It’s one thing to fall asleep without emptying your cup, but what happens if you leave a menstrual cup in for a whole year? For one user, not much, but the potential consequences were severe.
How can a menstrual cup go undetected for a year?
On Reddit using a throwaway account someone shared their very personal experience of leaving a menstrual cup in for about a year. But how can something like this happen? As the OP explained, several factors were at play.
For one, they confused the cervix with the cup. Given how the cup looked at removal and where it was wedged this is entirely plausible with a light touch. Not to mention the power of wishful thinking.
“I was trying to check my cervix height and felt something that felt like the (very thick) rim of a cup, but I wasn’t sure. I tried to pull it out but couldn’t get it out, so I left it alone. I wasn’t sure if it was a cup or maybe my anatomy changed??”
As a survivor of trauma, they didn’t feel comfortable investigating further, which is understandable. Using internal period products and additional touching of private areas can be triggering. On top of this, the OP was wearing the cup flipped inside out to reduce the length. At some point, after wearing it for an extended time the cup tried to flip and this shortened the overall length even more.
“I originally put it in inside out because it was just a tad too long for me even with the stem cut off. Turning it inside out make it the right length for me”
Two, they did notice odor but vaginas have an odor. Was it possibly stronger than usual? Yes. Does that also naturally occur for other reasons? Yes.
“I’ve had bad smelling discharge for a while now, but figured everyone did and I was just sensitive to the smell. Didn’t get that checked out because trauma and also it didn’t have a fishy odor like I read online and I’m not sexually active, so I figured nothing was wrong.”
Three, they continued having periods. It is explained in the post that the OP was on birth control and their periods were irregular. Since period blood continued to pass through that was likely a factor in believing that the thing felt inside was the cervix and not the cup.
“I’m on birth control to try to make my period go away, but I still bleed a few times a year. Flow was completely normal 🤷♀️ I’m guessing it was in me kinda sideways or something so everything could flow by?”
You can visit the full thread in the r/menstrualcups subreddit.
Toxic Shock Syndrome Risk
TSS, or toxic shock syndrome, is a potentially life-threatening infection that is most commonly associated with tampons. TSS itself is rare but is associated with menstrual cups as well. For users of internal products like tampons, cups, and discs, it’s advised to follow the guidelines for safe use and cleaning to reduce your risk of contracting TSS. In studies, menstrual cups are shown to be as safe as tampons.
In this case, the original poster left this experience without long-term health effects or infections. They also left with a very stained and unpleasantly scented menstrual cup as a consolation prize.
Related Article: How to clean menstrual cups and discs
Best Practices for Menstrual Cups and Discs
Menstrual cups and discs are made of medical grade silicone, natural rubber, or TPE. When the product is the perfect one it should be undetectable. This is called “period nirvana” and what most of us aim to achieve. But this can also result in totally forgetting you are on your period and have a product inside!
The recommended maximum timeframe to wear a cup or disc is “up to 12 hours” in the US. Some countries will even suggest a shorter timeframe out of an abundance of caution, say 6 hours (France) or 8 hours (Australia.) You can change as often as your feel comfortable but I personally feel safe emptying every 12 hours. The same product can be worn throughout your cycle. Remove at least 2x per day, wash well with a cup/disc safe soap, and replace. You will also want to sanitize it once per month.
Tips for forgetful menstrual cup users
Your smartphone is your friend. Set reminders to remove your cup or disc for when you wake in the morning and before bed each day. iPhone users can set up repeat reminders for a certain time each day and set the reminders to end after 4-5 days to align with their cycle. As long as you remember to set your reminders on the first day of your period you will be good to go! This isn’t required for all users but if you are forgetful it’s a good gameplan. A new “smart cup” is in development that sends your phone an alert if your cup is full or needs to be changed but for now, your smartphone is the next best thing. Not to mention that many of us aren’t ready to invite a smart cup into our vaginas.
What happens if I wear my cup for over 12 hours?
If you forget to remove your menstrual cup and discover it’s been inside longer than 12 hours don’t panic. In all likelihood you are fine and the only consequence will be a very smelly cup when you remove it. This is not the first time someone has left a cup in longer than 12 hours and shared their personal experience to Reddit. After a 14-day stint with a menstrual cup inside their vagina by mistake the poster described the odor as “an eviscerated decomposing body mixed with rotting broccoli, sewage, and rotting eggs ALL IN ONE.”
Be mindful of any flu-like symptoms or fever. If you notice these, visit your Urgent Care or ER. Toxic Shock Syndrome symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold or the flu.
Symptoms to look for
- High fever
- Unusual odor/discharge
- Vaginal pain/bleeding
Can I wear my cup longer than 12 hours if my period is light?
No. Even if you are only spotting it’s not safe to keep a cup or disc inside without giving it a proper washing longer than 12 hours. As discussed, if you forget on occasion it is unlikely to immediately send you to the ER but why take any chances? Menstrual cup users can enjoy longer wear times than tampons, which max out at 4-6 hours. Over time it can feel like even twice a day is a bother on your light period days but it’s simply not worth the risk to let things go an extra 4 or 6 hours out of convenience.
If your period is super light and washing your cup feels like an inconvenience, consider swapping to external protection like safe and reusable period underwear. Brands such as Aisle and Saalt Wear have no detectable levels of PFAS and can be worn as long as you would wear regular underwear. They carry no risk at all of TSS but, like any underwear, wearing a long time can come with a little funk.