One thing that most women have in common but hardly ever talk about is periods - we bleed! And another thing we rarely talk about is the number of sanitary products we use which then land in the garbage - we produce a lot of waste! But what alternatives do we have? How can we choose sanitary products that are more environmentally friendly? The good news is that there is a bit of a “period revolution” going on. Not only are we talking openly about periods and recognizing their relevance to women’s health but there is also a whole new market aimed at sustainable period products. One of these products is the menstrual cup, a reusable, flexible cup made of medical grade silicone which you insert into the vagina to collect blood during menstruation. The cup can be removed, rinsed and reinserted. This reusable product is currently gaining popularity and although its many advantages are obvious, few topics polarize as much as these little cups. Even within your own circle of friends you will probably hear a “wow” and a “yuck”, and probably a few funny stories too ;-)
One of the difficulties with menstrual cups is that the importance of choosing the correct size is often overlooked. Friends or blogs often recommend a particular cup but neglect to mention that just like shoes or clothes (or us!) menstrual cups come in different shapes and sizes. There are different lengths, widths, thicknesses, and ways of insertion. It is definitely not a case of one size fits all and finding the correct size and shape for you should be a priority.
“Fake news” is another issue to watch out for. You might have heard that menstrual cups suction themselves to the cervix. They don’t. They are designed to sit much lower in the vaginal canal and once inserted the cup creates a light vacuum which holds the cup in place and prevents leaks.
The “YUCK” factor in menstrual cups is that you are confronted with your own blood – imagine! If that is too much for you to bear, then feel free to scroll to the end of this article for other environmentally friendly sanitary products. However, if you think you can cope with seeing your own blood and would like to learn more about this amazing product – which is not only a better choice for the environment but also a great first step towards ending period poverty – then you have come to the right place. We’ll do our best to answer all your questions and show you how to find the perfect cup for you.
A menstrual cup instead of tampons & Co: What are the advantages of menstrual cups?
It’s better for the environment. Have you ever thought about how many feminine hygiene products end up the in the household waste every month - and how much that adds up to every year? That is a lot of avoidable waste. In its lifetime one cup can replace up to 2000 disposable products! The blood is simply emptied directly into the toilet, the cup washed out and reused. One cup is sustainable and “zero waste”. You will notice the difference in your home too, no more smelly garbage in the bathroom.
It’s better for your wallet. All those disposable products cost money. Women in Austria spend an average of €1230 on hygiene products every year – and it all adds up, statistics show that women in the UK spend on average about GBP34 (approx. 40€) per period, if you include e.g. painkillers, sweets and new underwear (leaks!). A cup, on the other hand, costs between 15€ and 30€ and can be used for 5-10 years. An investment that pays for itself very quickly!
It’s better for your health. Tampons & Co. can contain substances that are harmful to your health: bleaching agents, artificial fragrances, softeners…. all substances that we do not necessarily want directly on our skin or in our bodies. Menstrual cups, on the other hand, are usually made of medical grade silicone. For women who are prone to allergies, infections or fungal infections they are ideal because they catch the blood instead of absorbing liquid and drying out the vagina. They also protect from water entering the vagina, for example chlorine or sea water when swimming or sitting in a hot tub.
You’ll experience less menstrual cramps. It has not been proven, but many women report less abdominal cramps and shorter periods when using a cup. This theory could be explained by the slight vacuum keeping the cup in place: the body needs to use less force and cramps to get rid of blood, mucous and tissue.
It is invisible. When exercising or swimming, a well-fitting cup is a tight, reliable companion. No more blue strings peeking out from your bikini bottoms.
Pack lighter when travelling. Going on vacation? Packing bags full of tampons, pads and panty liners are a thing of the past. One little cup is all you need.
Are there also disadvantages?
Once you have found the right cup and have accustomed yourself to using it, there are hardly any disadvantages. Allergies are extremely rare, as the vast majority of cups are made out of medical grade silicone. And even then, there are also cups made of natural rubber/latex or TPE for women who look for an alternative to silicone. The only possible disadvantage is the “yuck” factor. Menstrual cups are hands on, you should be comfortable with the intimate areas of your body and be prepared to be confronted with the basics of your period. Inserting and removing the cup can be fiddley at the beginning and you will definitely get blood on your hands – but it’s your own blood, it’s completely natural and the more often you use the cup the lass messy it gets. Keep trying – it’s worth it.
How do I know what size is right for me?
You often hear “Menstrual cups? Fantastic idea! Unfortunately, they don’t work for me…” The cup leaks, pinches, peeks out at the bottom or is so short that you can hardly reach it. Maybe you have even heard of women who couldn’t go to the loo when the cup was in – all problems which are solved by finding the correct size cup. Very few people know that - like clothes or shoes - cups should fit correctly. You wouldn’t expect your best friend’s beautiful size 38 shoes to fit your size 40 feet. It’s the same with cups! The following points can help you find your “cup for life”. It’s best to observe one period before deciding, keep the following points in mind:
1. How heavily do you bleed?
The heavier the bleeding, the wider and more bulbous the cup should be, put simply it can collect more blood. You also have to remember that the cervix partially protrudes into the vaginal canal and takes up space! So, if you currently use super tampons and don’t want to run to the toilet every hour, you should go for a more spherical cup.
2. Important: the height of the cervix
Ever heard the horror story where someone had to have their cup removed by the gynaecologist because they couldn’t reach it themselves? This can only happen to you if you have a high cervix and choose a cup that is much too short for you. Uhmm… High cervix?
That’s right. It is very easy to feel with your finger, it feels like the smooth, soft tip of your nose with a small hole in the middle. And the important thing is that it can “move”! During your period it especially likes to change position and can be up to one centimetre away from the vaginal entrance. If that is the case, you need a very short cup. You may even have to cut off the stem if you don’t want to feel it while sitting. However, if the cervix moves up so high that it can no longer be felt with the finger, it is important to choose a long cup with a long stem.
This is important and to find the correct size menstrual cup it is recommended to note the height of the cervix in the morning and in the evening during the course of one period (measure the position on your finger) so that there are no surprises. We warned you that you would have to be comfortable with the more intimate parts of your body!
3. Strength of the pelvic floor muscles
Cups come not only in different shapes, sizes and lengths, but also in different hardness or flexibility. This is due to another important factor: your pelvic floor. If it’s very strong, it can squeeze your cup with the slightest movement. The result: it leaks. If the cup is too tight for your pelvic floor, you might feel it and it could squeeze you uncomfortably.
It is not easy to assess the strength of your pelvic floor. Generally speaking, the more athletic you are, the stronger your internal muscles will be. Sports like Pilates, yoga, horseback riding, jogging, swimming, and cycling all strengthen the pelvic floor.
You can test your pelvic floor muscles by inserting a (clean!) finger and squeezing the muscles there as if to hold your finger in place. If you clearly feel a contraction and a lifting upward, your pelvic floor is intact. If not, and you unintentionally leak urine when you sneeze or jump, for example, then your pelvic floor is probably weaker.
4. Virgins & Mothers
Women who are not, or never have been, sexually active can also use menstrual cups. Like tampons these women might find inserting menstrual cups a bit uncomfortable. While in this case a smaller cup is recommended, the other factors such as cervical height and co. should still be considered so that the first experience with the cup is not a painful or uncomfortable one.
The physical changes after childbirth mean that mothers will probably need a different cup than they used before their pregnancy. The will need to monitor their period when it resumes and recheck pelvic muscle strength and cervix height.
How do I insert the cup?
There is a wide variety of folding techniques, depending on the shape of the cup. From the C-fold to the push-down fold or the S-shape, everything is possible, and all are aimed at reducing the size of the cup to make insertion easier. It’s best to just try it out!
A good tip is to feel the cervix before insertion. If you know where the cervix is now (above? slightly left or right? far down?), you can push the cup directly in front of it.
Our tip for absolute beginners: try inserting the cup for the first time in the shower! Fold the cup, insert it carefully, let it pop open and push it in front of the cervix. The warm water relaxes you and there is no mess… Even if everything is a bit more sensitive than usual during your period - it is best to try it for the first time during your period. In the shower the material will be softer and the cup will glide better.
By the way, the cup fits correctly when you can no longer feel it and it is fully open. You can check this by trying to turn it slightly inside you. If it has not yet popped open completely (usually you won’t hear any popping, just a gentle sucking sound), you can gently run your finger in a circle around the edge of the cup. This will allow some more air to come in and it can finish opening.
How long can I wear it?
In general, you should empty the cup when it is full, but at least twice a day. You should not leave it in for longer than 12 hours at a time. Depending on the size, a cup can hold up to 35ml, which is about 3 times as much blood as a tampon. So, if you used to change your tampon every hour, you can get by with a cup for at least 3 hours.
A cup made of medical silicone has a recommended service life of three years. However, if you always clean it hygienically and store it correctly - i.e. dry and out of direct sunlight - it can easily last ten years.
How do I remove the cup?
First of all, wash your hands! It’s best to take your cup out over the toilet, so you can empty the collected blood directly into the toilet. Do not simply pull it out by the stem or the ring – you have to release the slight vacuum first. Push down with your pelvic muscles before grasping the stem of the cup with your thumb and index finger, you can now squeeze them lightly and pull it out.
Can my cup get “lost” inside me?
No, don’t worry, your body is not a black hole. But - as mentioned above - a cup that is too short for your body may very well be difficult to reach to remove it. Then it’s a matter of taking a hot bath, relaxing, and squeezing it out in a deep squat called a “cup birth”.
##What’s the best way to clean a cup?
It’s easy at home in the bathroom: simply empty it into the toilet and rinse it out in the sink with cold, clean water. The water should be cold to prevent discoloration of the cup from blood. It also makes it easier for it to pop back up after insertion.
It can be tricky when you are out and about: some people simply empty the cup and wipe it with toilet paper before reinserting it. Others take a bottle of drinking water with them to the bathroom. A good life hack is a container filled with water. Simply put the empty menstrual cup in it, close the lid and shake, pour away the water and reinsert your cup. Special cleaning wipes are avoidable waste, but they are convenient when you are on the go and won’t harm you or your cup. However, avoid harsh detergents or perfumed soaps to avoid damaging the surface of the medical grade silicone. Correct care is more hygienic and prolongs the life of your cup.
No matter which method you choose clean hands are an absolute must! Please always wash your hands BEFORE removing the cup.
Before and after each period, it is important to boil the cup in a pot of water for a few minutes. If the water is chalky, you can add a dash of vinegar or lemon juice to prevent lime scale from forming on the cup. If you have a vaginal infection during use, boiling the cup for at least 15-20 minutes will rid it of all germs and bacteria.
Discoloration of the material can be removed using various different hacks: dental cleaning tablets, vinegar, citric acid or hydrogen peroxide are just a few of the many options.
Where can I find the perfect cup for me?
Theoretically you now know what cup is right for you but there is help and advice available too. Look for women’s health platforms or Facebook support groups in your area.
Are there other environmentally friendly alternatives?
For all those who want to do something good for the environment and get away from tampons, sanitary pads & Co., there are now many alternative options.
1. Period Underwear – absorbent panties designed to be worn during menstruation and to take the place of tampons and pads. Period underwear is already widely known and worn alone or as a “back-up” when using cups.
2. Menstrual Sea Sponges are a natural alternative to other products. They are used like a tampon and can be washed and reused.
3. Reusable cloth pads. These washable and reusable absorbent pads are available in a wide range of sizes, colours and designs.
Because tampons are inserted internally, please be sure to use 100% organic cotton which is free from all chemicals. There is very little data available on the safety of reusable cloth tampons.
femSense tells you WHEN
Whether you use a menstrual cup or another alternative, it’s also important to know when you will need it. Being surprised by your period while you’re on the road can be a very unpleasant experience. A reliable cycle tracker like femSense not only tells you when you’re fertile and when you’re not it will also tell you when your period is due so that you can prepare accordingly. Put your cup in your bag, stock up on chocolate/ice-cream/cake (add your comfort food of choice here ;-)), have the chamomile tea ready or get the heating pad out…. we can make sure you are never again caught on the hop. The femSense free cycle app tells you WHEN!
If you want to get to know your cycle better and find out if and when you ovulate, we can also recommend our femSense sensor patches. Learn more about it here!