Your guide to period cups (from someone who doesn’t find using them easy)
I have a confession: I’ve never successfully* used a period cup. Cue the gasps, the shock, the horror. Despite working for a sustainable menstrual care company, I just can’t seem to get the hang of menstrual cups, and it’s not for lack of trying.
In fact, because Unfabled tests all of our products before launching them to our customers, for the past few months part of my job description has been Designated Cup Tester. I’ve been sent around 7 different cups to try, and each month, I’ve been trying to make them work.
Why? Like many people out there, I have friends who are ride or die cup converts. These friends have made the switch and couldn’t possibly fathom ever looking back. The convenience! The ease! The environmental impact! The cost-effectiveness! The ability to forget about the bleed almost entirely for 12 hour stints! I’ve seen the appeal and I’ve been riddled with envy – for some reason, my knowledge of cups, my insights into menstrual wellbeing and my adamant will to become a cup convert haven’t seemed to convince my body that cups are for me.
So, let’s get into it.
My experience of cups so far
I’ve tried about seven different cups, with varying degrees of success. This is basically how it went:
- Some I couldn’t insert at all.
- Some I couldn’t get to fold the right way.
- One I thought I’d figured out – only to stand up from the loo and instantly decide nope, very bad idea and take it out.
- Another one I managed to put in, walking away from the bathroom feeling like a champion… until I realised hours later that I actually hadn’t got it to open up correctly and blood had leaked right through.
- One I inserted, went out to dinner wearing – does that constitute success? – but on my walk home I felt something shift, and quite genuinely spent my entire journey stressing over whether or not it was going to fall out of my body while I was walking. Long story short, it didn’t fall out of me (I was panicked and being dramatic) but I hadn’t got the suction quite right on insertion and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the experience.
Naturally, whenever you find something difficult that other people find easy, you begin to question whether or not something’s wrong with you.
So, I went to the professionals. Luckily, I do have direct access to our wonderful Clinical Lead Zoe Sever for all my burning questions, and was also able to reach out to Menstrual Health Consultant and Executive Director of the Menstrual Health Hub, Danielle Keiser for advice.
I asked the hard questions so you don’t have to. Here’s what they had to say.
First up, if I can’t seem to figure out how to make cups work for me, is there something fundamentally wrong with my body?
Absolutely not! Like every human body and every human face, every human vagina is different, too! The best thing for you is what feels best for you. PERIOD!
Cups, like bras or underwear, come in very different styles depending on your body, vaginal length and shape, etc. so it could be helpful to take a quiz, like what PutACupInIt has to help you understand the types of cups or discs that could be best for you.
Sometimes people just aren't comfortable with the feeling of a foreign object sitting inside of their bodies; that's okay! Sometimes people just can't get the cups to work the way they are 'supposed to'; that's also okay! But it is not your fault! The most important thing is that you keep your mind open and listen to your body. If cups aren't for you, there are other alternatives that can be great reusable options for you as well, such as menstrual discs, sponges or washable pads and period panties.
Do you any tips to make inserting cups/using cups easier?
Yes, using a little bit of water-based lube on the rim, and trying different folds. Having patience and pulling the cup down so that it opens up completely inside of you. Having a bent cup inside of you may cause leakage; to avoid this you want to create a 'suction' by pulling the cup down once you stick it in without taking it out, and moving around inside you to get it to open up completely from its folded position. Practice, practice practice - until you find that right fit!
Is there a reason why I might be struggling with cup insertion?
You could have a tilted uterus - also called a tipped uterus - which tips backward at the cervix instead of forward. A tilted uterus is considered a normal anatomical variation, so don't worry! You could just have a narrower vaginal canal - whatever the reason, don't freak out! There are plenty of other period products you can try until you find what's right for you.
(A note from Lyndsey: period pants have been a gamechanger for me and fab sustainable switch! Don’t forget that cups aren’t the only reusable period product out there.)
What if I can't get the cup out? Will I lose a cup or disc in my body?
If you can't get the cup out, don't worry. Relax and exhale - you've got this. In addition to using your fingers, try bearing down on the toilet seat or in a squat position (almost as if you're making a bowel movement). This helps push the cup out.
Remember to relax, do some down regulating breathing exercises to calm the body, mind and nervous system. The cup cannot get lost because there is no place for it to go. If you're freaking out, take a break from trying for 10 minutes, just don't call the ambulance or the fire department.
If cups have been hard to get out in the past, it could be good to buy a cup with a circular ring stem instead of a straight stem so that you can use your pinky finger to grab for a more solid grip / pull.
My greatest success so far.
It is funny that Danielle mentioned the circular ring stem, because the most success I’ve had with inserting cups so far has been with a cup that has this feature. Asan’s Menstrual Cup, the cup I’ve most recently tried, has been the one I’ve found easiest to use, and I’m not just saying that.
In terms of firmness, I’ve found this cup easiest to fold, without the rim being too firm to be comfortable. For instance, I really struggled with a Moon Cup because it was almost too rigid for me to insert, whereas I personally found the &SISTERS nüdie cup a little too soft – although if you find some cups too firm, this option could be great for you. Everyone's needs are different!
The Asan cup was a really happy medium for me. Also, removal was a lot easier given the ring pull tab.
Important note: do not under any circumstances just pull at the ring tab and expect to get your cup out with one swift tug. Even writing that makes me shiver. You need to use the ring tab to gentle bring the cup a bit lower in your vaginal canal and then break the suction before you remove it fully.
I will caveat the above by saying, no, I wouldn’t call my use of the Asan cup a success so far.* While I have been able to insert this cup and go about my day for a few hours with this cup, I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable and I have struggled to get it into a position that feels just right for me. Perhaps I do have a tilted uterus, as Danielle suggested, so insertion is a little tricky?
All in all, I have found perseverance to be rewarding, but this is perseverance combined with being willing to try out different cups when I decided one absolutely wasn’t working for me.
The bottom line
When it comes to cups, despite popular dialogue, it’s not always easy. The good news? You are under no obligation to use a cup if you don’t want to. We don’t advocate for peer pressure or one-size-fits all solutions here.
There are so many different period care options out there, there will be one that’s just right for you. Your priority should always be putting your body and your needs first, and feeling like your best self on your period.