Q: What is a menstrual cup and what are the advantages of using one?
A: There are two kinds of menstrual cups: the first is a soft, flexible cup that is worn internally, in the natural space under the cervix and behind the pubic bone where it conforms to your body. You can wear it for about 12 hours at a time, after which it is disposed and a new one is inserted.
Other menstrual cups are bell-shaped, and inserted internally to form a suction seal once inside the vagina. These are emptied, cleaned and re-inserted and the same one is used for each menstrual cycle. Both types of menstrual cups are designed to collect your menstrual flow rather than absorb it.
A study in the Journal of Women's Health showed that women prefer a soft menstrual cup to their current form of protection in terms of comfort, dryness, irritation, odor, length of wear, and interference with various activities.i
There are several advantage to both types of menstrual cups.
- Longer wear time. Many women prefer menstrual cups because they can be safely worn longer—up to 12 hours. Given the longer wear time, most women use fewer disposable cups than tampons, giving cups a potential environmental advantage as well.
- Comfortable and protective during activities. The design and duration of use also means that active women can continue their active lives. Menstrual cups can be worn while swimming, playing sports or doing vigorous exercise such as bicycling. The soft, flexible cup can be worn during intercourse when you have your period to reduce the messiness of sex during that time in your cycle.
- Strong safety profile. Another advantage of menstrual cups is the lack of odor because menstrual fluid is not exposed to air. Unlike tampons, menstrual cups do not change the pH balance of the vagina or increase the presence of harmful bacteria or excessive yeast in the vaginaii, so there is little risk of the type of infections that have been linked to tampons. Unlike tampons, menstrual cups are safe options for use just before your period, or if you're experiencing light spotting. You can also wear it while going to the bathroom.
- FDA approved. All menstrual cups currently marketed in the United States have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe, and most are made of hypoallergenic, nontoxic materials.
However, you should consult your doctor before using a menstrual cup if you have an IUD inserted, and menstrual cups should not be used with a diaphragm. If you've been told to avoid tampons after a surgical procedure or other medical condition, you should also avoid menstrual cups. Talk to your doctor before using menstrual cups if you have just had a baby, a miscarriage or an abortion. Women with a tilted uterus may require physician assistance to ensure proper fit of their menstrual cup.
Many women who try a menstrual cup choose it over other forms of feminine protection, and given the advantages, menstrual cups are an option worth considering for managing your period.
i North, B, Oldham, M. Preclinical, Clinical and Over-the-Counter Post Marketing Experience with a New Vaginal Cup: Menstrual Collection Journal of Women's Health. 2011; 20(2): 303-311