Menstruation Alternatives: Menstrual Cups

You may have heard about the menstruation alternative known as the menstrual cup. As a faithful user for the past 5 years who has turned about 5 other people on to using menstrual cups, I’m a little in love with them. After flipping through some awesome zines on menstrual health in college, and having my eyes opened to the fact that tampons and pads aren’t always made with women’s health in mind, I knew there had to be another option.

And there has been, since around the 1930s. They fell out of favor pretty soon after they were created for disposable forms of menstruation products, but have a large underground following.

Benefits of using a Menstrual Cup

They’re better for you. Allegedly. Through anecdotal evidence, there are definitely people who talk about having problems with bleached tampons and pads: skin irritation, TSS (from tampons that are in for too long), and bacterial infections. However, not a lot of research goes on to test the safety of bleached vs. unbleached products. And while menstrual cups are not currently FDA approved, the FDA isn’t pulling them from shelves either. As we’ve seen in lots of queer and women’s issues, the research isn’t being done to measure how safe pads, tampons, or menstrual cups are for us. However, there have been no reported cases of TSS from menstrual cup use.

One thing that’s for sure, though, is that using a menstrual cup can help you understand your menstrual flow better. By not being able to just ignore your vagina with an applicator or pad, you do have to learn the best way for you to put it in and take it out. Also, some cups, like the DivaCup, come with measurement lines so you can see how much menstrual blood there is at a certain time. I’ve found that I’ve been able to pay more attention to the weird things my cycle does (like stop almost completely on the third day? Weird.) and I feel more in touch with what’s going on down there.

They’re better for the environment because they create much less waste. It’s a little unclear as to how long a menstrual cup should be used for. What I heard originally was 10 years, and I have met people who have had theirs that long. I’m on year 5 and going strong. However, DivaCup has changed their website within the past few years to say that they recommend buying a new cup every year. That’s up to you. Buying one cup per year will still save you money in the long run, though.

Support and tips

There are two types of cups that are most well known – the DivaCup and the Keeper. The biggest difference between them is what they are made of. The DivaCup is made from silicone while the Keeper is made from latex rubber. The makers of the Keeper also offer the Moon Cup on their website now, which is made from silicone. There are lots of other kinds. Also, there is usually an option for different sizes. Usually, there’s a size for 25 and under for someone who has not given birth and a size for over 25 or for someone who has given birth. Different brands of cups are made in different sizes, for example – the DivaCup is one of the larger cups on the market. A disposable cup called the Instead used to exist, but the company no longer exists.

A really great livejournal community exists for all your menstrual cup needs. They have a great back history of questions, solutions, and tips. The members are super friendly, too. They can also help you figure out how to find other brands of cups beyond the DivaCup and Keeper and which cup might be right for you.

The first thing that people usually throw back at me is their skeeved-outtedness by their own menstrual blood. “How do you clean it? Is it a mess?” Not as much as you’d think. You take it out slowly and empty it into the toilet (or shower), rinse it out, do a quick wash with soap, rinse, and put it back in. If you’re not able to wash it out immediately, you can just take some toilet paper and stuff it in to soak up the blood and pull it out. Then, the next time you’re home, take it out and wash it. It’s a good idea to boil the cup for 20 minutes in between your cycles. I find its easiest to clean it and put it in when I take a shower in the morning.

It can be a little tricky to learn how to put it in and take it out. But, as with most things, it takes practice. You can put it in when you feel your period should be coming. I’ve had days where I’ve known that today is not the day. That’s when I turn to a reusable cloth pad (more on that another day), but those days are rare. Like a tampon, you shouldn’t feel them at all. With practice, you’ll learn the best ways for you to stand or sit to put it in or take it out, how to make sure the cup is open, and other strategies.

So why is this included in a queer health blog? Well, if queering things is to reject the norm and find what is best for you, then menstrual cups certainly fit that.

How about you? Any menstrual cup enthusiasts out there?

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2 responses to “Menstruation Alternatives: Menstrual Cups

  1. I love my DivaCup! I was turned on to them via my college group’s involvement in the Tampacation campaign in 2005 or so. I guess I’ve had my DivaCup for 4 or 5 years too! I may buy another one in a couple years; over time they do get a little dingy. I feel so much more in control of my body since I made the one-time purchased of and learned how to use the DivaCup. Just yesterday I did a workshop on menstrual alternatives with some sexual health interns I’m working with, and it led to a fantastic conversation. There is a need and desire for conversations about menstruation, to make it less scary, secret, dirty, and all those other stupid stereotypes. Rock on, alternative menstrual products!

  2. I was part of the Women’s Resource Center at school and we did an alternative menstrual product workshop and sold DivaCups that our club subsidized so that they would be more affordable to college students. We had a huge response and had to order over 40 cups. I was amazed and impressed, especially considering that our school population was only ~450 at the time. I think people really are considering that there may be alternatives to the mainstream but most don’t know much about them or how to access or use them. I tell people about menstrual cups any time I get the chance!

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