Menstrual cups have been around a LONG time — we’re talking longer than tampons. (For real, the first patent on a period cup was filed before the first patent on a tampon.) But they’ve only recently come to the forefront as a way to supplement your period care. Those who already use menstrual cups feel really, really strongly about them - the word “life-changing” has come up. Instead of having to choose between pads and tampons, menstrual cups add to your options by offering a solution that gives you something different. Of course, that’s not without some important things to consider - plus a tricky learning curve. Here’s what you need to know.
A menstrual cup is a cup made of medical-grade silicone that’s specially designed to fit into your vagina. You insert it during your period so it can collect (rather than absorb) your blood; its edges conform to your vagina so it creates a pretty foolproof seal when it’s inserted properly - more on that in a bit. Then, once you remove it, you can dump out that blood, rinse out your cup with soap and water (or the wipes that are packaged with the cup), and put it back in for another round of period cover. Genius, right? The process should be painless, and the silicone material means you can reuse it month after month for up to 1-year.
There are a few major advantages of using a period cup. The first is that it’s reusable. That not only saves you money in the long run - ka-ching - but you’re also not stuck bumming tampons off your friends if you run out. Instead, you can just rinse, wash, and use it again. You can safely wear a menstrual cup for up to 12 hours, although you may want to switch it up sooner. Unlike pads, it’s invisible and generally sensation-free so long as you’ve inserted it correctly.
The drawback is that it can be tricky to insert properly, especially if you’ve never used one before. Menstrual cups come with a bit of a learning curve that typically takes people a couple cycles to get the hang of, and it’s one that forces you to get up close and VERY personal with your vagina. If you don’t get the seal right once it’s in there, the cup could leak. A menstrual cup is also a little messy: Since you don’t just toss it as you would with pads and tampons, you have to clean it by rinsing it with mild soap and water every time before you reinsert it. That can be hard to do in a public bathroom, and we’re not even including the fact that the cup can make a weird sound as you’re pulling it out.
Like so many things in life, a little practice can go a long way. Here’s how to use a menstrual cup if you’re a first-timer.
Start by taking a deep breath. Then, fold your menstrual cup. There are a few ways to do this, and it all depends on which way you feel most comfortable. The easiest way - and thus a go-to for beginners - is the C-fold, in which you press the cup flat, pinch it in the middle and fold it over so it creates a C shape. (You can watch a demo in our Cup Guide, if you’re more of a visual learner.)
Next, insert the folded cup into your vagina as you would with a tampon. Once you release it, the cup will open up. To make sure it adheres to the wall of your vagina, gently tug on the stem a few times and rotate it in a circle. You shouldn’t be able to feel it once it’s in — and if you do, just take it out and try it again. Practice makes perfect, true, but even people who’ve been using menstrual cups for years need to redo it once or twice to make sure it’s in right.
Once you’re ready to remove your cup, you need to first break the seal. Heads up: Just like inserting it, this process can also take a minute, so don’t sweat if it takes a few tries. It helps to start in a squatting position. First, feel around for the stem. Once you find it, pinch the base of the cup (not the stem) to break the seal and remove it carefully, since the last thing you want is to spill it on your clothes. You can dump the menstrual fluid in the toilet, sink, or shower - whichever is more convenient.
As we mentioned, the thing about menstrual cups is that they can be a little messier than your average tampon. Every time you remove it, you should wash it out with water and soap before inserting it again. (You can also use a wipe if you don’t have access to a sink.) Once your period is over, give your cup a deeper clean by dropping it into a pot of boiling water. Let it hang out there for at least five to seven minutes, dry it completely, and return it to its cute storage case.
Cleaning your menstrual cup is super-important, so make sure to follow the package instructions. And you should replace it every year.
There are no rules when it comes to your period care. You can use a menstrual cup whenever you want, and do so without ditching your tampons and pads - it just depends on what works for you. For instance, a menstrual cup might be great overnight, while a tampon may work better if you know you won’t be able to clean your cup properly between uses (looking at you, grimy public bathrooms). Or maybe you want to use a menstrual cup and a pad at the same time. It’s all good, because becoming a menstrual cup user doesn’t make it the end-all, be-all. You’ve got options!
You can find menstrual cups at your local drugstore or online - seriously, it’s easy to find once you know what to look for. Most menstrual cups, like the Tampax Cup, come in two different sizes. There’s one menstrual cup size for a Regular Flow and another for a Heavy Flow, and you can get both in Tampax’s Menstrual Cup Starter Kit. Since your flow can vary month-to-month and throughout your period it’s your best bet for figuring out the right fit for you. Want to learn more about all things menstrual cups? Visit our Tampax Cups page for more.