A Beginner’s Guide to Menstrual Cups

Updated 29 Aug 2017: Added a pro – you can exercise properly with a cup.

I am a menstrual cup convert. It took me 6 months, but hey, better late than never! I’ve tried to use my menstrual cup every period since I got it, but I just couldn’t do it. It took me 6 periods to successfully insert it in correctly. For all of you who are facing the same problem I did, fret not ’cause I’m here to help! If you don’t know what a menstrual cup is, here’s how it looks:

Menstrual cup Lunette
The Lunette Cup Model 1

Why should I use a menstrual cup?

For those who are wondering why you should use a menstrual cup in the first place, here are some pros:

  1. It’s eco-friendly. No more contribution to landfills! You’ll never have to throw a single pad/tampon away anymore, because you don’t need one.
  2. It’s wallet-friendly, over time. Menstrual cups are expensive, I must admit. However they last for years! Some say that each cup can last 2-4 years, while others say 10 years. With proper care, the menstrual cup is definitely a bang for your buck.
  3. It’s clean. One thing I really love about using a menstrual cup over a sanitary pad is that when nature calls, you can still pee or poop while the cup is inside you, and there’s no blood accompanying your excrements (pardon my word choice).
  4. It doesn’t smell. I hate how sanitary pads smell after it gets soaked with blood. Every time I went to the toilet I had to withstand that awful smell. With my menstrual cup, there’s no scent at all.
  5. It doesn’t cause itch. You know how with sanitary pads, there’s prolonged contact with your skin down below, and that causes the area to itch? I always get overly paranoid that some bacteria will fester and grow down there because sometimes it can get so unbelievably itchy. I can now bid the itch goodbye ’cause I’m never going to experience it again with my cup!
  6. It doesn’t cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). Menstrual cups aren’t as much of a concern compared to tampons in that respect, although you do have to be careful not to cause any abrasion while inserting the cup so that no staph bacteria gets into the bloodstream.
  7. You can exercise properly. Over the weekend I just did a 12km run with it! Initially I was a little hesitant, because what if the cup falls out due to vigorous movements? Thankfully my fear was unfounded because I did not feel it at all, let alone shift in position. No more chafes from sanitary pads! You’ll definitely be able to swim with it as well, since it forms a tight suction, much like a plunger.

I can’t share only the pros, so here are some cons of using a menstrual cup:

  1. It has a steep learning curve. It took me 6 months because I was in constant fear of the thought of putting something as huge as a menstrual cup into my vagina. Each time I attempted to put the cup in, it hurt so much and I freaked out. I’ll share more about the application later!
  2. Removing it is difficult. I managed to get the cup in after two cycles of trying, but it didn’t feel right. I tried removing it immediately after and I got more scared, because I COULDN’T DO IT. I’m still scared now but it’s not as tough anymore. It still hurts just a little but it’s manageable.
  3. Removing it in a public toilet is crazier. I’m lucky because my flows aren’t that heavy, but can you imagine having to remove the cup when you’re not in the safety of your bathroom at home? Because I can’t. I can only remove it while I’m squatting and it requires some manoeuvring to ensure that the cup stays upright when removed.
  4. It’s kinda gross. If you’re squirmy when it comes to blood, then you’re not going to enjoy seeing a cup full of your menstrual blood in its original form.

How do I insert my menstrual cup?

There are many different ways to fold a cup to aid in insertion, but the one I use and prefer is the “punch-down fold”.

menstrual cup punchdown fold
The punch-down fold

The punch-down fold is good because the surface area is smaller at the top, hence making it easier to squeeze it up your vagina. You may try these other ways of folding if you find that the punch-down fold doesn’t suit you. I find it a lot easier to insert while squatting down when in the shower. Some websites recommend another method – put on leg up on the toilet seat and the other foot on the ground, like in the diagram below. You may try out both “entry positions” and find your preferred one!

menstrual cup insertion
Image credit: pelvi.com

This diagram above shows you where your menstrual cup should sit in your vagina. It shouldn’t be too high up or it will irritate your cervix, but it shouldn’t be too low either, such that it sticks out and it obstructs your movement.

Common problems faced during insertion and how to solve it

1. It doesn’t go in.

It happened to me. It happened to everyone who tried it the first time. The first thing you have to do is to relax. Don’t clench your fist or grit your teeth – it will help you relax. Then, you have to find out where exactly your vagina is because it’s so complicated down there. Use your fingers to feel around until you find out where your vaginal opening is. (Make sure your fingernails are short and blunt so that you don’t accidentally end up scratching yourself inside.) There may be some resistance to enter so you have to use some force to push the menstrual cup through the vaginal opening. Squatting down while inserting would help!

Also, to insert the cup, you need to direct it towards your tailbone before re-angling it upwards. Think of a scooping motion, or an exponential curve:

exponential curve
Image credit: intmath.com

2. I managed to get it in but I can still feel it and it’s obstructing my movements.

When this happens, it could be due to several reasons:

  • Your cup might be sitting too low in your vagina. If the stem of the menstrual cup is jutting out, you need to trim a few centimetres off. Don’t worry about not being able to locate your cup, nothing can get lost in there! It’ll help for you to use your pelvic floor muscles (or Kegel muscles) to push the cup low so that you can feel the base.
  • You inserted the menstrual cup at an incorrect angle. It might not be sitting where it should be, i.e. just below your cervix. If you can distinctly feel the cup, you might want to try removing it and inserting it again. A properly-inserted cup should not be obstructing your movements, and you shouldn’t really feel it if you relax your pelvic floor muscles.
  • The cup did not fully open up. I’m not sure if other users feel it like how I do, but I know the cup is fully opened when I get a sudden burst of pain from down below. The sharp pain only lasts for a few seconds, and that’s how I find out. Some others feel a ‘pop’ when it happens. You should get an indication on whether the cup has opened up, so if you don’t know if it has happened, it probably hasn’t. One way to open up the menstrual cup is to do some squats and walk around. Jumping might help too. If none of these work, you can try to expand the cup during insertion and while it’s still low in your vagina and pushing it further up after it has opened.

3. I am still leaking while wearing the menstrual cup.

It could be that your menstrual cup did not fully open up, like in the above scenario, or that your cup was positioned wrongly. Remember how I mentioned that you have to use a “scooping” motion while inserting the cup? That is so this wouldn’t happen:

Photo credit: landoflorp.blogspot.sg

When the cup is inserted too far in, you might risk going too far past your cervix, as shown in the first diagram. When this happens, blood isn’t collected within the cup and it’ll flow down the sides of the cup instead. The bottom two diagrams accurately depict how you should wear your menstrual cup. You’ll have to use some imagination here!

4. My menstrual cup is giving me cramps.

This shouldn’t be happening. If you’re hurting from wearing the cup, the cup might be too long for you. If the stem is long, trim it! If it still hurts after trimming, it could be that you did not insert the cup correctly. Try different angles and if none of them work and you still get cramps, it’s time to get a shorter cup. This is because every woman is different; some have their cervix high up while others may have a low cervix. If your cervix sits low in your vagina, there’ll not be enough space for the cup. Don’t worry about it though! There are many different cups you can try:

types of menstrual cup
Photo credit: mothership.sg

Maintaining your menstrual cup

It is extremely important for you to keep your cup clean and not let bacteria fester on it. Before your first use, you have to sterilise it by boiling it in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes.

During your cycle, you are required to wash your menstrual cup after every 12 hours of use. When washing your cup, use warm water and a mild, unscented water-based (oil-free) soap. You shouldn’t use an oil-based soap as it will degrade your silicone cup overtime.

If you are caught in a situation where you are unable to wash your cup, you may empty the contents of your cup in the toilet bowl and clean it with some wet wipes (baby wipes would be good) or damp tissue, making sure that there are no traces of tissue left in the cup before inserting it. As soon as you can, remember to wash your cup!

After your cycle, wash your cup as directed above and if you want to, you may boil the cup for 5 to 10 minutes. Dry it thoroughly before storing it in a breathable pouch.

You may read more about caring for your cup here.

If I can wear a menstrual cup, why can’t you?

If you can’t tell that I’m crazily promoting menstrual cups, I am telling you I am. It was so daunting for me initially, but once I overcame the fear of having something stuck inside me, I could only see the benefits of using a menstrual cup. Think about all that money you’ll save for the next 5-10 years!

Also, a big thank you to LiveLoveLuna for the Lunette and the opportunity to finally try out menstrual cups! I’m now a huge fan and a convert, and I’m never going back to sanitary pads 🙂

 

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Jia Jun is the editor of The Ladies Room. While she's not editing articles, she's usually at the pantry, looking for food. Oh and she writes pad reviews for a living.
5 comments Add yours
  1. I bought intimate rose brand for my menstrual cup this is my first period I love it except I have a few bad cramps when I first insert it but I don’t know if its because of the cup or clomid. But I wipe it out with cloths every time I take it out and wash it with soap that is for the cups every night. Love this and reading more about these cups definite learning curve wish it was more popular than tampons and sanitary pads.

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