#Love & Sex
The Best Menstrual Cups: Your Complete Guide to the Tampon Alternative
by Taylor Borde
Shop The Story
You’ve probably heard of the Diva Cup, but what exactly is it? Here’s everything you need to know about the best menstrual cups and how to make the transition to this eco-friendly tampon and pad alternative.
Let’s get personal: Most of us grew up using tampons or pads to combat our first big flow, and have been using them ever since. But with the big push to reduce waste and stop putting unneccessary chemicals in our bodies, other period alternatives are taking over. We’re talking about the No.1 alternative: the menstrual cup (the small, reusable rubbery thing you insert like a tampon). Though a little, shall we say, unconventional, this environmentally-friendly option is becoming more popular among the everyday woman. If you’re interested in making the switch, learn more about the pros and cons of this alternative, and find out which menstrual cup is best for your body.
What exactly is a menstrual cup?
In short, a menstrual cup is a flexible cup-shaped vessel made of silicone or rubber that you wear inside your vagina while on your period. Unlike a tampon or pad, a menstrual cup collects your period blood until you’re ready to dump it out, typically holding way more liquid than the cotton alternatives. According to Dr. Renee Allen, an OBGYN from Atlanta, GA, a reusable menstrual cup can hold up to 1 ounce of fluid, which is almost twice the amount a super-plus tampon or pad can handle. Dr Allen says you can even keep it in overnight, as long as you dump it out every 8-12 hours and rinse between uses.
The increased popularity of menstrual cups is largely due to its eco-friendliness and cost effectiveness. You’re not throwing away wrappers, applicators and cotton products each month (or more if you’re irregular), making them less wasteful than tampons and pads. And, while the initial cost of one cup may range from $15-$40, Dr. Allen says menstrual cups can last up to 10 years, saving you a pretty penny over time.
Plus, menstrual cups require fewer trips to the bathroom throughout the day, compared to the recommended every 4-8 hours for tampons, don’t leak as much, and aren’t scented or full of other strange chemicals like some feminine products.
I won’t lie to you. I was a bit intimidated by the menstrual cup, not understanding how to use it. The learning curve associated with using a menstrual cup requires you to get up and personal with your vagina, which may be difficult or uncomfortable for younger girls or women who have never engaged in sex.
There’s also the potentially messy empying process, which has made many skeptic. To avoid this, empty the cup while hovering over the toilet (at home is ideal) or even in the shower, so you have easy access to a sink for rinsing the cup and washing your hands after. Dr. Allen also recommends sterilizing the cup between cycles using boiling water and unscented soap. Dr. Sherry Ross, OBGYN and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, says you can also clean your menstrual cup with a vinegar solution (1 part vinegar to 9 parts water).
Though advertised as being safer than other alternatives, menstrual cups still pose a very slim risk of Toxic Shock Syndrom, like all products that allow air to enter the vagina.
Should you use one?
Of course, everyone’s body is different, so deciding whether or not to use a menstrual cup really comes down to personal comfort and easy of use. Dr. Nicole Bullock, an OBGYN based in Abilene, TX says, “The vagina’s pretty elastic and forgiving. The differences between most models are pretty small, and it doesn’t have to be a perfect fit — it just has to fit comfortably.” Her two most important factors in determining which cup size to use are whether you’ve had a baby and your age range. The rest is up to research and trial and error.
Put a Cup in It offers a free quiz asking nine questions about factors like age, whether you’ve had children, your activity level and cervix to help you find your cup match made in heaven.
Both Dr. Allen and Dr. Sherry say you are safe to wear a cup with an IUD. Dr. Allen says, “Recent studies that have looked at IUD expulsion and menstrual cup use have been reassuring in that they have found no increase in the IUD expulsion rate between pads, tampons and menstrual cups.” If you’re at all worried that your cup may interfere with your IUD, talk with your gyno just to be safe.
Here are a few of the top-rated menstrual cups on the market, along with nitty gritty personal testimonies to help you best control your flow.
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.