Relephant: What’s the greenest, safest, healthiest, most affordable (okay, best) form of Birth Control? >>>> On Yoga, Chocolate & Periods. >>>> I Support Women Getting off—The Pill, that Is. ~ Kim Anami
Squicked out is a completely appropriate and pretty common response to menstrual cups.
For me, it wasn’t so much the idea; it was coming eye to eye with a Diva Cup at Whole Foods. I made some mental comparisons between known anatomical limits and the girth of even the smaller cup, and backed away slowly, thinking, “You have got to be kidding me.”
It took me another year to get up the nerve to try one, and another few months before I was really sold on these things. Full disclosure: menstrual cups didn’t change my life. But I do think the personal and environmental benefits could outweigh the initial squick factor for a lot of people. No hard sell here, just answers to common questions and some honest thoughts from five women who have made the switch.
What are menstrual cups and how do they work? Cups are a reusable alternative to tampons and pads. Most are bell or cone shaped and made of silicone. A cup sits under the cervix and forms a seal with vaginal walls to catch menstrual fluid.
How do I insert a menstrual cup? You fold the flexible silicon, insert towards your tailbone and allow to pop open. How much discomfort you feel will depend on how firm/large your cup is, whether your hymen is intact, and how narrow your vaginal opening is.
Why should I switch? There are good environmental and personal reasons to try a menstrual cup. They are reusable for years, reduce waste and can save you the cost of many boxes of tampons and pads. They hold more than even a super tampon without risk of TSS and can be left in for up to 12 hours at a time. Since cups don’t absorb anything, they also don’t dry you out the way tampons do. Unlike pads, there’s no wet feeling or butcher shop smell, and maintenance is dead easy (boil or wash with mild soap). Most menstrual cup companies are small women-owned businesses. Still, I was unconvinced until a friend told me that the cup worked so well that she could even forget she was on her period. That was the point at which I decided I had to try one of these things.
How safe is silicone? While I don’t know of any studies that deal specifically with menstrual cups, silicone has been extensively studied as an implant and is considered a non-toxic, inert material. Many of the cups on the market are made of medical grade silicone. Diva Cup, MoonCup, Keeper (natural latex), and Lunette are FDA approved.
Any drawbacks? Sure. The learning curve is notorious—inserting (and removing) a cup correctly can take a few cycles to get the hang of. Some people don’t get their first cup to work and end up buying a different one. A few never find a cup that works for them. The initial investment (about $25-$40) is high, and most cups don’t have a return policy, for obvious reasons. Public bathrooms can be tricky to navigate if you need to empty your cup mid-day. Silicone is not biodegradable at the end of its life. Finally, if you’re not willing to reach into your vagina, a cup is probably not the right choice for you.
How do I choose the right menstrual cup? One cup does not fit all. The only one you’re likely to see in stores is the Diva Cup, but there are almost 20 brands available. Most look similar but range in length, volume, shape, stem type, softness and even color. The Diva is actually one of the longer cups. Check out the LiveJournal Menstrual Cups community for advice and measurement charts. The most important factors seem to be cervix height and desired volume. Women who have given birth vaginally often do better with the larger diameter cups.
Between my blog friends and me, we’ve tried several different brands of menstrual cups. Here are our uncensored thoughts on each.
Jennifer – Lunette small.
Made in Finland, the Lunette is a medium firm, medium length cup that comes in several different colors and two sizes. I went with the Lunette after scrutinizing measurement charts and reading reviews, and I’m pretty happy with it. Although I’ve never used tampons, I didn’t have major issues inserting or removing it. No significant leaking, but I do wear a thin cloth liner with it for what the LiveJournal community refers to as ‘residual slobber.’ I have light cycles and only empty my cup every 12 hours, even on my heaviest day. Total time per day spent dealing with being female: five minutes. I used to use cloth pads exclusively and they were a lot more work (soaking, scrubbing, washing, line drying). And not having to smell blood all the time is definitely a plus.
My only complaint with the Lunette is that I can feel it when it’s in: a sense of slight but continuous pressure that makes me feel just a little heavy and crampy. Later, I also tried a LadyCup small, which is a smaller, softer, lower capacity cup. It’s less noticeable than the Lunette, but is slippery to remove and has to be emptied more often. I’m OK with the fact that neither is my perfect cup. Both have drastically reduced the time, inconvenience and resources that go into my cycle.
Lynn – the Keeper.
I chose the Keeper because it’s made from all-natural gum rubber and could even be composted if I don’t want to use it anymore. If you’re allergic to latex, then the Keeper won’t work for you. I was excited and yet embarrassed when I first tried to use the Keeper cup. My girlfriends thought it was nasty and would never do it, so I was the lone ranger in choosing reusable menstrual care. I knew that I put my fingers up there anyway, so it didn’t seem so strange to be poking up in there for menstrual reasons. Of course, the blood can be shocking, but I’ve never been too afraid of blood. I’ve never fainted from the sight of blood and I’ve never had a rough time with blood withdrawals.
So I pushed my fears aside, and went for it. I put it inside and trimmed the stem to fit me. It was a little hard to fold and maneuver at first, and when released inside it did have a little snap to it to get in place. But it was nothing I couldn’t handle. It fit snugly and I was surprised at how I could barely feel it inside me. The more I used it, the more flexible and soft it became. It was adjusting to me as I was adjusting to it.
When I go to dump my cup, there’s a lot of blood. You don’t see this much blood on a pad or in a tampon because most of it gets soaked inside. But with the cup, you get to face your blood head on. This is exactly how much you bleed, and guess what? It’s totally normal.
Because I experienced some leaking, and there were times I didn’t want to dump the cup, I bought some cloth pads to use as backup. I don’t think leaking means the cup is faulty. I think that we women just happen to bleed a lot during our menstrual cycles, and the cup can only hold so much. So the rest of it will leak a bit. I’m happy to use both the cup and cloth pads. If I didn’t use the cup, I’d be using cloth pads, and those would have to be changed with greater frequency, washed and dried. With the cup, I don’t need to buy 100 cloth pads. In fact I only have five, which don’t get too bloodied up because they are mostly used for backup.
All in all, I love my Keeper cup. I’ve been using it consistently for the past year or so, and I wouldn’t go back to synthetic disposable pads or tampons unless I lost my reusable products.
Jeanie – MoonCup.
I first heard about menstrual cups from googling Thandie Newton to find her TEDx talk. I was intrigued by this thing that I’d never heard of before—what an elegant solution to our monthly messes! I found several message boards about the horrors of tampons, from the mold that forms inside the plastic to the rayon fibers that stick to our insides. I already knew that the blood oxidizing made it smell bad, so I preferred internal methods to keep the smell down. These message board stories led me to http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/ where I was able to learn more about silicone, its properties, and the wide variety of cups. The Diva was described as floppy and rather large, the Miacup was small, and the choices, colors, sizes…endless! Eventually, I narrowed it down to the Lunette and the Mooncup. The deciding factor between the Lunette and the Mooncup was that the Mooncup had a moderately stiff ring that was still flexible with enough capacity to be useful.
I ordered it for $24 online, and it came with a cotton carrying bag. I tried a couple of different folding methods after watching the videos on how to use it. Definitely do not cut off the stem before your cycle is over, because your cervix rises as the cycle comes to a close and a shorter stem can make it difficult to remove. You can wiggle it around to make it more comfortable, and it might make you need to urinate a bit more often. To remove, you have to pinch it and break the air hole seal before pulling it out, which is unlike a tampon.
If you’re in public, you can dump it out and put it back in without rinsing, but I generally prefer to rinse it in between uses. I also boil it with vinegar (not bleach, as it’ll damage the silicon from what I’ve heard) to remove the discoloration and potential bacteria in between cycles. I love it! I’ll never use tampons again, that’s for sure. It’s safe for all ages, and lasts for 20 years for $24, which is the best deal I’ve heard of anywhere.
Emily – DivaCup.
Two years ago, after getting tired of shelling out money month after month for organic disposables and being uncomfortable with the associated waste, I impulsively bought a Diva Cup. I understand now that different brands of cups may be better suited for each women’s unique anatomical design, but luckily, the Diva Cup’s size and design fits me well. It only took a few days to learn how to insert and remove the cup, as well as find a leak-proof position. Much to my surprise, I found that using the Diva Cup was no more “gross” than using a tampon. The Diva Cup needs to be changed less frequently than a pad or tampon, usually three times a day. When changed before it is full, it is completely leak-proof, eliminating the need to wear pads. I do, however, wear cloth pads on the first two, heaviest days of my flow as a back-up. A cloth pad is helpful to wear overnight when I am not awake to change the cup.
I am an athlete and I find the Diva Cup to be very comfortable. Since the cup holds a rather large volume (which can be measured using the mL lines imprinted on the side), I can go out for long runs or bike rides without having to worry about changing a pad or tampon. The only less flattering feature of the Diva Cup is having to change it in a public restroom or outdoors. Emptying and reinserting the cup gets your hands a little messy, which is troubling when I am not in the privacy of an individual bathroom with a sink. A tampon or pad is a bit cleaner to change.
Lori – Reusable Instead Softcups
When I was asked by Softcup to try out their product I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. I have a Diva Cup sitting that’s been sitting in the box for a few years. I have birthed children and been using tampons for many years, but I wasn’t sure I could handle putting in a menstrual cup! I was also pretty happy with my box of organic tampons.
The first attempt at putting it in was pretty awkward—to the point where I had tears of laughter streaming down my face. A deep breath was required and it actually helped. My biggest fear was that once it was in it wasn’t coming out.
I’ve been using a menstrual cup on and off for a few months and my learning curve continues. I’m still not perfect at placement (I’m at best awkward), but I’m certainly more comfortable. I’m going to keep on trying since it’s such a simple way to reduce waste and a healthier alternative for my body.
Jennifer Mo is a concerned global citizen and a long time cat/book/tree person. You can follow her green journey at It’s Not Easy to be Green.
Jeanie Witcraft is a therapist who works with young people to resolve mood disorders and communication issues. She is also interested in sustainability and voluntary simplicity. Follow Jeanie on Twitter at @jwitcraft or visit her on the web at www.jwitcraft.com .
Emily is an urban farmer and green living enthusiast. Keep up with Emily’s adventures in gardening, bartering, and reducing her impact at Living Lightly in a Wavering World.
Lori Popkewitz Alper is the founder and editor-in-chief of Groovy Green Livin, a site dedicated to sharing simple green living tips and current information on sustainable living. Lori is a green living educator, social media consulstant, freelancer, blogger, borderline vegan and recovering attorney. She lives in the Greater Boston area with her three sons, chocolate lab and groovy husband.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger