Menstrual cups have been around for decades, but they haven't become mainstream in the U.S. Now there's a new generation of products that's more user friendly. Here are the pros and cons.
The average American woman uses about 10,000 sanitary products during her lifetime, so it’s reasonable to look for some environmentally friendly ways to get through your period. One option: menstrual cups. While they’ve been around since the 1930s, they haven't hit the mainstream in the U.S. But now a new generation is making the rounds that’s more user friendly. One, the Lily Cup Compact, collapses into a small case that can fit into even a teeny tiny clutch. That's it above. (So far, the makers have raised more than $180,000 to bring it to market. That's 20 times their $7,800 Kickstarter goal.)
Should you try a menstrual cup? Get the details and you decide:
What it is
A flexible cup that you wear internally to collect your flow instead of absorbing it like a tampon or a pad would. There are two kinds of menstrual cups—some are bell shaped and sit low in the vaginal canal, while others fit in the natural space under your cervix. They’re made of either silicone or latex and can be reusable or disposable.
How it works
Usually, you fold it and insert it into your vagina (each manufacturer provides detailed instructions); once it's in, it unfolds and you can adjust the placement. You'll need to remove the cup (most of them have a stem to help you grasp it) and empty it out every eight to 12 hours depending on your flow. The reusable kinds can be cleaned simply by rinsing them out in warm, soapy water.
You can usually keep them in longer than other sanitary products: women change them 2.8 times less frequently on average than when using tampons or pads, and they leak half as often, according to a 2010 UK study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research. Since many brands are reusable, they’re also less taxing to the environment—think of the millions of pads and tampons (and their wrappers) headed for landfills each year—and your wallet over the long run.
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They’re definitely not for the squeamish: They’re more difficult to insert and remove than tampons (at least for beginners), and unless you go for the disposables you’re cleaning them out yourself, sometimes in public restrooms.
“If you’re not comfortable physically placing tampons then you’re definitely not a candidate for these types of products,” says Pamela Berens, MD, an ob-gyn at the University of Texas Health Science Center. “I’ve had a lot of patients try them and give up, telling me they’ve found them just too messy.”
And while menstrual cups are safe to keep in for up to 12 hours, Dr. Berens is skeptical that they’ll last that long, especially for those with super heavy flow: “I’d recommend changing them more frequently—about as often as you’d change an extra-large tampon—to avoid accidents,” she says.
“It’s an attractive product for the right woman,” Dr. Berens says. “It’s appealing for a woman who is very comfortable with her own body, wants to consider an environmentally friendly choice, and won't be discouraged or bothered by a potential bit of a mess when it comes to removing and cleaning.” If that's you, then go for it!