All About Menstrual Discs and Cups

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If you’re someone who menstruates and have been a pad and/or tampon user up until now, you might be curious about menstrual discs and cups. In general, these are both long-lasting or reusable options to catch period blood, but in this post we’ll break down what each of these is and then discuss some brands to try and resources to check out if you want more info.

Menstrual Discs

 Menstrual discs are made of some kind of medical grade material, such as silicone or BPA-free soft plastic. To use a menstrual disc, you insert it into the vagina and then let it open to fit in vaginal canal just below the base of the cervix. A well-fitting disc should make a gentle seal with the vaginal wall that allows it to catch period blood without leaking. Most discs are reusable, meaning that they can be removed, emptied, washed, and reinserted, but some are designed for a single use. Manufacturers recommend that you can wear them for up to 12 hours at a time. Wearing a disc might be the best option if you want to wear protection while having penetrative sex during your period because they’re relatively flat.

Menstrual Cups

 Like discs, menstrual cups are generally made of medical grade material. They come in tons of sizes, both by width and length, which means that it is probably possible to find a cup for you, regardless of the size of your vagina or how low your cervix sits. This variety of sizes also means that cups hold quite a range of volumes. After insertion, cups also form a seal with the vaginal wall to collect menstrual blood. Because they tend to be less flat than discs, cups generally hold more. There is also a wider variety of menstrual cups on the market, made of different materials and in slightly different shapes. It’s probably not going to be super effective to have penetrative vaginal intercourse with a cup in because cups tend to sit lower in the vaginal.

Advantages and Disadvantages

 I’ve combined this section because for some people, advantages might feel like disadvantages and vice versa. One advantage is less waste. Because you can both wear discs and cups for longer, you’ll be using fewer of them than pads or tampons, even if you buy a disposable disc or cup. If you buy a renewable cup or disc, this is an even greater advantage. Most companies recommend that you replace your cup or disc after a year or two of use, but you’ll save a lot of tampons and pads during that time.

With the reusable aspect comes a disadvantage for some people: the need to clean the cup or disc. Emptying your cup or disc (usually into the toilet), washing it out, and reusing it might feel icky to some people. In my experience, it does take some getting used to, but as long as you wash your hands thoroughly after—which you probably do after using the bathroom anyway—it’s just fine.

Another advantage is how long you can wear a cup or disc. Up to 12 hours is a long time—much longer than most tampons or pads, which can allow you more flexibility to be away from predictable places (like home or work) during your period. Depending upon how heavy your flow is, you may not be able to go 12 hours between emptying and reinserting, but you likely will be able to go at least as long as with a large pad or super tampon.

One less-discussed advantage of cups and discs is not introducing potential irritants into your vagina. Most cups and discs on the market are latex-free, don’t leach any chemicals, and don’t absorb any of the natural lubrication of your vagina (like a tampon might), many people find them much less irritating to wear.

Recommendations

 If you’re interested in learning more about cups or discs, check out what’s available at your local pharmacy or big box store. Many cups and discs are now available off the shelf and you can spend some time looking at them and reading the boxes in store. If you want to do even more research, or you’ve tried some cups or discs that haven’t worked for you, check out the Put A Cup In It website. There, you can take a quiz about what cup or disc is best for you and read reviews.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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