A menstrual cup is exactly what you think it is: a cup to catch menstrual fluid. The concept has been around since the 1930’s, but has recently become more popular. Some cups are made of rubber, but allergies to latex and other components of rubber are increasingly more common so the best option is a cup made of medical grade silicone, which is hypoallergenic.
A menstrual cup might take a little getting used to if you have never inserted a diaphragm (check out The Green Girls for a pretty accurate, and funny description of the process). Once it is positioned correctly it should not be uncomfortable. There are several different cups on the market, so if the one you chose is a little uncomfortable, look for a brand that has a shorter length cup.
How to use: the cup should be removed every 12 hours (you can remove it more frequently if you have a particular heavy flow) to empty, clean with mild soap and water, and then re-insert. A cup holds more menstrual blood than a tampon, so you can wear it for longer. At the end of every menstrual cycle it should be boiled for 20 minutes. Don’t use anything but soap and water to clean the cup or the silicone will be damaged. When used correctly a silicone menstrual cup should last for a year.
There are typically 2 sizes: small for women under 25-30 (varies by brand) who have never been pregnant, and large for the “older gals” (not that 30 is old, I’m just saying) or women who have had either a vaginal delivery or a c-section.
Why choose a menstrual cup?
The environment. In the U.S. alone we dump 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons every year; because tampons are often flushed applicators frequently wash up on beaches (yuck). A menstrual cup is clearly a more green alternative.
They have a high user satisfaction: in the FLOW study (Finding Lasting Options for Women, seriously, even I couldn’t have made that one up) 91% of women who tried a menstrual cup said they would continue to use it and recommend it to others. There was some increase in irritation in the first cycle, but that decreased as women became more familiar and comfortable inserting and removing. There was also no higher incidence of vaginal infections or bladder infections in this study between cup and tampons.
Convenience. Ever realized you were out of sanitary products, searched the cupboard under the sink in vain for a rogue pad or tampon, and then made do with waded up toilet paper because you were late for work? With a menstrual cup under your bathroom sink those days would be over.
Travel: You know how awesome it is to fill your suitcase with pads and tampons in case your period comes while you are away, right? Well, a menstrual cup takes up a lot less room and you don’t have to worry about the tampons falling out of your purse like some crazy game of pick up sticks if your bag gets taken apart by the TSA.
Are cups expensive? Women use an average of 13 menstrual products/cycle or 169 products/year. A box of brand name Tampax at Walgreens.com today is $6.79 for 40 tampons. So if we round up and say you have to buy 180 tampons for the year (because you always have to throw a few away that have been sitting in your purse for so long they have sprouted out of their wrapping), that’s about $30.54/yr. The Keeper menstrual cup on Amazon.com is $24.28 and the DivaCup is $25.17.
Anyway, that’s the run down on the cup.