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Menstrual Cups 101: What You Need to Know

Menstrual cups: Providing decades of freedom from tampons and pads, so you can spend a day doing whatever you want.

Menstrual cups: Providing decades of freedom from tampons and pads, so you can spend a day doing whatever you want.

What Are Menstrual Cups?

Menstrual cups are small cups made of silicone that sit in the vaginal canal to collect your menstrual flow. They are a similar size and shape to eggs. Most cups have a stem at the bottom to help with removal. Because vaginal canal lengths vary, the stem also helps women with longer canals more easily find the cup when it's time to empty it.

Why Would I Use Them?

There are many benefits to switching to cups.

  • Convenience! Stop running to the bathroom every couple of hours. The cup can be worn up to 12 hours. Even on my heaviest days, I empty it only in the morning and at night.
  • No more messy underwear because of surprise periods. You can use the cup for any day of your cycle, at any flow, even when you aren't bleeding. This means you can practice inserting your cup before you get your period.
  • Save money. Cups are reusable for years (manufacturers' recommendations are significantly shorter than how long most people use their cups; for instance, my cup's manufacturer recommends two years, but I've had it for over 10 years).
  • Chemical-free means better periods. Tampons and pads go through manufacturing to make the most absorbent materials. This often means unwanted chemicals. Many cup users noticed fewer cramps, shorter periods, and fewer infections once they made the switch.
  • Maintain your natural lubrication. Ever take out a tampon that wasn't quite full enough? The dryness is painful. With cups, your flora, pH balance, and natural lubrication is maintained.
  • No awful period smell. I used to hate how I smelled when I had my period and used tampons or pads. That doesn't exist with cups (unless you've worn it far too long—so don't do that). Because your natural flora, pH balance, and lubrication is maintained (all the menstrual flow is captured in the cup), you're good to go.
  • More convenience! New cups have a valve option so you can empty the cup without removing it. So, if you have to empty your cup mid-day, the new cups have a great valve option. You squeeze the bottom of the cup/stem and your flow empties from the stem. It's still recommended to remove the cup every 12 hours and give it a rinse (or it will start to smell), but this is a great advancement for those of us who need to empty mid-day on our heaviest days.

Cups with Valves

Tips Before You Get Started

There are two things necessary to make the cup work for you.

  1. It needs to unfold once it's inside you in order to properly form suction.
  2. Before removing the cup, you need to break that suction.

I'll explain in the steps below how to make these two things happen.

Also:

  • Give yourself three cycles to get the hang of it.
  • YouTube is your friend.
  • Relax, and remember: cups are not designed to fit against your cervix; rather, they are meant to sit in your vaginal canal, wherever is most comfortable. Your body will help you find the right place.
  • The stem is not necessary. If you feel it poking your labia, you can cut the stem off completely.
  • It cannot get lost inside you.

Now for the steps.

The Diva Cup

Putting It In and Taking It Out

Insertion

  1. Clean the cup. Your silicone menstrual cup can be boiled on the stove, in water, for five minutes. It's recommended by manufacturers to boil it between each cycle (not each day).
  2. Find a fold. To insert the cup, you need to fold it. There is a standard c-fold that comes with the instructions (which is to fold it in half). Go to YouTube and search for "menstrual cup folds" to see other fold options.
  3. Insert. Sit on the toilet. Hold your folded cup securely. Put the top edge of the cup to your vagina and gently push at the same angle as your vagina. For most women, this is almost parallel to the floor, but slightly upward (maybe 30 degrees, if you're into measurements like that). If you need to, use your finger first to feel your own angle. You do not need to push it all the way up; it only needs to get past your labia so it's comfortable for you. Once inside and unfolded, your body will help find a comfortable place.
  4. To help unfold, pull down slightly and twist. You need to be sure the cup is completely open or the suction won't work and you'll leak. The round rim of the cup needs to touch all sides of your vagina, creating the suction that makes it work. I like to hold the bottom of the cup after I've inserted it, slightly twist and pull down at the same time. NOTE: As you're inserting the cup, it may start to unfold. This is okay. In fact, some women let go before the cup is completely in and push it the rest of the way.

Now do a body scan. If you feel pressure anywhere in your vagina or against your rectum, you may need to tilt the cup in a different position. Sometimes, the fix is to simply pull the cup down a little, twist, and push back up in an upright position. If the pressure is great, your cup may not have unfolded and has since twisted sideways. That's why the last step is so important. Remove it and try again if that happens.

The cup can stay in for up to 12 hours, though I've worn mine longer. At first, you'll be compelled to check it often.

Removal

  1. Sit on a toilet. After you've done your other business, use two or three fingers and bear down (like you're trying to pee). This will help push the cup down and closer to your opening. Grasp the end of the cup once you feel it.
  2. Break the suction. This is important! If you don't break the suction, you're in for a world of hurt. Squeeze the bottom of the cup and gently pull straight down, toward the toilet. If that hurts, tilt it slightly to the side. SLIGHTLY. You're holding the cup upright so nothing spills on your hands. Keep bearing down to help. If it feels tight or hard to pull, use a finger to reach up toward the rim of the cup and press in on the cup to break the seal. Continue to pull straight down until it's out entirely. This is a great time to see how much you've bled and how long you've had the cup inserted. Most women learn that they only need to empty it in the morning and at night.
  3. Dump and wipe (or rinse)! Dump the cup in the toilet. Rinse your cup in the sink (using soap if you'd like, but rinse very well), and reinsert. It's okay to simply wipe your cup as well (great if you're out in public).

That's it! Boil the cup between cycles and you're done.

Lena Cup

Some Final Questions

I'll try to answer some questions for you. If you have any others, please ask!

Can young girls use the cup? Yes. It's excellent for young women to start with healthier, environmentally-friendly options. I also think it's vital for young women to become familiar and comfortable with their bodies. The cup is a functional and practical way to do just that.

Can you have sex with the cup? Yes and no. The cup allows for some penetration, but not full penetration. If you have a stem on your cup, your partner runs the risk of being stabbed (ouch!). Anal sex is safe with the cup, though I recommend you empty the cup beforehand to avoid pressure leaks.

How many cups should I own? One cup is enough, but I like having two. One for home, and one for travel and/or work. And for those days we forget it's in and it gets smelly? You'll have a second immediately available.

Are there sizes to cups? Yes. The general rule is that women under 30 with no children use the smaller size. If you find that you're inserting the cup correctly but are still leaking, you may need the larger size. Also, some cups will hold more flow. If you find your cup is overflowing or is too full too fast for you, look at the packaging for the mL it holds, and shop around for a larger option.

How much are cups? Cups range in price from $20 to $40. A great deal for a cup that can last several years (I've had mine for a decade).

Are You Ready?

I hope this has been helpful. Once you make the switch, I truly think you'll love it. If it's not working for you, write to me and we can try to figure it out together. The most common reason women have stopped using a cup is because of painful removal—but after some investigating, it turns out they weren't breaking the suction first. They'd just grab and pull. If I did that, I'd stop using them too. Other problems include improper insertion, which leads to leaks.

Remember: take deep breaths, be relaxed, and let your body help you figure it all out.

Enjoy the awesome convenience that cups can offer! When you get your cup all good and dirty, read my article on cleaning it so it's sparkly and new again.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.