How to use a Menstrual Cup – In-depth Instructional Video
What Is a Menstrual Cup—and How Do You Even Use One?
Buying tampons or pads doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of excitement. Making the monthly drugstore run to pick up whatever brand is on sale is more of a necessary annoyance than anything else.
But menstrual cups—which have been giving mainstream period products a run for their money—have gotten so buzzy, they actually sound kind offun.
One small 2011 study found that a whopping 91 percent of tampon users who switched to a menstrual cup would recommend the method. Intrigued? Here’s what all the hype is about.
How does a menstrual cup work, exactly?
“A menstrual cup is effectively a fluid collection cup made of medical-grade silicone that you place inside of the vagina,” explains Leah Millheiser, MD, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford University. Like a tampon, the cup sits inside the vagina like a roadblock between your period and your underwear. But rather than absorbing the blood like a tampon does, menstrual cups simply catch it.
Putting them in can seem a little intimidating—you have to get all upin there. “There is a learning curve, but once you get comfortable, it can be quick and easy,” says Adeeti Gupta, MD, a board-certified gynecologist and founder of Walk In GYN Care in New York. After cleaning the cup (and your hands) with soap and water, you essentially pinch and fold the sides to slide it into your vagina.
“The cup will open up on its own and cup the cervix,” says Dr. Gupta. To make sure it’s in place, “you can sweep your fingers around the cup gently while in the vagina to see if it opened up and if it’s covering the cervix,” she adds. Once the cup is full (which varies depending on how heavy your flow is), you simply pluck it out, empty the blood, rinse, wash, and repeat.
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What are the benefits of using a menstrual cup?
Anything you do with a tampon, you can do with a menstrual cup—even swimming or hitting up the gym, says Dr. Millheiser.
Menstrual cups also hold their own against pads and tampons when it comes to leak protection, especially if you’re used to plowing through tampons on heavy flow days. Since menstrual cups catch the blood straight from its source, they tend to be more effective, Dr. Gupta says, and depending on the size of the menstrual cup, it may hold more blood than a super-absorbent tampon.
But the main reason many women choose to use the menstrual cup over other options is for the rinse and repeat factor, says Dr. Gupta. The average menstrual cup will cost you anywhere between and , but you can keep one for at least a year, or sometimes even longer depending on the brand. The reusability seriously reduces the impact on the environment—and saves you a lot of cash. Think about it: the average box of tampons costs you about per month. Add that up over the course of the roughly 40 years you’ll spend menstruating and you’re looking at over ,300 that’s literally flushed down the toilet.
Are there any risks associated with menstrual cups?
There aren’t many downsides to the menstrual cup, according to the experts. As long you’re washing your hands before you put it in and take it out, “there’s absolutely no increased risk of infection,” says Dr. Millheiser. When it comes to toxic shock syndrome (TSS)—a rare but deadly bacterial infection that has been linked to super-absorbent tampons—menstrual cups are safer, since the silicone cups simply hold blood, rather than absorbing it, she adds.
The biggest drawback? “They can be messy,” says Dr. Millheiser. “One of the challenges with the cup is that you don’t always have access to clean it properly; you can’t always guarantee you’ll be home or in a bathroom stall with a sink when you need to empty the menstrual cup,” she says.
And without a private sink, staying hygienic is tricky. “Women often find that they have to take it out and put it back in without washing it with soap and water first,” says Dr. Millheiser. In a pinch, carrying a bottle of water and wipes can help you clean the cup and any spillage on the go, but she doesn’t recommend relying on that.
Other risks are minor. Usually complaints are tied to having trouble putting it in or taking it out. “It all depends on a woman’s comfort level and lifestyle,” says Dr. Gupta.
How to use a menstrual cup
There’s technically no time limit on how long you can keep a menstrual cup in (unlike tampons). If you’re bleeding a lot, you’ll want to empty the cup every few hours to prevent any leakage, but on a super light flow day, you could theoretically leave the menstrual cup in for a full 24 hours.
That said, both Dr. Millheiser and Dr. Gupta recommend taking your menstrual cup out to wash and reinsert at least every 12 hours. “To have blood just sitting there pooling [longer than that], you’re probably going to have some odor and might have leaks,” says Dr. Millheiser.
If you’re getting stuck—literally—on the insertion, a water-based lube can help (like this one from ). “Just don’t use a silicone-based lube because that can actually break down the silicone of the cup,” she says.
Oh, and size matters. “Some companies make varying sizes according to the length and width of the vagina,” says Dr. Gupta—typically a small and a large. “Usually women who have not had a vaginal birth need the small size and women who have will need a large size,” she explains.
After each period, boil the cup in an open pot of water for about 5 to 10 minutes to disinfect it. “Let it dry on a paper towel and once it’s completely dry, put it away until you need it again,” says Dr. Millheiser.
Ready to ditch your tampons? Check out the expert-approved picks below.
Video: An "Inside" Look at Menstrual Cups
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