Guys, trust me on this one. This post is going to tread where no guys want their eyes to go. Turn back now. You’ve been warned!
Girls, this post is crossing that TMI line so far, I almost didn’t post it. However, I feel very strongly about this product and idea, and my desire to share it with the world prevailed (albeit the very small world that actually reads this blog, but hey, every little bit helps!).
There is a product you MUST know about. It’s called a menstrual cup. They’ve apparently been around for 40+ years, but I only learned of it a few months ago. It’s an environmentally and financially – friendly alternative to tampons and pads. And I think once you get used to it, you’ll never look back.
The short version: essentially it’s a cup that you put in your vaginal canal. It collects your menstrual blood. It can remain in place for up to 12 hours. Then you remove it, empty it into the toilet, clean it, and reinsert it (or throw out the cup and use a new one, depending on the type of cup you use).
Now for the details…
There are several reasons for trying a menstrual cup. First, it’s good for the environment. If you figure that every woman uses 4 – 6 tampons per day of their period, times 4 – 5 days of flow, that’s 16 – 30 tampons a month and 192 – 360 tampons a year. If you figure a girl starts her period at 13 and continues until she’s 45 (all assumptions for the purposes of illustration), that’s 32 years of a monthly period, or 6,144 – 11,520 tampons over the course of one woman’s life. ONE woman! And all of that waste is going into landfills. According to one blog I read while researching menstrual cups, a study estimated there are presently over 12 BILLION tampons and pads in the landfills in the US and Canada!
The menstrual cup is also economical. All of those tampons cost money. Money that you use once and throw away into the landfills. Because you use far fewer cups over the course of your life that you would any other type of menstrual product, your going to spend much less money on them.
I like this graphic. And they estimate more tampons used per woman per year than my calculations did. But it makes a point, no?
The menstrual cup is also better for your health. Here’s something I didn’t know (crossing that TMI line even further…). A woman’s natural discharge is produced in her vaginal canal. When you use a tampon, it is absorbed along with the blood coming from the uterus. I never stopped to consider where this discharge was produced; I kind of assumed all fluids in that region came from the same place. But you can actually have a normal discharge during your period that is unrelated to what’s going on in your uterus. And this is important, because your discharge is responsible for flushing out dead cells and bacteria from your vagina. It also helps maintain your normal pH levels. The menstrual cup doesn’t interfere with these natural processes. Since this discharge also acts as a natural lubricant, it’s easier to insert the cup than trying to insert a tampon into a dry vag. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, done that. No fun.
For those of you who exercise, I can attest that it’s much easier to swim with the cup in than with a tampon. Tampons absorb water, even from the pool. Cups do not. I would imagine other types of exercise are equally more comfortable when you’re not worrying about your tampon.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits of the menstrual cup, let’s talk specifics. I tested two types of cups over the course of several months: the Diva Cup and the Instead Softcup. There are pros to each, so here is a quick run down of my experiences.
I tested the Instead Softcup first. It was available in my drugstore for $8.99 and is disposable. There are two types of Instead Softcup. One that you throw away after each use and replace with a new one and one that you use through one cycle and then throw out. I tried the one that you throw out at each change. There were 14 in a pack which was more than enough for one period since they only have to be changed once every 12 hours.
The Softcup is very much like a diaphragm that you would use to prevent pregnancy. Do people even use those anymore? Anyway, here’s what the Softcup looks like:
The cup material is very thin, sort of like a cross between paper and a condom. The pink rim is very flexible, not at all hard or uncomfortable.
To insert, you pinch the rim together, keep the cup part on the bottom, and insert into your vaginal canal much as you would a tampon. This cup is supposed to fit up against your cervix though, so once you have it inserted, you need to push it further up and in to make sure it’s in place correctly.
There are some advantages to the Softcup. If you can’t go without sex during your period, you can have sex with this cup in because it sits up high enough that he won’t feel it. Another benefit is that you can not feel it at all once it’s in place. And, because of that whole vaginal discharge thing I mentioned earlier, your natural lubrication will still be there (and increase) as normal. He never has to know.
To remove the cup, you insert a finger into your vaginal canal, find the rim of the cup, hook your finger under the rim, and pull.
Herein lies the con that I found with this type of cup. There is NO way to do this without making a helluva mess. The cup essentially flattens while it’s being removed. You’ve also tucked a finger under the rim which pushes part of the cup up, emptying its contents. Not to mention the contortions I needed to do to get my finger that far into my vaginal canal. I should have bought myself dinner first, a nice bottle of wine, maybe a movie. Jeesh.
I tried. I really tried hard to make this one work but I can’t get past the mess. It’s a real problem when you’re at work or another public place and need to change or empty the cup. Making sure you’re alone in the bathroom in order to sneak from the stall to the sink can be difficult. It’s a recipe for disaster and extreme embarrassment.
Next I tried the Diva Cup. I bought it on Amazon for $25.00. The Diva Cup is not disposable; the manufacturer recommends keeping it for a year before replacing. It’s made of a durable, healthcare grade silicone.
The Diva Cup fits in the vaginal canal, more similar to where a tampon would go. Your menstrual blood flows down into the cup where it is caught and held until you empty it. Inserting the Diva Cup can be slightly trickier than the Softcup, and the manufacturer diagrams aren’t very helpful. Here’s an image I found that is a little more clear:
I’ve found the Push-Down Fold method to be most comfortable as the insertion tip is smaller and the cup itself is more angled.
Once inserted properly, the Diva Cup should sit inside the vaginal canal, low enough that you can remove it by pulling the stem at the bottom.
The basic design of the Diva Cup made it work far better for me than the Softcup. It is sooooo much easier to remove because of the stem. The cup is firm enough that it doesn’t collapse so it doesn’t make a mess when you’re pulling it out. And it’s truly a cup, so emptying its contents into the toilet before cleaning it off and reinserting it is a snap. Even in a public restroom!
Because the Diva Cup sits in the vaginal canal rather than up against the cervix, you can’t have sex with it in place. Depending on your body, you may be able to feel the stem of the cup once it’s inserted, but it can also be trimmed to be more comfortable.
There should be no leaks with the cup. If you do leak, either the cup is full or you’ve got it inserted wrong. With the Diva Cup in particular, it’s important that once you insert it you make sure it’s fully expanded out of the folds you made to insert it. I do this by not inserting it all the way first, turning the cup about 1/2 way to help open it, and then pushing it in the rest of the way once it’s open. Better safe than sorry. With the Softcup, you just have to make sure you’ve pushed it ALL THE WAY against your cervix. It will feel like it disappears when it drops behind your pubic bone. Did I mention the contortions I had to do to get this one out?
So, a few little tips.
I do still wear a liner when I use the cup. I just feel safer, regardless. I’ve never leaked since wearing the Diva Cup. I did leak using the Softcup. Prior to trying the cups, I was using super absorbency tampons and changing them once every 4 hours and still had problems with leaks.
It takes a minute to get used to feeling your natural discharge during your period. The first few months I was using the Diva Cup, I was running to the bathroom constantly, afraid I was leaking. Now that I’m used to it, it’s not a big deal. But it did take a few months of trial and error – ie, running to the bathroom and checking – before I really trusted the product.
I do still try to remove the cup when the restroom at work is empty, even though I’m not using the one that made a mess. That’s because the Diva Cup kind of makes…noise…when it’s coming out and going in. Like, suction sounding noises. Not loud. Other women probably can’t even hear it and I’m being über-self-conscious. But let’s face it, I don’t want people wondering what the hell I’m doing in that stall.
Oh – on the plus side of being at work, I no longer have to find a way to sneak a new tampon and liner to the bathroom with me! I don’t walk around with my purse all the time and I don’t always have pockets. Every day was an exercise in tampon sneaking. No need to do that with the cup, since you just empty the cup and reinsert it.
There’s no smell with the cup. Smell is created when oxygen hits the blood. The cup prevents oxygen from reaching the blood until you take it out and are emptying it anyway. No smell.
I’ve used the Diva Cup for about 4 months now and can confidently say that I’ll never go back to tampons. I highly recommend you try it out for yourself. Teach your girls about it so we can slowly but surely reduce our planet’s reliance on products that are clogging the landfills.
And for the guys who didn’t heed my warning at the beginning…