A concern about leaking menstrual fluid in public is just one of the reasons menstrual cups have become more popular. Many women find them to be a leak-free alternative to traditional tampons and sanitary pads.
Have You Heard of Menstrual Cups?
Menstrual cups are bell-shaped cups made of silicone or rubber. When you fold one and insert it into your vagina, it pops open and forms a seal against the walls of the vagina. Menstrual fluid is then trapped in the cup until you remove it for emptying.
Menstrual cups have been around since at least the 1860s. They weren’t marketed until American actress and singer Leona Chalmers began promoting her patented catamenial receptor, now known as a menstrual cup, in the 1930s. Because of concerns about inserting them and the discomfort of the early rubber models, these cups weren’t widely used. Menstrual cups have recently become mainstream partly due to an improved design and soft silicone construction.
Advantages of Menstrual Cups
There are quite a few perks to using menstrual cups, the most notable being that they’re reusable. Many menstrual cups can be used for years. Instead of spending money on tampons or sanitary napkins each month, you can save some cash by using menstrual cups.
You can also wear a menstrual cup for up to 12 hours before it needs to be emptied. Compared to the average 4 to 8 hours for a tampon, that’s a fair amount of time saved.
Other advantages of menstrual cups include the following:
- Unlike tampons, menstrual cups don’t dry the vagina. This preserves the healthy bacteria that protect you from vaginal infections.
- Menstrual cups aren’t associated with toxic shock syndrome (TSS), which is a rare, life-threatening condition linked to tampon use.
- Menstrual cups don’t contain chemicals found in tampons and pads, such as bleach and dioxin. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some dioxins are known to cause cancer in humans.
- Many women report having less severe cramping when using cups, although no clinical studies have been performed to support this.
- Menstrual fluid develops an odor when exposed to air. Cups eliminate this issue.
- Most women report that they don’t even feel the cup when it’s in place.
- Reusable menstrual cups are environmentally friendly. The Women’s Environmental Network reports that each year more than 400 million pounds of sanitary pads, tampons, and tampon applicators end up in landfills.
Hassles of Menstrual Cups
Some women report that it often takes some practice to learn how to insert a menstrual cup. There’s also the matter of cleanup. Many women aren’t comfortable washing out their cups in public bathrooms. Some people carry a small squirt bottle containing water or wipes to clean the cup when they’re in a bathroom stall. Others wipe the cup with toilet paper.
Selecting a Menstrual Cup
There are different brands of menstrual cups available. These days, you’ll often find several brands at your pharmacy.
Menstrual cups usually come with a cloth storage bag. Most are available in two sizes.
The small size is size 1. It’s geared toward teens and women under age 30. Women who have never given birth may also prefer the smaller cup.
A slightly larger version, size 2, is for women over age 30. This size is also recommended for women who have given birth and women who have a moderate to heavy menstrual flow.
Some of the more popular menstrual cups include:
Diva International is one of the oldest and largest manufacturers of menstrual cups. DivaCups are made of clear, medical-grade silicone. DivaCups are slightly longer than other brands, which makes them an especially good fit if your cervix is high in the vagina. Although the manufacturer says the DivaCup should be replaced every 12 months, many women report using them for a lot longer than that.
Founded in Finland in 2004, Lunette menstrual cups are now sold in more than 40 countries.
Lunette is made of medical-grade silicone. It’s very pliant, which makes it easier for some women to insert. Lunette is available in an assortment of limited edition colors.
The Keeper is the only latex menstrual cup in our lineup. It’s a brown color and is described by some people as being less flexible, which may make it harder to insert. On the other hand, it will last for years because of its latex construction. It also holds slightly less fluid.
Lily Cup is one of the longest menstrual cups, which works especially well if your cervix is high in your vagina. Like most other cups, Lily Cups are made of medical-grade silicone. The big difference with this product is that it has an angled shape that matches the shape of the vagina and cervix.
There’s also the Lily Cup Compact, which is the only collapsible menstrual cup. As the name suggests, it has a compact-like container. This means you can discreetly toss it in the bottom of your purse, assured that it’s there whenever and wherever your period starts.
Risk Factors to Consider
Menstrual cups aren’t for everyone. Be sure to discuss your options with your doctor, especially if you’ve had uterine prolapse, which is a condition in which your uterus slips into the vagina because supporting ligaments and muscles have become weakened or stretched. This condition is most common in postmenopausal women who’ve given birth vaginally.
You should also discuss your options with your doctor if:
- you're allergic to rubber or latex
- you use an intrauterine device for birth control because sometimes it’s necessary to shorten the string attached to the IUD so that you won’t pull it out when you remove your menstrual cup
- you’ve ever had TSS
- you’ve recently had gynecological surgery, given birth, or had a miscarriage
- you have a vaginal infection
- you’ve never had sexual intercourse and you’re concerned about maintaining your hymen
Are Menstrual Cups Right for You?
A growing number of women are using menstrual cups and raving about them. If you’d like to have a period free of pads, tampons, and concerns about overflowing in public, consider trying the menstrual cup. Your doctor can help you determine which cup would have the right fit.