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What Is A Menstrual Cup? How To Use One, Pros And Cons

How to choose the right cup for you and the best folds
Find out how to choose the right cup for you

Menstruation is a phase of the female menstrual cycle that is characterized by bleeding, usually lasting between 3 and 7 days. Women use a wide variety of products to regulate and control this aspect of menstruation.

During menstruation, traditionally, tampons, pads, and other lesser-known devices like menstrual sponges are used. However, in recent years, the menstrual cup has become increasingly popular -that is why, in this article, we will explain what a menstrual cup is, how to insert it, and its pros and cons.

What is a menstrual cup?

The menstrual cup was first patented in the 20th Century making it a relatively new feminine hygiene product. This product has revolutionized the way that women all over the world experience their periods.

This device that serves as a barrier, inserted in a woman's vagina during her period. Its goal is to hold back blood or the menstrual flow during this phase of the menstrual cycle.

Since tampons and menstrual cups are both inserted in the vagina, their function may seem the same, at first. But, tampons absorb the flow while the menstrual cup's bell-like shape catches it. In the lower part of the cup, there is a small stem that eases the insertion and extraction of the device.

The flexible medical-grade silicone allows for easy insertion, sealing the vaginal walls just below the cervix, and keeping the flow from escaping.

Depending on how heavy your flow is, you can wear the cup from between 4 to 12 hours. After this amount of time, it should be removed, emptied, and cleaned with water. Then, it should be ready for reinsertion. Once the period is complete, the cup should be cleaned and sterilized with hot water and stored until the next cycle.

Although there are still skeptics, this product has gained a great deal of fame since it is reusable for up to five years -this makes the long-term cost of this product considerably lower than others its kind.

Drastic times call for drastic measures since tampons and pads are taxed highly -in some places, the tax on caviar and tampons is the same, 10%- and women spend an estimated average of 30 euros per month on feminine products, which is why it is logical that more cost-effective and sustainable options like this one are gaining popularity.

How to insert one

First, you should make sure that you find the right cup to fit your needs. Different brands offer a variety of sizes (usually 3) depending on the woman's age and whether or not she has gone through childbirth.

However, the flow and anatomy also play an essential role in choosing -that is why it would be best to consult your gynecologist or a trusted pharmacist.

Once you have purchased your cup, you must follow a series of specific steps to insert it. Below we set some general rules for inserting, removing, and managing its hygiene.

1. Read instructions

Although the steps to insert a menstrual cup are practically the same for all models and brands, you should read the instructions before inserting one.

2. Fold the cup

Although the top part of the cup may seem too large or difficult to insert, because it is made of stretchy medical-grade silicone, it is easy to fold for insertion.

There are several different ways to fold it, the easiest being the "U" fold (done by pressing the sides of the cup until the come together and, then, folding them again, forming a "U").

3. Insert

In a comfortable position, gently separate the vaginal labia and with your other hand, insert the folded cup in the vagina, always horizontally.

4. Twist

There are two different ways to do this step. Once it is inside, you can hold the base of the cup and twist it 360º, or you can insert the cup halfway, turn it, and then push it in the rest of the way, horizontally.

If the menstrual cup twists with ease, this means that it is completely open and in the correct position.

5. Remove and empty

When it comes time to remove the cup, this can be done by gently pulling on the stem near the base.

Then, gently squeeze to release the air and continue to pull slowly. Once removed, empty the cup's content in the toilet.

6. How to clean during menstruation

The menstrual cup can be removed, cleaned, and reinserted as often as need be, and you can wear it while sleeping without risking leakage.

If you want to reinsert the cup after extracting and emptying it, you should clean it with lukewarm water first. Although it is not required, there is a special soap for cleaning this product as well. Once it is clean, follow the steps from the beginning to insert it again.

7. How to clean after your cycle

Once your cycle is through, and you are no longer menstruating, the cup should be boiled in a pot with plenty of water for about 5 minutes. Pay close attention while doing this. Otherwise, the cup could burn.

Once it is clean and disinfected, it should be stored in a protected space, with airflow, like in a cotton bag, for example.

However, most cups already come with a bag or perforated box to keep it in, until the beginning of your next cycle.

Boiling menstrual cup

Pros and cons

As we mentioned before, the menstrual cup is truly revolutionary when it comes to feminine hygiene products. However, although there are obvious advantages such as price and sustainability, this device also has some drawbacks that make many women reluctant to use them.

Below we list this product's pros and cons, which could help you to decide whether or not to purchase one of these devices.

Pros

  • Safer: using one means there is less risk of toxic shock syndrome than with tampons and it protects the vaginal flora from infections.

  • More budget friendly: the price of this product ranges from 12 to 30 euros, depending on the brand. Keeping in mind that this product can last for up to five years, it is an economical option in the long-term.

  • Better for the environment: One woman could generate up to 6 kilos of feminine product waste in one year, while just one menstrual cup would be needed for this entire year, otherwise. Besides, the manufacturing process for this product is much cleaner than the process involved for other competitors.

  • Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours in a row and all night long.

  • This product stores more menstrual flow than super absorbent tampons or pads.

  • You can have sex with the cup in: disposable cup models allow for hassle-free sexual relations.

Cons

  • It could be hard to find the right size, which means that you could end up buying more than one cup.

  • It may take a while to get used to inserting and extracting it correctly.

  • Extracting the menstrual cup could be a bit complicated if a bathroom with a private sink is unavailable.

  • There is more contact with the menstrual blood.

References

Cheng, M., Kung, R., Hannah, M., Wilansky, D. & Shime, J. (1995). Menses cup evaluation study. Fertility and Sterility, 64(3): 661–663.

Howard, C. & Rose, C. L., Trouton, K., Stamm, H., Marentette, D., Kirkpatrick, N., Karalic, S., Fernández, R. & Paget, J. (2011). FLOW (finding lasting options for women): Multicentre randomized controlled trial comparing tampons with menstrual cups. Canadian Family Physician, 57(6): 208–215.

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