11 Things You Need to Know Before Using a Menstrual Cup

Art by Maggie McConnell, WTF Art Director

A menstrual or period cup is a bendable, silicone, cup-shaped object intended to make monthly menstruation more manageable for people who have periods. The cup is a safer, eco- and economically friendly alternative to pads and tampons. They reduce the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, use of paper, plastic, and cotton products, and amount of money spent on disposable sanitary products. Popular brands include The Diva Cup, Rebel Kate, and Lunette

Thinking about switching to a menstrual cup?

Here are 11 things you should know before making the change:

1. It’s initially expensive, but it cuts the cost of disposable products over time.

As a recent college graduate, I’ve been particularly attuned to personal finances. Despite my desire to be sustainable and save money over time, spending roughly $30-$45 on a menstrual cup that I knew little about sounded crazy. When I miraculously stumbled upon a promo for two menstrual cups (thanks to Instagram and Rebel Kate) that cost $11—roughly equivalent to a large name-brand box of tampons—I was willing to give the cup a try. After several months of using my new pink cup, I realized how much money I saved by not having to preemptively buy a box of tampons every time my period came around (which is awesome, because we all know that even the ‘cheap’ generic brands of sanitary products add up quickly). 

2. It’s eco-friendly!

You can go longer without changing the cup (up to seven hours depending on the size and brand), so you won’t have to worry about stashing a handful of tampons in your bag on heavy flow days. Plus, every time I threw out a full garbage bin of plastic applicators, tampon and pad wrappings, I felt the need to reevaluate how much monthly waste I was producing as a single person who has a period. After virtually eliminating tampon use, I’ve combatted my own cognitive dissonance by making more sustainable and economically-friendly decisions.

3. It’s gonna be messy.

If blood makes you queasy, menstrual cups may not be for you. When I first used a menstrual cup, I was not fully prepared for the messiness that would come with positioning, inserting, and especially removing the cup. Like a tampon without a string, you have to push the cup up as far as it can go without a convenient plastic applicator, while simultaneously pinching the sides together to create a flatter shape. Just as inserting your first tampon was difficult, it may take a couple of tries before inserting and positioning a wider silicone cup feels natural. I went through several tries and sighs before I was satisfied with the outcome of my efforts, wondering for hours if I had in fact managed to successfully position my new device. 

And then came the dreaded task of removing the cup. After many moons of removing my menstrual cup, I sometimes still have difficulty finding and grasping the stick-shaped silicon piece at the base of the cup, which results in some slightly undesirable messiness on my fingers. You may also encounter more period blood than you really want to in this process; unlike a tampon, which neatly soaks everything in, a menstrual cup requires you to dump accumulated period blood in the toilet or shower, which takes a little getting used to.

4. For best results, insert standing up and/or in the shower.

A good way to avoid the aforementioned messiness that comes with inserting and changing a menstrual cup is to do so in the shower. Not only does the running water instantaneously rinse away any mess, but you may find that washing your cup with warm water and soap is more convenient and sanitary when you don’t have to worry about reaching for the bathroom sink between uses. The heat from a hot shower also aids in relaxing your muscles so that the menstrual cup is more easily inserted. I’ve found that on normal to lighter flow days, inserting my menstrual cup in a morning shower allows me to go at least half the day before I need to change it again.

5. You’ll still have to purchase pads or panty liners.

Even when you get the hang of inserting the cup correctly, some spotting is likely to occur. As someone who is paranoid about period leakage, I prefer to pair my menstrual cup with a thin pad and torn granny panties on heavier flow days so I feel *extra* protected. If you similarly experience some spotting, you may want to have some disposable products (i.e. pads, pantyliners, and tampons) on hand for when you can’t easily change your menstrual cup during a busy day. 

6. Changing the cup in public is risky business.

If you don’t have easy access to a sink or shower, as in a public restroom, reinserting your cup can be a hassle. Instruction guides will suggest wiping down used cups with a wet paper towel or piece of toilet paper if you’re in a place where you can’t easily rinse or wash your cup. However, this isn’t a preferable or convenient situation and may require some planning ahead (which isn’t extremely practical, especially if you’re on the go with little time to spare for a bathroom break). To combat this dilemma, I would suggest waiting to reinsert your cup when you are in a more private setting, like in the comfort of your own home. Luckily, the cup is not as likely to leak or overflow as it is when you are in desperate need of a tampon change, so you may be able to get away with avoiding the public bathroom dilemma altogether.

7. The cup may open inside of you, which can be a little uncomfy.

The cup is most easily inserted when it is folded in half, and then in half again. Because the cup must be facing upwards and open to collect fluids, it may twist open when you shift a bit, stand up, or sneeze. If this happens, expect a split second of pressure before your cup is in a more functional position. When you go to remove or change the cup, it will be wider and open, which may cause slight discomfort as you attempt to pull it out.

8. You may want to change it more often than the recommended seven hours.

Even though instructional guides harp on the fact that menstrual cups can safely stay in for up to seven hours, you may feel more comfortable changing it more often, especially on heavier flow days. I personally prefer the length of time I can go without changing

my menstrual cup (especially on that day-two flow), as I can comfortably go up to about four hours without changing the cup versus about two hours max with a tampon. Depending on how comfortable you are leaving your cup in and how heavy your flow is, you may similarly feel the need to change your cup before the seven hour mark strikes.

9. Some people find it gross.

I was slightly taken aback when my eco-friendly and feminist sister (who has been getting her period for over 10 years now) expressed her disgust for using menstrual cups as a substitute for tampons. I don’t always feel comfortable bringing up the menstrual cup conversation with female friends, who have similarly responded with a puzzled ‘Why?’ when I tell them I’ve switched from tampons to a menstrual cup. I’ve found the best way to deal with this controversy is to calmly explain my reasoning: ‘I use the cup because ___,’ which can be different for every user! Some people are hesitant because they either haven’t had experience using a menstrual cup, or have had a bad or messy experience when they’ve tried.

10. It’ll all get better in time.

If you do decide to switch to a menstrual cup, you’ll likely find that the more you get the hang of inserting the cup, the easier it gets. You’ll figure out how long you can go without changing it, which position to stand in when inserting and removing it, and which angles are most comfortable and protective against leakage. The general consensus I’ve heard from those who have switched to using a menstrual cup is that it may take several periods before you feel as comfortable inserting a menstrual cup as you would while using other sanitary products.

11. The cup is not for everyone.

Menstrual cup companies tend to advocate wholeheartedly for everyone to switch to a menstrual cup for ‘a better life,’ convenience, cost, and sustainability. However, if you are not a tampon user, don’t want to see the amount of period blood you produce every time you change your cup, or are uncomfortable with the idea of manually inserting a silicone cup, using a menstrual cup may not be for you. It’s completely up to you whether you feel that the benefits of using a menstrual cup outweigh the drawbacks. It may be helpful to create a personal pros and cons list and do some research on different brands, types, and sizes of menstrual cups so you can figure out what will be best for you and your body before you invest in switching to the cup.

Joanna Gaden

University of Michigan Alumna

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