Once the domain of crunchy granola hippies, menstrual cups—also sometimes called moon cups and period cups—are now a pretty common way to manage your period. In fact, at any given point in time, you may find me walking around with not one, but two keep cups. One for my coffee, and one for my period. Period underwear? Big fan of them too.
There are a bunch of reasons you might want to try one: whether it’s making your period a lil more sustainable (or dare I say… zero waste), saving $$$ on constant restocks of pads/tampons, or avoiding having to so “actively” deal with your period because you can leave ‘em in way longer than tampons.
Of course, there are some people it might not be ideal for, and they do require a little more of a learning curve than pads. We sat down with Carol Morris, who has a background in physiotherapy and is the Chief of Menstrual Matters for Lunette here in Australia and asked her every single question we could think of. Luckily, if you have more, you can also reach out to the delightful team at Lunette through their cute little web assistant, or via their contact form.
Knowledge is POWER. Are we are here for powerful periods.
How exactly do menstrual cups work?
“So, they’re pretty much a collection device for your menstrual fluid,” explains Morris. Disposables are about absorbing your period, whether that’s while they’re inside you (tampons) or you’re wearing one in your underwear (pads). A reusable like a cup works by collecting it until you’re ready to empty it, usually into the toilet or in the shower.
How do you insert, use and remove a menstrual cup?
If you’re a visual learner the internet is your friend: there are a tonne of videos on how to insert a menstrual cup.
Morris explains: “To insert the cup, you fold it to make it quite small. It’s about the size of a super tampon when it’s folded down to it’s smaller size, and then that is inserted into the vagina and you slowly let it open.” (There are a bunch of different ways you can fold it, as shown above.)
“When the cup opens, it forms it’s a very mild suction, most of which is released when you let go, but there is a tiny bit of suction that is left in the cup and that holds it in place,” says Morris. “The ‘seal’ is between the cup and the walls of the vagina, and it sits just below the cervix and captures the menstrual flow.”
“And then to remove it, you sort of bear down, sort of like you’re having a bowel motion (you can sit on the toilet and push gently) and that should bring the tab to where you can reach. Release that suction again, by pinching the base and that will allow you to remove the cup.”
Finally, a PSA if you have to empty your menstrual cup in a public toilet. Beyond washing your hands really well before you go into the cubicle, Morris says to put a lil ‘landing pad’ of toilet paper down in the bowl before you empty the cup. It means that you won’t be standing there like a chump flushing multiple times as you wait for your period blood to creep it’s way down the pipes… like I have been.
Can a menstrual cup fall out of you?
“The cup can’t actually fall out, that little bit of suction connection with the vaginal walls holds it in place and your pelvic floor muscles hold it up there as well.”
You also don’t have to worry during vigorous exercise either, Morris says that when she and her sister were first bringing the cups into Australia, they road-tested them heavily. Think: kitesurfing, triathlons, deadlifts, squats, “and we couldn’t push the thing out!” They are all up in there for good—well, until you’re ready to take ‘em out.
Can you feel menstrual cups when they’re inside you?
My three-word report: nope, you cannot.
Morris’ comments: “If they’re positioned correctly, no, you cannot feel it. We’ve actually had some people who have forgotten that it’s in there, and then suddenly remembered like twelve or eighteen hours later like, “oh my god!”
One thing to note though is that “when you first start using it, some people can feel the stem hanging out a little bit, and the stem is not a tampon string. Everything needs to be inside [of your vagina].”
Morris suggests doing a “dry run” with the cup when you first start using it, that is trying it out when you’re not on your period. “You insert the cup, pushing it in as far as you can and then walk around for about half an hour. If you can still feel the stem, you probably need to trim it. You can trim probably about half a centimetre off, put it in again, walk around and if you still feel it keep trimming as much as you need off. You can actually cut the whole stem off if needed because there are still grip rings on the bottom of the cup, which helps to remove it.”
This may take a little experimenting, and you can also get cups which are made of softer medical grade silicones but after that, the cup should be sweet for the whole of it’s like.
How can you tell if a menstrual cup is in properly?
“It does take a few tries to get used to a cup because it isn’t like a tampon—where you push it in and walk away and that’s it. I don’t think there’s too many people who get the insertion right on the very first time. We recommend that when putting it in you aim backwards towards your tailbone not up towards your head, because that’s the natural direction of the vagina and once it’s in, and you sort of stand up and walk around, you actually shouldn’t feel it. And that usually surprises a lot of users. They walk around and think, “Oh, it’s in and I can’t feel it.” So then, if you can’t feel it, you’ve got it right.”
Can a menstrual cup leak?
Sometimes, depending on the heaviness of your menstrual flow, the cup may runneth over.
“If the cup is full, it will leak,” explains Morris, “though in saying, that it holds about three times as much as a super tampon.” (About 25 to 30ml.)
“For users who have really heavy flows or endometriosis and things like that, they just need to empty it a little more often,” says Morris, and you can wear a backup pad or pair of period underwear for some extra security.
The other instance it might have a leak is if it’s not positioned under the cervix correctly: “you might see one little spot on your underwear but the cup is half full and you can’t work out what’s going on. Usually, that’s because your cervix isn’t over the cup, but to the side, which can cause a sneaky leak down the side of the cup.”
“To fix that, before you first insert the cup, insert a finger into yourself and run it around your cervix making sure it’s sitting in the middle, you might find it’s pressed to the side.” Guys, you can nudge your cervix around; the body is miraculous, and don’t worry the cervix doesn’t have nerve endings so you won’t injure it. After that just insert the cup, Morris states that you usually don’t need to do this more than once or twice (if at all) on the first and second day of your period.
How often should I change a menstrual cup?
“This is where we recommend giving yourself at least three cycles to get the hang of a cup, because you need to work out your flow.” says Morris. “The rough guide to the first cycle is: however often you change your pad, double that, and that’s how often you should change the cup. So if on the first day you’re changing a pad every two hours, then you’d empty the menstrual cup after four hours. Then say by day three, you might only be emptying it in the morning, mid-afternoon and before bed.”
This is another one where your mileage will vary, but when you do get the hang of it, it means much fewer trips to the loo to change a tampon or pad.
Can you have sex with a menstrual cup in?
Depends on what kinda sex you’re having. With regard to external stimulation (either through masturbation via yourself or a partner, or oral sex), sure, go to town. The cup is probably going to make the whole affair much less messy than if you weren’t wearing one. Big fans of destigmatizing period sex here at Syrup HQ: it can be helpful for cramps and boosting your mood!
However, when it comes to penetrative sex with a cup in Morris says: “You could, but we certainly don’t recommend it, because you have that stem sticking out, that would pretty much cause injury to a partner (with a penis). It is a foreign object in the vagina, and it’s not a contraceptive device.”
Can you swim with a menstrual cup?
You can, and let me tell you, it’s nice not having to worry about a tampon string attempting a prison break from your swimmers.
“The other benefit is that with a menstrual cup you don’t get something called “back absorption,” explains Morris. “When you’re swimming with a tampon, chlorine water is absorbed on the string and probably the bottom centimetre of the tampon. That’s why when you come out of the pool it’s recommended you change your tampon straightaway to a new one, because it’s going to have pool water in it.”
“The menstrual cup does not do that because it’s formed the seal with your vagina. Even if you went down one of those crazy water slides at Wet and Wild that give people an enema, it wouldn’t break the seal.” Waterslide away, pals.
How long do menstrual cups last?
“The good ones, like Lunette, Diva Cup, Juju, Moon Cup, are all made of a high-quality hospital-grade medical silicone,” says Morris. “We say these should last for ten years, but they should actually last longer. It’s because of medical licensing we kind of have to put an “expiry” on it.”
After years of use, some cups might become slightly discoloured or get a small crack through the lil holes at the top. Rest assured, giving ‘em a good scrub with a Lunette alcohol wipe and then putting it in the full sun can help remove staining, and any little cracks don’t affect the cup’s efficacy.
What you do wanna be sure of, though, is that the cup you’re buying is from a reputable company and actually is that high-quality silicone—”not just like the cooking silicone you use for your baking trays,” says Morris, to ensure there aren’t any added potentially harmful chemicals or additives that can leach into your body.
If you have a weak pelvic floor or endometriosis, can you still use a cup?
“It’s going to be different for each type of user,” says Morris, “If someone has a weak pelvic floor, yes they could use one, they might just need some extra hints and tips. If you had a prolapse, no, you wouldn’t be able to use it. Sometimes a weak pelvic floor and prolapse go hand in hand, and if you’re ever unsure definitely just send us an email and we’re more than happy to help.”
How do you clean a cup? Do you need to sterilise it?
Morris recommends that users just wash it with water during your cycle, “but we do know a lot of people want to use something on it to make it feel like it’s cleaner.” She recommends the Lunette Cup Wash or one designed specifically for menstrual cups. You don’t wanna be putting antibacterial hand soap residue all up in your vag, people.
“Because it’s made a medical silicone even if you’re using say a pH neutral coconut oil based vegan wash, oils actually soften the silicone and that can cause damage to the silicone, so the cup won’t last as long.” Same goes if it’s a harsh soap, it can cause hardening so the cup will be slightly more brittle.
To sanitise the cup at the end of your period, give it a thorough wash and boil it for about ten minutes or so (no, you do not need to salt the water) before letting it dry completely and popping it back in it’s bag.
And just FYI, don’t boil it inside your boyfriend’s kettle.
Can you use a cup if you’re non-binary or trans?
“Yes, we’ve had trans men using the cups and they’ve had no problems with it. If you have the anatomy to use a tampon, you should be able to use a cup.” says Morris. “The only thing they may need to consider is that if you’re using a men’s toilet you’ll need to go into the cubicle to empty the cup.”
How does Lunette come packaged?
Cups are far and away more sustainable than single-use menstrual products, and you’ll be happy to know that Lunette cups come in 100% recycled material. They’ve just released a new bag, which is made out of recycled material as well and the little clear window is actually made of a cellulose corn fiber and breaks down in the soil after about six months. We stan a corn fibre.
How do you tell what size you need?
Lunette has a sizing guide, as will most cup sites. “The main thing is your flow, and how high your cervix is,” says Morris, “If you’re a little apprehensive, a softer, smaller Model One will suit about 99% of people and only holds about a teaspoon less liquid than a Model Two.” The Model one is also suitable if you haven’t had sex yet too!
I’m still not convinced, why should I try a cup?
Schmoney and time! Morris cites the convenience and the cost benefits, “even if you just try a cup for two or three cycles, this will save you money.”
“People spend about $15 to $17 a month on disposable products and cups are usually about $45 to $50 for a good one.”
If you’re worried you’ll find it “gross” or that you won’t be able to change it when you’re out, even using it at home or just for sleeping as a part-time user snags you the benefits of less $ on tampons and pads and less waste.
On a medical note, a menstrual cup is a “really healthy way to get to know your anatomy,” says Morris. “From a gynecological and health point of view, if you know your flow and what comes out of you, it’s a really good way to detect any changes in your uterine health.”
Lead image via Lunette.