What you need to know about menstrual cups?

Teenage girl sitting on a chair

Menstrual cups have been around for a long, long time – even longer than tampons (the first patent on a menstrual cup was actually filed before the first patent on a tampon), but they’ve only recently come to the forefront as a way to supplement your period care. Those who already use menstrual cups feel really, really strongly about them – the word “life-changing” is often used. Instead of having to choose between pads and tampons, menstrual cups give you another option by offering a solution that gives you something different. Of course, that’s not without some important things to consider – plus a tricky learning curve. Here’s what you need to know.

What are menstrual cups?

A menstrual cup is a cup made of medical-grade silicone that’s specifically designed to fit into your vagina. You insert it during your period so it can collect (rather than absorb) your blood; its edges conform to your vagina, so it creates a seal when it’s inserted properly. Then, once you remove it, you can discard the blood, rinse out your cup with soap and water (or the wipes that come with the cup), and put it back in. The process should be painless, and the silicone material means you can reuse it month after month for up to one year.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a menstrual cup?

There are a few major benefits of using a menstrual cup. The first is that it’s reusable. That not only saves you money in the long run, but it also means you don’t have to panic-ask all your friends for a tampon if you find yourself short when you’re out and about. Instead, you can just rinse, wash, and use it again. You can safely wear a menstrual cup for up to 12 hours, although you may want to empty it sooner. Unlike pads, it’s invisible and generally sensation-free as long as you’ve inserted it correctly.

The drawback is that it can be tricky to insert properly, especially if you’ve never used one before. Menstrual cups come with a bit of a learning curve that typically takes people a couple cycles to get the hang of, and it’s one that forces you to get up close and very personal with your vagina. If you don’t get the seal right once it’s in there, the cup could leak. A menstrual cup can also be a bit messy. Since you don’t just throw it in the bin like you would with pads and tampons, you have to clean it by rinsing it with mild soap and water each time before you can reinsert it. That can be hard to do in a public bathroom, not to mention the fact that the cup can make a weird sound as you’re pulling it out.

How do menstrual cups work?

Like so many things in life, a little practice can go a long way. Here’s how to use a menstrual cup if you’re a first-timer.

Step 1: Fold your menstrual cup

Start by taking a deep breath. Then, fold your menstrual cup. There are a few ways to do this, and it all depends on which way feels most comfortable for you. The easiest way (and thus a go-to for beginners) is the C-fold, where you press the cup flat, pinch it in the middle and fold it over so it creates a C shape. (You can watch a demo in our Cup Guide if you’re more of a visual learner.)

Step 2: Insert the folded menstrual cup

Next, insert the folded cup into your vagina, just like you would with a tampon. Once you release it, the cup will open up. To make sure it adheres to the wall of your vagina, gently tug on the stem a few times and rotate it. You shouldn’t be able to feel it once it’s in – and if you do, just take it out and try again. Practice makes perfect, but even people who’ve been using menstrual cups for years need to redo it once or twice to make sure it’s in right.

Step 3: Remove the menstrual cup

Once you’re ready to remove your menstrual cup, you need to first break the seal. Just like inserting it, this process can also take a minute, so don’t worry if it takes a few tries. It helps to start in a squatting position. First, feel around for the stem. Once you find it, pinch the base of the cup (not the stem) to break the seal and remove it carefully, since the last thing you want is to spill it on your clothes. You can discard the contents down the toilet, sink or shower – whichever is more convenient.

How to clean your menstrual cup

As we mentioned, the thing about menstrual cups is that they can be a little bit messier to use than tampons. Every time you remove it, you should wash it out with soap and water before inserting it again. (You can also use a wipe if you don’t have access to a sink). Once your period is over, give your menstrual cup a deeper clean by placing it into a pot of boiling water to sanitise it. Leave it for at least five to seven minutes, dry it completely and then return it to its storage case.

Cleaning your menstrual cup is really important, so make sure to follow instructions on the packaging. You should also replace it every year.

When to use a menstrual cup

There are no rules when it comes to your period care. You can use a menstrual cup whenever you want and do so without ditching your tampons and pads – it just depends on what works for you. For instance, a menstrual cup might be great overnight, while a tampon may work better if you know you won’t be able to clean your cup properly between uses (i.e. in grotty public toilets). Or maybe you want to use a menstrual cup and a pad at the same time. Anything goes – becoming a menstrual cup user isn’t the be-all and end-all. You’ve got lots of options.

Which menstrual cup is right for you?

You can find menstrual cups at your local pharmacy or online – they’re easy to find once you know what to look for. Most menstrual cups, like the Tampax Cup, come in two different sizes. There’s one for Regular Flow and another for Heavy Flow, and you can get both in Tampax’s Menstrual Cup Starter Kit. Since your flow can vary from month to month and throughout your period, it’s ideal for figuring out the right fit for you.

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