The menstrual cup was invented in the 1930s as an alternative to the popular sanitary napkin, around the same time the first tampon was patented.

The cup is inserted into the vagina, sitting low, and collects the menstrual fluid. Newer cups, such as "Instead", have been designed to stay higher up, near the cervix. Some brands are made of a material like condom rubber and these have a hard ring around the top which the user pulls the cup out by; others are made of thicker rubber and have a solid tube attached to the bottom which the user pulls to remove the cup. There are now both re-usable and disposable cups on the market.

The original cups were made of vulcanized rubber and were quite difficult to insert. These appeared on the market just before World War 2 and initially failed as a result of many factors: all rubber was supposed to be used for war purposes, many doctors were against the idea of a woman inserting things into her vagina with her fingers, and tampons and disposable pads had just been introduced and were very popular.

In the 60s and 70s there was a resurgence of market interest in menstrual cups, and many brands were put out for sale. This sales push also failed: some say it was a result of media reluctance to advertise such a product, and others say that women just weren't interested in an environmentally friendly menstrual hygiene product at that time.

The 1980s brought the mainstream semi-acceptance of the cup. Women were ready to insert objects into their vagina for the sake of convenience, the medical sector believed the cup was a healthy and safe alternative to pads and tampons, and the media was ready to run advertisements for such a product.

Today, the "Keeper" is the most popular menstrual cup. It comes in two sizes: A- for women who have had children, and B- for women who have not had children (the cup end of A is three millimetres wider than B), and is made of natural gum rubber. The "Keeper" is reusable, and the cup is designed to last ten years: at US$4 a year, that's pretty good value!

At (the Museum of Menstruation), anecdotal evidence tells of the joys of the cup:

  • Reduces landfill as a result of re-usability
  • Users experience same freedom as tampon users (swimming, etc)
  • The cup can be kept in all day (up to 12 hours) and will remain hygienic (unlike tampons which can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome after 6 hours)
  • The disposable cups can be left in during sex - but the Keeper and Diva cups, which are more rigid and sit lower in the vagina, have to be removed (thanks to anemotis)
  • As the blood isn't exposed to the air, there is less odour than can be expected with pads or tampons
Points against using a menstrual cup:
  • It takes a lot of practice to insert the cup properly without leakage. The "Instead" company admits that cups can be "messy", espcially when removing, but also if not inserted properly
  • They cup can hurt upon removal as a result of the suction in the vagina
  • The cup can cut and tear the vagina lining if the user isn't careful

Update: It has been brought to my attention that there are now a few brands of reusable silicone cups on the market, and that they're better suited for gals who are allergic to latex. (Thanks to Lady_Day)