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Thursday, May 1, 2014

20 Questions about Menstrual Cups

More than once I've talked about my fondness for Menstrual cups and their benefits.  But wherever the subject comes up, there are inevitably questions.  So I am here to answer some of the more common (and some uncommon) ones once and for all...

1. What is a Menstrual Cup and how does it work?
"Bell" Shaped Cup
A menstrual cup is, just what it sounds like, a cup which is meant to catch and hold your moon-blood.

2. Are there different kinds of cup?
Although each company's cup will vary slightly there are two main styles:

The first - and the one I will be focusing on here - is the "bell" shape. These are non-disposable and are most popular among cup users.  (this is the style I'm focusing on in this post.)

These come in two sizes (some companies have three), "small" for women under 30 who have no children and "large" for women who have children or are older than 30.
"Soft Cup"

Made of medical grade rubber or silicone and are shown to be safe for nearly all women, including those with latex allergies.  These cups are reusable (with proper care) for between 5 and 10 years usually, however some companies encourage replacement on a yearly basis.

The second is what's known as a "soft cup." These are usually made of polyethylene and come in two forms - those which are truly disposable and should be thrown away after one use and one which can be emptied and reused for an entire day.

3. How do you use the cup?
Each cup will come with instructions on how to properly insert it.  But it's fairly simple.  You simply fold your cup in to a V or U shape and insert into your vaginal canal. When you let it go it should automatically return to it's normal shape, creating a seal between the rim of the cup and your vaginal wall.  When properly in place, the cup will sit at the base of your vaginal canal, away from the cervix.*

To empty, simply break the seal with your finger and slowly rotate and pull to remove.  Empty the contents in to the toilet.  Wash, rinse or pat dry (depending on the circumstance) and store or replace.

*To insert the soft cup fold in half and insert at the base of your cervix.

4. Isn't it kinda gross?
I think this is a question that just about every cup wearer has gotten at least once.  So here's my answer. First, if you've ever used a tampon you know that can be a little on the gross side, especially on heavy flow days.  The cup, in my opinion, is less "gross" than a tampon.  Because a cup catches the flow rather than absorbs it, there are fewer leaks and in turn, you're handling less blood.

5. Is it uncomfortable?
Again, the best comparison here is a tampon.  IF worn incorrectly, it can be uncomfortable. However, when placed right you won't even know it's there.

6. Can I do everything I normally would in a cup? Or do I have to alter my activities?
Yep. Go running... Practice Yoga... Swim... Do it all. No issues.

7. I have a heavy flow, will a cup handle it?
Yes. The average woman's body expels between 1 and 1.4oz (30-40ml) throughout her entire "period."  The idea of a "heavy" flow usually comes from the speed of the flow, rather than the amount. Because tampons are meant to absorb, but can only absorb at a specific rate they can easily become overwhelmed by a fast flow - which causes leaks. Because a cup is meant to catch and hold, the speed of your flow doesn't affect it's performance. And since most cups hold an average of 1oz, the threat of them overflowing isn't likely.

8. What about the odor?
Blood, especially moon blood, tends to develop an odor after it's exposed to the air. But since the cup and the blood, are kept within your body until you remove them, there is no odor to worry about.

9. How do you properly care for the cup?
Cup care is rather simple. Through your cycle, simply wash the cup before and after each use with clean water and a water based (oil free) soap.  Some companies sell "washes" which are meant to be used with their cups, but they aren't required.  IF you're unable to wash your cup out between uses (say when you're in a public bathroom) just make sure your hands are clean and wipe it with a dry cloth or paper towel.

Most cups have tiny holes around the rim, which help create the seal that keeps it in place, that may require some extra cleaning. To do this simply stretch the rubber while running it under water. You can also use a soft toothbrush, toothpick or cotton swap to clean these.

At the end of your cycle, thoroughly wash your cup and boil it in water for 10-15 minutes to sanitize. Then simply dry and store in a cloth (not plastic) bag until you need it again.

10. If you rinse your cup in the sink, doesn't that make your sink a bio-hazard? 
The first time I got this question I was a little put off.  Once I think about it though, it makes sense.  But the answer is NO.  If you cut your thumb, you wash the blood off in the sink. It goes down the drain and you don't have a need to worry about any Bio-hazard protocol - do you?  Well, the cup is the same way.  Plus, for the most part there aren't more than a few drops of blood on the cup by the time you go to wash it anyways, the rest gets flushed.

11. How long do cups last?
As mentioned above, most will last between 5 and 10 years. But it's best to check with the company who makes yours to see what their recommendation is. If your cup is damaged in any way, you should replace it right away.

12. Is there really a savings?
Cups range in price from $20 to as much as $45.  But with a life span of anywhere from 1 to 10 years, your monthly cost could vary from as high as $3.45 to as low as $0.17.  If you were to compare that to the average price of $5 per box of pads or tampons, and an average of one box per month, your looking at a minimal savings of $15.

13. How do you know when it's full or when you should empty it?
Since most cups are large enough to hold the full loss of blood through your cycle, the chance of it filling are nil.  But you should empty your cup a minimum of 2-3 times a day.

14. How long can I wear a cup before I have to take it out?
It's best advised that you remove, empty and wash your cup a minimum of once every 12 hours.

15. Can you sleep in it, what happens if you lay down? 
The shape of the cup combined with the moisture in your vaginal canal creates a "seal" which stops leaks from happening in most cases - even when laying down.

16. Can you use these if you don't have children? They look to big for my body.
Most companies have made two (sometimes three) sizes.  The smallest sizes fit younger women and those without kids.  While the largest sizes are meant for women who have children or more mature women.  You'll want to choose the size which is best suited to your stage in life for the best fit.

17. Are there safety concerns I should know about?
If cared for and used properly (remember to wash your hands before inserting or removing) your chances of infection are slim.  Most (if not all) cups are latex free, however if you have an allergy to silicone or other rubbers you may want to research the brand of cup you are thinking of getting just to insure that you will not have a reaction.

Cups should not be used while you have a yeast or other vaginal infections.  There have never been any recorded cases of Menstrual Cup related Toxic Shock Syndrome, which is common with Tampons.

18. I've heard of women getting tampons "lost," can a cup get lost too?
No. Tampons get "lost" from time to time because they are so small that they can slip behind the cervix. Due to the size and shape of a menstrual cup, it is physically impossible to lose your cup.

19. Do you have to remove your cup every time you use the bathroom?
No.  Again, like a tampon, you are able to use the bathroom normally without removing it.  However, some women have stated they find it best to remove it prior to bowel movements, this is a personal preference though and not a "must."

It IS however, important that you remove your cup before any sexual activity. The cup is NOT birth control and will not protect against pregnancy or STDs/STIs.

20. Where can I get one?
Cups can be purchased at a great many places - online and off.  Check your local drug and natural health stores. Most "Organic" or "Natural Foods" stores will carry them as well.  If you can not find them on shelves near you, or if you simply prefer shopping online. They are available through numerous companies for direct order or through Amazon.

The following companies have menstrual cups available online for direct order.

I hope I answered everyone's questions. However, if you have any additional questions, contact me and I will be happy to answer them.  

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