Menstrual cups: everything you need to know

Do they work? And if so, how do we use them? [Photo: Getty]
Do they work? And if so, how do we use them? [Photo: Getty]

Internet searches for reusable period products are on the up and so are brands offering environmentally friendly alternatives to pads and tampons.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘menstrual cup’ floating around and wondered just what it is and how it works.

Menstrual cup popularity has risen since the Lancet report concluded that they’re as safe to use - and just as effective - as the more traditional products.

But, should you consider switching to this new product? We investigate the pros and the cons.

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What is a Mooncup?

Let’s first discuss Mooncup - a brand you might have come across on social media. They’re available to buy for £22 and the main draw here is that they’re reusable and therefore a lot cheaper in the long run.

The brand’s menstrual cups are made of non-pourous silicone, making them safe to use, clean and use again for up to 10 years.

It’s seen as an innovative step forward for menstrual products, particularly given that this area has seen little in the way of innovation for - well, forever.

Other brands exist, including Intimina, Athena Cup and Organicup, but Mooncup is the most widely recognised in the UK.

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How do I use a menstrual cup?

Firstly, you’ll need to select the size that’s right for you. This is something that proves a bit tricky as the sizes seem a little counter-intuitive.

Each menstrual cup brand sizes their products differently. For example, with Mooncups, there’s size A and size B. Size A is for women who are 30 years old and over or women of any age who have experienced childbirth vaginally.

Size B is for women under 30 who haven’t experienced childbirth vaginally.

Shreelata Datta, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Lister Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK) advises us to take our time when inserting it for the first time.

“Ideally you should not be in a rush or in a public place where you cannot focus on inserting the cup correctly. Make sure you’ve washed your hands and emptied your bladder before inserting the cup.”

“The key to insertion is folding the cup and placing it low enough in the vagina so it’s effective, but high enough so that you don’t feel it. Sometimes squatting or bending your knee placing your foot on the edge of the toilet seat or bath can make insertion easier.”

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What does it feel like when a menstrual cup’s inside?

If it’s in correctly, you shouldn’t be able to feel it. It may take a couple of times to find the exact right position - just like a tampon. Discomfort tends to occur when its either too far in or not far enough.

Of course, this also depends on your individual cervix. If you have to sit on your hands during a smear test, or you have a tilted cervix, you might need to give it a couple of attempts, but you will get there.

How do I take a menstrual cup out?

Now this is the part that leaves some people saying, “no, it’s not for me.”

It’s understandable, if you’re grossed out pretty easily, menstrual cups might not be the one.

Your period blood collects up in the cup, and when you take it out, you can just see it right there. For some, that’s a little much, for others it’s fascinating.

You use the toggle to pull the up out, tip the contents into the toilet and then clean your cup in the sink.

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What about cleaning my cup?

You just rinse it with warm water, it’s as simple as that. You can use soap if you want, but you have to make sure it is ph balanced and doesn’t contain any perfume.

There’s a small issue of public toilets to consider. People recommend taking some water into the toilet with you to clean the cup. You could always pour the blood out and wipe your menstural cup before inserting it back in.

One thing to note is that you don’t have to empty it as often as you have to change a tampon, so you could always wait until your in a suitable location.

When your period finishes you should put your menstrual cup in boiling water for 5 minutes.

What not to do with your menstrual cup

Aside from cleaning it with perfumed soap, don’t try to put it in the dishwasher or clean it in any other way. Five minutes in boiling water is really all it needs.

Shreelata Datta adds: “I would not recommend their use if you’ve never had sex or used a tampon before.”

Let’s talk about leaking

We’ve all been there with tampons and pads. Even the most leak-proof of products aren’t foolproof and menstrual cups aren’t an exception to this.

They do get better with practice and the suction part begins to get easier over time.

You can also go swimming with one in, unlike pads (unless you want to feel like you’re wearing a full nappy).

Can you get Toxic Shock Syndrome from a menstrual cup?

A big pro of wearing a pad is that there’s no risk. With all internal sanitary products, there is a risk - albeit a very small one - of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome.

You can decrease that risk further by emptying it regularly, cleaning it properly and putting it in hot water at the end of every period.

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Buy a menstrual cup

Mooncup | £21.99

OrganiCup Menstrual Cup | £16

Athena Menstrual Cup | £14.95

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