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Should you try a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cups have many benefits – they are environmentally friendly, offer excellent leak protection and can save you money over time – but are they the right choice for you? Obosa Osawe, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Piedmont, discusses the pros and cons of using a menstrual cup.

What is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup is a small, flexible cup made of silicone or rubber that is inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow, rather than absorbing it like a tampon or pad. After eight to 12 hours, you simply remove the cup, empty it and wash with soap and water before reinserting it.

“Menstrual cups are just as safe as tampons and pads,” says Dr. Osawe. “While it takes some time to get used to using a menstrual cup, most women are very happy with the result once they adjust to using it.”

The pros of using a menstrual cup

Dr. Osawe says there are several benefits to using a menstrual cup:

  • Cost. “A menstrual cup is often cheaper than using tampons and pads long-term because it is reusable,” she explains. “It pays for itself quickly.”

  • Reduced irritation and vaginal dryness. “Some women experience irritation when using pads or vaginal dryness when using tampons,” she says. “You don’t have to deal with that when using the menstrual cup.”

  • Less mess and odor. “Most women find the menstrual cup is very clean to use once they are familiar with the removal process,” she says. And because the blood isn’t exposed to air like it is in a pad, most women find there is less odor associated with their period.

  • Fewer leaks. When inserted correctly, the menstrual cup forms a seal, significantly reducing your chances of a leak.

  • Longer wear time. Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours, while tampons can be worn for a maximum of eight hours. That said, Dr. Osawe advises women to empty the cup every eight hours and change their pad or tampon every four hours.  

The cons of using a menstrual cup

There are some downsides to using a menstrual cup:

  • Discomfort when inserted improperly. It takes some time to adjust to using a menstrual cup and when it is inserted incorrectly, it can feel uncomfortable. “If insertion becomes painful and it never was before, or if you are not able to insert the menstrual cup, see your OB/GYN for an exam,” says Dr. Osawe. “Depending on the anatomy of the vagina, some women cannot use it.” 

  • Cleaning it in public. Because the menstrual cup must be emptied and washed with soap and water before being reinserted, some women find it less convenient to use at work or whenever they are not at home. Dr. Osawe suggests remedying this by keeping a backup menstrual cup on hand if you know you will need to change it throughout the day.

Using a menstrual cup correctly

Follow package instructions for cleaning your menstrual cup each time you empty it. Dr. Osawe recommends washing the cup with soap and warm water and drying it thoroughly. At the end of your period, wash and dry it well, then store it in a clean, dry place.

While the menstrual cup is safe to use for daily activities like exercise, “women should not have intercourse when wearing a menstrual cup,” she says.

Is a menstrual cup right for you?

“Anyone can use a menstrual cup, including women who have given birth or have an IUD or contraceptive vaginal ring,” says Dr. Osawe. “You may have to try a couple of brands before finding the right one for you.”

Learn more about women’s health from Piedmont providers.