Menstrual Cups

Fair warning for anyone who followed a direct link - I'm talking about PERIODS, and you may know me in real life. Feel free to stop reading if that doesn't sound like your idea of fun.

This FAQ was all written by me, one person. It is as painstakingly accurate as I could make it, but it should not be taken as the official word from any companies or communities.


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This FAQ was written to be read through in order, but for those of you who came looking for something in particular, here's a page summary:

Why use them? | Who makes them? | Safety | Who can use them? | Will they stretch me out? | Which brand is the best? | What if I have an IUD? | More resources | Basic tips | Contact me


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Firstly, why are you babbling about this?

As an 'alternative' product, there's a lot of evangelism surrounding it. I'm not trying to do that, in fact, I'm trying very hard not to do that. If people don't like the idea, I'm not about to argue. But I do think it's a shame that lots of them just don't know it exists.


Okay, right. Indeed, I do not know what these 'menstrual cups' are of which you speak.

They're a reusable menstrual product, worn internally like a tampon, only instead of absorbing blood a cup just catches it. You tip it out, rinse, and reinsert.


Reinsert? ...ew?

That's the typical initial reaction, yes.


So, er... why?

Advantages of menstrual cups:

* Hold more fluid than the most heavy duty pads and tampons
* Safe to wear for longer than tampons
* No association with TSS
* Worn internally so you can swim/run/etc with no problems
* Non porous and so do not dry you out
* Made of medical grade silicone, easily sterilised
* Cheap: they pay for themselves within a few months, and last over a decade
* Much better for the environment than disposables
* Can start using them before your period has started, without wasting any disposables or hurting yourself removing a dry tampon


Okay. Disadvantages, then?

* Initial cost
* Can take a while to get the hang of
* ummm...


Hmm. If they're that wonderful, why haven't I heard of them?

Well... shops don't often carry them. I mean, an initial purchase of £18 but then they won't see you again for a decade. Not exactly in their interests. And since the concept is so alien, people are unlikely to buy them unless they specifically came in looking for them.

The cup companies are small and generally rely on word of mouth. I'm sure it'll grow eventually. In the meantime, you can buy them online, or find them in some health food shops and in larger Boots branches in the UK.


What companies are these?

Lots! Here in the UK we have our very own Mooncup, based in Brighton. There's also the Divaup which is made in Canada, and the new and relatively unknown Lunette in Finland. These are all made from medical grade silicone. There is also the Keeper, which is made of latex.

*UPDATE* The Keeper Company have recently released a new silicone cup, called the Moon Cup or Mooncup variously on different sites. Just to add to the fun I'm sure.

What does this mean for you? Just make sure you're buying the one you want, whichever that is, because there seems to be some confusion, and people are sometimes not getting the brand they were expecting. I suggest buying from the companies themselves instead of ebay or other resellers.


What about safety?

What about it?


Silicone cups can be completely sterilised by boiling, or by using sterilising solution. That makes them cleaner than pretty much anything else that is going to go up there. Remember, tampons, fingers etc are far from sterile.

As I said earlier, they are nonporous and not hospitable to nasties, so during your period simply rinsing it well is perfectly acceptable. Between periods you can clean it more thoroughly, or even sterilise it if you prefer.


They look kind of... large.

Yes, they do look a little intimidating. However, remember that to insert, you fold them in on themselves to a surprisingly small shape (that isn't even the smallest fold out there), and they're very smooth so they slide. You only open it inside you, and you can't feel it there.


Hmm. That sounds like it could go wrong.

It does take a little practice to get it to sit right with no leaks - typically one period, but taking longer is not unusual. That said, plenty of people get it right first try (generally, the ones who know their insides well). But it's really not that difficult to get the hang of, and initially you can practice in the shower so you don't need to worry about mess.


My periods are really heavy. Will it cope?

Far better than disposables, yes. You will need to change it more often than most people, but less often than with pads etc. Being in this situation myself, I would like to say that the Mooncup has made my life better in various subtle ways, such as not having to keep track of in which direction I cross my legs and all that sort of thing. Plus, not bleeding all over chairs and mattresses. That's fairly useful.


...My period is really light, why should I bother?

Since menstrual cups do not dry you out at all, they are more comfortable than tampons when you have a light flow. You'll also probably only need to empty it once a day when you're in the shower, you lucky bastard, so you can just forget you're on your period at all. It's also still much cheaper in the long run, and definitely better for the enviromnent, so you should get the warm fuzzies.


Okay, anyone you think these aren't suitable for?

Well. They're certainly a bit of a... hands on... approach. They require a little more contact with yourself than tampons. If the idea makes you uncomfortable or stressed out, this is probably not the method for you.

If you're theoretically comfortable, but just lack experience with inserting anything at all, then you might find your first attemps a bit tricky. It's very possible, you've just got more to learn all at once. I suggest you get comfortable with your own fingers before you try anything more (that includes tampons, cups, and sex).

If you have an intact hymen and care about it, it is probably best to avoid cups and tampons (and fingers... and sex!).


They are kind of big, though. Will using one make me 'loose'?


Otherwise known as: no.

That's not how your vagina works. It is a muscle. It is very difficult to get it to mold.


So which cup is the BEST? (this question easily wins the 'most frequently asked' award!)

The silicone cups are all very similar. I used to say just buy whichever one is local to you, and that's still pretty much sound advice. The differences between them are very small, and most people get on with the first cup they buy. Whether they would have found it easier with a different cup becomes a moot point, as they don't buy a second to find out.

Occasionally someone will try a different brand, either out of sheer curiosity or because they were having trouble with the one they own. So far, all the cases I know of (around twenty) have been in favour of the UK Mooncup over the Divacup - I have not seen a single case going the other way. The Lunette is newer, but of the couple of comparisons available, it too is preferred over the Diva.

However: 1) there are simply fewer Mooncup and Lunette users out there, only about half as many together as Diva Cup users, and 2) this represents only a small percentage of Diva Cup users, most of whom get on with it fine and thus do not buy a second cup.

I don't recommend the latex Keeper. It is more difficult to clean, and you run a risk of developing a latex allergy and having to buy a silicone cup in a few years anyway (not to mention the inconvenience that will cause with condoms). As yet not enough people have used the silicone Keeper for me to comment on it as a product, but the current consensus is that it's very similar to the UK Mooncup. Personally, I would avoid the company entirely, as over the years there have been lots of issues with their customer service and ethics (this new fun with the Moon Cup name is an addition to a lengthy list of annoyances).


What if I have an IUD?

Tricky question. All the reusable cup companies say their cups are safe to use with an IUD. Reusable menstrual cups are worn low in the vagina, and thus theoretically should cause no problems. (I specify reusable, because there is a brand of disposable 'softcups' called insteads, which are worn around the cervix, and which should definitely NOT be used with an IUD).

That said, while there are a lot of successful cup users with IUDs, there have also been a few stories of people pulling out their IUD with their cup - generally by accidentally pulling on the IUD strings along with the cup, and one from just pulling the IUD out with the suction of the cup.

Since no real research has been done, it is impossible to say just how risky using a cup with an IUD is - it probably also varies with your individual anatomy and habits. In the end, it's up to you to make your own risk assessment. If you already use a cup and are considering getting an IUD, then you're in a very good position to guess whether combining the two would work for you.

If you already have an IUD and are considering getting a cup, then be aware that there is a risk, and I would assume a greater one at first when you are fumbling around in a n00bish manner.

If you are going to use an IUD and menstrual cup together:

* ask your doctor/clinic to trim the strings short
* wear the cup low
* avoid removing the cup if you're very tired, distracted or otherwise out of it, as this is when the vast majority of problems seem to happen
* make sure to break the seal before tugging on the cup
* you may want to stick to pads for the first few months after getting an IUD inserted, as generally speaking that's when risk of expulsion is greatest
* check your IUD strings regularly


I am intrigued! Where can I go for more info?

The official sites have some useful FAQs, so that's a good place to start. There are also a couple of groups on Yahoo that have been recommended to me, although I haven't yet checked them out myself so can't vouch. The best place I've found is this Livejournal community. You don't need to be a LJ user to read most of the posts, although you do have register in order to post. Look at the memories. They will probably answer all your questions. If they do not, then look at the tags. If those do not, then post!

We're very nice, I promise. It's just that we've heard it all before, so do everyone a favour and read around first.


Any tips for a first time user?

If you're tense, things are unlikely to go well. Do whatever it takes to get you relaxed.

Using lube your first couple of times can be handy.

The punchdown fold is much more noob friendly than just folding it in half like the instructions say.

Trying different folds can be helpful - this post demonstrates all the ones I've ever heard of (on a latex Keeper).

If the stem is in any way bothering you, cut it off, in increments if you feel cautious. When it's the right length, you won't be able to feel it at all.

The cup should 'seal' when it opens. This is what stops it from leaking. Tug it very slightly and you should feel it resist.


I'm not convinced.

That's fine. If you have any questions though feel free to ask - email me, any of the cup companies, or post on Livejournal.


Are we done yet?

Yep, I think so. Let me know if I have persuaded you, that would be very cool. I would also be a very happy recipient of any random cup stories or news.