Menstrual cups, which are usually made of medical grade silicone or latex, are a reusable product that can be worn in place of a tampon or pad during your menstrual cycle. Read on to learn more about how they work and the benefits and potential challenges of using one.
How a menstrual cup works
Menstrual cups are usually cone-shaped, with a wider, open top that narrows to a close at the bottom. You insert the cup into your vagina wide end first, sometimes by folding it across the widest part, so that it slips in comfortably. Once inside your vagina, you can rotate the cup a few times to help it open completely. Then the muscles of your vaginal wall should hold it in place and form a seal to prevent leaks. As menstrual blood leaves your uterus during your cycle, the cup catches it and holds it until you remove it. Because the cup does not absorb menstrual blood like a tampon or pad, it must be emptied into the toilet or sink at least twice a day. At that point, you can wash the cup out and reuse it.
Many people love the convenience of not having to empty the menstrual cup as often. Rather than changing a tampon or pad every few hours, most menstrual cups only need to be changed twice a day: in the morning and in the evening. On very heavy bleeding days, you might need to empty your cup during the day, but for many women, it is not necessary. Even if you have very heavy periods, you might find emptying your cup a few times a day to be more convenient than changing a tampon or pad every hour or two. And because you can wash and reuse your menstrual cup right away, you don’t have to worry about packing lots of pads or tampons when you travel—just the cup is sufficient.
Money savings and environmental benefits
Because cups are reusable—some can even be used for years before you buy a new one—you will very likely save money on tampons and pads. In this article from the Huffington Post, editor Jessica Kane estimates that a woman might spend upwards of $2,200 on tampons and panty liners in her lifetime. Writing for Jezebel, Tracie Egan Morrissey estimates the yearly cost of tampons or pads at an average of about $60. Most women menstruate for about 40 years, meaning you could spend more than $2,400 on supplies for your lifetime. In contrast, menstrual cups cost about $30-40 and can be used for several years without replacing them.
If you are not using pads and tampons, you also will not be throwing them away. Rosie Spinks, writing for the Guardian, says that an average woman uses 11,000 tampons in her lifetime. If you are using a cup instead, used tampons will not end up in the landfill, where they take ages to biodegrade.
Many women love menstrual cups, but they can come with some challenges, too. Most of these challenges are minor, but they are definitely something to consider if you are thinking of investing in a menstrual cup. The first challenge you might run into is the cost. The initial investment for a menstrual cup is definitely more expensive than a box of tampons or pads, and sometimes you also have to try a couple different brands of cups to find out which one feels most comfortable for you, which can also be another expense. But because you can reuse your cup, you likely will recoup the money that you spend to buy a cup over the course of a few cycles.
The second set of challenges that you might run into is physically getting used to using a cup, finding the right fit, and figuring out how it works. You have probably been using pads since you started your period, and tampons for nearly as long. Using a menstrual cup is different and can come with a bit of a learning curve. Different brands of cups work for different bodies, and some people also feel weird about emptying the cup. The good news is that both inserting and removing the cup will become easier and feel more normal over time, and if you don’t like the first cup that you try or experience leaks, you can always try a different brand.