Menstrual Cup Guide for Beginners - What You Need to Know
I want to use menstrual cups but..
Menstrual cups (or period cups) are being used all over the world. In my country, India, it is still relatively new. Many I know are hesitant to take that plunge. “What if it gets stuck inside?” “It looks too daunting” are some of the dialogues I hear constantly. This fear is more overpowering than trying out a product that is environmentally and physically safe.
On this page, I am going to document the lessons I learned through my menstrual cup journey – what made me take that plunge even if for years I have been saying I would never stick any foreign objects in there.
I will also mention the products I use which are available in India, popular international menstrual cup brands available for purchase in India, the techniques I use to ensure a leak-free period, and more – in the hope that some of those who are on the verge of transitioning would feel motivated enough to become cupverts.
In all honesty, your cup journey is not going to be smooth – but it will be totally worth it at the end.
A Question to all Current and Former Menstruators Out There!
Have you ever used a menstrual cup?
Why Did I Start Using a Menstrual Cup?
It all began when I started getting severe itching from using sanitary napkins. I know sanitary napkins are to blame because the itch used to happen only while using one and would go away after a day or two after my periods ended. It got to a point when the itch became too much and I had to see a doctor. She recommended trying out a menstrual cup.
The same issue occurred with other friends. They all shifted to menstrual cups.
I did some digging around and found out that some reputed brands are offering low quality products to developing countries like Kenya (source). So in case you are wondering why you are getting an itch all of a sudden down there, this might be a reason. Such issues are not openly discussed especially in India. We end up thinking it is a personal hygiene issue and products misuse this doubt in us by offering subpar products.
Honestly, this was what prompted me to shift to menstrual cups. I came to know about the environmental and physical benefits much later. I have been using a cup for over a year now.
First, A Little Comparison – Sanitary Napkins vs. Menstrual Cups
Sanitary napkins can dry out your skin by soaking up vaginal wall fluids.
There is no such issue with menstrual cups. In fact, menstrual cups allow your vaginal fluids to flow freely.
Sanitary napkins prohibit your movement.
Once inserted properly, there is no fear of menstrual cups prohibiting your activities like exercising.
Our sanitary napkins are laden with harmful chemicals. Our vagina is like a sponge, soaking it all in.
Menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone which is safe to use in our body.
Sanitary napkins are used and thrown. Needless to say, our environment hates it. Most of the wastelands are filled with sanitary napkins! One sanitary napkin takes about 500-800 years to decompose. Imagine how much waste people collectively all over the world are generating just by using sanitary napkins.
On the other hand, one menstrual cup can be used for over 10 years.
Since our sanitary napkins are collecting everything – vaginal fluids, blood, and sweat – the combination with the outer air, plastics and cotton in the napkins create an odour.
One thing that will surprise you with menstrual cups, is that there is no odour. I always used to think it is the blood that is creating the odour, but the main culprit is – sanitary napkins.
With sanitary napkins, we are familiar with that gush or sudden flow of blood when we stand up or exercise.
This feeling is completely absent while using a menstrual cup. The result – you end up feeling less icky.
Sanitary napkins need to be changed every few hours.
Menstrual cups can be used for 12 hours at a stretch (provided your flow is light; more on that later).
Can't go commando!
If you are someone who likes to sleep commando, you can finally do so even during your periods using menstrual cups. Aah, the freedom!
.. Surely it’s not all roses and peach?
Definitely not! I am being completely truthful here. It took around 6 months for me to finally get a leak-free period with a cup (with no backup panty liners).
Menstrual cups will be one of the best things to happen to you - if you learn to master it. The caveat is that many give up during the learning phase.
All good things take time – and this holds true with using menstrual cups. There is a learning curve, and it is not a one-lesson-fits-all-students kind of scenario. What might work for me may not necessarily work for you. You are the teacher and the student - researching, executing, and then learning from your own experiences. A very blessed few might get it in the first attempt itself but the majority might face a bit of a struggle.
Once you understand this, you are ready to use a cup.
Getting your mind ready is the first step. Why do I say this? Because if you are tensed, your vaginal muscles will tighten up and make it that harder for a cup to go in or be pulled out. Just like how it is during sex. If you are not ready or lubricated, sex can be painful. It is the same for menstrual cups.
Relaxing is key. I understand a little bit of anxiety is normal and comes with embarking a new journey. But don’t let that make you lose hope. Keep trying till you get used to the idea and finally you are experimenting with different folds and techniques to find out the right combination for you.
I am Scared My Cup Will Get Lost Inside
Your cup cannot get lost anywhere inside. It is physically impossible. Your vaginal canal is designed as such. It is a closed chamber. There is an opening at the top which is the cervical opening connected to the uterus. This opening is way too small for a cup to pass through. It opens up only during the third trimester of pregnancy and closes immediately after delivery. Understanding our anatomy also helps in easing all concerns.
Related Reading: How to Overcome your Fear of Using Menstrual Cups
- Overcoming your Fear of Using a Menstrual Cup
I got a severe rash that limited my activities. I was looking into other options when I heard many women complaining about the same issue with sanitary napkins. I finally took that step towards a more economically viable and healthier alternative.
Ok, my mind is ready (I guess!). Now what?
If you are ready to make that transition – congrats! You have taken that much-needed step required for your environment and your health. You will be pleasantly surprised by how much the amount of trash coming out of your home has reduced.
You are now ready to buy a cup.
I started with a Sirona menstrual cup (available on Amazon) but it did not work for me. It was not opening up fully and kept leaking. After a few months of unsuccessful attempts, I was almost ready to give up. Then I bought a Wow menstrual cup. Same experience. It did not work for me. The cup was not opening up fully, I experienced leaks, plus the material felt sticky and tacky.
Then I thought I would give reputed cups a try. Ones which are used all over the world. That’s where Soch cup came in. It is known internationally as the Si-Bell cup and is medically certified. It is made by a company that specializes in medical instruments so I knew they are reliable and safe. Also, the plus is that you will get a lot of reviews online for the Si-Bell cup which is not the case with Indian brands.
So always get a reputed brand first! It will be expensive but the money spent on it will be worth it.
The Best Menstrual Cups to Buy In India and Abroad (Personal Recommendations)
Most cups available on Amazon India are cheap knock-offs and are of very poor quality. If you use them, you will be off-cups in no time as they are difficult to open, don’t have proper suction, made of poor sticky material, etc.
Instead, invest in a good branded cup. There are some good brands available on Amazon India too. I have heard good reviews about the Stonesoup and Boondh cup. I haven’t tried them so I cannot give a personal review. All I know is that the following are the best menstrual cups in India:
- Soch cup
- Stonesoup (recognized internationally as well)
- Boondh (a lot of my friends use it and are happy)
Best international menstrual cups available on Amazon India:
- Diva cup
- Ruby cup (I was planning on getting this one if Soch didn’t work)
- Meluna cup (made of TPE)
- Mooncup (great reviews but appears once in a blue moon in India)
I am naming these after tons of research online and going through reviews. If I buy a menstrual cup again, it will be only one of the cups mentioned above.
Those with a super heavy flow (i.e. there is a need to change every 1 hour or so), can try the Super Jennie. I have heard fab reviews of this but it is not available anywhere in India. You can try international websites.
Best Menstrual Cup without Air Holes
Which Menstrual Cup Should I Buy?
Since we have gone through the menstrual cup options, the next question would be – which one to buy? What should we keep in mind while buying a menstrual cup?
Hard Vs. Soft:
If you are a sporty person (athletes have stronger vaginal muscles) – opt for a hard cup. Stronger vaginal muscles might squish soft cups leading to leakage.
If you have mostly a sedentary lifestyle, opt for a soft cup.
Keep note, soft cups give fewer cramps and are more comfortable. Also, they do not open as quickly as a hard cup and require some extra steps after insertion.
I prefer soft cups as I do not want any extra cramps.
I prefer medical-grade silicone since they retain their shape. Other materials like TPE might take on the shape of your vagina canal after continuous use.
Long menstrual cup stems are preferred if you are a newbie who has no clue of your cervix height. Stems help in tracing your cup at the time of removal. Long stems can be trimmed down once you get to know how much of it is needed.
You will see some cups (like the Meluna and Boondh cup) with just a knob instead of a stem. Some even come without a knob or stem (suitable for those with a low cervix). This can be daunting for a newbie with a higher cervix as it might be difficult to trace the cup during removal. So it helps to know your cervix height before purchasing a cup. To be on the safe side, always get one with long stems that can be trimmed.
Remember, the stem is there only as a guide to locate the base of the cup. It should NOT be used to pull out the cup. A cup should only be removed by pinching the cup.
There are tutorials online to find out your cervix height.
There are cups with and without suction or air holes.
Suction holes help in breaking the cup seal easily when you pinch the cup during removal.
The ones without suction holes have a stronger seal.
I prefer mine with big suction holes. They are easier to remove and also clean.
You will see a variety of menstrual cup sizes – Small, Medium, Large. The instructions usually tell you to choose as per your age or delivery. They leave out another important aspect – your flow. If you have a heavy flow, go for the large size. Small size is usually used by teens.
I went for a large with Soch and will go for a large in other companies as well. I am 30+ (no deliveries), with a medium flow.
The large size might look daunting to you but I feel it is the best for 25+-year-old adults with a normal to heavy flow.
Where to Buy Menstrual Cups in India?
All of the cups I have recommended above are sold on Amazon India (subject to availability).
You can also buy cups like Soch, Boondh, Stonesoup from their official websites.
How Much Does a Good Menstrual Cup Cost?
Anywhere above 600 INR. It might be best to stay away from brands that are priced below that as there might be quality issues.
Soch cup is between 1k-2k INR. This is a reasonable price to invest in considering the brand is of good quality, medically tested, and something you can use for more than 10 years.
I Got My Cup. Now What?
Boil it in a vessel or microwave it for a couple of minutes.
I prefer the Sirona steam cup cleaner. It is automatic and switches off once done. Very convenient to put on my desk while working. No extra caution is required.
Periods Started. I am ready.
Now the learning phase begins!
The first thing to learn is about the various menstrual cup folds.
The punch-down fold is easier to insert. But I always experienced leaks with this. I shifted to the C-fold which looks too big but the trick is to slide it from one side instead of going in full-on.
You can look into various menstrual cup folds and see which one works the best for you.
The Best Menstrual Cup Fold Techniques
Inserting a Menstrual Cup
If you are a first-timer, this might be a nerve-wracking experience. Not because it is difficult. Because it is unknown territory.
It might not go in because you are too tensed up. Relax and try again.
Also, make sure you are well lubricated. This is why it is best to try out a menstrual cup while you are on your periods when your vagina is well lubricated. You can also try coating your cup with warm water.
Otherwise, make use of a water-based lubricant.
I prefer inserting a cup while squatting fully down because it is easier for me. Some can insert while standing up, over the toilet, one leg over the toilet. It all depends on your preference.
How Long Can I Go Without Emptying My Menstrual Cup?
This is part of your learning phase.
During your heavy flow days, you might need to remove your menstrual cup every 4-6 hours to see if it is almost full. If it is not, it means you can go longer without emptying. If you leak before that, it means you might need to empty more frequently.
During your light flow days, you can go up to 12 hours. For hygienic reasons, it is recommended not to go longer than that.
If you leak even before your cup is full, it means the cup has not opened up fully inside or inserted incorrectly.
How To Check if I have Inserted My Cup Correctly?
As mentioned earlier, hard cups are easier to open. You only need to insert it and the hardness of the menstrual cup instantly pops it back into shape once it is inside the vaginal canal. You might even hear a “pop” sound.
I haven’t witnessed this popping sound as the Soch cup is soft. But I have experienced a cervical slap – i.e. the cup “slapping my cervix” after it has opened up inside. This happens usually when my cup wasn't inserted properly. The cervical slap is not a confirmation that the cup has opened fully. It might still leak.
My Cup is Leaking
With a soft cup, once it is inside, you need to do some “safety checks”.
Insert a finger and run it around the cup to check for any dents. Even a small dent might cause leaks. If there are dents, slightly push one side of the cup towards the vaginal wall. If it still doesn’t open up, remove the cup till the mouth of the cup reaches the opening, then insert it back again. Keep repeating this 2-3 times till the dents are fixed.
Once the dents are gone, rotate the cup. This will remove any further dents at the top of the cup and seal it into place.
Remember, a very small amount of leaking is natural. This is residual blood from the vaginal walls that slide down with other fluids especially during those heavy flow days. But this shouldn’t be happening frequently. Maybe once or twice before scheduled emptying. If it happens more times, the cup might not have been inserted properly.
How to Remove a Menstrual Cup
I did not have any issues inserting a menstrual cup but removing it was a task. I remember crying because I could not get it out the first time around. It was a terrible experience. But thankfully, I had done a ton of research and knew in my mind that these issues are normal for menstrual cup beginners. This is exactly why I mentioned at the start that you need to mentally prepare yourself first.
The best position to empty the cup is over the toilet while seated (or squatting, whichever you prefer). To remove, insert two fingers and locate the stem of the cup. As mentioned before, do NOT use the stem for pulling out the cup. This will be painful. Once located, move your fingers towards the base of the cup. Keep moving till you reach the middle of the cup and pinch to break the seal. Slowly wiggle it side by side (while still pinching the cup) and slide it out.
Dump the contents into the toilet. Wash with cold water.
How to Clean a Menstrual Cup
Once removed, you can wash a menstrual cup using cold water. Do not use any soaps as this can be irritating for your vagina and some might even degrade the quality of your menstrual cup. Medical-grade silicone does not hold on to any odour. So a simple wash with water is more than enough.
Once your period is done, boil the cup and store it away. You can also boil it before using it the next time.
I usually wash only with cold water (minimum twice a day) during my period and I sanitize it using my menstrual cup steamer after my periods are over. I then keep it to dry near a window with enough sunlight. Store away once dry.
Do not wash with warm/hot water first as stains might set in (heard this from a lot of cuppers) and these will require a cleansing agent (hydrogen peroxide) later on to remove.
Suction holes can be cleaned with a toothpick. Another way to clean suction holes is shown below.
Cleaning the holes on your menstrual cup
Menstrual Cup Steamer Sterilizer
- 8 Best Menstrual Cup Cleaning Tips
Tried and tested menstrual cup cleaning tips and techniques that work like a charm. If you are a menstrual cup user, special care should be taken during the cleaning process to avoid infections.
How to Store
Store your menstrual cup in an airy, breathable cotton bag. Never use an airtight container as it requires ventilation.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Kalpana Iyer