Hard cups: Are they as hard as they sound?
August 1, 2019
By Maddy Siriouthay
Despite the name, hard cups aren’t hard at all. They’re typically made of silicon, so they’re pretty flexible, reusable and — you guessed it — shaped like a cup.
When inserted, they sit in your vaginal canal like a tampon and collect blood, as opposed to absorbing blood like one or pad. Depending on your flow, you can leave it inside you for up to 12 hours. When it’s full, simply empty the blood into the toilet and sanitize it with soap and water or a wet paper towel if you’re in a public restroom.
The most well known hard cup, and the one that I tried, is The Diva Cup.
The Diva Cup is perhaps the most established menstrual cup brand and most likely the one you’ve heard of and maybe even seen in the menstrual care aisle. I’m Even though the general concept of menstrual cups really freaked me out, I felt more comfortable using their cup because I’ve seen them everywhere.
SIZE AND FIT
Diva Cups, or all menstrual cups for that matter, are not one-size-fit all. A fact of the universe is that nobody is the same — inside and out. The shape and length of our vaginal canal and how our cervix sits can affect our experience with menstrual products, especially menstrual cups. Diva Cup knows this, and has different shaped and sized cups based on your age and whether or not you’ve given birth — so make sure you check the manufacturer’s you’re purchasing the correct model if you’re thinking about switching.
HEAVY FLOW TEST
My heaviest days are usually my first through third days. On those days, I would have to diligently change my super (sometimes super plus) tampon every hour. Before I switched over to reusable and alternative period products, I bought Tampax super absorbency tampons, which can hold 9 to 12 grams of menstrual blood.
Diva Cup boasts it can provide up to 12 hours of protection — but that’s not taking into consideration my crazy ass flow. According to the Diva Cup website, they define 12 hours of protection as one fluid ounce. I knew that this wouldn’t be true for me, but an alternative to changing my tampon every other hour seemed like a major improvement.
That being said, I went from changing my tampon every hour to emptying out my Diva Cup every two hours or so. Still pretty frequent, but I think if I had anything larger than a regular-sized Diva Cup, I would be pretty uncomfortable.
TLDR: It helped me manage my heavy flow and cut down on how many times I had to go to the bathroom to use it.
Heavy flow in mind, I’m no stranger to leaking on through my underwear, on my sheets and whatever poor surface I happen to be sitting on while I’m bleeeeeeding. So any product that would make me feel a little less paranoid about leaking through is a much welcomed change. Theoretically, since the Diva Cup holds more fluid than a tampon, I would be less likely to leak through, right?
Err, not exactly. Not in my case — this is where I struggled the most with the Diva Cup. The main difference between any cup and a tampon is that a cup collects fluid rather than absorbs it. Which is all good and dandy — if you’ve inserted it right.
When inserting any cup, you first have to fold it, so it can easily go inside your vagina, but the steps after insertion are the most important. You have to 1. Make sure it completely unfolds back to its original shape, and 2. Make sure it suctions inside your vagina and creates a leak-proof vacuum.
It took me a while to get the hang of this. During the day, I could manage not leaking through my underwear, but overnight was the worst. I would consistently wake up in a pool of my own blood. Or, possibly even worse, I’d think I made it through the night, but then I would hop out of bed victoriously and be slapped with the reality of a stream of blood running down my thigh.
TLDR: I still leaked, but it’s mostly due to human error. I got better the more I used it.
Which leads me to my next section...
EASE OF USE
Inserting the cup was the easy part. It’s the “making sure it’s open and suctioned and not sitting too high or low” part that got me.
As I said earlier, the cup is folded into a “U” shape and inserted into the vagina. If you’re having issues with insertion, try lubricating the cup with water or non oil-based lube. Once it’s inside, you (gently!) pinch the bottom and twist the entire cup at least 180 degrees. This creates a vacuum inside your vagina that prevents leakage and keeps it in place.
To remove it, pinch the base of the cup and gently pull. The pinching here is crucial — that releases the suction and removes the vacuum in your vagina. This is especially important if you have an IUD. If you yank out a menstrual cup without releasing the suction, you’re at risk of displacing your IUD. So remember to pinch!
I had major issues with this. Even though I bought the right size cup, I was still experiencing leakage. I made sure to twist my cup every time I reinserted it, but to no avail. It was especially bad overnight, but that comes as no surprise, as on my heavy days I still had to change it every two hours, and sleeping for 6-8 hours I expected there to be some leakage.
This part is definitely a learning curve. The most I used it, the less I leaked, and I began to understand how it felt when it was suctioned in me.
TLDR: Practice makes perfect. Might take a bit of practice though — don’t get discouraged!
The Diva Cup, and any reusable cup for that matter, is extremely convenient: it’s reusable, so you don’t have the hassle of buying a new supply every month, it’s small and easy to carry around — as long as you have it on you, which can be a hard habit to get into. When our periods sneak up on us, we or a friend usually have a few spare tampons or pads. The Diva Cup is a different story, and I’m sure no one wants to use another person’s menstrual cup.
The key with any reusable product (menstrual or not) is cleanliness and hygiene. You want it to be clean — especially something that’s going inside of you and is in contact with blood! Diva Cup says that it should be cleaned with non-oil based soap after each and every use before reinsertion. This can turn out to be pretty problematic if you’re in a public restroom, especially one that isn’t single use.
Sure, you can empty your cup, pull up your pants, run to the sink, sanitize, run back into a stall and then reinsert your cup but ain’t nobody got time for that. Plus, even if you do find a single user bathroom, the idea of cleaning your menstrual product and then putting it back inside you can be a little unsettling to some.
A lot of menstrual cup companies recognize this limitation. It’s commonly recommended to take a wet paper towel inside the stall to wipe down your cup and to sanitize it with soap when you can. Another alternative is carrying wipes with you, which some companies are beginning to manufacture. However, be wary of the ingredients — wipes made for hands may not be suitable for your vulva. Make sure they’re alcohol, irritant and fragrant free.
TLDR: Changing a menstrual cup while you’re on-the-go can be a hassle, but with a little planning, it’s manageable.
Did you know that tampons could contribute to your menstrual cramps? When tampons are inserted and absorb blood throughout the day, they expand and press against the vaginal walls, causing more pain and discomfort. Frequently changing a tampon can cause chafing to the vagina due to all the friction, which is something I’ve experienced plenty, even when using super absorbency tampons on my heavy flow days.
The Diva Cup, however, is made of silicon, which is super flexible and forms to your body. Since silicon is also smooth, the repeated removal and insertion didn’t cause any chafing on my end. While it was inside of me, it felt pretty comfortable, and I didn’t notice it — most of the time.
Menstrual cups vary in shape and size, and depending on how high or low your cervix sits, you may need a shorter or longer one. I found that when I sat or did floor exercises, I felt the bottom stem poke out. At first, I thought it was falling out of me; I stopped my work out and went to the bathroom to check the state of my cup. I quickly learned that it was fine, that “poking out” feeling was just a result of my pelvic area moving around and shifting, and my menstrual cup with it.
TLDR: I felt like it was barely there, but depending on its length, it can feel like it’s poking out of you which is not comfortable.
It reduced the waste I produced on my period, by a lot. And it made me feel better about my period, too. I spent a lot of time feeling awful physically AND mentally, because I would look at my bathroom garbage pin and see a pile of my waste that I knew would sit in a landfill for hundreds of years.
[ READ MORE: REUSABLE PERIOD PRODUCTS CHANGED MY LIFE ]
Silicon is porous. Porous materials are better at absorbing color and… smell. Don’t be alarmed after using it for a few cycles that it gets brownish and kinda smelly. This can be alleviated by making sure you’re boiling the cup in water after each cycle, though.
The FemmyCycle is similar to the Diva Cup in the way that they’re both menstrual cups and...that’s it. Yes, the FemmyCycle is a menstrual cup that collects fluid, yes it’s reusable, but how it looks and feels is so different than the Diva Cup (and other cups like it!)
POINTS OF DIFFERENTIATION
I’m going to use the Diva Cup (and other cups similarly built like it) as the baseline, or the “control,” because they were the first mainstream cup on the market.
So, you can see the FemmyCycle looks totally different from your run-of-the-mill menstrual cup. It actually has two shapes, for two different purposes:
Insertion, collecting fluid
After removal, emptying out fluid, cleaning
But why two shapes, though?! Seems like an extra step 🤔🤔🤔
WELL, reader, there’s actually a pretty neat reason for this, and it’s one of their biggest selling points. The FemmyCycle folds into itself to create an (almost) leak proof mechanism upon removal. Removing a menstrual cup can be uhhhh, messy business, but the leak-proof lip limits the mess.
[video of spill test from stories]
SIZES and FITS
The FemmyCycle also comes in different sizes. Regular (which is what I got), low cervix and petite (for perimenopausal people, or teens).
The FemmyCycle is also made out of medical grade silicon, but is significantly thinner than the Diva Cup. I’m assuming this is so the folded lip of the cup doesn’t get too bulky for insertion and to help the cup mold your body easier.
Another major selling point of theirs: the ring at the bottom of the cup. This is supposed to make removal easier, rather than pinching and pulling like you would a Diva Cup. Pretty useful for folks who have issues with fine motor movements or dexterity issues!
HEAVY FLOW TEST
Like the Diva Cup, the FemmyCycle also claims to hold 1 oz or 12 hours of protection. My experience was pretty much the same here, too. I went from changing my tampon every hour to maybe every two hours. Again, major improvement for me.
EASE OF USE
Again … this is where I struggled. I’m predicting this is going to be a recurring issue for me.
However, I’m going to cut myself some slack and say that these products are require a learning curve — you probably won’t get it right the first time (or the second, or the third) — but don’t let that discourage you!
It’s inserted like a Diva Cup: folded into a U shape, pushed into your vagina and the adjusted until you feel it open inside of you.
There are some major differences between the FemmyCycle and most cups I’ve seen that affect this portion. The main one being the shape and materiality. When it’s inside of you, the lip is folded inward, and it looks like a little bowl, and as I noted earlier the FemmyCycle is much thinner. This posed some problems for me.
The first couple insertions, each time I had to remove and empty out my cup was smooooth sailing. On one fateful trip to the bathroom, I de-pantsed, sat down and geared up for removal — except, when I reached inside, I couldn’t find the handy ring that was supposed to make removal so much easier. In fact, I couldn’t even feel the cup itself!
I spent about a good five minutes waddling around my bathroom in a frenzy intermittently poking around my hoo-ha hoping to find the edge of a ring. I thought, “if I have to go to the emergency room get a foreign object removed out of vagina, it’s going to be something waaay more exciting than a menstrual cup.” This is how I self motivate.
I gained my composure and took position: I perched my leg up on the bathroom sink to position myself in a way that would make finding the cup that didn’t seem to be in my body but was very much in my body a teensy bit easier. Eventually, I felt the cup, but no ring. It took a little wiggling and repositioning, but I finally fished it out.
So what happened? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the FemmyCycle is spherical and smooth. I’m guessing this allowed for the cup to rotate and shift up higher in my vagina — when I finally felt it, it was behind my public bone, which is not where it’s supposed to be. (I do want to note that there are discs that are supposed to sit on your pubic bone, but menstrual cups are not.) This didn’t happen just once — it happened a few times!
Why or how did this happen? My educated guess is that the cup didn’t open correctly inside of me, which in turn, didn’t create a suction, which let the cup travel a bit too far up my vagina.
TLDR: I thought I might have to go to the emergency room to find the FemmyCycle inside me. I did not.
Since I couldn’t quite get it to place correctly inside of me, I leaked a lot. The times I did, though, it was great! It just wasn’t often. Like I mentioned with the Diva Cup, there’s going to be a learning curve. It’s inevitable. This one is just uhhhh little bit of a sharper curve. Despite my semi-traumatic experience, I am determined to master the FemmyCycle!
This is the same sanitizing situation as the Diva Cup. It’s tricky when you’re out and about, but definitely manageable.
The spill-proof rim is also pretty helpful when you’re removing and dumping out the blood. Having a heavy flow, no matter how carefully I remove a Diva Cup, it can still be pretty messy. Unfolding the rim to pour out the fluid gives you more control, too.
The ring at the bottom of the cup is convenient — when you can find it. Gently pulling on a ring versus pinching and tugging out a typical menstrual cup takes a lot less effort, which could be good for folks who have trouble with fine motor skills in their hands.
I don’t know exactly where to put this, but I feel like I need to mention this: when do you remove the FemmyCycle, be prepared for a somewhat alarmingly loud popping sound. Nothing is wrong, it’s just… weird.
I didn’t experience any cramping that was more or less painful with the FemmyCycle versus the Diva Cup. However, I noticed that when I thought I was leaking (felt dripping in my underwear) often times, I wasn’t. When I laughed or coughed or exerted my tummy area in any way, I was peeing myself a little bit! I realized that the Femmy was pushing on my bladder and making this happen. So that wasn’t ideal. When I wasn’t peeing myself, or trying to fish out the cup, I really didn’t experience any discomfort.