As far as eco-friendly period products go, menstrual cups are a winner. They’re reusable, nontoxic, long-wearing, inexpensive, zero-waste—the list goes on.
Since they’re washable and reusable, they’re also extremely economical, since you don’t have to continue to buy new ones each month. This also means that they generate far less waste than their disposal counterparts. And the amount of waste from disposable menstrual products is staggering.
The Benefits of Using a Menstrual Cup
Menstrual cups are pretty great for the planet. In the United States alone, an estimated 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are discarded every year. Globally, that number is thought to be upwards of 100 billion disposed-of menstrual products, which go to landfills since they’re nonrecyclable.
Plus, think about the cost to the consumer. Using single-use disposable period products means repurchasing boxes and boxes of new ones frequently. But a single menstrual cup will last you quite a few years, saving you tons of money where you may not have thought possible in your budget.
Menstrual cups are also, to many first-timers’ surprise, highly convenient for the wearer. Since they can hold more blood than other methods, they can be worn for much longer (up to twelve hours, in fact!) perfectly safely. Cups also don’t pose a substantial risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare danger associated with tampon use (there is no such thing as zero risk for any period product). There are even some models that can be worn during sex.
Overall, menstrual cups are planet-friendly, cost-effective, convenient—what’s not to love? There’s a cup out there for every body that menstruates, and with their growing visibility and popularity in the world of period products, there’s never been a better time to give it a try.
But all the options out there can be overwhelming… and how do you know if you’re doing it right? We spoke to Cathy Feller, MD, a family medicine specialist with UCHealth in Colorado Springs, to get some answers to your most pressing questions.
How to Pick the Right Menstrual Cup for You
First, how do you pick the right menstrual cup for you? There are lots of brands, sizes, lengths, and styles on the market, tailored to everything from heaviness of flow to cervix height. Dr. Feller suggests starting with a cup in the middle ranges of these variables and seeing how it works for you.
“A lot of cups come in different sizes. You may opt to pick a menstrual cup in the middle and adjust as needed. I recommend changing one variable (size, shape, firmness) at a time to see what works best,” she says. “Just know that it may take some time to find the right fit. Once you have the right fit, the menstrual cup should feel the same as a tampon. You may need to try the same cup several times before you know if it fits well or not.”
Getting the right fit is important both for your own comfort and for the cup’s effectiveness. Before you can know if it fits, though, it needs to go in. For many people, this can be the most intimidating part. But while it requires a bit of a learning curve at first, it can become just as habitual as using a tampon.
How to Insert a Menstrual Cup
Learning how to use a menstrual cup is easy with advice from a pro. “To insert the menstrual cup, fold it to keep it closed before inserting it into the vagina, where it will open,” says Dr. Feller. “There are videos online to teach different techniques. You should try different methods to see what works best for you.”
As you’re still learning how to use a menstrual cup, Dr. Feller recommends using a pad—just in case there’s a little leakage. “It can be hard to tell if the cup is open inside you, so when you start using a menstrual cup, you may want to consider wearing a pad,” she added. “You can adjust the cup by inserting a finger in the vagina and moving the cup around a bit.” Once you get the hang of it, there’s no pad needed.
And don’t worry: Despite how it might feel, it won’t get stuck or “lost” inside. “A menstrual cup will not get stuck, similar to how a tampon will not get stuck,” Dr. Feller says. “Additionally, similar to tampons that come with strings, menstrual cups come with handles for easier removal.”
How to Remove a Menstrual Cup
Speaking of removal, this part can also be tricky. But as with insertion, it just takes practice and will get easier with time. Promise!
“To remove the cup, squat over a toilet and try to relax your pelvic muscles. Pinch the bottom of the cup and slowly remove it,” says Dr. Feller. “This may be messy, so initially, I recommend removing the cup when it’s not full.”
How to Clean a Menstrual Cup
Cleaning is a necessary part of the menstrual cup routine. Both during your cycle and in-between cycles, ensuring your cup stays clean is crucial to keeping it sanitary and in good condition.
“During your menstrual cycle, you can wash the cup in a sink with mild soap between emptying menstrual blood and reinserting,” Dr. Feller says. If you’re in a public place (like the office!), there’s a fix for that, too: “You can use a baby wipe to clean out the cup before reinserting.”
Now, you’ve probably heard of people boiling their menstrual cups. Luckily, that’s not something you’ll need to do between uses—just between periods. “Between your menstrual cycles, you may want to do a deeper clean. You can boil your cup for 3 to 5 minutes (make sure to check that you can boil your cup),” she says. “Alternatively, you can get a sterilization tablet.”
When you’re storing your menstrual cup, Dr. Feller recommends avoiding using a sealed container, as it may not dry out completely and can develop an odor. Check your particular cup to see the best way to clean and store it.
How Long Does a Menstrual Cup Last?
Besides keeping it in good condition, though, how long a menstrual cup will last also comes down to the model and what it was made for. For instance, many cups that are able to be worn during sex are disposable, not reusable, or last for fewer years than traditional cups.
“Reusable menstrual cups can last for six months to several years. This can vary based on how well you clean your cup and where it’s stored,” says Dr. Feller. “Evaluate your cup before each use to ensure good condition.”
Dr. Feller also notes you can always bring any cup-related questions to your primary care provider or OB/GYN for help. They’ll be happy to give you guidance on your move to planet-saving period products.
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