The Menstrual cup: An Honest Review
I’d been looking for a sign to try using a menstrual cup, and when I saw a discount code posted by Simply Sustainable‘s Instagram during lockdown 1.0 (yes, how very 2020!), I decided to order one and give it a go. Keep scrolling for how it went, with some helpful tips and information along the way…
What is a menstrual cup?
Menstrual cups are reusable bell-shaped devices commonly made of silicone that collect menstrual fluid inside the vagina. They usually have a ring or a stalk at the bottom to aid insertion and removal, and tiny air holes around the top.
- Cheaper than regularly buying tampons/pads
- Require changing/emptying less frequently (max 12 hours)
- Use less plastic and create less waste
- I liked that there was nothing visible externally: no pad, no tampon string, nothing!
- Durability: they can last for many months and even years depending on the material
- More expensive upfront
- Takes time to learn how to insert and remove
- Challenging to empty and clean when using public toilets. Most sites recommend taking some bottled water and tissues into the stall with you.
- Emptying and cleaning the cup can be a little messy!
- They can be uncomfortable during vaginal penetrative sex, although don’t have the same risk of displacement as tampons. However, the Ziggy Cup has been created for this very purpose!
Choosing the right cup
Most brands have two or three different sizes of cup. Which one you choose largely depends on the length of your vagina. You might also want to think about whether you’d like one with a stalk, a ring, or neither – I’d recommend a stalk or ring if you’re new to cups.
- Length: First measure the approximate length of your vagina by inserting a finger when you’re next on your period. See if you can touch your cervix – it should feel like the end of your nose! The inserted finger length can then be measured and used as a rough guide for which length of cup to choose (stalk included!). See this useful 5-minute video guide from PutACupInIt.
- Diameter: Younger people or those who haven’t given birth vaginally might want to opt for a cup with a smaller diameter. Your flow can also be a factor, but this isn’t as important because cups have a higher capacity than other products.
After checking the length, I chose the smaller of the two options, especially as I haven’t had children and have a light flow thanks to the contraceptive implant.
Putting it in
I promptly received my cup in its pretty packaging and put it in my bathroom. A fortnight and an evening of mood swings and cramps later, the dreaded first day of my period arrived. Now I had to tackle getting it in.
- The first step for my cup was to boil it in water for a few minutes to sterilise it. After waiting for it to cool, I trotted off to the bathroom and washed my hands. Next: the folding.
2) Folding the cup was a little bit fiddly. The image above shows the three most common methods. I use the ‘C fold’ as I find it the easiest to maintain with one hand whilst actually inserting it.
3) Next, you hold apart your labia with your cup-free hand, and push the cup inside your vagina pointed towards your tailbone.
4) Once it’s inside, if there’s a ring or a stalk you can give the cup a gentle twist if needed to encourage it to ‘pop’ and unfold. The air holes help here by creating suction to hold it in place and prevent leakage. Then (gently!) pull the stalk or ring to check it’s in place. You can also check it has unfolded by running your finger around it and feeling for any bends or folds.
I had to fully squat the first time I tried this and it took me 4 or 5 goes. It is quite obvious when it unfolds, and when I gave it a little tug I could feel a very slight pulling sensation. Remember that cups sit lower in your vagina than tampons.
If the stalk sticks out, you might want to remove the cup and trim it a little if this bothers you. For me, it sticks out a little when I squat but not when I’m sitting or standing, which I’m happy with. By the fourth time, I was able to do this whilst sat on the toilet. If you’re having trouble, some websites recommend using a bit of water-based lubricant or simply wetting the cup with water.
Getting it out
Once inserted, I couldn’t feel it at all and swanned around for a full 12 hours, relishing in the fact that I hadn’t needed to think about changing it every few hours as with tampons. I even went for a run and didn’t experience any leakage. Then evening came, and it was time to take out my cup. This, for me, was the hard part.
Most instructions say to wash your hands, part your labia with one hand, and insert your thumb and finger to ‘pinch’ the bottom of the cup. This releases the suction from the air holes allowing you to pull the cup out and empty it into the toilet.
…much easier said than done!
I really struggled to reach the bottom of my cup, and to reach far enough to pinch it. I was also worried about spilling blood everywhere so ended up squatting in the empty bath frantically searching for videos of how to get it out. Two tips that really helped me were:
- Pelvic floor exercises: doing the ‘release’ or ‘relax’ part brought the cup down far enough so I could reach it
- ‘Wiggling’ the cup: using the stalk/ring to gently wiggle the cup from side to side
There’s a useful video from Lunette Cup here. After about ten minutes of panicking and then another five trying to relax enough to do the pelvic floor exercises, I was able to grasp the bottom of my cup. I felt the sides fold and gently tugged it out. Finally I emptied it into the toilet, washed it out in the sink, inserted it again, and poured myself a large glass of wine.
Another 2 or 3 removals later, and I’d gotten the hang of it. My verdict: 5 stars, and perhaps the best decision I’ve ever made for my monthly companion! For me, convenience is a big plus. I love only having to empty it two or three times per day, and I don’t have to think about buying tampons or pads, or ensuring I have enough in my bag when I leave the house. Maybe this is the doctor in me, but I especially liked that I could see how much blood there was when I emptied it. Knowing more about my body and what is normal for me is empowering.
Where can I buy one?
I chose the female-led Luüna brand of cup, as this was the one I had a discount code for. It arrived quickly, the packaging was beautiful, and I paid about £27 including postage. Which is about what you’d expect to pay on average for a menstrual cup.
For a handy size comparison chart, see PutACupInIt’s guide here.
Can you use a menstrual cup with an IUD?
There has been only one study that links menstrual cup usage with increased risk of displacement of the (copper) Intrauterine Device or IUD published in Obstetrics & Gynecology in 2020. The myth that you cannot use a menstrual cup if you have an Intrauterine Device (IUD) for birth control is exactly that – a myth.
If you have an IUD, make sure you’re looking out for changes to the strings as usual, and keep your cup away from the strings if possible so they don’t get stuck between the cup edges and your vaginal wall. Should you notice any changes, be sure to get this checked out e.g. at your local sexual health service provider. If you’re worried about the risk of the cup displacing your IUD, consider asking for shorter strings or trying a menstrual cup alternative e.g. the menstrual disc.
Can you go to the toilet with a menstrual cup?
Yes, absolutely! Infact, for me it was even easier than with tampons as sometimes I found they would slip down in my vagina, whereas my cup always stays put.
How do you clean a menstrual cup?
Cleaning your cup is super easy! After removal, simply empty it into the toilet and rinse out with warm water. If it needs to be sterilised e.g. at the start or end of your period, most cups require soaking in boiling water but be sure to follow the instructions that came with your cup.
Why is my menstrual cup leaking?
The main reasons are:
- inserted incorrectly or has shifted position during your period – try removing it and re-inserting it. Make sure you feel/hear that ‘pop’, and that there aren’t any folds in your cup when you feel around it with your finger. If this keeps happening, consider a firmer cup or a different size
- a ‘false leak’ from leftover droplets on the outside of your cup after reinsertion – be sure to rinse and clean it properly
- overflow – this is less likely as cups have a much larger capacity than tampons, but consider this if you have a heavy flow. You may need to empty it more often or try a larger cup.
What are the dangers associated with menstrual cups?
The risk of developing toxic shock syndrome is no different to other sanitary products and is highly likely to be lower. You can reduce your risk further by washing your hands and cleaning your cup as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
There is an extremely small risk of infection, and this is more likely to come from your hands rather than your cup so again – wash those hands!
People who have vaginismus or endometriosis can use menstrual cups, but might find using them uncomfortable.
What are the menstrual cup alternatives?
As well as sanitary pads and tampons, more sustainable alternatives include:
Menstrual discs/diaphragms: these are shallower and wider than cups, and sit higher up inside the vagina just below the cervix. For more information about cups vs discs, see PutACupInIt.
Can I use menstrual cups if I am a virgin/will it break my hymen?
The idea that the hymen forms a vaginal barrier to be broken when you first have penetrative sex with another person (known as ‘losing your virginity’ in most societies) is a misunderstanding. The hymen is a thin piece of tissue, that is usually broken down during exercise, tampon/cup use, riding a bicycle, or simply never existed as some girls are born without it.
If you haven’t had vaginal penetrative sex before, you might want to try a smaller cup first as this may be more comfortable for you as you get used to it and practice relaxing your muscles.