Menstrual Cups: Tamsin Hopkins explains what they are and how you use them

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a device worn internally that sits underneath the cervix and collects menstrual fluid. It’s typically made from medical grade silicone, although a few are made from natural rubber and/or TPE. Once the cup is full, you remove it, pour the contents down the toilet, and then rinse and reinsert it. At the end of your period, you clean and sanitise it ready for the next time. So really it’s no different from using tampons, except you don’t throw it away.

Despite what you may think, menstrual cups are not a new invention. They’ve been around since the 1930s, with some internal ‘sack-like’ devices dating back to the 1800s. In fact, they appeared around the same time that tampons did, but for whatever reason they never took off.

Over the last decade, however, retailers of reusable menstrual products have noticed that menstrual cups have gained popularity, to the point where we now see them regularly advertised in magazines and some of the more popular brands are available in high-street pharmacies. With more people becoming conscious of what they put in their bodies and considering the environmental impacts of their daily lives, it’s no surprise that the menstrual cup is attracting interest.

Why menstrual cups are fantastic

During a woman’s menstruating lifetime, it’s estimated that she will use and throw away approximately 15,000 tampons. That’s just ONE person. Not only is that a lot of money to part with, but think about the environmental impact – rotting in landfill or adrift in the ocean and detrimental to wildlife.

When using a menstrual cup, you’re not contributing to the landfill every cycle. This makes it very eco-friendly, and as long as you care for it properly it can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years. That’s a one-off payment for years of use.

No more late-night dashing to a 24-hour store because your period has started unexpectedly; no need to carry a bag full of pads or tampons each time you leave the house. You just need one cup, and you can even insert it before your period starts if you’re expecting it to show imminently. No more being caught out!

Many women report that they suffered vaginal dryness and itching with tampon use, but that this went away when they switched to a menstrual cup – and that’s no coincidence. Tampons actively absorb not only menstrual fluid, but also the moisture from within the vaginal wall, whereas a cup simply sits and passively collects fluid.

Since a menstrual cup can hold around 2–3 times more than a tampon, you won’t need to empty it quite as often as you would change a tampon. Depending on its capacity and your flow, a menstrual cup can safely be left in for up to 12 hours, so you can forget about your period and get on with life.

How to avoid purchasing the wrong cup

As the movement picks up momentum, more brands are appearing, each offering its own take on the menstrual cup. This is great for choice, but not so great if you don’t know which cup will suit you. Many brands guide you by age and whether you’ve had a vaginal delivery, but this doesn’t take into account avery important aspect of cup sizing. Before purchasing a cup, you need to know your cervix height, which is essentially the length you have in which a cup can fit. Some women have a high cervix, some have a low one, and others have one that’s somewhere in between.

Measuring your cervix height

Your cervix moves around during different phases of your cycle. It often dips during your period, so measuring your cervix height should be done at this time. Here’s how to do it:

  • Place your leg up on something like the side of the bath.
  • With clean hands, insert your middle or index finger into your vagina.
  • Feel for your cervix. This may feel like a slightly indented doughnut shape, and in texture a bit like the tip of your nose.
  • The diagram above shows you a rough guide to cervix height, depending on how far in you can get your finger before touching your cervix.
  • You can then measure how much of your finger you were able to insert, and refer to a size chart such as the one at tinyurl.com/menstrual-cup-size or join the wonderful group on Facebook called Menstrual Cups Worldwide.

This will give you a number to work from, so that you can avoid purchasing a cup that is too long or too short and thus difficult to use or remove.

Choosing a menstrual cup

Once you’ve narrowed down the selection based on your cervix height, you can consider other criteria. You can purchase different firmnesses, capacities and colours. If you have a sensitive bladder, you may find that you will gravitate towards a softer cup, whereas if you have a strong pelvic floor, you may benefit from a firmer cup. If you have a heavy flow or work in a job where you aren’t able to get to the toilet often, a higher-capacity cup may work well for you. If you have a lighter flow, a smaller cup may suit you better.

Final thoughts

I’ve been using menstrual cups for years now and I will never switch back to tampons. I find a cup much more convenient, affordable and comfortable. I am no longer contributing monthly waste to landfill, and for me this is an excellent step towards becoming more ‘zero waste’ with my lifestyle and making sure my children’s children have a beautiful planet to enjoy.

Tamsin Hopkins is a 29-year-old mum of one. She writes for her website Eco Fluffy Mama and also makes videos for her YouTube channel on topics such as reusable menstrual products and zero waste. This year Tamsin won ‘Highly Commended’ in the Health & Social category at the UK Blog Awards, having been a finalist for the last two years. She also enjoys reading, crochet and photography. www.ecofluffymama.com and www.youtube.com/c/EcoFluffyMama 

(Accurate at the time this issue went to print)

First published in Issue 45 (Autumn 2016) of JUNO:

Buy Issue 45 (paper version) from £4.25

Subscribe to JUNO (paper version with free digital access to all back issues) – from £14.50

Buy a yearly digital subscription to JUNO – £15.99