07 Aug 2023 • 3 min read
Menstrual cups – or period cups - have continued to grow in popularity since they were first launched onto the market in the United States in the late 1980s.1
They are now one of the favourite solutions to having a zero-waste period.
Some women love them straight away, rave about them and never look back – tampons, what tampons?
Others need a little time to get to know their own anatomy in order to make sure that the cup is placed correctly so there are no leaks and that it is comfortable.
Most young women start their periods with disposable sanitary towels or tampons, so it is totally natural if you feel slightly unsure about trying something reusable.
But the reality is that period cups are simple to care for, economical when compared to disposable (or even reusable) pads and they definitely help you understand your own anatomy better.
A menstrual cup or period cup is a small device made out of medical-grade silicone that is inserted into the vagina to catch blood during your period.
They are an alternative to tampons or sanitary towels.
Menstrual cups are considered an environmentally friendly option, since they can be washed with gentle detergent or sterilised and reused again and again.
And they are long-lasting, some manufacturers say they will keep going for a decade or more!2
Understandably, many people are a little anxious about menstrual cup use before they try them, but some things are simple, such as which size to get.
Unlike pads or tampons, which come in flow sizes, you only need one size of menstrual cup.
No faffing around with light, medium or heavy flows. Simply buy the size that is right for you and use it throughout your period, whatever your flow.
Most menstrual cups, such as Moon Cup, OrganiCups and Lunette, only come in two sizes: a smaller size for women under 30 and those who have not given birth vaginally and a larger size for older women or those who have given birth vaginally.
The Enna Cycle cups come in three sizes – the smallest size being for those under 18.3 It is your pelvic floor muscles that hold the cup in place, so if you know yours are particularly strong as you do Kegel exercises, or weaker after multiple childbirths and/or participating in sports that involve lots of jumping around, you might want to try the size up or down.4
Menstrual cups work by catching the droplets of blood during your period.
They are non-absorbent, so you simply empty the contents down the toilet, wipe with tissue and reinsert.
During your period you can rinse with water or a weak vinegar solution.5 Some manufacturers advise steaming or boiling your cup after each period. The Enna Cycle cup comes with a handy steriliser pot for just this task.6
The first thing to know is that you will have to get familiar with your vagina – menstrual cups need to be inserted in the right place. If this thought makes you squeamish, lean in, it is a positive thing to know about your body and how it works! Here’s how to use a menstrual cup:
First, give your hands a good wash.
Add some water or water-based lube to the rim of the menstrual cup to help insert it comfortably.
Read the manufacturers’ instructions first. Most will tell you how to fold the cup so it can be inserted with ease. Usually, you fold it in half with the tail of the cup pointing the ground and the rim of the cup facing upwards.
Then, insert it in the same way as a non-applicator tampon, keeping the rim facing upwards. The cup should be inserted lower than a tampon.
The cup’s tail should be just outside the entrance to your vagina.7 Many of the brands have a stem you can trim to size to perfectly fit your body.
Once it’s in, rotate it, then it should open up and create an airtight seal to help prevent any leaks.
When you are ready to empty the cup, here’s what to do – whether you’re in a public toilet or the comfort of your own bathroom:
Wash your hands.
Feel for the tail and pull gently. You might need to slide your fingers around the edge of the cup to release the suction.
Keep the cup upright until it is completely out of the body, then flush the contents down the toilet.
How long you keep your menstrual cup in depends on how heavy your flow is. But it’s usually anywhere between 6-12 hours.8 For a heavy day, it may be worth checking after six hours. But on a lighter day (or if your periods are just lighter in general) you should be alright to keep it in for around twelve hours. If you keep it in for a bit longer than twelve hours, then you may experience leaks. If you’re concerned that you’ve left it in significantly longer, then it may be worth being seen by a doctor to ensure that you don’t have Toxic Shock Syndrome.8,9
Yes, but some people may wish to talk to their doctor first.
For example, those with IUDs (coils) should consult their gynaecologist as the menstrual cup’s suction could affect the string of the IUD.10
Anyone using a contraceptive ring should consult their doctor first for similar reasons, as the placement of the cup could affect the ring’s effectiveness.11
Menstrual cups should not be used for post-natal bleeding.12
Well, it depends. How heavy your flow is and how you remove the cup may impact how messy it gets. If you have a heavy flow and leave it in for the longer end of the scale, you may find that it’s a little messier to remove as the cup will be fuller. However, once you get to know your body and what works for you, it should be no messier than using a pad!
Yes, provided you’ve inserted it correctly. If you’re just starting out with menstrual cups, you may find it a tad uncomfortable when trying the different insertion techniques. But once you’ve found the right technique for you, the sensation should be similar to using a tampon.
People decide to use menstrual cups instead of tampons or pads for a whole range of reasons. So we’ve listed some of the top benefits of using a menstrual cup, below:
The best menstrual cup will depend on your preferences!
If you like the idea of a product being tried and trusted, the company that makes the famous Mooncups has been around for over 30 years. Or you could try the OrganiCup from Allmatters, as they’re suitable for all body shapes and they’re made from 100% soft, medical-grade silicone.
Do you think you’ll try a menstrual cup? Remember, as long as you insert it correctly and don’t leave it in for longer than recommended, you’ll be fine. Still interested in other options? Check out our article on the truth about period pants for another deep dive into period products.