menstrual cups all your questions answered

How do you put in a menstrual cup? Are tampons dangerous? Will using a menstrual cup make my period lighter? Can a menstrual cup get stuck? We asked gynaecologist-sexologist Dr Mpume Zenda to answer all your questions.

Should I switch to using a menstrual cup?

I am a firm believer that the user should be the chooser. A menstrual cup gives those who menstruate yet another option and that is always a win. There are a number of reasons why women may choose to change to using menstrual cups, here are some of the advantages:

  • Safe
  • Effective
  • Eco-friendly
  • Economical
  • Reusable
  • Holds more blood than pads or tampons, therefore may require fewer changes

Why are menstrual cups suddenly so popular?

Mainly for all the reasons listed above, but also that they present an option, especially for those who have difficulties using tampons and pads.

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What are the disadvantages of using a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cups aren’t perfect so the personal decision to use them or to stick with alternatives really boils down to the comfort, affordability and accessibility to the individual. Here are some reasons people may choose not to use a menstrual cup:

  • They can be messy: if you are easily grossed out by the sight of menstrual blood then using a cup may present a challenge as there is a high chance of spillage, especially during removal.
  • You have to find the right fit: you’ll need to consider your age, period flow, cervical length and the flexibility of cup. Needless to say, it may take a few tries to find your perfect fit.
  • Allergic reaction: there is a chance of allergic reaction or irritation caused by menstrual cups.
  • Difficulty inserting/removing: some users struggle with inserting or removing menstrual cups at first, but most people get the hang of it quite quickly.

menstrual cup with hearts coming out of it: all your questions about menstrual cups answered

Are tampons really dangerous? 

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not tampons are dangerous because they’ve been dyed, may leave cotton fibres behind in the vagina and the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. This is an exaggeration, and an unfair scare to those who may not only find comfort in using tampons but also convenience – consider women in sport for example.

In 2018, the National Organization for Rare Disorders estimated that Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) related to tampon use occurs in about 1 in 100 000 menstruating women. All menstrual products, when used as prescribed, are relatively safe with each having its own pros and cons.

Will using a menstrual cup help lesson my cramps or make my period lighter? 

No, and no. Using a menstrual cup will, however, decrease the frequency with which you need to change your menstrual protection when compared to tampons or pads.

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How are you supposed to put in a menstrual cup?

  • Thoroughly wash your hands.
  • Fold the cup in half.
  • Apply lubricant or water to the rim, but try not to grease the tip as this makes it slippery to hold.
  • Squat/relax pelvic floor muscles for painless insertion.
  • Insert like you would a tampon, then rotate until you feel the cup ‘spring’ into position.
  • Wear a menstrual cup for 6 to 12 hours (or until it’s full – this will depend on the cup’s capacity and how heavy your flow is). You can also use a cup for overnight protection.
  • To remove the menstrual cup, pull the stem of the cup, pinch the base to release the seal and pull down to remove.
  • Empty cup into the sink or toilet, then rinse and reinsert if necessary or dispose of the cup if it is disposable.

And here’s a helpful video about using a menstrual cup from Dr Gynae:

What if my menstrual cup gets stuck?

Remember that menstrual cups work on suction, so pinching the bottom releases the pressure and that should release the cup. In case of difficulty, get to a health facility for assistance.

Can I use a menstrual cup if I have an IUD?

Yes, but with insertion and removal you may erroneously pull the string and subsequently shift or completely pull out your IUD.

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Are menstrual cups hygienic?

Yes. Between changes, you’ll need to rinse out your menstrual cup, and wash it with warm water and soap. Do not ever use alcohol, oils, hydrogen peroxide or vinegar. Once your period is finished (so, once a month), sterilise your menstrual cup by boiling it in water for a few minutes, and be careful to clean particularly well around the rim.

Dr Gynae - Mpume Zenda
Dr Zenda - often referred to as Dr Gynae - is a passionate OB-Gynae-Sexologist and the founder of “We See You”, a health and information consultancy that seeks to provide solutions to Sexual and Reproductive Health & Wellness through connecting media and medicine.