The glory of the menstrual cup

So, I discovered the wonder that is the menstrual cup a couple months ago, and I thought I’d do a post on them. I hear they’re widely publicised and widely available in supermarkets the US, but I’ve never seen them advertised here in the UK so I’m here to spread the love. Mine has changed my life for the better!

Any gentlemen might want to avert their eyes, as this one isn’t for you (sorry, I’ll try to be more inclusive next time).

I’ll cover my review of menstrual cups and the practical stuff such as how they’re used, how much they cost and where they can be bought (with pricing and links included at the end). I’ve tried to include as much info as possible to give a concise and comprehensive idea of what these things are and how they work.

Anyway, I’ll start by saying what a menstrual cup is.

English: Femmecup menstrual cup

Femmecup menstrual cup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a reusable feminine sanitary product worn inside the body (a bit like a tampon) which is cup-shaped and made of squishy medical grade silicone. They collect menstrual flow rather than absorbing it, and don’t cause dryness and haven’t been associated with TSS.

They are folded and inserted much like a tampon, after which they open up to form a seal with the walls of the vagina and collect any menstrual flow. Their capacity is much higher than that of pads and tampons and so last much longer between changes -anywhere up to 12 hours depending on your flow.

They are usually bell-shaped with some kind of textured stem for easy removal and a few suction-release holes near the rim at the top.

Most brands are clear but sometimes they’re colourful too:

Lunette Menstrual Cup

Since they are reusable, they’re also much more cost effective than disposable sanitary products. They can be used up to anywhere between 5 and 10 years depending on the manufacturer and down to personal preference (some women may be more comfortable using them for many more years than others).

But most importantly, they are awesome.

How I came across menstrual cups

I was first made aware of menstrual cups a year and a half or so ago by a very dear friend of mine who’s incredibly eco-conscious.

She had excitedly sent me a link to the mooncup website proclaiming that she had discovered an environmentally friendly way to deal with the monthly murder scene. She also took time to point out the money savings in buying pads & tampons every month vs. 1 menstrual cup every ten years.

I didn’t really give this contraption much thought at the time and brushed the idea aside as one of her hippy phases. A reusable feminine product was a completely alien concept to me. I’d never heard of it, and tampons and pads were the most visible and widely advertised feminine products, and the only ones I had ever seen in shops or heard my friends using. Surely there was no other way?

The thought only really re-occured to me when I had a particularly horrific visceral horror ordeal a few months ago, after which I decided to buy a femmecup.

Overview

I’m really happy with my cup and haven’t looked back since. It takes a little getting used to at first, but they’re really easy to use and easy to clean. Also rather comfy -I forget it’s even there and it remains leak-free up to 12 hours. An all-round pleasant experience.

Menstrual cups are commonly promoted primarily as an eco-friendly way to be a woman, but for me and my occasionally blood-saturated bed, this wasn’t my highest priority when I bought mine.

More important to me (and undoubtedly to many other women) is the product’s ability to prevent the torrent of red fluid being pushed out of my body from staining my underwear, pyjamas and mattress. The cup really did impress me with just how effective it was in doing this.

Morning time was the worst time for me on my period back when I used tampons & pads. It wasn’t that my flow was even abnormally heavy -it just seemed to have some supernatural ability to evade whatever sanitary barriers I attempted to put between it and my bedding. Overnight I’d have managed to soak through/around a super plus tampon, some wads of toilet paper, a night-time long+winged pad, underwear and pyjama trousers, with the end result being one or more inch-wide circular red stains or even larger puddles reaching the surface of my mattress and/or duvet through the bed linen. Also, the dried in blood running up your buttcrack the morning after such a night is just majestic as hell.

The only leak I’ve had with my menstrual cup was the tiniest, cutest red spot in my underwear after a heavy night. I simply emptied my full cup, rinsed & reinserted and went about my day without having to attend to any sticky dried blood.

The cup can be used for heavy flow and even for the rusty-coloured goo at the end of your period. It doesn’t absorb anything and so doesn’t disturb the natural moisture downstairs or cause dryness like a tampon would. (You could even use it for excess discharge if you wanted to without any adverse health affects.)

Kept properly clean, cups don’t introduce any bacteria to the vagina and so don’t cause TSS and are thus actually safer to use than tampons are.

I also don’t have to buy pads and tampons again ever, which is a pretty big bonus.

Advantages

Some main points I found awesome:

  • First and foremost: no leaks!

Ever wake up on the second morning of your period and your bed looks like the film set of the next Saw movie, despite the massive tampon & extra long pad? The cup prevents that. It has a higher capacity than most tampons and can last up to 12 hours. It holds the blood inside the cup and away from underwear & sheets till you get a chance to wake up and empty it. No more awkward crab walks to the bathroom dripping blood everywhere!

  • Comfortable

You can’t feel it once it’s in. Also no more pulling out painful dry tampons when your flow is lighter than expected or if you’re unsure of whether your period has started -you can just pop the cup in in the morning and go about your day! Also, no more pee-covered tampon strings and dried in, sticky blood around the ass -especially problematic when you don’t have time for that extra shower in the morning.

  • No more worrying about taking enough tampons/pads to (work/uni/day out)

I used to get caught out when I was approaching the end of the tampon box or pad pack. Will those last two tampons be enough? With the cup, simply leave the house with the cup in and that’s all you need.

  • Cheaper

You only buy one cup which can last anywhere up to 10 years, instead of multiple packets of tampons and pads and baby wipes and all the extra TP you use dealing with the mess, and bleach for blood spatters/drips…

  • Healthier & safer

No TSS risk like tampons have. Tampons absorb the good bacteria needed to protect the inside of the vagina from infection and other horrible things. Unlike tampons, menstrual cups have never contributed to a death. Tampons are also full of bleaches and other nasty things like dioxins, and they leave behind tiny fibers in the vagina that harbour bad bacteria. Pretty gross.

Menstrual cups are made of high quality medical grade silicone (also used to make artificial heart valves in medicine, safe to use inside the body) and is as chemically neutral a material as it can possibly be. Thus, it doesn’t affect the pH balance in your vagina. The surface of the cup is smooth and can’t harbour bacteria. Pads can also sometimes cause horrible sweating and irritation to your sensitive bits. Provided you wash your cup properly and empty it every 12 hours, you could even use it continuously forever if you wanted to (some people use it for excess discharge).

  • Much less period odour

I’m especially impressed with the differences on this one. The cup keeps the blood away from air so it can’t react with the oxygen and make that horrible period smell. On disposables I used to always be able to smell my own menstrual fluid and was paranoid others could too. I can’t smell anything anymore, even when removing the cup as the blood hasn’t had time to rot outside the body yet. -No more worrying that other people around me might have sufficiently acute olfactory abilities to be in on the rusty iron nail aroma being excreted by my privates.

  • Eco-friendly (if you’re into that)

No more disposables in landfills or tampons in the sea. The two popular UK brands (femmecup & mooncup) are both Vegan Society approved. Not too sure about the other brands, but individual manufacturers’ websites will have this information on them. (The particularly eco-conscious might also be interested in washable cloth pads.)

You do have to be quite comfortable with your body -there’ll be a lot of feeling around in there at first while making sure the cup is in place and you’ll get bloody fingers, but you get bloody fingers with tampons anyway.

I’ve found the cup much tidier to change than tampons (much less blood spatter throughout loo and bathroom).

Practicalities

Usage

It takes a little practice and a little getting used to (just as tampons do at first) but after a few uses it’s just as easy to use and I barely have to think about it anymore.

It’d be easiest here to link to a youtube video demo[3:20].

You fold the cup whichever way you prefer (two common folds are called the C-fold and the punch-down fold, demonstrated in the video above).  You then insert it and let go. The cup should pop open, creating a seal with your vaginal walls, so that any menstrual fluid leaving your cervix enters the cup and cannot go around the sides. You can give the cup a little twist to help it pop open and ensure that it has created a light seal by giving it a little tug.

English: Femmecup Menstrual cup C Fold

C Fold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find it easiest to push the cup up and in with my thumb if it’s sitting a little low.

To empty the cup, one uses the stem to find the base of the cup and grab a hold (you might need to bear down with your internal muscles to make it easier to reach). Give the cup a little poke at the base to release the suction and let air in through the holes.

Gently pull the cup down from side to side until you can reach the rim near the top of the cup with your fingers. Ease the front edge of the rim out first, and then the rest of the rim while taking care to keep the cup in an upright position. Empty the contents out into the toilet and give the cup a rinse with water and some soap in the sink. (If you’re in a public bathroom, it’s perfectly fine just to give it a wipe with toilet paper and wash it out more thoroughly later when you get home, or some people keep water bottles in their bags for a quick rinse. Disabled loos always have sinks in them.)

Then simply reinsert the cup as above. The cup can be worn for up to 12 hours between emptying, depending on how heavy your flow is.

On the first use, many people tense up on removal, which may make removal difficult and possibly a little painful. RELAX! It gets better once you get used to using it. If you’re having trouble with removal, particularly when it comes to the rim, try pinching the front of the rim to make it a little thinner at one point so that it’s easier to ease part of the rim out. Troubleshooting video[8:59]

Cleaning and Storage

Cups usually come with a little microfiber/cotton drawstring pouch for storing, and a little instruction booklet on how to use, clean and store your cup.

Washing the cup is fairly simple -just rinse out with water and lather in mild soap. The cup is very flexible and pliable and can be turned inside out to get the inside a little better. Make sure you get all the soap off before reinserting. You should wash it at least once a day.

It’s normally recommended that the cup be sterilised at least once a month -you can do this either by boiling in hot water for 2 minutes or by putting it in sterilising solution.

I personally use sterilising tablets.

Asda and Tesco do own-brand sterilising tablets, currently costing 73p for 56 tablets and can be found in the baby bottle aisle of each store (baby bottle teats are made of the same silicone and are sterilised this way). Alternatively you can buy Milton brand tablets online or from both stores (a little more expensive than the unbranded ones).

At most you’ll use a quarter of a tablet dissolved in a small container of lukewarm water so that 56 pack will last even longer than the 10 years the cup itself will.

Sizing

Some brands have one size to fit all. Most have two sizes to choose from. Some even have several.

The two sizes most brands offer are usually recommended as the following (varies slightly depending on brand):

  • Small: recommended for women under 30 who haven’t given birth, and have moderate flow
  • Large: for women over 30, those who have given birth, or those with extremely heavy periods

The Mooncup has sizes large and small named (A) after birth and (B) before birth. The two cups’ rim diameters only differ by about 3mm with size A (30ml) having a slightly higher capacity than size B (15ml).

The femmecup only has one size which has a rim diameter in between the two mooncup sizes, and capacity-wise is equivalent to the small sized mooncup (15ml).

I used to use about 4-6 super plus tampons (with leaking) and a contingency pad per day on the heavier days. I find the 15ml femmecup to be perfectly adequate for this flow.

If your flow is much heavier than this, you might want to consider a larger cup.

  • Some other brands list their sizes as (1)-small and (2)-large.
  • The MeLuna Brand offers 4 different sizes, 4 different stem types and 3 different rates of ‘squishyness’!
  • The Large Yuuki cup is the largest of the popular brands with a capacity of 35ml
  • If you’re interested, a full size chart comparing different brands can be found here

Coloured MeLuna cups (Photo: http://menstrualcups.wordpress.com/)

Cost

If you are, like myself, somewhat poor then pricing and cost effectiveness may be important to you.

Most cups can be purchased on each company’s website to ship to various places in the world, but some online retailers, like amazon, sell them cheaper than the manufacturers do.

Most cups are around £15-£18 for the more popular brands, but can range anywhere up to £39 or above (like the JuJu cup, for instance).

After some shopping around, I’ve come up with a list of some of the more popular and less expensive brands, and from which online retailers they are cheapest (links directly to cup pages in retailer names):

‘Bell-shaped’ brands:

Amazon only directly sells the femmecup, mooncup and more expensive LadyCup(£26). Other brands are available on amazon through 3rd party sellers.

The only UK high-street retailer that I could find to stock menstrual cups is Boots, who sell the mooncup for £22.

If you have an abnormally extremely heavy flow (say, if you go through several ‘super plus extra XXL HUGE’ tampons in a day) you might consider a differently designed cup with ‘spill-proof’ flip edges and no suction-release holes, called the FemmyCycle:

  • FemmyCycle £28 at stressnomore (I believe they’re also sold somewhere online as twin packs for less than £30)
FemmyCycle Design

The FemmyCyle (Photo credit: http://femmycycle.com/)

Now for some maths: Let’s do a quick calculation of cost of cup vs disposables. I’ll base it on the bare minimum that I used to use on disposables and a moderately heavy flow.

Let’s assume you are a student and therefore shop at Tesco.

Say you use about 4 super plus Tampax and 1 nighttime always for the heaviest 5 days of your period -you might also use some panty liners after that but we’ll not count those. [Tesco prices: £2 for 20 Tampax super plus and £2 for 10 nighttime always]

By those assumptions you’d use a whole 20 box of Tampax and half a 10 pack of always per period, so you’d buy 2 boxes of tampax and one pack of always every two months, costing £6 (you with me so far?)

So two months’ disposables = £6.

So 1 years’ disposables (6x£6)=£36 and so 5 years = £180, 10 years = £360 (woah).

Assume you bought a Femmecup on amazon for its current price of £14.28 and a 56-pack of Tesco own-brand sterilising tablets, currently 73p and assume these supplies last you for 10 years.

  • Over 10 years that’s a whopping saving of 360-15.01= £344.99.

I think that’s pretty darn awesome.

So, cups are tidyer, comfyer, cheaper, and eco-friendlier. Why not give them a try!

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Further information:

Some online cup retailers that ship to UK

US: I believe most brands ship to the USA from their websites, and I believe the supermarket whole foods sells the diva cup. The mooncup is marketed in the US as the ‘mcuk‘ due to a naming dispute with Keeper.

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Follow me & the blog on twitter: @ritas_mith

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Attention! SPECIAL OFFER: As of 5th/6th June, Femmecup are temporarily selling their cup at £8.99+free shipping (50% off their website price of £17.99) to celebrate World Environment Day. They accept paypal. You can buy it here.

[Or click the screengrab below:]

femmecup

^One day only offer, get it quick! Offer is unfortunately over, but I’ll be sure to post any more that I see.

 

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One Response to The glory of the menstrual cup

  1. Wow, you’ve written a very comprehensive post! I also blog about reusable menstrual products and am in the UK where I feel a lot of people don’t know anything about them. For me the choice between tampons and menstrual cups is a no-brainer. Cups are so much better for all of the reasons you list and more!

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