You probably have a few girlfriends who have been touting the benefits of using a menstrual cup for awhile now. "It’s super easy," they say. "It's not as gross as it seems!" You have to admit that, even if for a split second, this leaves you wondering if it's worth ditching your tampons. But do they work without leaking? Are they comfortable? More importantly, are they safe? So many questions. That's why we decided to ask an expert to weigh in on the medical side of things. Then, I took one for a test drive myself. Here's everything you need know about using a menstrual cup.
What exactly is a menstrual cup?
In case you haven’t yet seen one, menstrual cups are small, flexible, well, cups that are designed to be inserted into the vagina. They collect blood and generally can be worn for up to 12 hours. Then, they are meant to be removed, dumped, rinsed, and reused. A quick search will show there are several different brands out there, though for this story, I tried the Intimina Lily Cup ($25; lilycup.com).
What are the benefits?
It largely comes down to sustainability and environmental waste. Unlike single-use tampons or pads, menstrual cups can be reused — some for even years on end — eliminating a significant amount of waste. Similarly, there’s the cost factor as well, since a one-time cup purchase can be more wallet-friendly in the long run. Some proponents also claim that they pose less risk as compared to traditional tampons, which can be laden with chemicals.
And on a slightly less serious side, one new cup, the Intimina Ziggy Cup ($40; lilycup.com), promises to be an easy way to have mess-free period sex. It touts a unique, flat shape that sits higher in the vagina so that it won’t interfere with intercourse. Of course, you can't do that with a tampon.
Are menstrual cups safe?
“There are currently no studies that show menstrual cups are not medically safe to use,” says Gunvor Ekman-Ordeberg, MD, and OBGYN and DeoDoc Medical Advisor. Her suggestion: Do your research and read the instructions carefully to make sure you’re using it properly. Any kind of side effects are rare, although people can be allergic to the components they are made of, she adds, per the point about doing your research and knowing what you’re using. Ultimately, the hygiene factor is what is most important here. Ekman-Ordeberg underscores the importance of washing your hands thoroughly both before and after use, as well as keeping the cup clean, to prevent bacteria transfer that could potentially lead to infection.
So, what’s it like to use one?
To be totally honest, I didn’t love it. I found both cups truly challenging to insert -- and this coming from someone who has no issue with tampons and used a Nuva-Ring as birth control for years. I experienced some serious leakage with both, a major deterrent for me, and didn’t find them comfortable. Still, it could just be that I needed more practice. “When speaking to patients, the main disadvantage is that it's tricky inserting and removing the cup. However, I feel with time and practice, that gets easier,” says Ekman-Ordeberg.
And while you get over it pretty quickly -- or, at least I did -- the ick-factor is definitely there, so I wouldn’t advise this for the easily-squeamish. Oh, and as far as the period sex? Yeah, we didn’t even get to that, since I couldn’t properly get the cup in far enough. I know, I know, insert eye-covering emoji here. That all being said, I am trying to cut down on my environmental impact, and I really do like the sustainability element of these cups, so I’m willing to try again. As they say, practice makes perfect…
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