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The truth about menstrual cups: are they for you?

Jan. 24, 2018
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Menstrual cups are a great alternative to mainstream pads and tampons. They’re eco-friendly, often cheaper in the long run, and can be left in for up to 12 hours. But the thought of getting so hands-on with your period can be daunting or squick-inducing if you're used to tampons and pads. That's why in this article I hope to take some of the mystery out of menstrual cups.

For the uninitiated, menstrual cups may seem complicated to use, but the process is actually pretty simple. Prior to using the cup for the first time, you need to sterilize it. You can do so by boiling a pot of water and then immersing your menstrual cup for 20 minutes. After that, your cup is ready to be used.

You insert the cup by folding the dome surface in half and then half again, angled up into the vagina. During your period, you can leave the cup in for up to 12 hours. When it comes time to empty it, it might be helpful to spread your legs or even place them up on the toilet seat in a squatting position. Taking your thumb and index finger, pinch the cup above the tail end and gently but firmly break the suction and pull out the cup. Dump the blood in the toilet (I recommend sitting down while doing this!). Rinse the cup in the sink using cold then warm water using a mild fragrance and dye-free soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s Pure Baby Unscented Castile Liquid Soap). In public? Some companies, such as Lunette, sell cup wipes that can be used when water is unavailable.

After your cycle is over, sterilize the cup again by boiling your menstrual cup in water. Feel free to use the cup while your period is on the decline to catch any spotting; having it inserted for longer than your cycle won’t cause any damage as long as you clean it at least every 12 hours.

Easy as pie, right? At this point you may be wondering about some of the rumors you've heard about menstrual cups and whether they're safe or not, so I've rounded up some of the most prevalent myths you may have heard—and the truths lurking behind them.

Myth #1: Virgins can’t use the cup

Fact: Menstrual cups are for both virgins and nonvirgins alike! Virgins may experience discomfort when using the cup at first, but it is completely safe and possible for virgins to enjoy all of the benefits of a menstrual cup.

Myth #2: If I have a heavy flow, I need to buy the large-sized cup.

Fact: Not necessarily. Flow can be a factor when deciding which cup size to buy, but a more accurate determinant is whether or not one has given birth. If you've had a baby, you will probably need to use the larger size; if not, though, the smaller-size cup should be fine.

Myth #3: Menstrual cups are more dangerous than tampons.

Fact: The likelihood of developing toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is in fact increased by using a menstrual cup, just as it is when using tampons. However, menstrual cups are not more likely to cause TSS than tampons. As long as you keep your cup clean and empty it at least every 12 hours, you shouldn’t need to worry about developing TSS.

Have I not sold you on the menstrual cup yet? Check out Kate Hunker’s article on other alternative menstrual products to try.