stored in a breathable fabric, not a plastic bag, so moisture can evaporate.
Diva Cup now sells a special wash for their cups. There are also special “menstrual cup wipes” that you can buy. I haven’t tried these but think it is probably a waste of money. Just use soap and water.
Ready to try a menstrual cup?
You can shop for menstrual cups here or click on the links below to buy those brands.
1. Diva Cup Size 1 (Pre-Childbirth)
*My favorite brand 🙂
2. Diva Cup Size 2
3. Dutchess Cup Pack of 2
*Best deal, but I like the Diva cup better
Do you use a menstrual cup? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below!
Bloody toilet: Work found at Flickr CC-BY-SA 2.0
Menstrual cup comparison: Work found at Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0
Folding menstrual cup:Work found at Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0
How to use a menstrual cup:Work found at Wikipedia CC BY SA 3.0
Fleurcup and tampons: Work found at Wikipedia CC BY SA 3.0
Boiling a menstrual cup:Work found at Wikipedia CC BY SA 3.0
Diva Cup and The Keeper: Work found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/greencolander/46840404/in/photostream/ / undefined (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
Tampon applicator: Work found at Flickr (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)