Health & Wellbeing

What is a Menstrual Cup & How Do They Work?

Ladies, meet the menstrual cup!

When it comes to dealing with menstruation, most of us have grown up with just two choices: pads or tampons. We each have our preferences, and there are pros and cons to either product. Pads, you can use for longer but there is no escaping the fact that wearing one is like walking around with a tiny mattress trapped between your thighs. Tampons, you don’t even feel they’re there, but you have to change them frequently or else you could risk Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).

But in 2019, there is another period product available to us. A cost-effective, environmentally friendly product that takes the good elements of both pads and tampons and combines them so that you stay confident and comfortable. It’s called the menstrual cup, and everyone wants a piece of the action!

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual or period cup is a bell shaped, reusable cup that is typically made from medical grade silicone. An alternative to using pads or tampons, the menstrual cup’s sole purpose is to get you through your period. The cup is inserted inside the vaginal cavity, like a tampon. But unlike a tampon, the cup collects your menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it. When inserted correctly, there won’t be any leaking, and all you have to do is empty your cup into the toilet or down the sink. Although they have experienced popularity spike in recent years, menstrual cups have been around a long time. The first cup was patented in 1932 by a midwifery group, and inventor and actress Leona Chalmers patented the first usable commercial cup in 1935. There are those who are critical of period cups, saying that they’re “gross” because you have to deal with your period in an up close and personal kind of way. But come on? It’s nothing to be scared of, it’s just a period for goodness sake!

How does a menstrual cup work?

If you look closely at your cup, you’ll see a few tiny holes spaced out around the rim. These holes are responsible for your cup staying in place. They allow the menstrual cup to form a light seal against the vaginal walls, and that suction positions your cup where it should be. When inserted correctly the cup sits lower than a tampon would, around the cervix. When your menstrual fluid starts to flow, it travels down the cervix and is collected in the cup. The fluid is held in the cup in a liquid form, rather than being absorbed by the cotton of a pad or tampon. The average amount of menstrual fluid lost during your period is approximately 2.4 tablespoons, although between 1-6 tablespoons is considered normal. Depending on your flow, you may want to empty your cup more frequently but a typical cup can be worn continuously and safely for 4-12 hours.

Cups tend to come in two sizes, one smaller and one larger. The smaller size is recommended for women under 30 who have not given birth vaginally, as well as for teenage girls or very active women with stronger pelvic floor muscles. The larger size is recommended for those over 30 who have given birth vaginally, or those who have a particularly heavy menstrual flow. When choosing a cup, it may also help to take into consideration your desired firmness or flexibility. A firmer cup may hold a tighter seal against your vaginal wall, but you may find a softer cup more comfortable to use.

How to use a menstrual cup

If you decide to start using a menstrual cup, it may take you two or three periods to get good at inserting and removing the cup with ease. It’s a bit like getting your first few periods all over again, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not an expert from Day 1! You may want to use a pad or wear some period-proof undies in the early stages if you’re concerned about leaking.

How to insert

First things first, wash your hands. You wouldn’t insert a tampon with dirty hands, and the same goes for the menstrual cup. Then it’s time to insert. Your cup will come with paper instructions, and you can use a few different techniques to comfortably get the cup inside you. You can fold the cup into a U-shape, you can push one segment of the rim down and then do a U-fold, realistically you will probably have to experiment to see what ‘fold’ is going to be best for you.

Video: The U-Shape and the Push-Down techniques

If you feel like your menstrual cup could do with some lubrication, just wet it with tap water. In fact, lots of women say they find it easier to insert their cups whilst showering, so this could be helpful information for a first-timer. Once inserted, the cup will unfold inside you and form a seal.

How to remove

Each menstrual cup comes with a little stem at the bottom. The stem will be quite long when you first unbox your cup, and that’s so you can cut the stem according to your own body. When you insert the cup correctly, the stem should be all the way inside you as well, not sticking out of you like the string of a tampon. When you want to remove the cup, wash your hands and then feel for the stem of your cup. Use the stem to guide your fingers to the base of the cup and then pinch the base to break the seal. From there, it will be easy to manoeuvre the cup out from your vaginal cavity. If you’re finding it a little difficult to remove, don’t panic. Try squatting and engaging your pelvic floor muscles as you reach for the base of your cup. 

How to clean

Once you’ve removed your cup and tipped out your menstrual fluid, you can give the cup a wipe with toilet paper or rinse it out before reinserting it again. If you’re out and about when you first start using your cup and want to use a public bathroom, it helps to take a bottle of water into the toilet with you. When your period is over for another month, boil your menstrual cup in a pot of water for 10-20 minutes (or according to your specific brand’s instructions) and then store it in the carry pouch it came with until next time. 

The Pro’s of Menstrual Cups

The big bonuses of using a menstrual cup are 

  • You can use yours for up to 12 hours without having to change it. This means you can sleep through the night with ease!
  • Research suggests that the average woman will generate 300 pounds of bloodied cotton waste in her lifetime due to pads and tampons. And this sort of cotton can’t be recycled, it just goes straight into landfill.  That’s why using a menstrual cup is more sustainable. 
  • You don’t have to keep forking out for tampons and pads – once you get your menstrual cup, you won’t have to buy one again for another 5 years. Better for the environment AND your bank account!
  • It may not be everyone’s highest priority, but a menstrual cup can help you to become better acquainted with your body. After a few rounds of using the cup, you’ll have a better idea of your volume of your flow and your own internal shape. If something drastically changes, you may be able to pick up on it quicker and book in with your GP sooner rather than later.
  • Some people find that the menstrual cup means less odour during their period. 
  • It has also been suggested that menstrual cups could be a better long term solution for women who are sleeping rough and experiencing homelessness. If you want to find out more about an organisation working to ensure that every woman can deal with her period in a dignified way, you can visit The Rough Period.

The Con’s of Menstrual Cups

  • They do take a getting use to, and it can be frustrating to experience leaks or difficultly inserting and removing. But keep at it! If you can get a tampon to do its job, you can certainly master the menstrual cup. 
  • Emptying your cup in a public bathroom can feel a bit daunting. But seasoned professional say the best thing to do is empty your cup into the toilet, flush and exit the stall with your cup held discretely in your hand. Go and wash your hands like you normally would, and without making a big deal of it, clean your cup as well. This way, your cup is squeaky clean, wet and ready for reinsertion. After you’ve done it a few times, you’ll soon get over the self-consciousness. It’s like how in Year 7, everyone takes their entire backpack into the bathroom, but by Year 12 you’re chucking a spare tampon to your friend across a crowded classroom!
  • This is a very minor con, but they don’t stay pristine-looking forever. They do get discoloured after a while, but this is just all part of the process. 

Menstrual Cups Available in Australia

1. Moon Cup

Name: Moon Cup, a UK brand.
Cost: The Moon Cup isn’t sold in Australia just yet, but if you’ve got your heart set on this particular brand, you can order it for $44.00 plus shipping.
Buy Here: You can buy it via ASOS.
Reviews: If you look on the Boots website, a leading UK chemist, you’ll see that the Moon Cup gets an overall 4.8/5 rating.

2. Diva Cup

Name: The Diva Cup.
Cost: $45.95 at The Chemist Warehouse.
Buy Here: You can pick up the Diva Cup from leading chemists like The Chemist Warehouse and Priceline Pharmacy. Use the Diva Cup store locator to find out where your closest stockist is.
Reviews: The Chemist Warehouse website shows that the Diva Cup has 25 ‘5 Star reviews’ at the time of publication.

3. JUJU Menstrual Cup

Name: The Juju Cup, which is so far the only Australian made and owned menstrual cup. Aussie Aussie Aussie!
Cost: You can buy it for $49.95
Buy Here: You can get it directly from the manufacturer here, and you can even use AfterPay if that suits you better.
Reviews: Click here to read the rave reviews from loyal Juju Cup users.

4. Lunette Cup

Name: The Lunette Cup was developed in Finland, no wonder it’s got that sweet Nordic style to it!
Cost: $45.95 
Buy Here: You can buy it from Menstrual Cups Australia Online, or directly from Lunette.
Reviews: You can read Lunette reviews here.

5. MeLuna or Luna Cup

Name: MeLuna, or colloquially ‘Luna Cups’. Designed in Germany and now available in Australia. 
Cost: $34.95 
Buy Here: By it online here at Mama’s Natural Magic.
Reviews: Reviews range from 4-5 stars.

That’s all you need to know when it comes to the wonderful world of menstrual cups. Now all that’s left to do it get one of your own and start trying it out. Happy Shark Week!

Related stories