What is the purpose of menstrual cup stems?
Menstrual cup stems are a fairly integral part of a cup design. They come in a range of shapes and sizes, including short and long stems, flat and round stems, and toggle and ring stems. The stem of a menstrual cup is designed to act as a guide, helping you locate your cup for easier removal. Unlike the string on the end of a tampon, the stem of a menstrual cup IS NOT designed to pull the cup out. Consistently pulling on the stem to break the cup suction or to remove the cup from the vaginal canal can lead to the stem weakening over time, or possibly even shearing off. The stem of a cup also helps provide reassurance to new users who may be worried that they won’t be able to reach their cup once it is inserted. For this reason, it is usually recommended not to trim the stem until you are confident in locating and removing your cup (think of the stem as a removal back up!).
So, if you don’t remove a cup by pulling on the stem, how do you get it out? Once you can feel the stem of your menstrual cup, use it as a guide to find the base of the cup. If the cup feels too high, ‘bear down’ with your pelvic muscles (like doing a bowel movement or delivering a baby). This will move the cup lower down the vaginal canal, making it easier to reach. Once you can grasp the base of the cup, give it a squeeze to release the suction. Then (while still pinching the base) gently pull/wiggle the cup out. Use the stem only to help locate the base of the cup or if you still need to move the cup a little lower even after you have pushed it down with your muscles.
If, after pushing your cup as low as you can with your pelvic floor muscles, you must rely on the stem to reach/pull out the cup, then you likely need a longer cup, more suited to women with a high cervix. On the contrary, if the stem of your cup is protruding from the vaginal canal and causing discomfort to your labia, then you may need a shorter cup. Depending on which brand of cup you have, you may also be able to trim the stem to make the overall length of the cup shorter.
Types of menstrual cup stems:
Flat, tab style stem: This is the type of stem found on the Lunette, Saalt, OrganiCup etc. It is essentially a long flat tab at the base of the cup. If this stem type protrudes from the vagina, it may cause some discomfort. However, these stems are longer than other styles, making them more suitable for women who need a longer cup, or who would like the option to trim the stem to a length most suitable for them. These are the easiest stems to trim.
Round, tab style stem: Again, this is like a tab, but is cylindrical, rather than flat. These stems can be easier to hold (if necessary) and a little more sturdy than the flat style. They can also be trimmed to a required length, and will provide a little less irritation if they happen to protrude. Cups with this style of stem include Juju, XO Flo, and Ruby.
Hollow Stem: Like the stem found on the Diva Cup and Tampon Tribe, this is a short hollow stump on the end of the cup. It is there purely as a guide, and while it can be trimmed, given it is already quite short, should not need to be. Make sure you check and thoroughly rinse the inside of the stem each time you are going to re-insert your cup. With this stem type, there is a greater chance that menstrual fluid/debris could get stuck in it. When purchasing cups with this style of stem, it is worth checking your cervix height, as they can barely be trimmed (and it is generally best not too), so the length of the cup cannot be altered very much.
Ring Stem: The ring stem that is found on cups such as the FemmyCycle and Me Luna Classic, can help make removal easier. Again, it is not ideal to rely on the stem only to remove these cups, but if needed, it does make grabbing the cup much easier. For cups such as Me Luna, you can also add cotton string to extend the stem length and make location easier when it comes time to remove it. We would not recommended trimming a ring stem, as it could make the base uncomfortable when removing (unless you can remove the entire stem without damaging the main body of the cup).
Toggle Stem: The toggle stem would be one of the most comfortable. The Pelvi, and Hello Cups are good examples of period cups with a toggle stem. The stems are short, rounded and fairly sturdy. They generally should not need trimming, and allow for a good firm grip if needed. The design of these stems means that they are less likely to irritate the labia as you remove them, or if they protrude. When purchasing cups with this style of stem, it is worth checking your cervix height, as they can barely be trimmed (and it is generally best not too), so the length of the cup cannot be altered very much.
Valve Stem: This is not a common stem type, and the only cup we currently stock with this design is the Haakaa Valve Cup. A valve stem, is hollow, and includes a valve mechanism inside it. As the stem is squeezed, the valve opens and allows menstrual fluid to be emptied from the cup. This stem design is particularly useful for women who may be camping, working outside, or who will not have access to running water during the day. Using the valve means the cup can be emptied without having to remove it. While you do not have to remove a cup like this to empty it, you still should be aiming to empty, rinse, and re-insert at least every 12 hours. Due to the mechanism inside the stem, the stem cannot be trimmed, so please first check your cervix height to ensure the cup will not be too long for you.
If you have checked your cervix height and purchased an appropriate length cup, then you should not feel any of the stem types once the cup is correctly inserted. Given that the stem is not designed to be the main source of removal, the type of stem on a period cup should not be the primary deciding factor when choosing which cup you buy (unless you have a very high cervix and need the longest cup possible).