Menstrual Cup Basics

I’ve had several readers send me articles and/or questions about menstrual cups over the last couple months. I didn’t know too much about them off the top of my head from a research perspective - and prior to about 3 weeks ago I had never used one either. There are tons of Youtube channels and blogs devoted to menstrual cups. But one thing I learned as I worked on this post is that they are mostly anecdotal, meaning a woman tries all different cups and then relays that info. Which is great! But let’s explore some of the science/research behind this new trend in women’s hygiene. 

The first menstrual cup was made in 1867. Surprising! I heard about this little cup for that first time maybe a year ago. But actually, it’s been around for quite a while. The earliest research I could find about cups dates back to 1959. The first commercial cup was made in 1937. These early cups were made of rubber! 

A sketch of a prototype for the first menstrual cup. 

To be honest I don't even know what is supposed to go where in that figure, but since then the cup has undergone a transformation. Now cups come in all different shapes, sizes, and types of firmness. 

Newer studies have focused on the use of menstrual cups in cultures where periods are considered shameful and dirty. In these countries, access to what we consider “normal” items such as pads and tampons is limited. Many females often resort to rags and other absorptive materials and face difficulties in cleaning and disposing of such items in a sanitary way. For these women, menstrual cups are an excellent alternative as they are reusable, washable, and last for 12 hours before they need to be changed. 

One study in the United States found that: 

Women preferred the cup to their usual method of sanitary protection in comfort, dryness/irritation, odor, length of wear, and interference with various activities. In addition, they were more satisfied with cup performance on light flow days. The cup received a lower rating than their current method in convenience and disposal; leakage was rated as slightly lower. However, women preferred the cup overall.

This study also found that 60-80% of women in the study switched to the cup after a couple months of use. 

Pros

Most cups are made out of a medical grade silicone and are reusable for years. While it might be a higher upfront cost when you buy your first cup, it will save you $$$ in the long run! Also, having a monthly reusable option is environmentally friendly. Another big bonus is that you can wear a cup for up to 12 hours before changing it. For women with a heavier flow who change tampons/pads frequently, this is a real blessing! On video/blog reviews, some women say that it helped with their cramps or decreased the length/amount of their periods. However, I did not come across research. 

Cons

A downside for some women is that you need to be REAL comfortable with your period, like actually touching the fluids coming out of your body. It also takes a couple tries to get used to inserting it comfortably. Overall there are relatively few potential side effects.

A study on the effectiveness of Softcup (a disposable feminine hygiene cup) with 20-40 year old women found these side effects:  

  • 4 women had cramping with the cup which went away once the cup was removed.
  • 2 had difficulty in removal 
  • 2 had "alleged allergic reactions"
  • 1 vaginal infection
  • 1 TSS concern (a women reported it but wasn't tested for it)
  • 1 complaint that the cup wore through the vaginal wall, damaging an artery that required surgical repair

Update (2/18/18): Softcup is actually a different type of feminine hygiene product than a menstrual cup, so to compare the two would be like comparing apples to oranges. The Softcup sits behind the pubic bone and does not suction to the cervix. A menstrual cup suctions to the cervix. I apologize for the mix up! 

I've also heard reports of women "losing" a tampon or cup, but don't worry, the vagina isn't a bottomless pit or black hole, you can't just lose anything. You can have something move up so high that you can't reach it with your hand and may need to see a doctor to have it removed.

LLK RealTalk

So in the name of science and this blog, I decided to get a cup and try it out myself! I watched PreciousStarPad’s Youtube videos and read http://menstrualcupreviews.net/ I also read Amazon reviews. I ended up ordering the Lunette Model 1 off of Amazon along with the Lunette cleanser. I’ve also seen cups in Target, Walmart, CVS, etc although they had a very limited collection. I got this cup because it had great reviews and is a medium firmness. I got the Model 1 because I’m younger, haven’t had a baby, have a high cervix and a light to moderate flow. (Note: I can easily go 4-6 hours between changing a tampon and during the last 2 days of my period it’s basically just spotting). For a quick guide about choosing a good menstrual cup, watch this video

When my cup came in, I was shocked by how small it looked! I guess I expected it to be bigger. This cup is also a soft silicone and easy to bend, but it “pops” right back into it’s shape which is why it’s considered a medium firmness. 

Lunette Model 1 cup - available at on  Amazon

Lunette Model 1 cup - available at on Amazon

I definitely recommend watching videos on different fold techniques and whatever you do, GET LUBE. I figured that my period would be lubrication enough… and I was wrong. I was able to insert the cup on my second try. I slept in it and after a minute or so I couldn’t feel it at all, just like a tampon. I slept with it all night and honestly, it was great. I didn’t cut the stem the first night because I wasn’t sure if it would get higher as I sleep, which is common. Sure enough, the next morning it was much higher and I could reach the stem right away. I’d watched a video on this so I didn’t panic - I just got into a deep squat and bore down (just for a second or two in order to grab the stem).

I loved the cup and would definitely use it again.  I think it’s a nice alternative and has it’s pros and cons, just like other sanitary products. If it’s something you’re interested in, I suggest trying it and if you don’t like it then go back to what works for you.

Note: This is NOT a sponsored post and neither is the Amazon link to the cup. 

Resources: 

Preclinical, Clinical, and Over-the-Counter Postmarketing Experience with a New Vaginal Cup: Menstrual Collection. Journal of Women's Health 2011, available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3036176/ 

FLOW (finding lasting options for women): Multicentre randomized controlled trial comparing tampons with menstrual cups. Canadian Family Physician 2011 available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3114692/

Acceptability and performance of the menstrual cup in South Africa: a randomized crossover trial comparing the menstrual cup to tampons or sanitary pads. Journal of Women's Health 2015 available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25682816