12 questions about menstrual cups (admit it, you have no idea how they work)

Going with the flow...

11 Jun 2018

I’ve never been one to pass judgement on something I haven’t tried for myself. So, when three of my friends revealed they had been using - and loving - menstrual cups, I was curious to test them out.

What is a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cups are an alternative sanitary product that are made of non-porous silicone, meaning you can reuse the same cup safely and hygienically for years, which also makes it much cheaper than tampons and pads. Given what I know about period waste and plastic pollution, this seemed like a positive innovation in the often archaic world of women’s health and I felt a responsibility to give it a go.

What size Mooncup should you use?

I opted for the most well-known and widely available version - . First thing's first, the sizing is confusing. There’s two sizes - A and B, but rather counterintuitively, A is the bigger size, designed for women who have experienced childbirth, and B is for women who haven’t and is significantly smaller. Thinking it was the other way around, I ordered an A, which made for a rather uncomfortable start to my moon cup journey.

How do you use a menstrual cup?

Luckily, things improved with the B, but insertion was still tricky at best and messy at worst. To use the cup, you fold it in half lengthways and then fold it again, so as to make it as narrow as possible. Then, for want of a better word, you just kind of shove it up. Finally, there’s a little toggle at the base that, once your cup is in place, you tug on ever so gently to create a leak-proof suction.

A couple of things; no one told me you’re meant to cut the toggle to fit, so for a few days, I was walking around with it poking out. Yep.

Can you feel a menstrual cup when it's inside?

No, not if it's in correctly. If you can feel it, it may be that it is either too far up, or not up far enough. It depends on how low your cervix sits and your individual shape. Play around with where it sits until you find the best position.

How do you take out a menstrual cup?

The other thing is the process of emptying it. Now, if you’re squeamish, menstrual cups may not be for you. I, on the other hand, have always been fascinated by bodily functions so to see an undiluted collection of my menstrual blood was fascinating. Up until then, I’d only ever experienced my period blood diluted in the toilet bowl, or else absorbed into a tampon.

To empty the cup, you just pull it out by the little toggle, tip the contents out into the toilet and then clean your cup in the sink - simple enough if you’re at home in your bathroom but oh-so-slightly less convenient if you’re in the cubicles at work.

How do I clean my menstrual cup?

To clean your cup, you simply pull it out with clean hands, pour the blood out into the toilet or sink, and rinse with warm water. If you do use soap, make sure it doesn't contain perfume and is pH balanced.

When your period is finished, you should place your cup in a bowl of boiling water for five minutes for a thorough clean. Don't put it in the microwave, or the dishwasher (trust us on this one).

What about when I'm in a pubic toilet cubicle?

If you don't have access to a sink, you have two options to empty out and clean your cup. First, you can pour out the blood and wipe it down with tissue paper before reinserting. Or, take a bottle of drinking water into the cubicle with you and use that to rinse it out.

Luckily the moon cup doesn’t need to be changed as often as a tampon, so even if you have a heavy flow, you’ll have a bit more time to find a private place to empty it.

Do menstrual cups leak?

Full disclosure; I experienced a few leaks. I never managed to nail the whole suction thing, although I’m told practice makes perfect. The problem is, I don’t have the time or the tolerance; I need to be covered from first use, not after months of practice. So, out of sheer exasperation, I gave up.

Can you swim with a menstrual cup in?

Yes - and there's no risk of a string popping out the side of your bikini.

Can you get Toxic Shock Syndrome from a menstrual cup?

As with any internal sanitary product, there's a small risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome when wearing a menstrual cup. To reduce your risk and help avoid TSS developing, it's important to remember to empty your cup regularly using clean hands and also to clean it at the end of your period.

Can you use a menstrual cup with the IUD or contraceptive coil?

Technically yes, and many people do, but there have been instances of cups dislodging IUDs, so it's always best to discuss using a cup with your doctor or nurse if you're worried.

How long does each menstrual cup last?

Due to the nature of silicone (it's a non-porous material, meaning it doesn't harbour bacteria) and the fact that a menstrual cup is designed to collect blood, rather than absorb it, each one can be reused for up to ten years.

Final Mooncup verdict

The reality is, I really want to love the Mooncup but I just can’t make it work for me. Since, I’ve discovered biodegradable tampons from brands like and and am eagerly awaiting the launch of , a reusable tampon applicator, so at least I’ll be doing my bit for the environment.