Historically, women have used everything from handfuls of raw cotton to metal, diaper like contraptions to absorb menstrual blood while on their periods. In 1888, the first disposable pads were placed on the market by Johnson & Johnson, and in 1929, the first tampons appeared on the scene. These two solutions have prevailed ever since as the most popular products for menstrual care, but finally, times are changing.
Believe it or not, menstrual cups were first patented in the 1930s, but their use has been widely obscured in favor of pads and tampons. But in recent years, the popularity of these flexible, silicone cups has surged, and women everywhere are making the switch to menstrual cups.
These small, bell shaped cups form a seal with the wall of your vagina, which means that no leakage should occur, and when worn correctly, a menstrual cup should be completely comfortable and allow for all forms of physical activity, including sports, yoga, dancing, and running. However, menstrual cups are not a form of birth control, and should not be worn during sex. They are perfectly safe to wear for women who use an internal form of birth control, like IUDs or a ring, but a small number of cases have shown that improper removal of a menstrual cup can result in the expulsion or displacement of your birth control.
Most menstrual cups are made of medical grade silicone, and can be used again and again for years. Compare that to the estimated twenty billion pads and tampons which are disposed of each year in North America alone, or the twenty five years it can take for these products to decompose naturally, and it’s a no brainer. Menstrual cups are far more environmentally friendly than their disposable counterparts, and even though they carry a larger upfront cost, it’s one that essentially pays for itself in just a matter of a few months.
Not all menstrual cups are made equal. They come in multiple sizes, with special designs meant for teens, young women, mature women, and mothers. Women who know that they have a low cervix during menstruation, for example, might be more comfortable with a shorter cup with a smaller stem, while women with a higher cervix may prefer a longer stem so that the cup is easier to locate for removal.
Using a menstrual cup may take some getting used to, as it is quite different from both pads and tampons. The flexible menstrual cup must be folded or pinched, and then inserted into the vagina. Most cups will pop open on their own to form a very gentle seal with the vaginal walls. This seal means that there should be no leakage while you wear the menstrual cup, and if you experience spotting or leakage, or if the menstrual cup feels uncomfortable, then you may have inserted it improperly.
When you’re ready to remove the cup, don’t simply pull down on the stem, as this might cause suction and make a mess, but instead, gently pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, which should then make removal easy. After emptying your menstrual cup in the toilet, you should rinse it with cold water before reinserting it.
Menstrual cups do carry a very small risk of toxic shock syndrome, but no more than tampons. Proper care and care of your menstrual cup is essential to help to reduce these risks. Most menstrual cups on the market can be used for up to 12 hours at a time, and some are approved for even longer, but you should always take care to rinse or wipe your cup after removing and emptying it and before reinserting it. After your period is finished for the month, you can clean your menstrual cup by boiling it in water for a few minutes or using a special sterilizing solution, many of which can be purchased with your cup.
Cleaning a menstrual cup can be tricky in public restrooms or out in nature, and many women might feel embarrassed or unsure about washing out their cups at the sink next to their coworkers or other women using the bathroom. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution for this, but many users suggest keeping some sanitary, unscented wet wipes in your purse when you’re on your period. It’s not quite as good a solution as rinsing with water and a mild soap, but it is much more discreet. Many menstrual cup companies even sell these wipes, which are specifically formulated to sanitize your menstrual cup as best as possible without the possibility of damaging the silicone.
Luckily, women now have plenty of options for their personal care while on their periods, and this means that there is a huge variety in quality and price. Menstrual cups can be purchased for as low as $9.99 on Amazon, and the average price for a menstrual cup runs at about $20-30. While making your decision, take into account the sizes and options offered by the company, and reviews or testimonials by other customers. Your menstrual cup should be made of high grade medical silicone, with no latex, plastics, or other ingredients, and if it is colorful, it should be made with medical grade or hypoallergenic dyes. If you have a sensitive anatomy, you should also look into how soft the silicone is, or look for menstrual cups which are specifically designed for sensitive women.
When it comes down to it, the choice of whether or not to use a menstrual cup is your decision, and yours alone. Just because it works well for your friends or family members does not mean it will necessarily work for you. But if you’re sick of spending money each month buying pads or tampons, or are looking for a more environmentally friendly period solution that doesn’t result in literal tons of landfill waste each year, then you should know that there are options out there for you. Menstrual cups offer a completely new way to experience your period, while still allowing you all the freedom and movement you have when you’re not menstruating, and although making the leap can be scary, it’s one that women everywhere are making without ever looking back.