Menstrual Cup How to: Part 1

The menstrual cup is becoming a more well-known period product for women looking for alternatives to cotton tampons and disposable pads. Maybe you think it’s a great idea or maybe you crinkle your nose at the thought of a cup full of period blood— don’t worry. We’ve been there. Fempower Health is here to explain all the menstrual cup “how-to”s for beginners!


What is a Menstrual Cup?

Menstrual cups are flexible, silicon containers that catch a woman’s menses internally during her period. They’re shaped like a cup or bell, and often have a small stem attached at the base for easy removal. Also called period cups, vaginal cups, Diva cups, or moon cups, these convenient devices are categorized as “menstrual technology”. For many women, the cup is revolutionizing menstruation and for some, it’s even helping fix period problems.


How Long Have Women Been Using Menstrual Cups?

There’s a lot of confusion around the history of period products since there’s been shame and taboo about women’s reproductive health for so long— especially periods. Some say the first menstrual cup prototype was invented in 1867-1868, some say the 1930s.


It wasn’t until the 2000s that these devices started stocking shelves and health food stores, and only within the past several years have they shown up at the everyday Target and drugstore. Why’d it take so long for period cups to become more widely accepted? Today, women are becoming more in touch with their bodies, demanding better period solutions, and wanting eco-friendly options. The cup answers all three of these.


Want to hear more about safe period options? Listen to the Fempower Health episode, Your Period: What Your Doctor Never Told You (with Dr. Lara Briden).


How to Use a Menstrual Cup

Learning how to use a menstrual cup takes practice. Once you get the hang of it, you might find it’s easy, less of a hassle than tampons, and not as messy as you may think.


There are four main things to pay attention to when you’re considering using a period cup:


  1. Cup size & quality

  2. Proper insertion

  3. Cleaning & sterilization


You’ll eventually have to think about other details, like troubleshooting, backup protection, and using your cup in public. (We’ll cover all of that in Part 2 of the Menstrual Cup Guide.) For now, here are the four steps to using a new menstrual cup.


Finding the Best Menstrual Cup

Cups are more popular than ever, which is great! But this means there are lots of competitors on the market today. When you search for the right one to get, it can be confusing to know your best option.


What should you look for?


  1. Size. There are usually two menstrual cup sizes. Since there are no standards or regulations around menstrual cup production, most brands list sizes as Regular or Large, A or B, or “one size”. The regular size is ideal for women with a regular flow or under 30. Larger sizes are recommended for women with a heavier flow or who have given birth. Read the packaging carefully for clarity.

  2. Quality. Menstrual cups are considered Class II medical devices. Pay attention to what material your menstrual cup is made out of. Most brands use medical-grade silicone. Packaging may read “FDA cleared”, meaning the product is registered to be sold as a Class II medical device. If you have allergies to rubber or silicone, ask your doctor to help you find safe, alternative period products.

Inserting a Menstrual Cup

You might feel intimidated by the size of a menstrual cup, but insertion is similar to putting in a tampon. Because menstrual cups have a wider rim and a hollow receptacle base, you have to fold the menstrual cup before inserting it, then manipulate it slightly to form a seal to prevent leaks.


When you buy a cup, follow the detailed instructions it comes with. These are the steps often listed:


  1. Wash your hands.

  2. Clean your menstrual cup with mild soap or menstrual cup wash. Rinse thoroughly with warm water. Don’t dry the cup, as leftover moisture after washing can help lubricate it for easy insertion.

  3. Sit or squat comfortably (on the toilet; in the bathroom or shower) and relax your pelvic floor muscles. It’s easier when your muscles aren’t tense.

  4. Press into one side of the cup and fold it in half so it forms a narrow, cylindrical shape.

  5. With the rim of the cup facing up and the base secure in your fingers, insert the folded cup into your vagina like you would a tampon. You can use two fingers from your other hand to move your vaginal lips open if that helps.

  6. Once inserted, your fingertips will be in your vagina a little. The cup should sit slightly below your cervix.

  7. Using your fingers that are still holding the base, rotate the cup in one direction. The rim of the cup should spring open to form a seal. You might feel or hear a small suction sound, and when you touch the wall of the cup, it will feel airtight.


If you’ve put it in correctly, you won’t feel your menstrual cup. It shouldn't leak or fall out. You’ll be able to walk, run, sit, and go about your day without noticing the cup. If you feel discomfort or can feel the stem poking out too far,


It usually takes several tries to get the cup inserted properly. Keep practicing! It gets easier every time, and the longer you use a menstrual cup, you’ll likely become more familiar with your anatomy (and period).


Browse Menstrual Cups and Period Resources here.


How Long Can You Wear a Menstrual Cup?

Period cups are safe to use for up to twelve hours at a time, or until it fills or overflows. One benefit of the cup is that it has minimal risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome posed by tampons. How often you need to empty and reinsert your cup will depend on your flow, cup size, and the position of your cervix.


Taking Out Your Menstrual Cup

When it’s time to empty your menstrual cup, here are some tips for how to remove it.


  1. Wash your hands!

  2. Sit comfortably on the toilet. Relaxing your muscles, insert your fingertips and begin to pull gently on the stem or base of your cup.

  3. When you feel the base of the cup, pinch or press down on it with a finger enough to unseal the cup. It’s easier to remove once you feel that slight “suction” sensation release.

  4. Remove the cup completely and empty its contents.


Extra tip: You can keep your pelvic floor muscles relaxed or you can experiment with working these muscles to help guide the cup out while removing it with your fingers. You’ll eventually notice a slight difference in using these muscles compared to making a bowel movement, which improves body literacy.


How to Clean a Menstrual Cup Between Uses

You should wash the cup before each use to prevent germs. In between periods, some women prefer a menstrual cup sterilizer (often by boiling it for a few minutes) for a deep clean. Ideally, it should also be cleaned or at least rinsed every time you empty it.


To clean your menstrual cup:


  1. Remove the cup completely (read above) and empty it.

  2. Keep your cup in one hand and use your other free hand to turn on the water.

  3. Rinse your cup. Put a few drops of cup wash or mild soap onto the cup and wash it for about 30 seconds.

  4. Rinse thoroughly with warm water until all the soap is washed from the cup and your hands.

  5. Since you’ll be reinserting it, gently shake the excess water off your cup. You don’t have to dry it off.

  6. Reinsert your clean menstrual cup.


Now, what do you do about the red or pink in the sink? How do you clean a menstrual cup in public? Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Menstrual Cup How To, where we’ll answer all your additional questions.


To hear from the experts on Menstrual Cycles and Period Care, check out the Fempower Health playlist here.