To Cup or Not to Cup: A Look at the Pros and Cons of Menstrual Cups
Updated: Mar 28
In the United States alone, approximately 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown in the trash each year. This is a massive amount of waste, especially when considering the eco-friendly alternatives that are available nowadays. Next to reusable menstrual pads and menstrual underwear, there is also the menstrual cup. that is currently out there for feminine hygiene products.
What is a menstrual cup?
A menstrual cup is a type of reusable feminine hygiene product. It’s a small, flexible funnel-shaped cup made of silicone that you insert into your vagina to collect period fluid. They come in multiple shapes and sizes and which suits you best depends on your age, flow, and if you have given birth vaginally.
How to use a menstrual cup
Using a menstrual cup requires some practice and the first few times will feel a bit weird and maybe even uncomfortable. Obtaining the right technique that works for you will take a few tries.
This technique I use to insert my menstrual cup involves folding the cup in half creating a U shape. I relax and tilt my pelvis forward to make it easier to reach my vagina. With one hand get my inner labia out of the way and with the other, I insert the rim of the cup to win my vagina. I use 1 finger to push the cup into a place deeper in my vagina. After I release the cup it unfolds automatically creating a vacuum so it doesn't leak. My cup is about half a finger deep. When a menstrual cup is in the right place you should no longer feel it. If you still feel the cup once inserted. Remove it and try again.
Some women have a low cervix and feel the stem when the menstrual cup is inserted. For some of them, it works to cut the stem a little shorter.
How to Remove
When you want to remove the cup it is important to break the vacuum first. When you just pull the stem without breaking the seal, removal can hurt.
I start similarly to inserting the cup meaning, I relax and tilt my pelvis forward to make it easier to reach my vagina. With one hand get my inner labia out of the way and with the other squeeze the cup a little to break the vacuum. Then, I gently pull the stem to remove the cup. Be careful not to spill the content and make a mess. I rinse the cup and insert it again.
How to Clean
When your period is over, it is time to thoroughly clean the cup. Put your menstrual cup in boiling water for about 5 minutes to sterilize it as this is sufficient to kill bacteria. Air dry your cup and store it for the next cycle.
Disposable menstrual products produce an incredible amount of waste which on its own should be enough of a reason to try a menstrual cup. A menstrual cup does not produce any waste so, switching to reusable feminine hygiene products is a great step in the right direction for the environment.
A menstrual cup is more expensive compared to a box of tampons but a menstrual last you for up to 10 years while a box of tampons lasts you maybe one cycle. This means that throughout the lifecycle of a menstrual cup, you can save a lot of money.
How much do you save with a menstrual cup?
The average woman uses about 5 tampons a day during her period which lasts 5 days on average. This is 25 tampons per cycle. We have 12 cycles per year which result in 300 tampons per year or 3000 in 10 years. Organic cotton tampons cost about $0,25 a piece which results in $750,- over 10 years.
Even if you would purchase a new menstrual cup each year (which costs about $20,- a piece), disposable products would still be more expensive.
Less frequent changes
Depending on your flow you can wear your menstrual cup for up to 12 hours. Which is a great advantage of a menstrual cup.
Disposable products you need to change about every 4 hours. This can be annoying as you need to plan your day around the possibility to change your product regularly.
A menstrual cup can hold 1 ounce of liquid/30 ml, which is about twice the amount of a super-absorbent tampon or pad.
Improved vaginal health
We all know how important vaginal health is. Any slight disruption in the body such as stress, diet, or medication can cause an imbalance.
Pads can create a warm, moist environment that encourages the growth of bacteria. These undesirable bacteria can end up causing discomfort, irritation, and smell.
On the other hand, tampons can also upset your vagina’s natural pH balance. The high absorption in tampons can absorb all the bacteria from your vagina, both good and bad, as well as menstrual blood.
The removal of this good bacteria could create an imbalance in your pH level. A menstrual cup does not absorb anything but collects your flow while keeping the environment of the vagina in balance.
Regular tampons contain a lot of chemicals like bleach (to make them white), synthetic fibers (for extra absorbance), and fragrance (for a nice smell).
When you use a menstrual cup, your body does not come in contact with these chemicals.
This may differ per person but, some women (me included) have less menstrual pain when they use a menstrual cup. This is because the cup puts a little pressure on the muscles of your uterus, which are responsible for the cramps. With a menstrual cup, these muscles can’t contract as much and as a result, the cramps lessen.
Unfortunately, when blood comes in contact with air for a long time, an unpleasant odor will develop. When you use pads, there is no way to prevent this. Even though it is perfectly natural, many feel uncomfortable about it.
A menstrual cup contains the flow within the cup so it doesn’t come in contact with air and now smell will develop.
Reduced chance of leaking
When inserted correctly, menstrual cups form a seal to your vaginal walls, reducing your chances of leaking.
Wings from pads are known to irritate and even strings from tampons can be annoying and can even cause leaking. As a correctly placed menstrual cup is completely internal there is no irritation.
With everything new skill, you need to take some time to learn it. Just like the first time you used a tampon.
Difficult to insert
The first time you use a menstrual cup it is rather difficult but after a few periods, you will notice it will get easier. There are different ways to insert one and it may take a few tries to find a technique that works for you. Just to be safe, use extra protection like an eco-friendly pad or menstrual underwear to avoid leaks until you are confident with the technique.
Difficult to remove
Just as for the insertion, the removal also requires technique. Most cups have a stem, but you don’t want to just pull the stem to remove them (this hurts). Instead, use the stem to guide you to find the base of the cup. Pinch the base to break the vacuum and gently pull it out.
Unlike disposable menstrual products, you need to take care of your menstrual cup. This means cleaning your cup between each menstrual cycle. There is no need to sterilize your menstrual cup every time you empty it during your period. But after your period, you can easily sterilize your cup in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes.
Emptying your menstrual cup can be messy and quite intimidating, especially if it is your first time and you have a hard time with blood. This unfortunately is something you just have to get over with. Blဝဝd and periods are natural things and on average, women menstruate from 12 to 45 years old. This means 33 years with a cycle once a month is 400 periods of about 6 days. This is 2400 period days or 6,5 years. That is a lot of blood so you better get used to it.
Possible fit problems
Every person is different and individual anatomy can make finding the right cup for you challenging. Luckily there is plenty of option available for different shapes and sizes. Read the description carefully as trying different sizes is not possible.
If you have an IUD in place, using a menstrual cup could pull the IUD strings and dislodge them. This is because the menstrual cup is sealed within your vagina meaning there is a vacuum. This needs to be broken before you remove the cup. However, if you pull without breaking the vacuum there is a pull on your cervix which could dislodge your IUD.