The ABCs of Menstrual Cups

Reading Time: 5 minutesDid you know that disposable sanitary pads and plastic tampon applicators typically end up in landfill and can take 25 years to break down? Fortunately, there are now more environmentally friendly items available. Roopal Popat shares everything you need to know about menstrual cups, along with other options on the market.

girl smiling at period cups

I was equal parts shocked and impressed that menstrual cups have been around since the 1860’s. I mean, why was I not aware of this? Why had this information fallen wayside? Growing up, I don’t recall any adverts on TV or any sort of literature shared in school or outside of school pointing me in this direction. Why had I been duped into thinking that my only options were sanitary towels and tampons?

What are menstrual cups?

A menstrual cup is a type of reusable, eco-friendly feminine hygiene product that is an alternative to tampons or pads. It is a small, flexible funnel-shaped cup made of silicone that you insert to catch and collect period fluid. The bell-shaped cup seals against the vaginal wall just below the cervix to collect menstrual fluid and prevent leakage. Approximately every 4–12 hours the cup is removed, emptied, rinsed, and reinserted.

mensual cup

When was the menstrual cup invented?

An American actor called Leona Chalmers was the first person to invent and patent her latex rubber cup in 1937. Due to the concern over inserting the cups and also the discomfort (and possible allergies) of the material, the cups were not widely used or popular. 

It wasn’t until 2002 that the first reusable silicone menstrual cup was invented in the UK called the Mooncup. The Mooncup was the first menstrual cup to be manufactured using medical grade silicone rather than latex rubber because of its durability and hypoallergenic properties. The new cups were more comfortable and easier to clean.

Today, there are loads of choices on the market and menstrual cups are becoming more widely used and advertised into our collective awareness. There are so many more options to choose from, and so many resources at our fingerprints to help get over any previous taboos, you can now even check YouTube for videos with clear instructions on how to use these cups. 

Benefits of using a menstrual cup

  • They don’t dry the vaginal area and preserve the healthy bacteria that protects from infections
  • They do not contain harmful chemicals, which can be found in some tampons and pads, for example bleach and dioxin. 
  • As the cup contains the fluid inside the body, there is less odor
  • When inserted correctly you cannot feel the cup
  • Menstrual cups can contain more fluid therefore they do not need to be cleaned for a longer period of time, unlike pads and tampons
  • They are reusable and therefore more environmentally friendly
  • You cannot get Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which is linked to the usage of tampons

infographic showing menstrual cup benefits

Are menstrual cups more environmentally friendly?

The environmental benefits of using cups are undeniable. Disposable pads and plastic tampon applicators typically end up in landfills or are incinerated. They can take 25 years or more to break down and cause a significant environmental impact. Most of the pads and tampons are made of cotton and/or plastic. Plastic can take 50 or more years and cotton starts degrading after 90 days if it’s composted. Biodegradable sanitary options are now available, and these decompose quicker, but they must be composted, and not disposed of in a landfill. Given that the menstrual cup is reusable, it decreases the amount of waste generated from menstrual products and also creates less discarded packaging.

Learn more: How tampons and pads became so unsustainable

Are there any other alternatives?

If you’re not quite ready to make the move to using menstrual cups, there are other environmentally friendly options to try. 

For example, why not switch to using reusable sanitary pads? Or try organic sanitary pads and tampons. Traditional pads and tampons often contain harmful materials, like bleached rayon and dioxin and/or are made from synthetic fibers. Organic options are typically made from organic cotton, so they do contain pesticides or harmful chemicals. Reusable pads are also zero waste and can be used many times, washing after each use.

Another option is investing in period underwear which can be washed and then reused. These are also environmentally friendly.

Did You Know more than 400 million pounds of sanitary pads, tampons, and tampon applicators end up in landfills.

Source: The Women’s Environmental Network 


how to use a menstrual cup infographic

Where to buy in Hong Kong

There is a range of alternative sanitary products available in Hong Kong, from Diva International, The Lily, Luuna Naturals and the Lunette. Check out the following to help get you started.

woman folding her menstrual cup for her period kit

1st Period Kits for Young Teens

Why not be ahead of the game and create a 1st period kit for you child.

Educating the next generation on what products are on offer could go a long way to reducing waste, being more environmentally friendly, and ensuring our girls are not using harmful materials. 

Some ideas for the period kit:

  • Period underwear
  • Spare underwear
  • Period swimwear
  • Menstrual Cup
  • Organic pads/tampons
  • Reusable pads
  • Hot water bottle 
  • Chocolates
  • Discreet pouch to carry items
  • Guide and information on periods
  • Mild pain relief (age appropriate)

graphic showing different folds of a menstrual cup

So, what it is like using a cup? 

Kate Cunich answers some FAQ 

How do I remove the cup if there is no string to pull like with a tampon?

Taking your cup out is much like having a baby… or a poo! You squeeze it down until you can reach the tip and then you pull, easy peasy!

Will my cup get lost?

No. The vaginal canal is an elastic, muscular tube only about four to five inches long which means that the vagina does not connect to other parts of the body, meaning that your cup literally has nowhere else to go!

Can anyone use a cup?

Yes. Luckily there are all sizes, shapes, brands and styles of cups. Everyone can succeed with a cup as long as they find the right one. 

Is using a cup messy?

Not at all! Even when removing the cup it is a very neat and tidy process, over the toilet or in the shower.

Should I wear a backup liner or pad?

Most users wear no back up at all (that’s part of what makes these cups so convenient) however, when you first start wearing a cup for peace of mind and extra protection you can use a liner.

Can I have sex with the cup in?

The short answer to this is no, but obviously people have tried. Penetrative sex is not recommended while wearing a cup as it does take up most of the space. 

Can I go to the bathroom with my cup in?

Of course. Cups do not stop you from performing any normal functions (with exception to sex as seen above). If you find that your cup moves down, it can be nudged back up into place. Cups with a firmer base are great for this.

Can I use a cup with a tilted cervix/uterus?

Yes. So long as the cup can sit below the cervical opening to catch the flow, you are good to go.

Can I use a cup if I have an IUD?

Yes, but it is very important that you are aware of your strings and pinch the base of the cup when removing to break the suction. This should be done when removing a cup in general but is especially important for those with an IUD.

Can I use a cup if I have a latex allergy?

Yes. Silicone is not a form of rubber or latex and is safe to use for those with a latex allergy. Avoid rubber and latex cups.

How do I change my cup in public?

If you find yourself in a public stall without access to your own personal sink, you can remove your cup, dispose of the contents, and wipe the cup with toilet paper and then wash as usual when you get home. There are also single use cup wipes available to keep on hand. If you have access to a sink in the public bathroom use only water and not the public soap since you won’t know what ingredients are in it that could potentially be too harsh.

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Roopal Popat
Roopal Popat is a content writer, editor, and copywriter with a focus on all aspects of health, parenting, education, families, and lifestyle. She also edits in the global real estate and finance sectors. Roopal holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and American Studies. Her career spans across Project Management, Business Analysis, Finance recruitment and Training and Development, having worked in the UK, New York, and Hong Kong. Born in the UK, and bought up in Tanzania, Roopal enjoys traveling and spending time with her 2 children and husband.

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