My periods can be accurately summed as the Hunger Games. I bleed for days on end, endure agonizing cramps and want to either eat you or fight you. Thus, it’s only natural that I dread having to stuff my underwear with pads or put in a tampon for a week.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though I’m in a diaper when wearing a pad. Tampons, even when used correctly, begin to chafe and hurt after a week of being inserted. Scarier even, tampons can cause toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and come with a whole host of other health concerns, such as the potential that your vagina is absorbing unhealthy chemicals. Even more so, both tampons and pads leave quite the environmental impact and can be incredibly expensive.
There is another option, however: a menstrual cup. Menstrual cups have been shown to be safer, as they decrease the chance of developing TSS and don’t absorb all the essential vaginal fluid than tampons do. Plus, they only need to be replaced once a year which saves you money and trips to the pharmacy as well as saves the environment. On top of that, you can leave the cup in longer, safely leaving it in for 10-12 hours as opposed to the 4-6 hours you can leave a tampon in.
So, when I received a free one from a conference I attended (that swag bag was incredible), I couldn’t help giving it a go! I used a Diva Cup, specifically model 1 which is designed for women* under 30 and those who have never given birth. After a week of using one, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. However, there are good, bad and ugly parts to everything. Here’s my experience with a menstrual cup:
I don’t think I’m alone in complaining that after several days of putting in a tampon, I’m sore and chafed from essentially shoving a wad of cotton up my vagina. I didn’t experience any of that with the cup. Yes, it was still going in the same place as the tampon, but it felt a lot smoother and I didn’t feel like it was unraveling when I pulled it out (tampons can leave bits of cotton in you which is dangerous). On top of that, the cup is mostly hollow, so I felt as though I could feel it less after the initial shock of insertion as there wasn’t much to feel.
I also didn’t leak once. As someone with heavy periods, if I don’t periodically replace my tampon I risk wrecking another nice pair of underwear. With the cup, everything is held securely in place and I was able to leave mine in for an entire day without feeling the need to change it.
I also just generally felt less gross with the cup in. With pads, I’m often left feeling uncomfortable and hot. With tampons, during a heavy flow, I begin to feel heavy and full as well. With the cup, no matter how heavy or light my flow, I felt dry and comfortable all day.
The initial insertion can definitely be uncomfortable. Menstrual cups don’t come with the handy little applicator that tampons do, so it’s up to you to get it in there. You should fold the cup over twice so it’s kind of like a burrito shape and then put it in. If you’ve never vaginally inserted anything, this can be uncomfortable. My first time inserting it, I awkwardly squatted in the bathroom, desperately trying to keep the cup from unfolding. Once it’s in, you should take a hold of the stem at the end and rotate it a little to ensure that the cup is open fully. Once it’s finally in, you should know because you shouldn’t feel it.
The stem of the cup did, however, cause minor discomfort. It’s supposed to partially stick out to you, like a tampon string, for easy removal. However, it is thicker and stiffer than a tampon string, which means it can irritate you down there, especially near your vaginal entrance. You can trim the stem for more comfort, but don’t trim it too short or you’ll have difficulty removing it later.
This may definitely vary for people, but I wasn’t prepared to see my own blood in a cup. Although I was surprised about how much less I bled than I thought, it was still strange. Removal is only slightly difficult. If you do Kegels regularly, you may find this a lot easier than I did. Removing the cup the first time took quite a bit of straining. If you’re concerned about spilling over the cup upon removal, don’t be. You simply squeeze the bottom of the cup and pull it out. If you don’t like handling your own blood, then you may find rinsing it out and cleaning it (which is absolutely imperative) is uncomfortable and scary. Furthermore, if you live in a residence hall (like I recently moved into), it can be hard to find a private time to clean your menstrual cup (which means I may have to retire mine for the time being. Tears.)
So, if you’re interested in reducing your footprint on the environment, afraid of TSS, or just plain tired of pads and tampons, I urge you to give a menstrual cup a try. You won’t be disappointed.
*Note: Women aren’t the only individuals who menstruate and not all those who identify as female menstruate either.