Cupstruation - Simplify Your Life In College

Authored in collaboration with Gunjaish at Ashoka University.

Edited by: Tanvi Achwal (UG 2021)

A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped reusable cup (usually made with medical grade silicone) that is used by women during their period as an alternative to pads and/or tampons. A menstrual cup is placed inside the vaginal cavity and, when fitted securely, collects the menstrual blood and fluids rather than absorbing them. It differs from sanitary pads/tampons because

a) it is reusable, and

b) it works with the function of collecting blood rather than absorbing it.

While the idea of using a menstrual cup is still gaining traction in the wider community, the first menstrual cup was designed and patented nearly 80 years ago in 1935.

Inserting a menstrual cup can seem like a daunting idea for women, especially for those who have not used a tampon before. However, the vagina is a soft and flexible canal which is designed to stretch and then return to its normal size, just as it does during childbirth and sex. Therefore, using cups does not hurt/alter the vaginal cavity at all (unless one has disorders which leads to a short cervix or vaginismus). They come in two sizes, small and large, which are usually called sizes 1 and 2 or A and B by different companies. The smaller size is usually recommended for women under 30 who have not given birth vaginally, and the larger size for women (usually over 30) who have given birth vaginally.

Why should you choose to use a menstrual cup (Cupvert)?

Menstrual Cups are not only more convenient and inexpensive as compared to pads/tampons, but they are also eco-friendly and more sustainable.

  1. Sanitary napkins are made using plastic and chemicals, which increase the risks of cancer and infections in women.

  2. Menstrual cups are Latex-free, plastic-free, BPA-free, odour-free, and free of chemically induced artificial colors/dyes. Some cups are dyed and therefore it is important to check the brand beforehand, however, some companies like Lunette which provide coloured menstrual cups have scientifically proven that their dies are FDA approved for medical and food use.

  3. Menstrual cups do not absorb blood like tampons or sanitary pads. This makes them more hygienic and prevents the chances of infections. They can be used for 5-10 years and are hence quite convenient.

  4. There is no risk of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome (a common occurrence with the use of tampons) with menstrual cups. It is a rare and fatal bacterial disease which one is likely to suffer from by using the same tampon for a long period of time.

  5. They are tested for biocompatibility and are medically appropriate to be worn inside the female genitalia during menstruation.

  6. There is absolutely no possibility for leakage (that eventually leads to staining of clothes) with correct insertion, placement, and removal of the cup.

  7. They are free of odours that some menstrual pads/tampons emanate. Menstrual cups keep one clean and prevent embarrassing odours.

  8. They cost around Rs.400-3000 depending on the kind of silicone used and whether it’s made internationally. Since one doesn’t have to buy them frequently, cups save a lot of money as compared to pads/tampons. The cost of a cup can be recovered almost in the first year of usage.

  9. The use of female hygiene products has a huge environmental and social impact on two levels; the impact of production, and the impact disposal. An average woman is estimated to throw away 125-150 kg of tampons, pads, and applicators in her lifetime. This amounts to 433 million such products discarded every month in India, experts estimate. However, most of these products end up in landfills or sewage systems because waste pickers are reluctant to separate the soiled sanitary pads by hand and burn them, as is required under the government’s Municipal Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules. It is also inhumane to ask the pickers to manually separate the pads as they can contract diseases when they come in contact with the fungal blood. They are often from lower castes and are not provided with proper disposal equipment.

  10. Pads are made from plastic. Each conventional sanitary pad contains the equivalent of about four plastic bags. Thus, disposal of one pad causes as much damage as caused by disposing of 4 plastic bags.

  11. Even though the market sells biodegradable pads, most women find it hard to procure them because of the lack of availability and high costs. (Note: these pads have now been tested by third parties and found to not be biodegradable)

How to use a Menstrual Cup?

If one is new to menstrual cups, one should expect to become comfortable with them after two to three cycles. Wearing a liner the first few times as added protection is advised in case of any leaks.

The process of Insertion:

(Source: freshu)

Due to its silicone material and flexibility, a menstrual cup fits in the vagina after a few tries. There are different ways in which the cup can be folded and worn in a squatting position, tilting back to the base of the spine. The following chart shows a visual guide to a C -fold method of inserting a cup, and this is useful for people who have experience with penetration;

(Source: freshu)

Various other kinds of folds and methods of insertion can be accessed here.

When the cup is inside and opens, it will create a light suction which prevents leaks, so it is beneficial to use a finger to check if it is fully unfolded. Following the instructions provided with the cup is also a great way to accustom oneself with a choice of cup. There are also various YouTube video tutorials that one can turn towards in order to learn how to use a cup.

Removal of the cup:

Each Menstrual cup is designed with a stem. To remove a cup, wash hands and use the stem to guide your fingers to the base of the cup. After that, carefully pinch the base to release the suction seal and then slowly remove the cup from the vaginal canal. Again, following the instructions provided with the cup will be a great help.

Cleaning the cup after removal:

Each Menstrual Cup brand will come with its own specific instructions for cleaning. However, the following can be some general steps to follow in order to clean most cups;

It is important to wash the menstrual cup at least twice a day during a cycle (every 12 hours), and ideally every 4-8 hours. After removing the cup and emptying the contents, simply wash the cup under cold or warm water and then re-insert.

Hack:  Rinsing the cup first in cold water, followed by warm water will help prevent discoloration since warm water can cause some colour to set in the silicone.

To clean the cup in a public restroom, simply empty the contents into the toilet and wipe clean with a menstrual cup wipe or with some wet paper towel or toilet paper. Re-insert as normal.

It is important to clean all holes and the rim of the cup thoroughly in order to avoid any discomfort. The silicone can be stretched carefully to wash these areas under running water. If needed, use a soft toothbrush (dedicated specifically to the cup), or a toothpick (dispose of after use) to help remove stubborn debris.

It is usually recommended that one should sterilize their menstrual cup before and after each cycle. In order to sterilize and store a menstrual cup at the end of the cycle, simply rinse as normal. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Place the cup in the water, ensuring it does not sink to the bottom (it could melt upon coming in contact with the saucepan base). Boil for 2-10 minutes (depending on the specific brand) and then remove and allow to air dry. To prevent the cup from touching the base of the pot, one can try putting it inside a whisk that is sitting in the boiling water. Dry the cup in the sun (not somewhere it can melt), as this can help reduce the chances of discoloration. If the cup gets burned or damaged on the base of the saucepan during boiling, replace it (Disclaimer: some companies specifically advise against boiling, make sure to read instructions before trying this).

Once dry, store the cup in the accompanying carry pouch. It is not recommended to store a menstrual cup in an airtight container or plastic bag, as air is important for the moisture to evaporate properly.

Which cup should one choose?

In order to make the correct choice on menstrual cups, one should know what options one has and other nuances surrounding them.

Before choosing a cup, one should consider the following points: Diameter: It’s necessary to check the diameter of a cup as it may be difficult to use if it has a diameter larger than required. The diameter required depends on age and the number of natural births given. Cup Length: A cup shouldn’t be too long or short for the body. To find out what length is ideal for you, it is recommended to measure the cervix (low/medium/high). Softness: A soft cup shouldn’t be a problem for women with strong pelvic floor muscles. However, harder cups work better for athletic women to avoid leakage. Women with a softer vaginal wall or with urinary incontinence should go for a soft cup.

Cups like Shecup, Boondh, Stonesoup come in one size that fits all and does not need any measuring. Shecup, Boondh, Stonesoup, Me Luna, Rustic art, V-cup, Femmycycle, ALX cup, Diva cup, etc. are available online. To get help on choosing a cup, one can check here.


Resources used:

  1. MCA Online

  2. Freshu

  3. YKA

  4. The Logical Indian