Should you switch to a menstrual cup?

More and more women may be using menstrual cups but let’s face it, they can still seem a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Here’s the lowdown.

While Australian women have used disposable pads and tampons for decades, the tide is turning towards more environmentally friendly and cost-effective options.

Menstrual cups are reusable vessels, normally made from silicon, latex or rubber, that are inserted to collect menstrual flow.

Australians have many brands to choose from, and they come in different sizes.

Pros of menstural cups

A recent study in the Lancet found menstrual cups were safe and effective, with cost and environmental benefits.

Monash Health head of gynaecology Professor Beverley Vollenhoven is among doctors happy to recommend menstrual cups to her patients.

“It’s a one-off purchase, which is better than buying tampons or pads every month,” she says. “And of course better for the environment because they are reusable.”

They can be left in for longer than tampons, including overnight, and can collect more fluid. They can last up to 10 years, making the initial investment worthwhile.

Cons of menstrual cups

The cups can be messy to empty until you get the hang of it. And cleaning them in public or work toilets can also be tricky.

Welcome to your Period co-author Dr Melissa Kang says some women fear leaking or discomfort – but those concerns generally ease with practice.

Who can use menstrual cups?

Welcome to your Period co-author Dr Melissa Kang says anyone, including younger girls, can use menstrual cups.

“Most girls begin using non-intravaginal products, and that’s fine, but they need not think they’re too young,” says Dr Kang, associate professor in the Faculty of Health at the University of Technology Sydney.

“Girls should have the same choice as women when they begin to menstruate.”

Are there any risks when using menstrual cups? 

Dr Kang says menstrual cups come with a small element of risk, but knowing how to use them properly can mitigate those.

“There’s the possibility of interference with IUD strings, and seems like a miniscule risk, but women should be aware and take caution removing the cup, by breaking the suction,” she says.

Professor Vollenhoven says another risk is forgetting they’re in there.

A recent study shows menstrual cups do not decrease the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare but serious disease that can also occur with tampon use.

How to use and clean menstrual cups

Lunette Australia advises these steps for effective use:

To use:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Fold your menstrual cup in half lengthways, to make a “c” shape.
  • Get comfy – stand or squat – and relax.
  • Insert the cup, then check it is fully open at the top.
  • The cup can be used on any day of your period.

To remove and clean:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Relax, and grasp the bottom of the cup to break seal.
  • Tip contents into the toilet.
  • Rinse and reuse.
  • Clean and sanitise each month.
  • Rinse in cold water then wash in warm soapy water.

Written by Sally Heppleston