I remember when I first held a menstrual cup in the palm of my hand. It looked like a kitchen tool for a domesticated cat. A goblet fit for a squirrel. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how that small, snappy cup planned to enter my vaginal canal and… stay there?
I remember thinking to myself: I could use a comprehensive, A-to-Z guide on this tiniest of Holy Grails. (Not exactly those words, but you get it.)
With the state of the world being what it is—and with a personal pledge to create less waste in 2020—it feels like there’s no better time to ditch my tampons once-and-for-all for the sustainable alternative. Together with the team at Intimina, a Swedish brand offering a full range of responsibly manufactured products dedicated to menstrual care, I asked those who bleed monthly in the Man Repeller audience for all their questions and qualms about menstrual cups. And lo, did you query!
Below, enjoy a guide from yours truly—made with help from the experts at Intimina, who provided some background on questions from novice menstrual cup users and menstrual cup maestros alike.
1. Finding the Mini Chalice That’s Right for You
The most important information for determining the right cup for you is knowing the length of your, you guessed it, cervix. Cervix height can change depending on the time of month, so measure it with a clean finger during your cycle to be sure you know which size is right for you.
Many menstrual cups come with stems! In the case of Intimina’s—apart from their “Ziggy Cup,” which you can use during sex (more on that later!!!)—you’ll be able to trim the stem to your comfort.
Cups can be used for up to 12 hours, including during sleep, but you may need to change it more often if your flow is heavier. The good news is… there’s a cup for that. And with time, and practice, you’ll be able to determine how often you’ll need to empty your cup—anywhere from 2-3 times a day is recommended.
As far as materials, medical-grade silicone cups are your best bet, since they are hypoallergenic, latex-free, and toxin-free. No microplastics, toxic chemicals, or phthalates, s’il vous plaît! Look for a cup that has been tested and FDA-approved for biocompatibility. Intimina happens to have a queenly starter cup—the “Lily Cup One”—which is, certifiably, a beginner’s best friend. It collapses down to fit into its own carrying case, and even has a removal loop to make sure your first reaction when trying it out isn’t panic! And if you want something even slimmer and slippier, they make a “Lily Cup compact“ which collapses all the way flat and also fits into its own precious carrying case. It’s very cute. Just saying.
2. Safety First, Kids
“What about my IUD?” many asked. I, too, am an IUD proprietor and went down the road of being confused about whether my cup would interfere with the tiny strings at the back of my canal, or that the pressure vacuum might dislodge it. Fortunately, menstrual cups are held in a lower position than a tampon and shouldn’t interfere with an internal birth control device. Experts told me that. And as far as the aforementioned pressure vacuum, if you are a new IUD user it is worth waiting a few months before incorporating a menstrual cup into your routine. If you’re concerned about the placement of your IUD, it’s worth checking in with your doctor to confirm it’s positioned correctly, that a menstrual cup won’t interfere with its placement, and that its strings aren’t too long.
3. But… How Do You Clean It? Like, Really Clean It.
For me, this historically felt like the biggest barrier to getting a menstrual cup. Getting my hands dirty with my own period blood seemed like an ick! But I had to interrogate what it was about my period that made it feel like it was “dirty” or “gross,” because—pardon me, I’m mounting my soap box—it’s the most natural thing in the world and society told me it wasn’t. Women have been menstruating since time immemorial—and despite the aches and pains and occasional frustration, it is our—dare I say it, beautiful—biology. L’origine du monde. Whenever I get red-cheeked over my period, I just check myself and play this scene in my head.
Okay, now: How to clean your cup! While using your menstrual cup, you can wash it in a sink with mild, PH-balanced soap and hot water. Zing. For a more thorough clean between periods, though, it’s recommended that you boil your cup submerged in a pot of water for 5 to 8 minutes. Many audience members mentioned cup staining as a pain point, and I think I may have the secret sauce! According to an expert at Intimina, mix equal parts 1% hydrogen peroxide and water in a bowl, leaving the cup submerged for 24 hours. After doing so—and before using or storing it!—be sure to wash it with warm water, to ensure that you’ve removed all the hydrogen peroxide residue. Alternatively, a 1:2 part white vinegar and water mixture will work with this method—submerge the cup in it for 24 hours and wash it thoroughly afterwards. If your cup smells like a salt & vinegar chip the next day, boil it in water per the directions above.
4. In the Words of One Responder: “How Do I Clean My Cup in a Public Restroom Without Looking Like I Murdered Someone in There???”
Moons ago, when I first started thinking about a menstrual cup, I imagined cleaning it out in a public bathroom stall and the resulting crime-scene vibe. A flutter of panic!!! Many responses echoed this same fear.
But it doesn’t need to be scary! Wash your hands with soap and water before handling the cup, or consider carrying *coveted* hand sanitizer or antibacterial hand wipes in your bag to get clean before removing it. Chic. If you don’t have access to running water, according to the experts, it’s perfectly safe to empty your cup and wipe it out with toilet paper before reinserting. Alternatively, you can bring your reusable water bottle into the stall with you to do a little rinse. Clean your hands to the best of your ability before leaving the stall, give them a proper wash in the sink, and cartwheel out of there.
5. UGH, Not Leakage
Leaking is not fun or cool. But just a reminder that, in the beginning, it happens! If you’re getting used to a cup, be open to the fact that leaking might be a part of the process. But if you’re still getting grief after that introductory period, the Intimina team recommends the following:
There are two possible reasons for leaks: Your cup isn’t opened up properly—or it’s not positioned correctly. First and foremost, get acquainted with your ~interior architecture~ so you can visualize what you’re doing during insertion. If your cup hasn’t opened up properly, it’s all about getting the insertion method down. First, relax. No tight walls, pls. Try a different fold if the one you’re using isn’t working (here’s a handy vid for that). Run a finger around the edge of the cup’s body to check for any folds. If they’re still there, gently pull or wiggle the stem. If it’s a matter of leakage due to position, experts recommend moving your cup just a little higher toward your cervix.
6. Truth or Lie: You Can Have Penetrative Sex With a Cup In
Lest I lead you astray, it’s important to note: For most cups, it is not a good idea to have sex with it in!
However, Intimina makes a special cup specifically for penetrative sex called the “Ziggy Cup”—WOOT. The first of its kind, actually. It sits high in the vaginal canal, right under the cervix, and it’s shaped more like a diaphragm than other cups. Give it a whirl and tell me what you think?
So… are you convinced that now is the time to get cup’t? Will you join me on this journey to banishing tampons and liners for the sustainable alternative?? I’m fielding additional questions in the comments—and will continue consulting the experts—so drop a thought or feeling anytime.
Shop Intimina’s cups!
Photography by Aileen Son.