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The whats, whys and hows – a guide to a menstrual cups

Bra. toothbrush, bag and menstrual cup sit on girl's table for sustainable period care. A beginner's guide to menstrual cups. Lena Cup pictured
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I don’t usually jump on hype trains. And it’s pretty rare that the word ‘life-changing’ leaves my mouth. But when people start talking periods, I can’t keep my mouth shut about menstrual cups. They’re popular for a reason and I have (almost) nothing but good things to say.

“It’d sound like science fiction if you made it up – mysterious planetary forces making us bleed.” ― Sofka Zinovieff, Putney

What is a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cups are a reusable alternative to traditional period care. It’s a squishy, silicone cup that works much like a tampon, collecting your monthly offerings for easy disposal. Then, you can wash it and use it again!

I’m going to try to make this as informative as possible, but I’ll leave a couple of resources at the end so you can further your research.

How do you use menstrual cups?

How to insert menstrual cups:

To insert, you have the choice of a range of folds. The three main folds are the c-fold, 7-fold and the pinch-down.

How to do the c-fold:

The c-fold is by far the simplest to do, just push one side of the cup towards the other, so it’s folded over itself and looks like a ‘c’. 

How to do the 7-fold:

First, flatten the cup and then create an angle by folding part of the opening of the cup back along its side. Looking from the top down, the cup should resemble a ‘7’.

How to do the pinch-down fold:

Push the centre of the top of the cup down (so the cup is folded in half) and then pull the top towards the base of the cup, making the front thinner and more streamlined.

How to check if your menstrual cup is inserted correctly

Now you’ve inserted it, you’ll need to make sure it’s opened up into its cup shape. Run your finger around the base of the cup and check for any folds or bumps. If it’s smooth the whole way round, you’re good to go! 

Top tip: twist it!

It sounds a little weird, and kind of like a Bop-It ad, but after inserting and positioning your cup, twist it about 180 degrees in one direction, and 180 degrees back. This helps to create the seal around the top of the cup, ensuring it stays in place and nothing passes its defences.

Then, test it by gently pulling on the stem of the cup, you should be met with resistance, showing that it’s happily in place. If it slides at all, the seal has not been created – you may need to position it higher up or try twisting it again to create the seal. 

How to remove a menstrual cup:

Before I say anything else, do not just pull it! To remove a menstrual cup, you’ll need to break the seal that’s been created. Squeeze the bottom of the cup and gently wiggle it to release the seal. It should then remove easily. You can make it easier by lightly folding it in half. Just remember to keep the cup facing up!

Then, pour the tiny red sea into the toilet, rinse your cup with cold water (this helps to reduce discolouration!) and then with warm water and either a specific wash (usually sold by the company you brought the cup from) or an unscented, mild soap. If you’re in a public toilet, just make sure you have a bottle of water on you and rinse it out, give it a fine-wine-esque swirl and you’re good to go.

Which menstrual cup should I buy?

Size

Figuring out the size you need is made pretty simple and every cup brand will have its own size guide to recommend which is suited to you. Most guides will take your age and whether or not you’ve had children into account, some will just concentrate on how heavy your flow is.

Shape

Yes, there are different shapes. Unfortunately, figuring out which would be the right fit for you is a bit of guesswork. They’ll all fit and function, but some shapes will fit more comfortably than others. So if you’re not happy with your first choice, try another.

Design

To some of you, this won’t matter, but for the aesthetically minded among you, you might want a cup that reflects your personality. Most cup-panies (see what I did there?) have a small colour range. From Diva Cup’s 50s Barbie girl vibe to the sleek, vogue-esque FlexCup, there’s a cup to suit every style.

What are the benefits?

Comfort

1. It feels (so so so much) better

Dryness of tampons? Gone. Chaffing of sanitary towels? Forgotten. It’s almost comfy enough to completely forget it’s there – I have, in fact, occasionally forgotten it’s there.

The first week you use it, it might be a little uncomfortable. I found I felt slightly… bruised? the first time I used mine. But it wasn’t a terribly painful or uncomfortable, by any means. And the second round was perfectly fine and has continued to be, so no complaints from me.

2. Hassle free

You don’t have to worry about it half as much. And that was something I greatly underestimated. I didn’t realise how much time I spent counting the hours since I’d last changed, reminding myself to pack extra tampons or pads or panicking about whether your friend’s bathroom has a bin. Now, I can be out all day and the thought doesn’t even cross my mind.

It’s a little finicky to learn how to use at first, but after a few goes, you’ll have the hang of it. Plus, most cups can be worn for up to twelve hours at a time, so it’s possible to go for long periods of time without having to worry about changing it – perfect for long days out.

Less waste

Period care creates a lot of waste. In the UK alone 700,000 liners, 2.5 million tampons and 1.4 million sanitary towels are used every day. It’s a humongous amount of waste, which ends up in landfills or in the sea. So by swapping to something reusable (most companies recommend you use them for 5-10 years) saves so much waste. Which brings me onto my next point…

Save money

Less waste=less cost. Period care can be expensive. And whilst menstrual cups are a little on the pricey side (although there is a large price range), they’re a small upfront cost when you imagine all the money you’re saving.

My personal experience and recommendations:

I bought a Lena Cup (in a size small) as my first cup. The insertion is much easier than I expected. I tend to use the pinch-down fold, as it’s the most streamlined.

The first period I used it for I wore sanitary towels for peace of mind and I’m very glad I did. I could not get it to stop leaking – never enough to do any damage, or get through any layers but enough to make me doubt the product. But, I was just inserting it wrong. After some more research, I found the top tip, I mentioned earlier (twist it!) and that completely fixed it. I haven’t had a leak or another problem since.

The (not so) silly questions

Putting a piece of plastic inside of your body can be a bit of a strange experience and it’s completely normal to feel apprehensive about trying it out. There are some horror stories banging around the internet, but most come from misuse. So, let’s answer some of the more abstract questions that might be plaguing your mind.

Can you wear a menstrual cup at night?

Yes! And what a blessing. As (most) cups can be worn for up to twelve hours, you can sleep in for as long as you like, and not have to worry about changing it.

Can you have penetrative sex whilst wearing a menstrual cup?

There are cups specially designed for this! See the Ziggy Cup by Intima. But, for your average cup, no.

Does changing a menstrual cup make a mess?

This is a very common question. I think most people have pictured a Lady Macbeth style public bathroom situation, but it’s not the case. Because menstrual cups make a seal around the top of the cup, it doesn’t allow any blood to pass that seal. So the bottom of the cup, the part you would be handling when changing it, remains clean. Phew.

Will using a menstrual cup damage an IUD?

There are lots of people who use both a menstrual cup and an IUD. But, it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor before trialling it, to ensure there is enough space between the two devices. So the answer is yes, but speak to a professional first!

Can you exercise with a menstrual cup?

Yes! This is one of the main reasons I love my menstrual cup –  it doesn’t interfere with exercise at all. Everything from swimming, to running, yoga to HIIT. You’re good to go. Squat all you like.

Extra resources:

Beauty Youtuber, Samantha Ravndahl, tested out a few different cups and gave some informative and hilarious videos, here’s the first. These videos eased every apprehension I had about buying a cup, not to mention being extremely fun to watch.

Hopefully that was informative for you! If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below or send me a message on any of my social media (top left of the page) and I’ll make sure to get back to you as quick as possible.

Speak soon, Ella x

The images used in this blog were given to me by the lovely people at lenacup.com

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