November 07, 2012

An Alternative to Tampons: The Menstrual Cup

Many people think that they only have two choices when it comes to their periods: pads or tampons. This simply isn't so! The menstrual cup is a bell-shaped container made of medical-grade silicone that collects menstrual blood rather than absorbing it like a pad or a tampon. It's often referred to by its brand names, the Diva Cup or the Moon Cup. It comes in two sizes: a smaller one for people who have never given birth and a larger one for people who have.

The menstrual cup comes in two sizes, small and large
  Why use a menstrual cup?

It's safer than pads and tampons. The menstrual cup does not absorb fluids, therefore eliminating the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). TSS is caused when you leave a tampon in for too long; the blood it has absorbed starts to grow old and gather bacteria, which can thrive and grow quickly in warm/wet atmospheres (you know, like a vagina).  Not to mention that pads and tampons have been known to contain chemicals such as bleach, which can irritate the skin and has been linked to various uterine problems.

Once you've gotten the hang of inserting it, you don't even realize it's there. As with anything new, it takes a bit of getting used to -- I'm sure it wasn't very graceful the first time you tried using a tampon, either -- but once you've figured it out, the menstrual cup is extremely comfortable. If it's put in correctly, you won't feel it at all. Alternatively, tampons have been known to cause "micro-tears" (small cuts) inside the vagina. What did you expect, shoving rough, dry cotton up into a soft, wet mucous membrane? Micro-tears are often the cause of the vaginal discomfort that people experience during and immediately following their menstrual cycle.

It's good for your wallet. The menstrual cup is re-usable. They cost about $30-$40 upfront (currently on sale for about $20 at Amazon!), but then you don't have to spend money on pads or tampons! Think of the money you'll save! The menstrual cup can be used for up to ten years if you properly take care of it and it usually pays for itself within the first couple months of use.

It's good for the planet. Again, the menstrual cup is re-usable. The average person uses something in the neighborhood of 12,000 to 16,000 tampons or pads in their lifetime. Used tampons and pads often end up in landfills or improperly disposed of in toilets to block up our sewage systems. A menstrual cup can be used for up to ten years -- that's ten years of trash not being thrown into the environment!

It's more convenient. The menstrual cup can be safely worn for up to 12 hours -- whereas tampons can only safely be worn for about 8 -- meaning less trips to the bathroom during the day. There are no strings or anything else that show outside of your body, making it ideal for sports and swimming. You never need to carry any extras with you (no more frantically searching your bag for a new tampon or pad!), nor do you need to worry about TSS. There's also very little chance of leaks when the menstrual cup is properly inserted.

How do you use it?


Inserting a menstrual cup isn't too terribly different from inserting a tampon. First, wash your hands. Then fold your menstrual cup (there are different methods of folding, such as the "U" fold and the "Push Down" fold, shown in the picture above) to make it smaller. Hold the folded menstrual cup in one hand, then use the other hand to gently spread your labia. Preferably while squatting or standing with one foot on the floor and the other on a toilet or bath tub, slowly push the folded cup into your vagina -- this should be done at about a 45 degree angle; your vagina is angled, it's not straight-up inside your body.

The cup should pop open and unfold inside your vagina. This causes a suction-like seal, so it won't leak. Unlike a tampon, you do not need to push the menstrual cup as far inside your body as you can, it can be worn low in the vagina. Push it in until you're comfortable -- how high or low your sweet spot is can depend upon how low your cervix happens to be and that varies person to person. 

Once it's inserted, make sure the cup is unfolded so blood doesn't seep out around it. You can do this by running one finger around the base of it -- it should be round or oval. If it doesn't feel like it's open, you can grab the stem and give the cup a small turn, and this will usually do the trick. 

The "stem" -- the bit of ribbed silicone on the bottom of the cup, shown in the photos above -- can be used to find your cup when you want to remove it. You can use scissors to trim it to whatever length you're most comfortable with. 

To remove your menstrual cup, reach into your vagina and, using your index finger and thumb, pinch the bottom. This breaks the suction and makes it easier to get it out. Then, gently and slowly as to not spill any of the fluid, ease it out of your vagina. It's recommended that you try this at home the first few times as opposed to a public restroom, since doing it incorrectly can result in a mess. Finally, dump the fluid into the toilet, re-fold your cup, and re-insert it. 

Many people are intimidated by the size of the menstrual cup and worry that it's too large to be used comfortably. But really, when folded, it's roughly the same size as a standard tampon:


What are the downsides?

It takes practice. When you're an inexperienced user, you're more likely to insert your menstrual cup incorrectly, which means you might experience some discomfort or leakage. It's okay, though, you'll get the hang of it! If you're new at this, you might want to wear a thin pantyliner when you go out to avoid staining your underwear/clothes. 

Some people just cannot wear them comfortably. Even if you're following the instructions religiously, some people just don't mesh well with menstrual cups. We're all shaped differently. Some of us have a particularly low cervix or a very small vagina that doesn't allow the use of a cup. If this applies to you and you still want to avoid all the horrors of cotton pads and tampons, I recommend looking into cloth pads. Some people also report that the cup puts extra pressure on their bladder, causing frequent urination. Again, everyone is different. 

Some other things that are important to note:
  • You gotta keep it clean! Some menstrual cup makers sell a special pH balanced cleanser to wash your cup in at the end of your cycle, but this isn't necessary -- just boil your cup in a pot of water to kill any germs. Don't use soap! Soap is generally unhealthy for your vagina and can upset the pH balance in there, causing irritation and yeast infections. 
  • Wash your hands before removing or inserting your cup. 
  • Some say that menstrual cups and IUDs cannot safely mix because the suction caused by a menstrual cup may cause the IUD to expel or that the wearer may accidentally grab their IUD strings when attempting to remove the cup. However, there actually isn't any evidence to support that claim.


  1. Please don't use a menstrual cup for ten years!!!

    refer to the lifespan section, you really shouldn't keep it for more than a year!

    1. Ridiculous. The Diva Cup is made of SILICONE. It's tough, resilient, and cleans and sterilizes well. I've had mine for 5 years and it's in great condition. I'd have had it for longer, but I didn't discover this method until 5 years ago. A menstrual cup was not a widely advertised alternative to tampons and pads before then. In fact, I could only find one by ordering it from Canada!

  2. but i cant even put a tampon in..........

  3. Damn, I wouldn't even consider using this or a tampon. i am fine with cloth pads.

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  6. But what about taking it out?
    Won't the blood spill?

    1. No, you just do it slowly and carefully (ideally above the toilet just in case)

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