You’ve got plenty of questions about menstrual cups, and I’ve got all the answers here in this handy guide. Of course, there’s more to say about each topic, maybe far more than you ever thought to ask, but knowledge is power. And once we answer all of your menstrual cup questions here, if you’re curious, feel free to go down the rabbit hole through the site and find all you’d want to know about other reusable period products too.
But for now, let’s start from the top:
1. What is a menstrual cup?
Let’s get this first menstrual cup question out of the way. A menstrual cup is a reusable tampon alternative that collects blood rather than absorbing it. Menstrual cups are most often made from medical-grade silicone, but they can also be made from a flexible, rubber-like material called thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). You can even still find cups made of natural rubber but those are much more rare.
Cups are non-porous and body-safe, and they are designed to hold more blood than tampons. A properly inserted menstrual cup sits right below the cervix, the opening at the bottom of the uterus where menstrual blood flows out. Many people find that they are more comfortable to use than a pad or tampon even if they have a bit more of a learning curve.
2. When were menstrual cups invented?
It will probably surprise you to find out that the first menstrual cups showed up all the way back in the 1930s. According to menstrual cup history, not just one, but several brands were available in this decade–the Daintette, Foldene, and Tass-ette.
Early menstrual cups were made of natural rubber and looked very similar to modern cups. There were just three major problems. For one, talking about menstruation was taboo, so it was seriously hard to advertise these products. Once people knew about them, it was difficult to convince them to use this new device that you had to insert, clean, and reuse. And then came World War II, which brought rubber shortages that stopped production.
3. How do you use a menstrual cup?
Using a menstrual cup is somewhat like using a tampon that has no applicator. They are both inserted into the vagina with your fingers and stay there until they’re full and need to be taken out. The major differences are that menstrual cups are reusable and can be worn longer than tampons–usually up to 12 hours, depending on your flow.
To insert a menstrual cup, you’ll need to fold it and insert it into the vagina using your finger. Try to keep the cup folded while you push it up as far as you can. Then you can let it open up so it will create a seal. There are several different folds you can try to see which works for you.
This is going to take a lot of practice, so don’t get frustrated. You might have to do some adjusting, feeling around, and repositioning until you can’t feel it. The stem should not be hanging out, and the cup should stay in place under the cervix.
4. Why is my menstrual cup leaking?
If your menstrual cup is in the right position, it shouldn’t leak. When you first start using a cup, it’s normal to have leaks until you figure everything out. Menstrual cup leaks can be caused by:
- Having the wrong cup size or shape for your body
- The cup being in the wrong place or inserted at the wrong angle
- A small dent at the top of the cup that breaks the suction
- Not emptying your cup often enough (especially if you have a heavy flow)
Check out the menstrual leak troubleshooting guide if you’re having leakage.
5. How long can you leave a menstrual cup in?
A menstrual cup can be left in for up to 12 hours. But how often you need to change your menstrual cup is going to depend on the day of your period, how heavy your flows are, and your own comfort.
After about two to three period cycles, you’ll get a feel for how often you might need to empty your menstrual cup. You may find that on the first and second day, you need to remove the cup every 4 hours, but for the next three days, you can keep it for 8-12 hours.
While you’re learning how often to empty your menstrual cup, it’s a good idea to wear backup liners or period underwear in case of overflows.
6. How do you remove a menstrual cup?
This is one of the menstrual cup questions that even more seasoned users will ask from time to time. The simple answer is: just pull down slowly on the stem, being careful to keep it upright. Trying to remove a menstrual cup might sound terrifying, but you’ll become a pro soon enough. You can always practice at home (try to remove it in the shower) before you attempt to do it in public.
Once it’s all the way out, pour the blood into the toilet, shower drain, or sink, depending on whether you’re at home or out in public. If you’re in public, use a little toilet paper to wipe down the sides of your cup and then reinsert it. If you’re at home, you can rinse it out fully first.
7. How do you clean a menstrual cup?
This is actually two menstrual cup questions with two answers–how to clean your cup at home, and how to clean your cup in a public restroom. You won’t need to actually sanitize your cup during your period, but you should do it in between cycles.
As far as doing a quick clean at home after you’ve emptied your cup, you just need to wash it thoroughly at the sink before reinserting it. If you are in public, you can simply wipe it off with toilet paper and then reinsert it. If you want to be more thorough, take a look at my post about five easy ways to clean your cup in public.
8. How do you boil a menstrual cup?
Get into the habit of sanitizing your menstrual cup at the end of every period. The simplest way is to fill a pot with water, bring it to boiling, and let your cup boil for 2-3 minutes.
Here’s a tip: put your cup inside a whisk so you can easily remove it from the boiling water without burning your hands. It’s also a great tip if you happen to forget things on the stove–this way, your cup won’t get burnt if you boil all the water out! To be safe, set a timer.
If you want a faster method, you can boil your cup in the microwave. Make sure the bowl or mug that you use is microwave-safe, then add your menstrual cup and some water, and microwave on high for about 3 minutes.
These are just two ways to sanitize a menstrual cup, but there are other options.
9. Can you pee with a menstrual cup in?
In most cases, you should be able to pee just fine while wearing a menstrual cup. A cup is worn inside the vagina, and your pee comes out of a smaller opening above the vagina, just under the clitoris.
Aside from this, though, a menstrual cup does push up against your bladder, which could make you pee more slowly. It might also make you feel like you have to pee more often. If you find that it’s pushing so much that you can’t pee with a cup in, or you keep feeling like you have to pee, try a cup that’s less firm or even a menstrual disc.
10. Can you poop with a menstrual cup in?
I said I’d answer the top menstrual cup questions, and am I delivering or what? Yes, you can also poop while wearing a menstrual cup. If the idea of this scares you, or if you find that your cup moves down or even comes out when you poop, then just remove your cup before you go. Another way to prevent slippage is to look for a firmer cup that stays in place.
11. Can you sleep with a menstrual cup in?
You can sleep with a menstrual cup in without having to worry. It’s safe to wear up to 12 hours, which is longer than the max recommended 8 hours for tampons. All that will happen is that the blood might flow back and forth between the cup and your cervix as you move around in your sleep. But you shouldn’t have any leakage while sleeping with a cup. If it does leak, check that your cup is in properly.
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12. Can you have sex with a menstrual cup in?
If the type of sex you want to have involves vaginal penetration, then no, you can’t have sex while wearing a menstrual cup. The issue is that the cup will take up most of the space in the vagina, so there’s no room for anything else.
One option you have is to switch to a menstrual disc if you want to have this type of sex and you aren’t a fan of just letting things flow. A menstrual disc sits higher up and won’t get in the way.
13. Can virgins use a menstrual cup?
If you are a virgin, you can use a menstrual cup. You may have heard that anything going up the vagina will break the hymen, but many people actually wear away or break their hymen in other ways, like doing sports. Hymens also come in different types and sizes of openings. You won’t know what yours is like or if it’s still there unless you take a look or ask your ob/gyn.
That being said, it might feel uncomfortable for you to use a menstrual cup if you have a mostly closed hymen. Don’t force yourself to use it if it’s painful or not comfortable. You can always try again later.
14. Can you swim with a menstrual cup?
One of the very common menstrual cup questions that many have, we know that you can sleep, pee, and poop with a cup in, but can you swim with a menstrual cup? Again, the answer is yes. Blood should not be able to come out because the cup forms a type of vacuum suction inside your body. You may get a tiny bit of water in the cup, but that’s nothing to be worried about.
If you are anxious about swimming, try emptying your cup right before you go, and also right after. That way, you’re protected from overflows.
15. Can you use a menstrual cup with an IUD?
You can in fact use a menstrual cup if you have an IUD, but it’s not foolproof. People have reported having their IUD come out when they try to remove their cup. A 2020 study also showed 23% of people had their IUD come out, but it could have been from not breaking the cup’s suction or accidentally pulling on their IUD strings.
When removing your menstrual cup, always break the seal and make sure you aren’t grabbing your IUD strings. Check your IUD strings regularly. If you think your IUD or the strings are out of place, consult a care provider right away.
16. Can menstrual cups cause toxic shock syndrome?
Technically, yes, you can get toxic shock syndrome (TSS) from tampons or menstrual cups, but it is very, very rare. You’ve probably been terrified ever since you started menstruating because of those warnings in the tampon boxes, but have you ever personally known someone who did get TSS?
Just for safety and personal hygiene, don’t wear your cup for more than 12 hours. If you happen to forget about your cup, even for 24 hours, don’t panic. You are not the first to do this. The only reason you might worry is if you have flu-like symptoms or fever and you’ve left your cup in for a really long time. In that case, get medical attention right away to be safe.
Did all of your menstrual cup questions get answered? If not, drop whatever’s on your mind in the comments!