The first time I heard of using cups instead of tampons, I thought it was the most disgusting thing I could imagine. Who in their right mind would want to DO that? Save their period blood in a cup? Dump it out, wash it, and re-use it? Touch their own vagina?? (Did I mention I was like 16?) Little did I know, a decade later I would be the proud owner of a cup (and yes, someone who has no problem touching her vagina).
I started to rethink my original position on cups (“GROSS!”) when I grew more comfortable with my body (blood comes out every month, deal with it) and thought about all the waste I was creating—which initially led me to switch to o.b. tampons without an applicator. A BuzzFeed article further piqued my interest, and I started to wonder what was better about tampons anyway—weren’t they just bloody “cotton vagina plugs?” I spent several hours researching and reading the Amazon reviews (cups have some die-hard fans), and in the end, I put a one in my shopping cart.
And then ignored it for a year. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, the ICK factor was still too strong.
First of all, whoever came up with the term “menstrual cup” needs to go back to marketing school. Cups are actually nothing new; the first commercially viable cup was invented in 1937 (by a woman), only four years after tampons (source). They have never been a popular buy, though some brands (like DivaCup or The Keeper) have become recognizable in name, if nothing else.
Finally, after several glasses of wine, I decided to take the plunge and make my purchase. Choosing a cup was a difficult process for me, and not just because I was kinda drunk. Most brands (of which there are many) have two sizes, the smaller one being for “pre-childbirth/under 30.” OK, I definitely don’t have kids (that I know of), but am only barely under 30. I’ve never experienced pain with a speculum, tampons, or certain body parts inside of me—did that mean I should go for a size 2? In the end, I decided on the smaller size, because having a baby’s head come out of you can possibly change things (and, PS, lots of sex does not alter the shape of your vagina).
As far as brand, I decided on a Lunette cup. Because it came in purple. No, I am not kidding. DivaCups come in colorless silicone in order to minimize artificial things in your body, but this means the cups can become discolored over time. Look, I’m already handling my own period blood, let’s at least try to make the cup look semi-presentable. My cup cost about $35 on Amazon, which, yeah, is a lot more expensive than a box of tampons, but one cup can supposedly last me 2-3 years. I was actually pretty excited about smugly saving the planet from bloody cotton waste.
When my cup arrived, I had mixed feelings. It was, as promised, soft and flexible (they use the same silicone as breast implants). On the other hand, it was not exactly small (in terms of other things that go inside of you, it’s about the same size as the tip of a smallish dick). But the planet needed me, I had to soldier on.
I was actually excited to get my period, for about the third ever time in my life. I boiled the Lunette cup as instructed to sanitize it. While attempting to insert the cup, I was immediately confused. You are supposed to fold/wrap it around your finger and just kind of shove it inside—it definitely involves getting more intimate with your ladyparts than a tampon applicator (see insertion options). Once I got it in, I could still feel it—meaning, I wasn’t doing it right.
Removal is an equally intimate process. The cup has a stem which a lot of online reviews recommended trimming, and I don’t understand this at all. Your vagina kind of sucks the cup further up into your body, and that stem is your lifeline for getting it out again! However, you are not supposed to pull the cup out using only the stem, as the cup works by creating suction—so you are supposed to squeeze the base to release it (I guess to avoid hickies?*).
I don’t have a particularly heavy period, especially when I’m on the pill (usually go through 2-3 regular tampons a day). Still, when I went to empty for the first time, I was terrified my cup would have runneth over. I was surprised to find there were zero leaks. Once I got the thing out, there was not very much fluid, and I was actually more intrigued by what was in the cup than grossed out (which I guess is a sign of maturity?). I washed it out with unscented soap and water, and reinsertion was easier the second time around. And at no point did my hands look like I just committed murder.
I’ve been using the cup for about four months now and I still think it’s pretty great. I’ve gotten the hang of insertion and there is never a point where I can feel the cup inside of me (that only lasted about two days because I wasn’t pushing it in far enough). Here are some of the main advantages for me:
- Longer use time: Once you get the hang of it, there’s virtually no leaking. You can wear the cup for up to 12 hours without having to empty it, as they hold more fluid than tampons. Ladies with super heavy flows seem to appreciate this.
- No icky wetness/less dryness: Who hasn’t worried about a string sneaking out of your swimsuit, or making a surprise appearance during third base fumbling? Plus, wet tampon strings feel gross. Cups make this a nonissue. Since they’re collecting rather than absorbing, there’s also no dryness from using a cup, which is great news for sexytimes.
- Waste: I’m admittedly pretty granola (plastic applicators last FOREVER, people), but cups just make ecological and monetary sense to me. Fun fact—75% of blocked drains are caused by flushing sanitary products (you are not supposed to flush tampons), and you use an estimated 16,800 tampons in a lifetime. So, if you don’t want your bloody tampon staring back at you from the trash, get a cup.
As far as what is better for you, there is no solid/medical advantage of cups (except possibly in third world countries). It’s really just personal preference. In a 2011 comparison study, about 37% of subjects preferred the cup, 29% did not, and 34% thought it was about the same as tampons.
So, can you do it? Probably! Is a cup the best choice for you? Well—don’t know until you try! Give it a shot, and get ready to get to know your Aunt Flo on a much more personal level.
*Actually, if you have an IUD, you should discuss using cups with your gynecologist.