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A clock, a pillow, a menstrual cup, a roll of toilet paper, an IUD.

Illustration by Marta Pucci

Culture

Menstrual cups: questions, myths, and misconceptions

by Nicole Telfer, Science Content Producer
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Menstrual cups are a safe, reusable, economical, and environmentally-friendly way to collect menstrual fluid during your period. But if you’ve never used one before, it can seem intimidating.

The most important step in successfully using a menstrual cup is learning how to properly clean, insert, and remove it. But if you still have questions about menstrual cups, you’ve come to the right place.

How long can I wear a menstrual cup?

Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours before they should be emptied and washed (1,2). Some people with heavy periods may need to empty their cup more often. This means that menstrual cups are also safe to wear throughout the night, so feel free to hit that snooze button. Every person and every period is different, so experiment to see what works best for you.

A hand holding a phone with the Clue app opened

Track your menstrual cup usage with Clue.

Menstrual cups are too big—they won't fit inside my vagina, right?

Although menstrual cups are much wider than a tampon, remember, one of the vagina's functions is to allow a baby to pass through it—so a 4 cm diameter menstrual cup is very narrow in comparison.

The vagina is also to able to expand, move, and bend. The walls of the vagina are lined with soft mucosal tissue with many small folds (rugae) along the surface. In the vagina’s relaxed state, when nothing is inside the vaginal canal, the walls of the vagina are compressed against each other (3,4). If you insert something inside your vagina, like a menstrual cup, tampon, sex toy, or penis—the walls and folds of the vagina will bend and move so that enough space is created for the introduced object. There is plenty of room up there for a menstrual cup to sit comfortably.

Get to know your body better and try it yourself. Try inserting a finger into your vagina and experience what the walls of your vagina feel like. Try pressing your fingers gently against the sides of your vagina and notice that it is soft, moist, and can easily move to create space.

But won’t a menstrual cup “stretch out” my vagina?

Nope. Vaginas have the capacity to stretch and expand to fit objects like menstrual cups, but once the object is removed, they return to their folded and compressed state. Vaginas are made of mucosal and muscle tissue that doesn’t “stretch out”—it’s not like an elastic hair band.

Cultural ideas of vaginal “tightness” being valued for sexual pleasure are myths. There is no evidence that using menstrual cups will change or stretch out your vagina, or decrease sexual pleasure.

Can I pee and poop while wearing a menstrual cup?

Yes, you can. Peeing with a menstrual cup in is easy—the menstrual cup will not interfere with urination.

Some brands of cup (1,5) say that you can pass stool while wearing a menstrual cup, while other companies avoid the question all together. From an anatomical perspective, there isn’t much extra space in the pelvis, and most organs lay quite close against each other. Even though stool comes out of a different hole, the pressure may cause the cup to shift a bit or may make pooping a bit more difficult. If you choose to poop while wearing a cup, be sure to check that your cup is still in place with clean fingers (5).

Can I have sex while wearing a menstrual cup?

Penetrative sex, like penis-in-vagina sex, inserting sex toys, or fingering, is not possible while wearing a menstrual cup. If you want to have penetrative sex on your period, just remove your menstrual cup.

If you want to continue to wear your menstrual cup, try exploring other types of intimacy, like kissing, oral sex, or clitoral stimulation.

Can I sleep with a menstrual cup in?

Yes, you can! Sleeping while wearing a menstrual cup is a great alternative to wearing bulky maxi-pads or wearing a tampon for more than 8 hours. Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours, so pop a cup in just before bed and rest easy (1,2).

The Clue app can help you track which days you use the cup vs. a tampon or pad, which might help you identify which method is best for sleeping.

Can I use a menstrual cup if I’m a virgin?

Yes. Your vagina does not undergo some huge change when you have sex—it’s still the same amazing organ. If you haven’t yet had sex, used tampons, or masturbated with a sex toy or finger, it may take you a bit longer to get the hang of a menstrual cup.

Get to know your body. Use your fingers to find the opening of your vagina. Using a mirror—either handheld or place one on the floor and stand over it—can be helpful here if you’ve never looked at your own vulva.

Explore your vagina and which direction it runs. With clean hands, try inserting a finger into your vagina to learn how long your vagina is and see if you can find your cervix. The cervix is located at the end of the vagina and should feel firm and round, like the tip of your nose. You’ll notice that the walls of your vagina are soft, moist, and can easily move when pressed against to create space.

Can a menstrual cup get lost inside me?

Sometimes it can be difficult to find the stem of the menstrual cup when you want to remove it. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Your vagina is a tube that runs from your cervix to the outside of your body and is usually between 7 to 12 cm long (6,7). A menstrual cup cannot pass through your cervix, which means it has no where else to go—it cannot get lost inside of you.

If you cannot locate the stem of your menstrual cup, here are some tips to help you get it out.

  • Try changing positions, like sitting or squatting
  • Increase your internal abdominal pressure to help move the menstrual cup down the vagina by “bearing down” as if you are going to have a bowel movement
  • If this still doesn’t help, give the menstrual cup some time—remember menstrual cups can be worn for up to 12 hours. Allow more time to pass for the menstrual cup to fill with blood. This will help move the menstrual cup further down the vaginal canal (1).

If you still cannot locate the menstrual cup, do not use a tool or object to try to remove it. Instead consult a medical professional (1).

How do I empty my cup in a public bathroom?

Public bathrooms usually don’t have sinks in the stalls, so sometimes washing your menstrual cup can be impossible. If you need to empty your menstrual cup in a public washroom, don’t worry. Simply take out your menstrual cup and empty it into the toilet and use toilet paper to wipe it out, making sure to check that the holes at the side of the menstrual cup aren’t filled with blood. Once it’s clean enough, pop it back in and continue about your day. When you are home, be sure to take it out and give it a good cleaning with soap and water (1).

Some companies sell “menstrual wipes” for on-the-go situations likes these (2).

A hand holding a phone with the Clue app opened

Track your bleeding with Clue.

If I don’t have access to clean water, are menstrual cups still an option for me?

Menstrual cups should be washed with clean water and soap every time they are removed, and boiled at the end of each period (1,2). For this reason, if you don’t have access to clean water, then menstrual cups are not a safe option for you.

While menstrual cups can be wiped with toilet paper or menstrual wipes when in a pinch—this is not a safe substitute for regular daily washing with soap and water, and boiling once per cycle.

Is the menstrual cup linked to TSS?

Menstrual cups have almost no history of causing toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare, but dangerous, buildup of certain bacteria in the vagina mainly associated with high-absorbency tampons (8,9).

There has only been one reported case so far of TSS linked to menstrual cup use. In this case, a small injury to the vagina was caused during insertion, which could have been a factor in developing TSS (10). Keep your nails short and your hands clean when inserting and removing your menstrual cup. If you wear any large rings or knuckle rings, these should be removed as well.

Can I use a menstrual cup if I have an IUD?

An intrauterine device (IUD) is a type of long acting contraceptive that is inserted through the vagina into the uterus. The main body of the IUD sits in the uterus, while two small plastic strings hang out a couple centimeters outside of the cervix.

Some people with IUDs fear that using a menstrual cup with dislodge their IUD. Many menstrual cup brands (5,11,12) provide guidance on the use of a menstrual cup with IUDs. If you want to use a menstrual cup with your IUD, here are some tips:

  • Wait at least three months after IUD insertion before using your menstrual cup
  • Check your IUD strings before the start or end of each period
  • When taking out the cup, make sure you break the seal
  • The cup should sit low in your vagina, with a space between your cervix and the cup. If you have a low sitting cervix (or are unsure), speak to your healthcare provider (11,12)

So far, there has only been one study that investigated if there was a link between IUD expulsion rates and menstrual cup use. This study only looked at expulsion rates within the first six weeks after the IUDs were inserted and showed that use of pads, cups, or tampons doesn’t affect the expulsion rate (13). While this study is a good start, more research is needed in this area.

Many people safely and happily use IUDs with their menstrual cup, but of course there are also some rare stories where IUDs have become dislodged.

If you aren’t sure if you feel comfortable using a menstrual cup and an IUD together—that's fine. For more information for what is the right choice for you, ask your healthcare provider.

Download Clue to track your period and menstrual cup use in the “Collection Methods” tracking category.

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