Caution: This post and its comments contain details about menstruation. Queasy folk beware … but if you stay, you’ll learn a lot.
Last May, I took Crunchy Chicken’s Diva Cup Challenge and switched over to using the Diva Cup to manage my menstrual period. I blogged about my experience using the Diva Cup for the first couple of months (click on the bold text to read all about it). The post has been read more than 4,000 times and garnered dozens of comments, many with helpful advice of their own.
Now, one year later, it seems like an excellent time to review my progress since then.
If you are unfamiliar with menstrual cups, they are an insertible, flexible cup that collects menstrual fluid within the vagina — like a tampon, but a cup instead of an absorbent item. The cup forms a seal within the vaginal walls and collects the blood/fluid in the cup. After a period of time (with heavy flow, perhaps a few hours; with light flow, 12 hours), the woman will carefully pull the cup down and out, dump the contents in the toilet, wipe out or wash the cup, and reinsert it.
Menstrual cups are made of medically safe ingredients (silicone for the Diva Cup and Mooncup; natural rubber, which might bother people who have a latex allergy, for the Keeper). In the past, manufacturers touted that they could be reused for 10 years; now, due to FDA requirements, they say they must be replaced regularly (usually one year is the lifespan given). The cups can be washed with soap and water and sanitized before storing them until the next period. The Luna Pads Web site has a nice Q&A here.
In my twelve months with the Diva Cup, I’ve found the cup has many, many advantages:
- Convenience. I can carry it in its little pouch in my purse. The long usage time means I’m not likely to have to dash to the restroom in a restaurant or other public place to deal with conditions down south.
- Perfect for “light showers.” If I suspect Aunt Flo is on her way, I can pop in the cup to be prepared.There is no exasperation of discarding a mostly-unused pad or worry about the abrasion a tampon can cause.
- Less leaking. Because the cup forms a seal, or a vacuum, it seldom leaks. Tampons can fill and then leak like crazy, or just decide to leak for no apparent reason. With experience, the cup doesn’t do that.
- Sanitary. Because fluids are contained in an air-free environment within the body, there is no odor or other sanitary issues. Yes, you have to take a little care when emptying and cleaning the cup — a quick wipe with toilet paper prevents any “splashback” when washing it out.
- Cost savings. You can purchase one cup, and a small supply of disposable or reusable liners if you wish, to last at least a year. At a cost of around $30 per cup, you’ll save hundreds of dollars.
- Environmental savings. Imagine not throwing anything away from your menstrual cycle. Wow.
- Flexible and sporty. You can wear a menstrual cup while doing yoga, hiking, swimming, running, etc., without worries about leaks or embarrassing bulges. It’s sanitary out in public, too, because it keeps your period contained.
- Awareness of body. For women with medical concerns, a gynecologist or naturopath might wish to know the amount of flow or its pace. The Diva Cup (which has been referred to as “the period shot glass”) has markings for an ounce or half-ounce, so you can track flow if need be.
- Female health. The cup sits better if your pelvic muscles are in good shape, so it offers a monthly reminder to keep doing those Kegel exercises your doctor recommends.
- Fewer cramps? Some users report having milder menstrual cramps.
- No weird contents. Items (such as tampons) that are bleached are suspected of containing dioxin, which causes an array of health problems, including a possible link to endometriosis. No such issues with the cup.
- Ignorance is bliss. With the Diva Cup, I can actually forget I am even having my period. Priceless! Now, if only it cured PMS …
Tips to Get the Most From a Cup
Now, all those advantages are not to say the cup doesn’t have its challenges. A great place to find more information is the Live Journal community about Menstrual Cups. Search there for your issue, and you’re likely to find a solution. And my original post has some great suggestions in the comments.
That said, here are some tips I’ve come across — through my own experience or through hearsay — to make life with a cup a little easier:
- Persistence pays. My first month was awful. My second was pretty OK. Then things got better and better, although one month I had a relapse. The cup is definitely an acquired skill — but think back: you probably didn’t master anything else about your period right off the bat, either.
- Find the right fold. The cups flip and fold quite a bit to make insertion easier, but certain folds will work for certain body types. Everybody is different. Experiment to find the one that is most comfortable for you. The right fold will also make it easier for the cup to pop open and find its proper position. The Live Journal community mentioned above has excellent information.
- Find the right circumstance. Some people find it easiest to insert the cup in the shower (I’ve found this helps it to open properly, especially in the morning, for some reason.) Some people claim it works better after being rinsed with cold, rather than warm, water.
- Don’t be afraid to cut off the stem. Most of the manufacturers say you shouldn’t need to cut off the stem. Many bloggers and other anecdotal users suggest trimming it. If it pokes you, feel free to cut it off. (Mine is completely gone.) At least with the Diva Cup, the ridges at the base of the cup provide plenty of “traction” for grabbing the cup to remove it. And don’t worry about the gross-out factor — I can pinch mine at the base to remove it; I don’t need to pull the rim to break the suction. If you need the stem removed because it is poking you, odds are good that you’ll be able to grab the base to remove the cup.
- Master the insertion. The cup has some play. Use the best fold for you. Once the cup is inserted, you can pull it down and Kegel if necessary until it pops open, turn it around and then move it back up to get the right “seating” so it can work properly.
- Master removal. You should be able to pull the stem and/or pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, then pull it gently down and out to remove it without spilling.
- Make clean-up easy. In a public restroom, you can wipe the cup out with toilet paper and then reinsert it immediately. (That’s if you need to take it out in a public restroom — you usually won’t have to.) Wash it with soap and water when you have a chance. After each cycle, boil it for 5 minutes to sanitize. This is not recommended by the manufacturer, but you can soak the cup in a 50-50 water-hydrogen peroxide solution for a few hours to get rid of the grimy look.
- Be prepared. You might want a back-up in case of leaks. The cup makes it much easier to use reusable pads for backup (as opposed to using them solo) because leakage is minimal, so there’s very little cleanup. If you are conscious of your body, it’s easy to feel a leak or overflow the moment it occurs so you can go handle it then and there.
- Know your body. Weird little things can happen with a cup. It might be unable to open because both sides of the rim are caught behind the cervix, for instance. Surprisingly, you might not be able to feel that that’s the case. If you know what’s going on, you can solve the problem. If you aren’t quite sure how your female systems are structured or work, a wonderful resource is the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. The book is aimed at helping women become pregnant or avoid pregnancy, but it also provides an amazing overview of the female reproductive system’s function. I read it and loaned it to several friends, and we all had the same refrain: “Why didn’t anyone tell me THIS when I was 13?!”
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