Of all of my favorite low-waste swaps the one that has made the biggest impact in my life is my period cup. It’s also the swap that most of you showed interest in, in the comments of this post... which I’m guessing is because of how controversial it is. Believe me, I was right there with you a couple years ago. That is supposed to go where? And I’m supposed to just trust that it won’t leak? What about all the blood? It took a lot of YouTube videos and research before I decided to bite the bullet. And I’ve never looked back.
The cupcakes and cashmere team knows how passionate (and a little dorky) I am about period cups. I’ve never enjoyed using pads and it wasn’t until college that I was introduced to tampons. While they were a slightly better option, I hated how often I had to switch them out. As I became more conscious about the waste I create, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of pads and tampons a single person consumes in just a year (this study estimates about 240). Then I found out that most pad and tampon brands are not biodegradable so they accumulate in landfills or worse, end up in our oceans when flushed. Not only will you be reducing waste, but you will save so much money by making the one time purchase that is a period cup since most cups last about 10 years!
I’ve been using a period cup for almost three years now and it has made me so much more comfortable with my body. Poking around down there (for pleasure or not) will do that to you. I no longer have to ask my companions to do a spot check for leaks or worry about running out of tampons. Now, I don’t dread my period nearly as much because I know how to efficiently handle it. But because there's a bit of a learning curve with menstrual cups, I offered to take on our team’s questions (which they asked over a hilarious Zoom call; names redacted to protect the innocent) in the hopes that my answers will create a few converts!
Please note that I’ve answered all of these questions based on my personal experience and research. If there is anything you’re concerned about, please consult with your doctor.
A period cup is a small cup made out of medical-grade silicone or latex that usually has a tail to help insert and pull it out. It’s meant to capture your flow instead of absorbing it, like traditional tampons or cotton pads. The biggest learning curve is getting comfortable inserting, removing it, dumping out the blood, and reinserting. Way to ease you in, right? But it’s not as crazy as it sounds.
The transition is definitely easier if you’re already a tampon user. You insert a period cup using one of the many folding techniques. To psyche myself up the first few times, I told myself that when the period cup is folded up, the tip is almost the size of a tampon so I knew my body could handle it. Once you insert it, the cup should pop open and create a seal. If it’s inserted properly, it will sit comfortably and you won’t be able to feel it. If the tail is too long, you can remove it and trim it. To take it out, don’t pull on the tail by itself, reach up and pinch the base to release the suction and then remove.
This is by far the most-asked question I get about period cups and I think it stems from the amount of blood we think is associated with our period, which is largely due to how many pads and tampons we go through, and how saturated they can get. I always say: It might feel like we’re a running faucet on our period, but we’re actually not.
Unless you have a heavier flow and are not emptying your cup when you should be, it will never be overflowing. In my experience my cup is usually about two thirds full after about eight hours in so I’ve never had any spills. As long as you remove it carefully, it won’t get too messy. Which brings us to our next question...
I empty out my cup twice a day. I use a regular size cup and don’t have a heavy flow so twice usually works for me. Emptying it in the shower is always the easiest because you don’t have to worry about a mess—but otherwise, I simply empty it over the toilet. To remove it, you have to squat and make sure you’re not contracting your body. If you feel like your body isn’t relaxed it’s helpful to try bearing down (I learned this from a fellow cup user I discovered on my many Google searches). If I’m removing it outside the shower, I empty my cup into the toilet, wash it out in the sink, wash my hands, and reinsert. Emptying it out in the shower is a lot easier because you don’t have to worry about moving from the toilet to sink. I only boil my cup at the beginning of my period, in the meantime, soap and water will do just fine (more on that below!).
You sterilize it in boiling water but no, I don’t do it in just any kitchen pot (my roommates would kill me!). I have a dedicated cup for it that I keep in my bathroom. Most people recommend sterilizing it after each cycle but I prefer to do it at the beginning of my cycle since it has been sitting around for about a month. When that time comes, I fill the cup with water, microwave it for three minutes, and then drop my period cup in.
NO! If you can feel the cup, you may not have inserted it properly (it will take some troubleshooting in the beginning), or the string attachment may need to be trimmed. This is the one thing I don’t think I’ll ever be able to effectively communicate until someone has tried it. But when I use it, I don’t feel the cup and I don’t feel my period. Let me put it this way: Sometimes it feels so nonexistent that I can comfortably wear a thong.
The standard amount of time to keep a cup in is eight hours. I sometimes stretch that a bit because my flow isn’t too heavy. That way, I can always remove it at home. Absolutely, you can sleep in it and it’s the most comfortable thing. Never again will you have to worry about those extra-thick overnight pads. You can rest easy knowing that the risk of experiencing toxic shock syndrome is much lower when you use a cup versus using a tampon or pad. TSS cases linked to period cups are extremely rare but err on the side of safety and make sure to clean your cup properly. You can read more about best practices here.
I promised to answer all the questions honestly, so brace yourselves. The longest I’ve left it in is probably about 15 hours. The only scenario where this happens is on those days that I’m spotting, but don’t completely trust that my period is over. More often than not, my period is over and the cup is pretty much empty. Please don’t follow this if you’re starting out. What’s important about using a period cup is to really listen to your body and get comfortable with it. I suggest sticking to the recommended eight hours when you begin and making sure you get the right sized cup.
This depends on both how heavy your flow is and where your cervix sits. While giving birth and going through a full term of pregnancy may affect your pelvic floor muscles, that doesn’t automatically mean the larger size cup is for you. Don’t worry, most period brands offer guides and quizzes to walk you through choosing the right size..
Yes, it does. And you won’t be too worried about a mess when you remove and empty it.
Yes you can, just make sure to get the right size. They have bigger cups for women with a heavier flow. The more you use the cup, the more familiar you will be with how full it gets on a regular day. It’s also worth noting that in the beginning, while you're still figuring out where the cup should comfortably sit, you may experience a few leaks. Feel free to use a panty liner or pair of Thinx while you get the hang of it.
During the second cycle that I used my period cup, I attended an anti-gravity yoga class (very fun, by the way) and didn’t feel it the entire time! I was flipping upside down and swinging from side to side but I never felt any movement from my cup. It’s a great way to avoid those not-so-fun leaks we sometimes get when working out.
It is possible depending on your comfort zone. Again, this is something I read up on to see other women's experiences. Many suggested trying to find stalls that have their own sink. If I’m in a tight spot and really feel like I need to empty it out, this is how I go about it: I remove it, empty it in the toilet and then wrap it in toilet paper. I clean myself up and then discreetly wash it in the sink. To be really honest, I always wait until the bathroom is empty. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds, then I go back into a stall and re-insert it. These moments are truly few and far between.
Actually, period cups are one of the best options to use when swimming. The suction seal that a cup creates ensures that you won’t be leaking and it holds more than a tampon, so you can swim longer. The one scenario I think would prove more difficult is if you were to go off the grid. So camping without access to running water is not the best idea—but then again, Leslie brings her period cup backpacking to avoid the need to pack in (and out) tampons. It’s all about personal preference. Other than that, the world is your oyster.
Awkward question that I’m probably a little too happy to answer. I had to revert back to Google when this inevitable situation presented itself. The answer is yes, you can keep it in—unlike a tampon, the chances of it popping out are very slim. Just so it’s out there, those are two different holes you’re working with, so cross contamination is not an issue, and a bidet also makes it extra-comfortable because then you can wash up with water.
I have actually had my cup in during one layover. Luckily, the airport had larger stalls available with individual sinks. I actually prefer using a cup when traveling because it usually holds up until I reach my destination. You get to avoid changing pads and trying to clean up at pit stops!
Period cups are designed to work with your body. For some, it might be awkward to think about inserting and removing a cup but once I got the hang of it, I felt so empowered. Get cozy with it and don’t be afraid to get in there. Another major selling point for me was the lack of odor. We all know what it smells like when we’re on our period (sorry, but I’m trying to make a point!). Did you know that the metallic smell we experience is when the blood is exposed to air? When you use a cup, your blood is contained and therefore no odor is created. Everything I learned about using a period cup, I learned from other women on the internet and I hope I can be a similar resource to you. If I missed anything, feel free to drop it in the comments below. And if you have any really specific questions you can always slide into my DMs. My biggest question to you is: what is the one thing stopping you or turning you off from trying a period cup?
So you’ve gotten this far and are considering giving period cups a try (YAY!) here are a couple brands that I recommend:
Saalt Co ($32) - My current cup
Lena Cup ($24) - The first cup I ever used
Cora ($30) - Give back period products to women in need all over the world
HelloCup ($33) - I haven't tried this one, but the branding caught my eye!
DivaCup ($37) - One of the first mainstream menstrual cups, and the one Leslie still uses!
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Hero image via @thehellocup.