7 Important Factors to Know Before Going For Menstrual Cups
You've probably heard the buzz surrounding menstrual cups lately—from natural health blogs to TV shows (check out the clip below from Younger, where Hilary Duff asks Sutton Foster to remove hers), they're the latest and greatest in period protection. But the most recent trend in “feminine hygiene” isn't actually that new at all. They've been around since the mid-1900s, and women here in the U.S. are rediscovering the small silicone devices as a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to tampons and pads.
They're pretty much exactly what they sound like: Small cups that are inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual blood, says Jen Gunter, M.D., director of pelvic pain and vulvovaginal disorders at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco. Sure, it's a simple concept, but despite the resurgence they've had lately, they're still a little confusing (and even taboo).
When it comes to what you do when Aunt Flo comes to town, it’s all about personal preference. But if you’re intrigued about menstrual cups, here are a few important factors to consider.
1. They’re Eco-Friendly
As it turns out, period products generate a ton of trash, so cutting back on the amount you toss out can make a big difference in your ecological footprint. Menstrual cups can last for three to four years, says Gunter, meaning way less waste in the long run.
2. They’re Easy On Your Budget
Considering how much you spend on tampons or pads over the course of three to four years, a $30 menstrual cup sounds pretty cheap in comparison. Say you dole out $10 a month on your go-to product for four years, shelling out $480—using a menstrual cup instead means an extra $450 in your pocket. Hello, new shoes.
3. You Can Buy ‘Em In Different Sizes
Most brands have two: One for women under 30 and who've never been pregnant, the other for women over 30. Either way, it's pretty much impossible for one to be too large. "They're not very big—maybe three to four centimeters across, and they collapse," says Gunter. "The vagina is built to stretch."
4. Practice Makes Perfect
They're pretty simple to insert, says Gunter, but "there's a little bit of a learning curve with taking them out, just to make sure you're not spilling." Sounds icky at first, perhaps—but rest assured, you'll get the hang of it after a few times, she says. And you shouldn't feel a menstrual cup hanging out inside of you—just like a tampon, if it's uncomfortable, it's in the wrong spot, says Gunter.
5. The Risks Are Similar To Tampons
"The concern with all insertable menstrual products is toxic shock syndrome," says Gunter. So that warning you notice on your Tampax box? It applies here, too—and there has been a case report with a menstrual cup, published in the July/August 2015 issue of the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology. TSS is rare, but make sure you're following the instructions by removing and cleaning it at least every 12 hours (it's unlikely you'd fill it up before then).
6. Cleaning Is Key
Although it's pretty low maintenance for 12 hours at a time, you do have to make sure you're cleaning it correctly when you take it out. "You're supposed to wash it with oil-free, unscented soap every 12 hours," says Gunter. If you're in a public restroom, rinse it off with drinkable water or wipe it out with a tissue (not a feminine wipe, which can irritate your vag), and wash it the next time you get a chance. Give it an extra-thorough wash at the end of every cycle, or boil it in a pot of water for five to 10 minutes, suggests Gunter.
7. They’re Completely Sanitary
Contrary to popular belief, menstrual cups aren't "gross." If you're taking care of it correctly, they're just as sanitary as any other product—maybe even more so because they don't sit in your trash can or clog up your pipes, says Gunter. If the ickiness factor has you on the fence, the benefits might make you reconsider.