When compared with tampons or pads, menstrual cups have historically been the less popular choice for period management. However that’s now shifting and there are two big reasons as to why; they’re a far more economical and environmentally friendly option. So let’s have an in-depth look at everything we know about menstrual cups. What they are, why they’re better for the environment (and our bank account) and how to use them as well as care for them…
Also known as a moon cup, a menstrual cup is a small cup-shaped period-care product that is inserted into your vagina to catch the blood when you have your period. They’re reusable and often made from rubber or silicone.
You will need to crouch down or lift your leg so you’ve got space to insert it. Then the cup needs to be folded a couple of times — there are a few different techniques here; c-fold, triangle or diamond-fold and if you search for ‘menstrual cup folds’ you’ll find some helpful diagrams. Once you’re decided on a folding technique, just slip it in. It might seem tricky the first couple of times but it’ll get easier. Just like with tampons, it takes practice. Once properly inserted, it can be left for up to 10 hours, before being removed to dispose of the fluid collected and rinsed with hot water and soap (hot tip: you can do this in the shower). You can even leave it overnight (which we know you can’t do with tampons because leaving a tampon inserted for longer than 4 hours could cause toxic shock syndrome or — TSS).
Most tampons are made from a blend of cotton and synthetic rayon, though in Australia they’re considered to be ‘medical devices’ which means there’s no legal requirement to disclose exactly what they contain and it’s the same for pads. This makes it difficult to know the extent of their ecological damage, though from what we do know — they take hundreds of years to decompose. So when we consider that, along with how many tampons and pads must be used and discarded of yearly, the waste associated adds up to create a pretty large environmental impact.
Menstrual cups however can last for up to 10 years! Which means by choosing this option, you’d be saving the planet from…well, let’s just say — a very large number of synthetic plastics trying to decompose over hundreds of years.
You can find menstrual cups alongside the more familiar tampon or pad, at most chemists or major retailers. And of course, like most things these days — you can buy them online too.
As we’ve already mentioned (quite a few times), menstrual cups are reusable. Which is part of their appeal but also something that requires a little more care than the use-once-and-toss option, like a tampon or a pad.
Once you’re ready to remove your cup, you need to carefully dispose of the contents. You can do this over the toilet, sink or in the shower. Wash it out with water and then give the cup a gentle scrub with unscented and oil-free soap. Make sure you stay away from:
Ideally, you’d remove and clean your cup at home — which is manageable because it can remain inserted for up to 10 hours. However if you do find yourself out and about, with no access to a usable soap then it’s best to remove the cup, empty and gently wipe it with toilet paper, then reinsert it. Remember to clean it properly when you get home.
Once your menstruation cycle is complete, you’ll need to sanitise your cup. To do this, just pop it into some boiling water for a few minutes. This removes bacteria and prevents bacterial growth. After the cup has been boiled, allow it to cool and dry — then store it safely until your next cycle commences. Most cups will come with their own storage case but if yours didn’t, you can use any breathable pouch (such as a cotton pouch). You just need to make sure it’s safe from dirt and bacteria, with plenty of airflow and not in direct sunlight.
Do you have questions about sexual health? Why not join the conversation on the Play Safe sex and relationship forum or ask Nurse Nettie a question. If you would like to find out more about STI testing and STI treatment in Sydney and NSW, you’ll find all the information you need here.