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A few years ago I stumbled across menstrual cups. Yes, we’re talking periods again but I want to share these squidgy little cups with you because they’re pretty cool and a great alternative to disposable sanitary products – safer too. Perhaps you already want to use a menstrual cup but don’t know where to start? If, on the other hand, you’re completely new to the idea of a menstrual cup you may be weirded out. Perhaps a little disgusted? I know but that’s just the way we’ve been conditioned. Disposables are all we’re taught in school after all. Before you run away screaming, hear me out, it’s not gross, in fact, it’s so clean it’s considered ‘green’. These little cups literally changed my life. Perhaps they could do the same for you as it turns out there’s a lot of women out there who are strong believers in their menstrual cups, me being one of them.
So what are these menstrual cups and what should you know about them? In this post, I’m going to explain what a menstrual cup is, how they work and generally what you can expect from using one. We’ll cover some common worries about leaks and public lavatories too. So, let’s get right into things.
What is a menstrual cup? What are they made from?
A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped pliable cup that collects menstrual blood. Worn internally and sit low inside the vagina and have a little stem, ball or similar on end for easy removal. These nifty little things have been knocking around since the 1930s! How I’ve only just come across them in the 21st century is just terrible. I wish I’d known about them years ago. What are men’s cups made from? Typically, menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone which is considered safe although it has been suggested silicone may not be as inert as we’re told. Research to back this up is lacking so I’m on the fence at the moment. With only benefits to be seen in my 3ish years of using a menstrual cup, I’m sticking with it.
A note about Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE)
Not all menstrual cups are made equal. Some are made from TPE (Thermoplastic elastomer) as I discovered while researching the MeLuna Cup (I was going to try one). What’s TPE? Well, it’s a hybrid of plastics. Further digging led me to this data safety sheet which informs me TPE contains flame retardants and a bunch of other stuff I’ve never even heard of. Wow. Well, I don’t care for flame retardants in my cooch so I’ll be sticking with my medical grade silicone cup for now. When you’re purchasing your cup you may wish to keep this in mind. Remember, there is always cloth and organic disposables to consider too.
Menstrual Cups and Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
This is interesting because there are claims that the risks of TSS are the same regardless of whether a woman uses tampons or menstrual cups. Yet, the first reported case of Toxic Shock Syndrome associated with a menstrual cup was in 2015. Considering menstrual cups have been knocking around since the 1930s that’s pretty good going, don’t cha think? However, that does not mean cup users should be complacent. Acquaint you’re with the symptoms of TSS. You may never experience this illness, indeed it’s rare but you could spot it in someone else. Your quick thinking could be the difference between life and death for some else. Be smart. Know the signs.
Who’s the menstrual cup for?
Well, this is solely down to personal choice and preference, there are no hard and fast rules about using a menstrual cup. Any menstruating woman can the least consider using a cup. If you’re like me – trying to reduce exposure toxins – or an Eco lover, green enthusiast, zero waste fanatic or disposable sanitary product hater (also me) or just want to save some cash – the menstrual cup appeal to you.
In terms of age appropriateness, it’s again, personal choice. From a personal perspective, I feel the menstrual cup is better suited for older girls and adults. Had I been presented with a menstrual cup at age 10 I may be been a little mortified. Not necessarily because of what it is but because I wouldn’t know where to even begin when it came to inserting it!
The intimate nature of the cup means, like tampons they may not be ideal for young girls. If you have experience of using a cup from a young age do let me know in the comments at the end. For a beginner, a cup can be tricky to master, I know it took me a few goes to get it right. It’s safe to say using a cup requires a certain degree of acquaintance with one’s anatomy. Knowing where you’re headed certainly makes insertion easier. Now it’s just second nature, just pop it in and go! Intrigued? If you’d like to try a cup be to give it a fair go over a few cycles before making a decision. Allow yourself to get the hang of it before throwing the towel in. Research shows, over 90% of women who try a menstrual cup over 1-3 cycles continue using it while recommending to family and friends.
First impressions and sizing
“Oh, that looks big!”, I hear you thinking. I thought that at first too. The first time I used a menstrual cup I was a little freaked out but when put into perspective the fear was quickly lost. I’d had a baby so this little cup wasn’t going to scare me. Perhaps if you’ve not had children you may feel a little put off. Don’t be, it will fit and it should not hurt.
Put it this way **disclaimer this next statement is for those 18 years old and above** if you’ve ever had sex or used um – toys – *ahem!* then you need not fear a menstrual cup. It’s nowhere near the size of “standard” male genitalia, so, if that fits a cup will too. Remember, us women are created to have babies, a menstrual cup is far smaller than a baby, so don’t sweat it! Anyway, moving on.
Menstrual cups tend to come in two sizes for:
- Women who’ve given birth
- Women who haven’t given birth
Check individual manufacturers for size guidelines and choose according to your needs. Of course, these are guidelines, if you try a size and find it’s not right there’s nothing stopping you from trying the other size. Hey, if the cup fits, wear it I say.
How do menstrual cups work? Are they comfortable?
Menstrual cups are worn internally and collect blood inside the vagina much like a tampon. Rather than being absorbed fluid just collects in the cup. As I mentioned, getting used to using a cup can be tricky to start with but well worth the effort. In my experience, if the cup is fitted correctly you shouldn’t notice it, again like a tampon. If it’s inserted incorrectly, you’ll know about it, it’ll be uncomfortable. Sometimes the stem of the cup is irritating if it’s too long. Giving it a quick trim to shorten it is a common fix. Many women praise their cups on comfort as well as leak prevention. And for those who are wondering – no it won’t get stuck or get lost, there’s nowhere for it to go.
Removing the menstrual cup
This part is important to get right because if you don’t it can feel weird, uncomfortable – even painful. If you have got a problem with coming into contact with a little of your own blood a menstrual cup may not be for you. But here’s the secret for easy removal. Gently squeeze the base of the cup, just above the top of the stem and break the seal BEFORE taking it out. Just yoinking it out is a mistake, as I found out. Not good. Always squeeze the base. Break that seal. Remove slowly, empty into the loo and you’ll be grand.
To give you an idea of how to use a menstrual cup, check out this video below. It walks you through using a Mooncup (a brand of menstrual cup). The gist of things is pretty much the same regardless of which brand is purchased. However, cleaning advice may differ slightly in some cases. Always check manufacturers instructions. Oh and before you panic about the video, don’t worry it’s not graphic, there’s no blood either. Enjoy.
Using a menstrual cup overnight
Menstrual cups can be used overnight. Personally, I’ve not found any problems with leakage from overnight use. If you’re worried about leaking or have a particularly heavy flow it’s perfectly OK to add additional protection. Pop on a cloth or organic pad or liner for extra peace of mind. By opting for cloth you’ll increase your green points, have maximum comfort and zero waste.
What about public toilets?? No sinks in the cubicles!
Indeed, sinks inside public toilet cubicles are like non-corrupt governments. A rarity and it’s a shame. The lack of private sinks is often cited as a concern for new cup users. How do I rinse my cup when I’m out? I can’t take it to the public sink! No, not really and I wouldn’t advise it but there is a solution. With a little forethought, this hurdle is easily overcome: carry a small bottle of water with you. Rinse your cup over the loo with your water and reinsert. Sorted.
In the event, you forgot to carry water grab some from a shop before visiting the loo. Alternatively and this is my personal last resort the cup can be wiped toilet tissue. Just be mindful of tissue debris, don’t leave any fibres behind. Then reinsert.
Menstrual cups have larger capacities than tampons so you may not need to empty it quite as often as you’d change a tampon. In turn cup, users could find they’re visiting public loos less frequently than they would otherwise. For someone who doesn’t like public conveniences (although I appreciate them), this is a good thing.
Cup maintenance and lifespan
Opinions differ on this but generally, you can expect to get many years use of out a menstrual cup with proper maintenance. There’s potential for some big savings on disposable menstrual products by switching too. Exactly how long you’ll get out of a menstrual cup is debatable. Some manufacturers suggest replacing everything few years but I’ve not found this to be necessary. At approximately 3 years my cup is still going strong and I do not expect to be replacing it anytime soon either. As always use your common sense. It’s a good idea to inspect your cup for signs of wear regularly if you feel your cup needs replacing, go for it.
In terms of maintenance, it’s fairly easy. Do note, not all menstrual cups are made equal and how to clean them will depend on what it’s made from.
Below I’ll outline how to maintain a silicone menstrual cup before first use and at the end of each period.
Easy Silicone Cup Maintenance
- submerge in water and boil the cup or 5 – 7 minutes. I have a designated cup cleaning pan.
- Alternatively clean in sterilising fluid like Milton according to manufacturer guidelines. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.
- Allow to dry
- With clean hands pop it into its cotton bag until next month.
Menstrual cups have little holes under the rim which help form the seal preventing leaks. Sometimes these get blocked, it’s important this is cleared for best protection against leaks. Unblocking them is easy and please don’t use a pin! Fill the cup with water and place the opening flat against your palm tightly. Squeeze the cup and water will be forced through the holes clearing them. Simples.
Fancy trying a menstrual cup? My recommendation
If you answered yes to that and you’re ready to take action here’s my recommendation as a starting point. Mooncup. It’s the first and only cup I’ve firsthand experience with, made from medical grade silicone and was enough to convert me to a cup user. Being comfortable (I did trim the stem to achieve maximum comfort) and serving me well for about 3 years now it’s a pretty good place to start your menstrual cup journey.
Alternatively, here are some other popular cups (click through below to browse and buy):
That my lovelies is the menstrual cup in a nutshell. You know what one is, how to use and maintain one and that public loos needn’t be an obstacle to using one. These squidgy little cups are a safer alternative to disposal menstrual products. Although it may be a learning curve to get to grips with insertion, with a little determination it’s a very doable task. With insertion sussed (remember you can double up with a cloth pad in the meantime) a cup can offer the same, if not better, protection against leaks without increasing usual numbers of toilet breaks. From personal experience, I can tell you that using a menstrual cup has positively impacted my life in that I no longer experience period pain. Of course, it’s possible you won’t get this added bonus from going cup side but it’s certainly one to consider if you want to banish period pain. Zero waste and reducing exposure to toxins are additional attractive aspects of a menstrual cup. In a world where everyone seems to be going green, using a cup is another route to take to do your bit. If like me you’re keen to peruse a non-toxic lifestyle and boost health naturally a cup could work for you. Cups use reduces your exposure to toxins in disposables. Of course, I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution for everyone woman but if you do decide to come to the dark side; we have menstrual cups! I hope you’ve enjoyed this beginners guide to menstrual cups and found it helpful. If you have any questions about menstrual cups let me know below and I’ll be happy to get back to you.
Are you switching or have you used a menstrual cup? Why are you switching? Leave me a comment and let me know.
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