Menstrual Cups: Are They for You?

You’ve probably heard of menstrual cups, and maybe you even have vague notions of why you wouldn’t use one. Before I say anything more, I will admit that they’re not for everyone. We all deal with our lady times in different ways, and there are plenty of legit reasons why someone might prefer a non-cup method. But I find that the main reasons women don’t try menstrual cups are 1) they’ve never heard of them, and 2) they think they’re gross. So I’m going to tell you why they’re not gross, and then you can make your own decisions after that, obvz, because you’re a grown-ass woman.

So, what precisely is a menstrual cup? It’s a little container made out of silicone or latex rubber that holds about an ounce of, um, euphemistic blue Kotex-commercial liquid — okay, fuck it, period blood. (I know an ounce seems like practically nothing, but your whole period only involves three or four ounces, so you don’t have to worry about it overflowing.) Popular brands include DivaCup and MoonCup, precluding the possibility that you could possibly retain any dignity when asking where they are kept in the store.

Here is the basic deal:

-When you’re on your period, you put it in like a tampon (sort of).

-Twice a day, you take it out and empty the blood out into the sink, toilet, or tub.

-At least one of those times, you wash it with soap.

-After your cycle ends, you briefly boil it in a pot of water. (I take the Internet’s advice and just rinse mine with diluted rubbing alcohol, but the DivaCup website explicitly says not to do that, so.)

The cup can be kind of intimidating at first, mainly because it seems difficult and icky. But — hear me out, here — there are plenty of good reasons to make the switch.

To start, there are the two advantages that apply to most hippie shit: it’s cheaper, and it’s better for the environment. A cup usually costs between $20 and $40, but you can use it for years. You probably spend more than that on tampons and pads in just a few months — and you generate pounds of landfill waste with those. With a cup, you don’t throw anything away except, like, your preconceived notions about the menstrual cycle, man.

The cheapness and eco-friendliness are rad, of course, but those two things alone probably don’t merit taking the plunge for most people, because most people are used to their routine (even if they hate it), and they think the cup will be a pain. And it is, at first, because it takes some getting used to. You have to hone your removal technique if you don’t want your bathroom to end up looking like a murder scene. Putting a cup in is even trickier. People actually trade tips online about how to best fold them before you insert them. (I’m sorry, “insert” was seriously the least graphic word I could come up with there.) But the whole folding ordeal is really nothing the instructions in the box can’t help you figure out. Just think of it like vaginal origami. Actually, probably don’t think of it like that — although, little known fact, folding 1000 DivaCups into cranes does make one wish come true.

Once you have the hang of it, the cup is super comfortable. Some women even say it reduces their cramping. If you have it in properly, you don’t feel it at all, so it’s a great alternative if, like me, you hate chafing, diaper-y pads and those super neato times when you accidentally use a tampon that’s too absorbent and get a fun little mini-preview of childbirth.

Emptying out a cup and putting it back in does require a little more skill than changing a tampon, but you only have to do it twice a day (three times if your flow is super heavy, once if it’s lighter). And if you forget to change it, you don’t have to worry about getting Toxic Shock Syndrome. Just the amount of time I’ve spent not neurotically worrying about TSS is worth it for me, though I’m willing to entertain the possibility that that’s not the case for everyone.

As a bonus, most women who use the cup experience zero leakage once they have enough practice putting it in right. But some of us have never been able to achieve that level of mastery. We all have our own unique structure, and some folks’ basement rec rooms are kind of weird-shaped. For those ladies, I suggest supplementing the cup with cloth pads, the soft, environmentally friendly cousins of disposable pads. I know that sounds gross at first, too, but you just wear them with your cup, toss them in with the rest of your laundry, and never look back. Despite what people might very emphatically tell you, I can say from personal experience that they do not stain the rest of your laundry with blood, nor do they somehow taint the washing machine. (If you use them without a cup/tampon, you rinse them by hand before you put them in the wash, just to prevent them from staining, not because they’ll infect the rest of your laundry.)

These weird suspicions about the ruinous capabilities of menstrual blood bring me to my last point in favor of the cup. Yes, you do get a little blood on your hands, but that happens on occasion with regular period armor too, especially those applicator-free tampons. And you do have to see a cup of your own period blood a couple times a day, but if that gives you the jibblies, think of it this way: wouldn’t it be kind of cool to not be grossed out by your period anymore? Not because you want to be a moon goddess who is one with the divine pulse of nature, but because you spend enough damn time bleeding, and you might as well just get used to it? I could go on a long rant about how the jerkcircus is invested in women’s self-loathing and how some men find it humiliating to buy tampons for their wives and how a male friend in college outright said period blood was the most disgusting thing a human body could produce, but even aside from all that, just from a practical standpoint, wouldn’t it be nice to get over that?

Of course many women are 100% comfortable with their bodies and their bodily functions, and still prefer non-cup methods of saying what’s up to Aunt Flo, and that is totally cool. But if you’re willing to put in effort at the beginning, a menstrual cup can reward you with thrift, comfort, a clear environmental conscience, and maybe even a better relationship with your body. Not that gross after all, right?

Lauren O’Neal grew up near Berkeley, California, but didn’t become a dirty hippie until after moving to Texas.

Photo via Flickr