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Yep. That word is in my post name. Menstruation. There might be some other words that some of us find hard to say out loud, but we need to talk about these things! What are these menstruation cups? They’re alternatives to pads, tampons, “free bleed underwear,” or whatever you choose to use during your period. I am in love with them. And I need to share that with my lady friends. If you’re already turned off by the idea, try to stick around for a few paragraphs at least. If it’s going a little too far for you, though, you could get some information on alternative menstrual products or organic cotton tampons.
What’s different about a cup is that instead of using something to absorb your period blood, you’re just using it to collect the blood. Some people think that makes your period messy or too involved, but that’s really not an issue for women who commit to using a cup and getting the hang of it. Plus, there are great benefits like a lack of odor and leakage during your period. Best of all, tons of companies make cups so it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are suggestions of where to start, but there are so many options to try if you think something just isn’t working for you.
Let’s Talk About Why Not
When I’ve talked to other ladies, the biggest reasons they’re turned off by menstrual cups is because cups are “too messy,” difficult to insert, don’t fit quite right, or get you “too involved” in your period. Both of these are valid points coming from someone who has never used a cup and they’re definitely the same concerns that I had; let me tell you some truths I’ve learned after using my cup for every period for over a year and a half.
When you empty a cup, you can dump it straight into the toilet, wash the cup, and reinsert it. You don’t have to wipe up messes or leave items in the trash. It’s quick, easy, and really not very messy once you know what you’re doing. I stress that because my first time using one, I was so discouraged because it seemed like such a pain to use my new cup.
So what about that moment between removing your cup and emptying it? That, for many women, is when you’ve become too involved in your period. Now you’re seeing your blood not absorbed in something else, and you can actually see how much there is. If you think about it, you have to deal with the blood anyway. This way you just leave less of a trace. You honestly don’t even have to look at the blood you just emptied – you can dump it straight into the toilet.
Although there is a learning curve for using a cup, it’s really quick to pick up and by the end of your first period, you’ll likely be a pro! Just think about it, there was a learning curve for whatever method you use now: pads, tampons, undies, you name it. A menstrual cup is likely to leak less than tampons because you’re able to seal it in, and as soon as you start leaking the tiniest bit, you’ll know and you can catch it unlike if you bleed through a pad.
*Pro tip for not being messy – if you’re going to reinsert your cup in the shower, take it out and empty it before you get into the shower.
Some women who begin to use menstruation cups, especially those who are virgins and never use large tampons, may find it difficult to insert the cup at first. I’ve included a few suggestions for those who have a hard time inserting a cup.
- Make sure your cup is a little bit wet before inserting.
- Try a different fold. You can find a few basic ways to fold a cup here or watch the video below for 9 other great options!
I’ll talk about sizing more below in the Options portion. Needless to say, sizing shouldn’t be an issue. Cups come in tons of different sizes – tall/short and wide/narrow. Maybe once there weren’t enough sizes of cups for all women, but it seems like now there are so many that it could be hard to pick the right size. Generally each company has a quick guide about how to choose the cup that will fit right for you. If it doesn’t fit, some even provide a guarantee.
This is your body. You’re not too involved if you care about what you put into your mouth, record when you’re sick, track your sleeping hours, or know exactly how many steps you take every day. But suddenly, because you’re acknowledging what’s coming out of your body, you’re too involved. Is it because you see the blood not absorbed in something before you dump it out of sight? Or it could be because you actually do have to place it inside of your vagina yourself. But for those of you looking for something eco-friendly, even organic tampons usually don’t have an applicator (or if they do, it’s not quite as organic as the tampon). Go read my post about them if you’re curious.
My personal belief is that there really aren’t ways to be too involved in your body if you’re collecting data. If you want to know about how much I advocate collecting data, check out my post on FAM and charting. Your body belongs to you – it is you. So you should be the one with the most information about it.
I love my menstruation cup…cups. I have three now, but one is brand new and I haven’t used it yet. And I do love both of the cups that I’ve used, although no I don’t love them equally. I’ll talk about some of my personal experience down at the bottom, but first I want to give you some facts about why cups are amazing, and then on to the different options, which is ultimately why I have two different cups.
Cost is one of the best things about a menstruation cup. Depending on the brand and if you can find them on a sale, most cost $25 to $50…and then they can last 10 years if you take care of them correctly! You will also have to get unscented, water-based (not oil based!) soap to clean them, but this is inexpensive, especially when compared to ongoing purchases of pads or tampons. Speaking of those items, you can totally skip the feminine hygiene items row in the grocery store now, and you also don’t have to ask your significant other/roommate/whoever you get to go to the store when you feel horrible to go there for you.
Sadly, women don’t always smell like roses or lilies. And for 3-7 days a month, it can be particularly difficult to smell good. That’s because menstrual blood is a great place for bacteria to grow. When you use a cup, your blood is contained in the cup until you have time to empty it, decreasing the time it has to react with oxygen, which is typically when the bacteria gains odor. Therefore, you can actually smell like roses or lilies, or whatever beautiful smell you want coming into your nose every day.
Know Your Regular
I know exactly how much I bleed on my period. Many of the cups you can purchase (see below for my favorite options) have measurements on them. You don’t just know you use two super tampons in a 6-hour period, or that you went through three super absorbent pads while you were away from the house for the day; you know in oz or mL exactly how much you bled. Every body is different, which means that a regular period for your friend or sister will likely be different from a regular period for you. If you know your regular, you can know when something in your body has changed. It’s great information to be able to hand to your health practitioner.
Lack of Leaks
Have I mentioned that cups don’t leak when they’re inserted correctly? That’s because once it’s been inserted, you’re supposed to give it a tiny bit of a twist so that it seals itself along the edge of the cup. And no more leaks! It’s great for swimming, but it’s also just great for being alive because leaks are one of the worst, most embarrassing experiences I ever remember having.
One quick note about leaks, although not technically about leaks. It’s actually about overflows. Those of us with heavy flow often find it necessary to empty more often than the recommended 12 hours. On heavy days, I typically have to empty my cup every 3-4 hours to keep from overflowing. The result is the same as a leak, so it’s really worth it to check if you think your cup is full or you’re starting to overflow.
The best part about a menstruation is that, when properly inserted, you won’t feel your cup. Not you shouldn’t feel it unless you’re being particularly active or you shouldn’t feel as long as you’re bleeding enough to have it absorb something. You just won’t feel it, period (couldn’t resist, sorry). I’ve gone a whole day and forgotten I was wearing anything. In fact, that’s how most of my days with a cup in are. Sure, I still have cramps and possibly other things that come along with my cycle, but I don’t worry about a pad making my nethers sore or a tampon feeling scratchy.
There are a ton of different brands of menstrual cups, and they all have subtle differences. In fact, some brands are completely customizable in most of these options.
Size is, arguably, the most important factor (although, don’t discount the ones below). A cup can be worn for up to 12 hours without emptying it, which is honestly one of the first reasons I looked into using a cup. While heavy flow ladies (who’s with me out there?) have to change their cups more frequently, it’s great to have size options. The most basic options are
- container size (there’s even one the size of a thimble for super light days).
Some women have different sizes for different days. I go from super heavy on my first couple days and emptying my cup about 3 times in 12 hours for a couple of days to not having to worry at all for 12 hours. Really, as you learn your flow, you may want to have a “cup routine” to sync up with your personal flow. Personalize your cups. Even give them names to correspond with which part of your flow they’re meant for if you want.
Some cups are firmer, while some are softer. The range of firm to soft definitely can have an effect on how you feel or interact with your cup. Here are observations from myself and other women I’ve spoken to who use cups.
- aren’t necessarily stiff, but are good at holding their shapes
- want to be in a cup shape, so they can be a bit more difficult to fold, but the good news is there are great techniques on how to fold a stiff cup to most easily insert it
- some women have reported that hard cups make it difficult to have a bowel movement, or they have to readjust the cup after doing so
- want to stay folded once you have them in your vagina, so you may have to turn them or prod them with your fingers to get them to unfold back into the cup shape
- most women say they’re easier to remove because they’re more flexible
There’s a great trade off between firm cups and soft cups, and each woman will have a different preference. The key is that as long as it’s sized correctly for you, no cup should be noticeable to you when you’re actually wearing it throughout the day.
Cups come in different colors and it’s mostly just for fun. Sure, nobody’s going to see your cup, but you will. If you have multiple cups, this is a super easy way to tell which cup you’ve got in your hand at just a glance. Really, colors are just great at making the experience more you. I will warn you that there may be some blood staining (tips in the maintenance section below for getting rid of stains!), and it’s more visible on clear or very lightly colored cups.
There are so many varieties of stems! Which is funny to me because I know of women just cut the stem off whatever cup they use. Or some women will flip the cup inside out so the stem doesn’t get in the way, which is also a great option if it’s irritating you.
Some types of stems I’ve seen are
- straight, often with some sort of grip.
So what’s up with the different types of stems? Well, they’re actually functional. The stem on your cup will be the easiest first grip as you’re pulling it out to empty it. I love using the textured straight stem because it’s so easy to grab, but some people find it irritates the vaginal opening too much. If you get a cup with a stem, you can always try one of the tricks above of cutting the stem off or flipping the cup inside out!
During your period, you will obviously be emptying and reinserting your cup. The correct process is
- wash your hands.
- remove your cup and dump the contents (in the toilet is a great place).
- rinse your cup out, rinse.
- wash it with unscented, water-based soap.
- reinsert your cup.
It really is that simple. Technically, step 4 is optional if you boil your cup after every period, which you should do anyway. If you choose to wash with soap, it is imperative that you use unscented, water-based soap. Your vagina has a very delicate ecosystem including a narrow range of acceptable pH levels. Introducing something new will likely at least irritate it. And it’s sensitive, you don’t want an irritated vagina.
As I mentioned, as you start to feel better because you don’t have blood gushing out of you anymore, there is one more maintenance item, which is to boil the cup. Just boil it on the stove for about 5 minutes, which will sterilize the cup.
Apparently I can’t avoid the word “period” in my post, but I promise it’s just the first thing that came to mind and it was too perfect.
You may notice after a while of using your menstrual cup that you’re starting to get a bit of a stain from the blood on your cup. This is perfectly normal, and it doesn’t mean that you need to get a new one! The solution is incredibly simple: a hydrogen peroxide bath. Hopefully you’ve been taught throughout your life that the correct way to get rid of blood in clothes is hydrogen peroxide. (If not, try it.) It’s also the correct way to get rid of the blood stain on your menstrual cup.
- Buy a cheap bottle of hydrogen peroxide (3% to 5% solution) at the store.
- Put enough hydrogen peroxide into a cup to submerge your cup.
- Soak overnight.
- Thoroughly wash your cup with water, you may even consider boiling it after this to make sure there’s nothing residual on it.
Easy! Over time being out in the open, the hydrogen peroxide becomes less potent. If you leave the cup in a bath overnight and then thoroughly rinse your cup, you should be just fine the next time you wear your cup.
My Experience and Suggestions
My first menstrual cup was a classic Diva cup. It’s one of the best-known brands, and I was new to the world of cups so I decided to just start with what I knew was out there. I still have it, and I do still use it, though not as often as the Lena small sensitive I purchased in late 2017 (sadly, Lena’s sensitive options are still only available in clear). I typically leave one of my extras in my purse in case I unexpectedly need something.
Buying a second cup was one of the best decisions I ever made. Some women have a variety of cups for different days of the cycle or so they can boil a cup between each use (not necessary as your vagina is not a sterile environment, but if it makes you feel better, go for it!). Multiple cups also gives you a choice for different flow amounts, which is why I bought a Lena large: I don’t have to empty it as often on my heavy days! Your body is yours. Splurge a little because we all know “that time of the month” can be painful and annoying enough as it is. And, hey, cups last years so they’re totally worth the buy in.
Even the cups I own that are on the firmer side of the scale have been pretty easy to fold, although there is a learning curve. Like I’ve been saying throughout this article, they’re also incredibly, incredibly comfortable. So what do I have?
- Eva Small (purple)
- Diva Small (clear, more narrow)
- Lena Large (blue)
- Ziggy (pink, it’s actually a disk, not a cup)
- Lena Small Sensitive (clear, bell shape)
All of the cups have stems, which I find incredibly easy to grab onto. It’s nice to have at least something in my opinion because it makes removing your cup easier. The Ziggy, which is in the picture, is similar only in that it’s reusable and collects blood that you dump out. The fit is completely different, and I prefer my cups over the disk, but watch for a full review on the Ziggy coming up!
As I’ve mentioned, I often have to empty my cup a lot on heavy days, and I’ve even overflowed on heavy nights so I do sometimes wear a backup pad, but I’m excited to try out my new Lena Large cup! I do plan on writing a review to compare them all a little more in-depth, so keep your eyes peeled!
Still not convinced you need a cup?
If you’re still not convinced that you should get a cup, maybe one of my posts on alternative menstrual products or organic cotton tampons will be useful to you, and at least get away from those drugstore options that really aren’t good for you.
Do you have any cup tips? Stories? Experiences? Questions? Leave them below in the comments!