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Everything you wanted to know about menstrual cups but were afraid to ask

By Roxanne Ward, Content Creator for Acala.  

This article is for anyone slightly baffled, intimidated or grossed-out by the idea of using a menstrual cup. With a little knowledge and a promise to give it a go – you might find the cup is your new best friend when it comes to your period. 

What actually is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a safe, reusable option for managing your period. It’s a soft, silicone, bell-shaped ‘cup’ which is designed to fit inside the vaginal canal and collect your menstrual flow. The cup is soft and flexible, so is folded and inserted into the body, and pulled out to remove, using the short ‘stem’ at the bottom as a guide. They are easy to wash and reuse, making them a great alternative to disposable feminine hygiene products, and great for reducing your impact on the environment.

Are cups safe?

Menstrual cups are perfectly safe. They are made from soft, medical-grade silicone and therefore safe to use inside the body. They contain nothing else, so you can be sure that there are no additional chemicals or perfumes entering your body. As they don’t absorb your flow, but collect it, vaginal fluid is not soaked up along with everything else, like with a tampon - which can make things more comfortable during your time of the month. You can use them before and after childbirth, and also with IUDs, although do consult your doctor if you wish to use a cup with an IUD.

Tampons and cups are often associated with the risk of TSS (toxic shock syndrome), however it is toxin-causing bacteria which causes TSS, rather than tampon or cup use. Contracting TSS is extremely unlikely, (as in really, really unlikely) but you can reduce your risk even further by using cups and tampons for no more than the recommended length of time. Find out more about TSS.

Do cups really work?

The short answer is; yes! They work by collecting the menstrual flow rather than absorbing it, like a tampon or pad would. You can leave a cup in for up to 12 hours, then simply remove and empty the cup, wash and reuse it. Many women find cups more comfortable than pads or tampons, as they do not absorb any natural moisture or sit outside of the body. 

It sounds messy and kind of gross. How do you deal with it on the go?

Cups can hold a lot more than tampons and pads (about 3-4 times more) meaning you don’t need to worry about changing it as often as you might think. It’s a common concern amongst those of us who have full time work, family commitments, a social life and, if we can manage it, a gym class to get on with every day, that we’ll be washing out cups of blood in public loos as we rush from one thing to another (heaven forbid). But the fact that you can leave a cup in for up to 12 hours, as opposed to the usual 4+ hours for tampons and sanitary pads, means you’re fairly unlikely to need to empty the cup in the communal work toilets. 

If you do need to empty and reuse on the go, you can use water, paper or a sanitary wipe to clean the cup before you reinsert it. A good tip is to use a disabled toilet when available, as these tend to have their own sink. Another advantage of the cup, making it decidedly less gross than other products, is that the seal created by the cup means your flow is never exposed to the air – so you don’t need to worry about odour.  

Are cups really better for the environment?

Definitely! A cup can last anything from 1-5 years depending on proper usage, and at around £18 a cup, it’s a big saving for your purse too. Non-reusable sanitary items, like disposable pads, tampons and applicators, generate 200,000 tonnes of waste per year in the UK, and with climate change disproportionately affecting women, anything we can do to stem the tide of single-use items will have a massive impact.

How do you actually get it in there?

Despite looking a little intimidating, it’s surprisingly easy! It’s pretty common to open up your menstrual cup box and question how it will even fit. The bell shape will look different from a tampon but shouldn’t put you off – it’s flexibility means it can suit any size and shape. Honest. 

There are a number of ways to insert your cup, and you should use whatever works for you -the ‘punch down’ or the ‘c fold’ being some of the most popular techniques. The ‘punch down’ pushes one side of the cup into the bottom of the cup, causing the rim to fold into itself, creating a slim, round top which mimics the shape of a tampon. The ‘c fold’ consists of folding the rim of the cup in half, also to create a slimmer, round shape ready to insert. You can follow a clear guide here, or watch the video here, which will help you work out how to use the cup for the first time. It’ll get easier every time and you’ll quickly work out what works best for you!

Once inserted, you should make sure the shape has ‘popped’ back into a bell, by feeling that it’s round or oval shaped at the bottom, and therefore no longer folded. There should be some resistance if you try to pull it out, meaning a vacuum has been created and there is no chance of leakage. If you want to wear a panty liner for the first few times to be safe, then do!

Can I use one if I’ve not used tampons before? 

Of course. You may find it easier to insert the cup for the first time if you’re used to using non-applicator tampons, but it’s not exactly the same. Everyone’s body is different, so it will be a learning for anyone new to using a cup – the good news is you’ll get the hang of it quickly and it might be the most comfortable product you’ve ever tried.

How do I pick the right size?

Most brands, including Mooncup and Organicup, sell cups in 2 sizes; one for those who have not given birth vaginally and one for those who have. Even the smaller size can look a little large when you first look at it. But trust us, and thousands of other women; you will definitely find one that’s right for you. 

So what are ya waiting for? Are you ready to give a menstrual cup a go?



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