Pattern of menstrual cups

Why can’t I use a menstrual cup? 3 common problems and what to do about them

Posted by for Wellbeing

Menstrual cups may be the ‘in’ period product but for some women, they’re just a no-go. If you’re sick of your cup overflowing, you need to read this. 

Menstrual cups are often touted as the best thing for your period, and with good reason. They’re compact, sustainable, and for some people, can even reduce the pain of cramps. With a lifespan of up to ten years, they’re also economical. As great as they are, however, it’s fair to say that lots of us haven’t had an incredible experience with them.

Sometimes they leak (everywhere!), or it’s impossible to insert them in the first place. Some women have found that they worsen cramps. If you’re someone who’s tried and failed to use a cup, it can feel disheartening. We want to be more eco, period positive and economically savvy but sometimes, you’ve just got to acknowledge that not everything has to be for everyone. So, if a menstrual cup hasn’t been the saviour you hoped it would be, here’s what might be going on.  

The cup itself might be the wrong size or type

The most common reason menstrual cups don’t work for people is that they have not found the right cup for them.

Larger cups are often more suited for those who have given birth, whereas smaller cups are for those who have not. Firmer cups can add strain on the vaginal walls, while softer cups can lead to leakage if they’re not properly sealed. Improper insertion can contribute to all of these issues detailed above because, when the cup isn’t inserted correctly, it can lead to a lot of discomfort and higher chances of leakage.

Kim Rosas founder of Period Nirvana explains: “Many people try three-to-five products before finding their perfect cup, but they’re always so happy they stuck with it when that last one does finally work.”  

The sheer number of menstrual cups available can be overwhelming, but they are all useful in their own ways. You’ve got higher capacity cups, petite ‘starter cups’ for first time users and teens, and there are even reusable applicators for the cups – ideal for people who may feel squeamish about insertion. 

It’s worth flagging that menstrual cups can be reasonably expensive (starting at about £9.50 and going up to £30) so the idea of sinking more money into yet another cup that might not work won’t be an option for everyone. And there’s always the possibility that you may try numerous cups and find that menstrual cups in general aren’t right for you.

Vaginismus can make insertion tricky

Vaginismus, according to the NHS, is the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of some or all types of vaginal penetration. Many people with the condition are unaware they have it. Cara Ostryn, psychotherapist and co-author of Cure your Vaginismus and Thrive has noticed over the years that many of her clients “initially attributed the symptom to a physical abnormality, believing that there must be something wrong with their vagina: too narrow, too shallow or their hymen was preventing penetration”.

Although the condition is a physical reaction, the causes are usually psychological. Renee Denyer, sex educator from Vaginismus Awareness notes how “some common causes are sexual abuse or violence, painful intercourse, fear of pregnancy, or a deeply rooted belief that sex is wrong. It can also be brought on after vaginal infections or medical procedures.” 

Sustainable period products pads, liners, cups
There are plenty of sustainable period products out there, even if menstrual cups don't work for you.

The condition causes the vaginal muscles to tighten excessively, so for a person with vaginismus, the invasive act of inserting a menstrual cup may feel off-limits. It’s not impossible, however, if you do want to use a cup.  

“Using a menstrual cup with lots of lubricant and picking a petite starter cup are both ways that some people with vaginismus have seen success,” says Rosas. “The important thing is to stop at any sign of pain or extreme stress.”  

Cups can make endometriosis pain worse

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. The main symptoms include severe menstrual cramps that interfere with daily life, pelvic pain, pain during or after sex, rectovaginal cramping and nausea. Because of that, you might not really feel like inserting a cup.

It’s important to note, however, that every person living with endometriosis has a different experience. As Rosas explains: “The severity of each case are so individual… I see more people (with endometriosis say) that using a cup improved their periods.”

Many people with endometriosis tend to use hormonal IUDs to help manage the pain. It’s not always recommended to use a menstrual cup alongside that kind device, because of the risk of it latching onto the strings hanging from the cervix. Therefore, you probably want to chat to your GP if you do have an IUD, so they can assess whether you need to have your IUD strings cut shorter. 

Sustainable alternatives to menstrual cups

Some people may experience eco-guilt for not being able to use a cup, but Rosas assures people that “there is no shame in using the product that works best for you when your reusable options aren’t a good fit for your life”.

Helen Dring-Turner from sexual health experts Brook recognises the pressure there may be on people to use a menstrual cup for their eco credentials. But she also says that “there are plenty of external options that are also environmentally friendly. Being kind to the planet and having a comfortable period don’t have to be opposition with each other”.

Why not try…

Period underwear: it’s become a way more comfortable, sustainable option and a variety of brands have got on board, ranging from Modibodi to Primark

Reusable pads: you can now get them in a variety of patterns and textures, and without any of the itchiness that come with disposable pads.  

Cotton pads and tampons: plastic-free and biodegradable, these are another easy, sustainable option.  

Images: Getty

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