The first time you heard of a menstrual cup—which may have been just now when you read this headline—you probably cringed. A cup? That catches period blood? What?!
Yep, the menstrual cup is exactly what it sounds like: A bell-shaped device made of silicon or soft plastic that is inserted into the vagina, where it forms a gentle suction against the vaginal wall to catch your flow (as opposed to tampons, which absorb it).
Most menstrual cup enthusiasts were apprehensive at first, too. Despite the hesitance, the cup has acquired a cult-like following, with users openly sharing their love for the device on social media and urging all their friends, moms, sisters, and cousins to give it a go.
What’s the deal? Why are so many pads and tampons users switching to the cup?
The Pros of the Menstrual Cup
The main appeal of the menstrual cup is that it’s reusable. After use, you sanitize them and use them again—for years. If you’ve ever groaned at the thought of going to the nearby store to buy yet another box of tampons, or been frustrated at how quickly your bathroom garbage fills up during your ~flow~ week, or felt annoyed at the continuous and hefty price of your monthly period, you might appreciate the menstrual cup.
The menstrual cup is a larger price upfront—usually around $30—but within a few months, it basically pays for itself. You won’t need to make emergency trips to the store to restock, and you’ll reduce the amount of trash you add the landfill each month, big time.
And here’s a perk for the lazy ones among us: Menstrual cups can safely stay inside you for longer than a tampon can. It’s recommended to change tampons every four to eight hours, but menstrual cups can be emptied every eight to 12 hours. That means on light days, you basically only need to empty that thing twice a day.
Finally, since menstrual cups are reusable, you can use them in those “just in case” moments without feeling guilty. For example, if you wanted to swim the day before your period was expected, you can easily insert the menstrual cup just in case your period comes early. Previously, you might have used tampons for this, but this always feels like a waste (not to mention the fact that it hurts to pull out a dry tampon).
The Cons of the Menstrual Cup
Although many people who try the menstrual cup become devout converts, some people give it up and go back to pads or tampons, and here’s why.
As any menstrual cup user can tell you, this product has a major learning curve. The menstrual cup can be intimidating (even just looking at it), and learning how to insert it properly can be a legitimate challenge for some people. If not inserted properly, it might be uncomfortable or leak.
During the learning curve transition, some people may also feel anxious about whether they have the cup inserted properly or not. They may constantly worry about leakage—although this is usually true when people use tampons for the first time as well. Still, being out of their comfort zone is enough to chase some people back to tampons.
Insertion is one thing, but removal is another. When learning how to take the menstrual cup out, some people feel anxious. There’s a trick to removing the cup properly and comfortably, but it takes practice. The moment someone starts to think, “I’ll never get this out,” their pelvic muscles get too tense and the process becomes even more of a struggle. However, with practice, the cup is a cinch to slip in and out for a quick change.
But the main con of the menstrual cup is convenience—or lack thereof. Some people don’t feel comfortable emptying and re-inserting their cup in certain situations, like in a public restroom. Of course, tampons and pads come with their own set of inconveniences, so it’s a matter of preference.
What About Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?
At first, experts thought menstrual cups were safer than tampons. Because menstrual cups are made of silicon, which typically doesn’t encourage bacteria growth, it was believed that menstrual cups could not cause toxic shock syndrome. TSS is a life-threatening (but very rare) complication caused by a bacteria infection.
However, menstrual cups are not immune to TSS. A few incidences of TSS have occurred among cup users, and experts believe it may be caused by accumulated bacteria on blood that has sat in the cup for too long.
But again, this is rare. The moral of the story is to empty your cup (or change your tampon) regularly to reduce your risk of TSS.
Got more period questions?
How do I use tampons, pads, and menstrual cups? Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/how-do-i-use-tampons-pads-and-menstrual-cups.)
Mitchell MA, Bisch S, Arntfield S, Hosseini-Moghaddam SM. A confirmed case of toxic shock syndrome associated with the use of a menstrual cup. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2015 Jul-Aug;26(4):218-20.
Tampons, pads, and other period supplies. Jacksonville, FL: Nemours Foundation. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/supplies.html.)
Your menstrual cycle. Washington, DC: Office on Women’s Health. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/your-menstrual-cycle/.)