What is a Menstruation Cup & What Do I Do With It?

If this is your first foray into menstrual cup information, you’re in luck! If it’s not, you probably know why: menstrual cup advocates can be evangelical in the extreme. People who love reusable menstrual products really love them. For this reason, it’s sometimes very intimidating for someone who’s new to the idea, or for someone who tried but had problems, to find accessible, reliable information.
As a disclaimer: I have a cup, but it doesn’t suit every little bit of my life all the time, so I’m what I like to call a mixed-method menstruator and more than happy to help you figure out which cups to try and what might not work. It’s my job to be able to cheerfully talk about this stuff, of course, but sharing sexual health knowledge is also my awkward-in-certain-circles hobby.
I’m the lady often approached by strangers with questions like, “I heard this thing, about childbirth, and it freaked me out. Is it true?” That said, I’m not the Prophet of Vaginas by any means, and I have no vested interest in what you choose to do with yours, but I do always want to make sure you have as much information as possible.
Below you’ll find some basic information, and I’ll certainly monitor the comments if you have follow-up questions.

Choosing a Cup

Some of the most frequent questions come from people who’ve tried a menstrual cup but found it didn’t work for them, and then gave up. Ultimately, most of the time, the reason their product didn’t work for them was because they weren’t informed about the sometimes vast differences between different brands, and didn’t know what to do when they encountered problems.
Like most things that come up when we’re talking about bodies, it’s important to remember that no single solution will work for every person. Because it’s going to take some knowledge to get this right, especially if you’re hoping to get it right on your first try, my first piece of advice to anyone who asks me about cups is to do your research.
If the idea of researching your menstrual products seems silly, think back: even choosing the “right” pad and tampon for you and your needs probably involved some trial and error, some experimenting with brands, styles, and absorbencies to get it as close to what you wanted as you could.
The same is true of reusable products, but for many, the up-front price tag makes it harder to think this way. Because most of us who purchase reusable products are hoping to not have to purchase any more for quite a long time, researching before you buy is key. The first three things you might consider are:
Sizing: most brands have at least two sizes, with a larger cup for those who have given birth or have wider vaginal canals. This sizing usually (but not always) refers to the width of the cup at its opening, rather than the amount of fluid it holds. You want to make sure the mouth of the cup will be able to form a seal against the vaginal walls and covering your cervix completely.
Depth: various brands come in different depths, or lengths. Women with cervixes that sit low, especially during their periods, will want a shallower cup than women whose cervixes are generally difficult for them to reach. Word to the wise: if you commonly insert tampons shallowly, or can’t wear them at all, because you can feel them against your cervix, a deeper cup is probably not for you!
Firmness: some cups are more flexible than others. Many women prefer a firm cup, but using a firmer cup also means fewer options for folds. If you suspect you may have a hard time inserting your cup for any reason, a more flexible cup is probably a better option for you. If you ever have trouble inserting higher-absorbency tampons because of their size, consider a more flexible cup to allow you more options for finding a fold that’s comfortable to insert.
I’ll give you an example: the Diva Cup, which is one of the most recognized brands on the North American market, is both very firm and very deep. If you have a low cervix or are worried about insertion, the Diva may not be for you, as it’s harder to fold and harder to get a good seal across a low-set cervix.
The Diva generally works well, however, for women with higher cervixes who are willing to try several different folds to find one that works for them.
The MeLuna, on the other hand, comes in a wider range of sizes, with the smaller end of the range being much shallower than the Diva, and tends to be more flexible. If you have a low cervix and need to be able to try more folding options, a MeLuna might be a better choice.
For brand advice and really any questions you might have, I can’t recommend the Menstrual-Cups Livejournal Community highly enough. It’s an active, long-running community of people with varying levels of knowledge, and it’s tag-curated in a way that makes it very easy to navigate. It’s a great research jumping-off point for everything I’m discussing here.
You can also find more size comparison photos (and just photos in general) as well as another discussion and troubleshooting board here.

Using a Cup

Using a cup is only a little bit less tricky than choosing one, but it does generally take some trial and error. Most brands recommend you give your first couple of tries on days when you don’t need to worry about leaks, because you’re likely to have a couple before you get the hang of it.
The first thing you’ll usually want to do is try to come up with a few options for folds, which is another place that LiveJournal Community I linked above can really come in handy.
They cover the common ones and dozens that people have come up with on their own. When considering folds, think about how tricky it will be to do with slippery silicone, how wide the folded cup is going to be, and how tricky it might be to get your particular cup to open up once inserted.
Once you’ve picked a fold, you will want to rinse the cup in warm water to make it easier to insert. Try your fold—it might take a couple of tries to get it right!—and insert the cup much the way you would a tampon that didn’t have an applicator.
You want to get it high enough that it’s comfortable at the vaginal opening without getting it far enough in that it opens alongside rather than across the opening of your cervix (this is where that depth consideration comes into play!).
Once it’s in, you want to pinch the base until it “pops” open into its full cup shape—you don’t want it to be folded or compressed, although with more flexible cups it can be trickier to tell the difference between the cup being misshapen because of a bad seal or because it’s just more flexible.
Once it’s open, most types will tell you to give the cup at least a half-turn to make sure it’s sealed all the way around.
To remove the cup, insert a finger and gently break the seal at the upper edge of the cup. This usually doesn’t require you to insert your finger especially far, but you do want to make sure the seal is broken before you try to remove the cup. Once you’ve broken the seal, gently pinch the bottom and pull the cup out.
It will probably take some practice to get this right, so if you’re more comfortable, it’s often easiest to do it squatting in the shower the first few times.
That way it’s easier to find the right insertion position for you, and you also don’t have to worry about spills when you remove it. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to remove the cup without spilling until you’re ready to dump the liquid altogether.

So Just How Do I Keep This Puppy Clean?

There are several things to consider when it comes to cup cleaning. The first is how you’ll clean the cup while you’re on your period.
Most cups can easily hold a full work day’s flow, as long as you’ve gotten a good seal, so although changing the cup in public can seem stressful at first, most people don’t end up having to do it all that often, but there are a few particular tips and tricks for cleaning the cup in public restrooms that are worth knowing! Cleaning at home is much simpler, but sterilizing your cup between cycles is another thing you want to know about.
When you’re at home and on your period, you generally only have to rinse your cup with water, although if it makes you more comfortable you can use a mild, unscented soap. There are also several products on the market (some sold by cup makers themselves) for cleaning your cup.
When you’re not at home and you have to use a restroom with stalls, the most common suggestion is to carry a bottle of water (if you happen to have a postpartum peri bottle leftover, those can be excellent for this purpose) and just rinse lightly before reinserting. If you have a private sink, of course, the same basic guidelines apply for home cleaning.
Between periods, you want to be sure to sterilize your cup. Again, there are some products on the market for this, but the easiest and most cost-effective way is to boil your cup. Most of them will come with instructions for how long the cup should be boiled so you don’t compromise the integrity of the materials, but it’s usually only a few minutes.
Once it’s clean, store the cup in a dry place to avoid any mold or bacterial growth, and if you’re worried that your storage space isn’t ideal, you can always sterilize it again before your next use.
If you’re living in a shared space or don’t have access to a private stove, you can find more information (geared towards dorm living) here.
Those are just the basics, of course. If you find you’re having trouble and you’re not sure if it’s something you’re doing or some mismatch between your cup and your body, and you’re not sure where to turn, feel free to ask questions in the comments! (written by Anna)

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