Menstrual Cups Are Not the Period Dream We've Been Sold


Menstraul cupsSometimes it sucks being a woman. I'm not going to deny it. Every lady out there is looking for the magic bullet, the promise to make the period less pain in the neck, more minor inconvenience. 

And along came the menstrual cup. Little silicone cups that catch your menstrual blood. No huge diaper-like contraption between your legs. No killing trees and filling landfills with those tampons and their cardboard applicators. Sounds like a dream come true, right? So why haven't we heard of them before?

They've been around for decades, but the beauty of blogging has brought them back out in the last year or two as the be all and end all. The silicone cups you stick up your vag every month are the new "if you're not doing it, you're just not cool." Welcome to peer pressure Internet-style. With all the lovely lady bloggers singing their praises, you just want to jump on that cup bandwagon, right? NOT SO FAST.

I was all gung ho after reading a particularly funny blog by a woman I love to read, who I would say I trust. She was giving her lay opinion, but it sounded good. Then I asked MY mother, who is a nurse practitioner, why she hadn't told me about these. She gave me an emphatic "no," followed by a recommendation that I talk to an OB/GYN.

So I did. The Stir asked New York City-based OB/GYN Deborah Ottenheimer, MD, to dish the dirt on the safety concerns of a menstrual cup. 

Turns out there's a reason your mom didn't tell you about the cup when you were 13 and moaning over a toilet. They're no magic bullet. The biggest concern is infection. If you're an office worker who is going to be taking her cup out to dump it, you need to be able to wash it AND your hands right away -- otherwise your dirty hands on the cup are sending germs back up into your body. But that's just the beginning of what you need to consider.

If you're debating a cup, keep this list from Dr. Ottenheimer in mind:

  • Washing them is super important; otherwise, they are, as you suspect, prime carriers of infections. They also get smelly. Discoloration is unavoidable and doesn't mean that they are dirty.
  • The toxic shock risk is low, as it is for tampons. but, as with tampons, menstrual cups shouldn't be left in place for more than 8 hours.
  • Really only for use during heavier days. Care has to be taken in placing and removing them if you are not bleeding much -- latex on dry skin and dry vaginas can be quite painful. (Ditto for younger women and/or newly sexually active -- just not that much room to have the cup in place comfortably.)
  • Some women will find that the stem of the cup sticks out in a very uncomfortable way. There are several shapes available. It will be sort of trial and error if she is really committed to this idea.
  • Disposal of the blood is a potential problem in public spaces. I'm not sure it's socially acceptable to dump a cup of menstrual blood down the sink in a public bathroom or at work. It can also be rather messy for the beginner ... spillage as you take the cup from the toilet to the sink and the like.

Do you use a cup? What's your take on this list?

Image via Greencolander/Flickr



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nonmember avatar Anon

I think I'll pass on this! Yuck! But I use flushable tampons with biodegradable flushable applicators/wrappers, and cloth pads for light days / backup.

nonmember avatar MK

I've often wondered about these, and have heard my friend rave about them. However, I am still skeptical. Not once did I think about the infection risk of using them. And I've often wondered how you dump/clean them in a public place.

nonmember avatar Christine

My first thought was that they just LOOK uncomfortable and made me know. With the list, is it just me or is it gross to be dumping your blood in ANY sink. IF I did use these I would dump the blood down the toilet. Anyway, don't thing these are for me.

Ursul... Ursula187

While toxic shock is a possibility with *any* foreign object left for long periods of time in your body, there have been no reported cases of toxic shock linked to menstrual cup use.  As for the rest, of COURSE you must clean them.  Tampons can be uncomfortable in a dry vagina as well, BUT the menstrual cup allows for the natural vaginal secretions, which means that you would likely be less dry using the cup than, say, a light-flow tampon.  As for public places, most of the time, you would likely not have to empty the cup in a public restroom.  But, there are disposable wipes made for just such an event.  The cup can be emptied into the toilet, cleaned with a wipe and re-inserted.  Then, just as with any time you use a public restroom, you can leave the stall and wash your hands.  In addition to talking to an OB, I would maybe speak with a midwife, who might be more up to speed on natural/crunchy approaches to "woman issues."

SallyAM SallyAM

Most of this is outlined in the materials you get when you buy a menstrual cup or on the FAQ of the website of the company, so it's not that big of a surprise.

You need to wash your hands before you take it out, and usually I just keep the paper towel I used to dry my hands to open the stall and do whatever else so as to not contaminate my hand. I also take another damp towel to wipe up the cup (and my hands, on heavy days) after dumping the blood into the toilet.

It's all a personal choice, really. I have no problem with my body or my blood, so I don't get freaked out by it and it saves me the money and hassle of buying pads (I always hated tampons so I never used them regularly).

SallyAM SallyAM

Oh, and yes to Ursula on the disposable wipes! I use them too if I'll be out in public all day and suspect I'll need to change it in public.

Désirée Fawn

I'll stand by my cup -- I LOVE IT! And I will never use another disgusting tampon for as long as I live.

thedg... thedgoddess

I've used them for YEARS and they are much safer, cleaner and comfortable than tampons. ANd pads are too much like diapers for me.  Seriously, the problem is NOT THE CUP. It's people's lack of hygeine and willingness to learn how to use something properly.

If you're grossed out by reusing the cup, then get Instead soft cups, which are disposable. Are cups for everyone? NO. Of course not. But don't knock it until you've tried it.


Truel... Truelove77

I used to wear pads right up until I was 24!  I was always a heavy bleeder and I use to wear big pads in summer and gross I decided to change and switch to tampons best decision I ever made I am 29 now and will never trade my tampons for anything else after reading this *((((shiver))))* I will not even give a cup a try Period thanks for the info. And yeah Tampons RULE!!!!!

nonmember avatar Anon

For me the idea of something plastic leeching into my girl parts makes me more uncomfortable than a cotton tampon. As for cleaning it in public, I would have thought I'd keep several on hand and save the used ones to wash later in private. I really don't like the idea of using disposable products (especially if they aren't flushable/biodegradable) just to be able to use a product that we chose partly to be "green." Of course all of this is personal opinion but I'll stick to my current system.

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