Menstrual cups

woman with menstrual cup

Menstrual cups are an eco-friendly, safe and convenient alternative to tampons and sanitary pads. If you think you might like to give one a go, read on to find out about the pros and cons, choosing one that’s right for you, how to use yours and solutions to common problems

Periods. They’re a fact of life. One we’d much rather do without, but a fact of life all the same. It’s not just the period itself, either, it’s all the other stuff, like having to schlep to the shop in the rain to buy tampons and sanitary towels and then actually remember to put them in your various bags. It’s not having cash on you to buy an emergency tampon from the overpriced machine in the public loo (£2? For two tampons?!) It’s having to find a way to sneak your bag into the toilet when you’re out for dinner, then hating yourself for it, because why should women feel they have to do that, anyway?

So, if there’s anything at all that can make periods a little bit easier, then we’re up for trying it. Which is where menstrual cups come in. They’re cheaper in the long run than tampons and sanitary towels, easy to use (with a little practice) and you can leave them in for up to 12 hours (which means you don’t have to worry about changing yours when you’re out and about – hoorah!) They’re also better for the environment, as most are reusable, and are a good option when travelling.

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped cup that you insert into your vagina during your period to collect your menstrual blood. They are usually made of medical grade silicone (so they are safe for use inside the vagina) and are shaped like a bell with a stem. The stem is for removing the cup and cannot be felt if the cup is inserted properly.

How to use a menstrual cup

folding menstrual cup

If you’ve ever used a tampon, especially the non-applicator kind, then you shouldn’t find it too difficult to get the hang of putting in your chosen cup. If you’ve ever used a diaphragm for contraception, then you should have even less difficulty.

Put simply, you need to fold the cup, aim it towards the back of your vagina (as you would a tampon) and give it a little push. When aimed correctly, the cup should draw itself up and form a seal with your vaginal wall.

Find the most relaxed position for you to insert it. For me it's just sitting down on the toilet.

To take your cup out, you need to pinch the base between two fingers, which will break the seal, before gently pulling the cup out by the stem. You can then empty out the blood into the toilet, rinse it out, and put it back in.

In practice, this can take a bit of getting used to. Most good cups come with a clear guide on how to fold, insert and remove them. Most instructions also come with a diagram.

What size menstrual cup do I need?

Vaginas come in different shapes and sizes. Although there isn’t a cup to suit each and every combination of these, most brands do offer at least two cup sizes. Not ideal, given how unique our bodies are, but better than nowt.

Choosing the right size is a little bit like choosing a new pair of shoes. Except it’s mostly not like that because, unlike a pair of shoes, you can’t go into a shop and try a menstrual cup out for size.

Luckily, most brands provide some guidance on their packaging and website about which size should work for you. Your cup size will depend on various factors, including your age, lifestyle, bladder function and how heavy your periods tend to be.

Which menstrual cup is best for me?

I bought a Mooncup about nine years ago and haven’t looked back.

Choosing a cup can seem like a bit of a tricky task, especially when there are a fair few to choose from. It’s worth remembering, though, that although cups do vary in shape, size and style, the differences are fairly minimal. You’re probably not about to get out a ruler to measure the height of your cervix – and nor should you have to – so just go with the one you think sounds about right.

These are some cup recommendations (but ultimately it’s up to you which you feel will fit you best):

For beginners

Try the Lunette cup.

For beginners with a heavy flow

Try the Super Jennie

If you don't know what size you need

Try the Fun Factory Cup Explore Kit – it contains two cups of different sizes, so you can try out both

If you want something A LOT of women use

Try a Mooncup or Diva Cup

Pros of menstrual cups

woman playing tennis

They’re cheaper

Although cups can be a bit pricier than buying, say, a packet of tampons, they last for a long time (some up to 12 years), making them much cheaper in the long run. Depending on which one you buy, you might see a saving in your first couple of periods – which means money saved to spend on other, more exciting things, like gin.

They’re good for the environment

Unlike tampons and pads that are made of trees and end up in landfill, most cups are reusable, so are pretty good runners in the green stakes.

Arguably, they’re safer

When you use a tampon, there’s the risk of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but serious condition. The risk of TSS is lower when you use a cup. However, it is recommended that you clean out your cup after 12 hours of use at most, just to be safe.

No odour

Unlike pads and tampons, cups do not allow your menstrual blood to come into contact with air. As such, you’re less likely to experience any odours.

No dryness

A cup doesn’t absorb blood – it collects it. This means that it does not cause vaginal dryness in the same way a tampon can. It also means that healthy bacteria in your vagina are allowed to thrive, so you’ll be less likely to get an infection.

They’re more comfortable

Many women find cups more comfortable than tampons or pads. Because they are made of soft silicone, they move and work with your body in a way that rigid tampons and scratchy pads don’t. When inserted correctly, you won’t notice it’s there.

They protect you for longer

It is a game-changer – SO much more convenient.

Depending on how heavy your period is and which which menstrual cup you use, you can keep yours in for up to 12 hours without emptying it. Compared to the average use time of four to eight hours for tampons and pads, a cup provides a much longer period (pun intended) of protection. You can even sleep with one in, avoiding the 6.30am must-run-to-the-loo-to-change-my-tampon dash…because since when should a period curtail your lie-in?

Fewer leaks

Once you get used to using your cup, you’ll probably find that you experience few to no leaks. This is due to the tight seal that is formed between the cup and your vaginal wall – that blood isn’t going anywhere. They also hold up to a third more blood than tampons and pads, so are much less likely to get overfull.

Good for active sports and travelling

If your day involves sports or travelling, it’s a real advantage not to have to think about multiple pad or tampon changes. The joy of a cup is that you can put it in in the morning and forget about it until the evening (although do check the packaging for exactly how many hours you can keep yours in for) which means one less thing to think about.

You can have sex with a disposable menstrual cup in

Reusable cups are NOT meant to be worn during sex, as they’re thicker and more durable. However, disposable ones are fine to use when you’re having sex, as they’re thinner and move more with your body.

Cons of menstrual cups

coin purse

They’re more expensive

Depending on which ones you choose, a menstrual cup can set you back anywhere up to about £25. Although it does work out significantly cheaper in the long run compared to buying tampons, we can’t deny that it’s a hefty chunk of cash to spend on a sanitary product. Let’s just say it might not be your most exciting buy ever, but it could just be your most useful.

They’re a bit fiddly

When you first try to use a cup, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend longer than usual in the loo. You may find yourself reading the instructions three times over and still wondering just how you’re going to get it up there. But with a bit of patience and practice, it will all fit into place (ahem).

They can be messy

As they don’t absorb blood but instead collect it, things can get a little messy when it comes to taking them out. It doesn't take long to get into the routine of quick insertion/removal.

You have to rinse them out between uses

You’ll want to clean your cup between taking it out and putting it back in. If you don't want to use the sink to do this when you're in a public toilet, you can always bring a bottle of water in with you to rinse it out. It feels like a bit of a faff, but the buzz of knowing you're doing awesome things for the environment makes it worthwhile (kind of).

They require deep cleaning

It's best to give your cup a good ol' clean between each period. You can use a steriliser if you've already got one, or just put the cup into a saucepan of boiling water and leave it for a few minutes. You should do this before your first use, too.

Menstrual cup FAQs

How long can you leave a menstrual cup in?

Most brands suggest that you can leave your cup in for up to 12 hours. You should check the packaging/website for the recommended maximum time you can leave yours in for. If you have a particularly heavy flow, you might feel like you want to change yours more regularly than usual, if only for peace of mind.

Can you wear menstrual cups overnight?

As long as you do not leave it in for longer than the time detailed on the packaging, you can sleep with it in. Because cups tend to be very comfortable, you may find that you prefer sleeping with it in than with, say, a sanitary pad.

Where do you buy menstrual cups?

You can buy them from most pharmacies, many supermarkets and lots of online retailers.

Can you pee with a menstrual cup in?

You can pee and poo with one in. Unlike tampons, cups don't have a long string, so there's no chance of unwanted, lingering bacteria.

Can you have intercourse with a menstrual cup in?

You cannot have sex when using a reusable cup. They are too rigid and it would not be safe. However, you can buy disposable ones that can be worn during sex. You should check the packaging to make sure yours is marked as being safe for use during sex.

Can you go swimming with a menstrual cup in?

Yes, you can. In fact, many women find that a menstrual cup gives them better protection from leaks than tampons.

Are menstrual cups better than tampons?

There are many reasons to love menstrual cups, and we think they're worth giving a go. Ultimately, though, it comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer pads to tampons, some prefer tampons to pads. In the same way, some people will prefer cups, some won't.

Can you wear a menstrual cup when you're not on your period?

If you are expecting your period to start, you can wear your cup in anticipation of it. Likewise, you can keep using it until your period is completely over, unlike with tampons where you often have to rely on pads for the last day or so.

Can you use a menstrual cup if you use an intrauterine device (IUD, or coil)?

The short answer is yes, you can. However, if you wish to use both together, bear the following in mind:

  • There should always be a space between the cup and the cervix. If you have a low-sitting cervix there may not be enough room for your cup to sit safely and work properly alongside your IUD
  • Place the cup low down in the vagina and ensure you have an adequate seal
  • Always release the seal before removing your cup
  • After each period, check you can still feel the IUD strings. If you cannot feel them or think that your IUD has moved or is causing you pain, use another form of contraception such as a condom until you see the doctor, who will be able to check your IUD is still properly in place

Are menstrual cups safe?

When used correctly, they are completely safe.

One of the worries with incorrect use is that you might forget to take it out at all, given that you can keep it in for up to 12 hours. If you feel like you need to, it can be an idea to set a reminder on your phone reminding you to change it.

Troubleshooting – menstrual cup problems solved

It takes a while to get used to but I wouldn't go back now.

Help! I can't get my menstrual cup in

Just like with tampons, it can take a little while to get used to inserting your cup. If you try and don't succeed, don't stress. Carry on using your usual pads or tampons and give it a go another go the next day or next period.

I can't get my menstrual cup out

If you can't reach your cup to get it out, it is probably sitting a bit too high. Take a deep breath and do a series of small, downward pushes with your vaginal muscles. This should encourage the cup to move down far enough for you to reach the stem, break the seal and remove the cup.

I don't want to rinse out my cup in a public toilet – what can I do?

While we're all for waving the period flag, it's also OK not to want to wash out your menstrual cup in the sinks of a public loo. If you know you'll need to change yours while you're out and about, bring a bottle of water with you to rinse out your cup over the toilet. Alternatively, try to time your change so that you don't need to change yours when you're out.

I can still feel the stem when I have inserted my menstrual cup – what should I do?

You may find that no matter how many times you insert your cup, you still find that you can feel the stem digging in. It may be the case that you have a low-sitting cervix. Just remove the cup, trim the stem a little bit and reinsert. If you need to trim off a little more, make sure you remove the cup before doing so.

I’m just really sorry I left it so late in life to discover them.

I love, love, love my squishy friend. I’ve had it for several years now and will never go back to any other sort of sanitary product. I work, travel, do sports and just generally do everything in my life as normal with it.

I love mine! No monthly expense, no landfill, no mess like with pads and no dryness like with tampons.

I found inserting and removing fiddly initially but once you get the hang of it, it’s much easier and more convenient and much less likely to leak.