Squeamish? Five Women Tell All. ~ Jennifer Mo

Via on Apr 20, 2012

 

Relephant: What’s the greenest, safest, healthiest, most affordable (okay, best) form of Birth Control? >>>> On Yoga, Chocolate & Periods. >>>> I Support Women Getting off—The Pill, that Is. ~ Kim Anami

Squicked out is a completely appropriate and pretty common response to menstrual cups.

For me, it wasn’t so much the idea; it was coming eye to eye with a Diva Cup at Whole Foods. I made some mental comparisons between known anatomical limits and the girth of even the smaller cup, and backed away slowly, thinking, “You have got to be kidding me.”

It took me another year to get up the nerve to try one, and another few months before I was really sold on these things. Full disclosure: menstrual cups didn’t change my life. But I do think the personal and environmental benefits could outweigh the initial squick factor for a lot of people. No hard sell here, just answers to common questions and some honest thoughts from five women who have made the switch.

What are menstrual cups and how do they work? Cups are a reusable alternative to tampons and pads. Most are bell or cone shaped and made of silicone. A cup sits under the cervix and forms a seal with vaginal walls to catch menstrual fluid.

How do I insert a menstrual cup? You fold the flexible silicon, insert towards your tailbone and allow to pop open. How much discomfort you feel will depend on how firm/large your cup is, whether your hymen is intact, and how narrow your vaginal opening is.

Why should I switch? There are good environmental and personal reasons to try a menstrual cup. They are reusable for years, reduce waste and can save you the cost of many boxes of tampons and pads. They hold more than even a super tampon without risk of TSS and can be left in for up to 12 hours at a time. Since cups don’t absorb anything, they also don’t dry you out the way tampons do. Unlike pads, there’s no wet feeling or butcher shop smell, and maintenance is dead easy (boil or wash with mild soap). Most menstrual cup companies are small women-owned businesses. Still, I was unconvinced until a friend told me that the cup worked so well that she could even forget she was on her period. That was the point at which I decided I had to try one of these things.

How safe is silicone? While I don’t know of any studies that deal specifically with menstrual cups, silicone has been extensively studied as an implant and is considered a non-toxic, inert material. Many of the cups on the market are made of medical grade silicone. Diva Cup, MoonCup, Keeper (natural latex), and Lunette are FDA approved.

Any drawbacks? Sure. The learning curve is notorious—inserting (and removing) a cup correctly can take a few cycles to get the hang of. Some people don’t get their first cup to work and end up buying a different one. A few never find a cup that works for them. The initial investment (about $25-$40) is high, and most cups don’t have a return policy, for obvious reasons. Public bathrooms can be tricky to navigate if you need to empty your cup mid-day. Silicone is not biodegradable at the end of its life. Finally, if you’re not willing to reach into your vagina, a cup is probably not the right choice for you.

How do I choose the right menstrual cup? One cup does not fit all. The only one you’re likely to see in stores is the Diva Cup, but there are almost 20 brands available. Most look similar but range in length, volume, shape, stem type, softness and even color. The Diva is actually one of the longer cups. Check out the LiveJournal Menstrual Cups community for advice and measurement charts. The most important factors seem to be cervix height and desired volume. Women who have given birth vaginally often do better with the larger diameter cups.

Between my blog friends and me, we’ve tried several different brands of menstrual cups. Here are our uncensored thoughts on each.

Jennifer – Lunette small.

The Lunette

Made in Finland, the Lunette is a medium firm, medium length cup that comes in several different colors and two sizes. I went with the Lunette after scrutinizing measurement charts and reading reviews, and I’m pretty happy with it. Although I’ve never used tampons, I didn’t have major issues inserting or removing it. No significant leaking, but I do wear a thin cloth liner with it for what the LiveJournal community refers to as ‘residual slobber.’ I have light cycles and only empty my cup every 12 hours, even on my heaviest day. Total time per day spent dealing with being female: five minutes. I used to use cloth pads exclusively and they were a lot more work (soaking, scrubbing, washing, line drying). And not having to smell blood all the time is definitely a plus.

My only complaint with the Lunette is that I can feel it when it’s in: a sense of slight but continuous pressure that makes me feel just a little heavy and crampy. Later, I also tried a LadyCup small, which is a smaller, softer, lower capacity cup. It’s less noticeable than the Lunette, but is slippery to remove and has to be emptied more often. I’m OK with the fact that neither is my perfect cup. Both have drastically reduced the time, inconvenience and resources that go into my cycle.

Lynn – the Keeper.

I chose the Keeper because it’s made from all-natural gum rubber and could even be composted if I don’t want to use it anymore. If you’re allergic to latex, then the Keeper won’t work for you. I was excited and yet embarrassed when I first tried to use the Keeper cup. My girlfriends thought it was nasty and would never do it, so I was the lone ranger in choosing reusable menstrual care. I knew that I put my fingers up there anyway, so it didn’t seem so strange to be poking up in there for menstrual reasons. Of course, the blood can be shocking, but I’ve never been too afraid of blood. I’ve never fainted from the sight of blood and I’ve never had a rough time with blood withdrawals.

So I pushed my fears aside, and went for it. I put it inside and trimmed the stem to fit me. It was a little hard to fold and maneuver at first, and when released inside it did have a little snap to it to get in place. But it was nothing I couldn’t handle. It fit snugly and I was surprised at how I could barely feel it inside me. The more I used it, the more flexible and soft it became. It was adjusting to me as I was adjusting to it.

When I go to dump my cup, there’s a lot of blood. You don’t see this much blood on a pad or in a tampon because most of it gets soaked inside. But with the cup, you get to face your blood head on. This is exactly how much you bleed, and guess what? It’s totally normal.

Because I experienced some leaking, and there were times I didn’t want to dump the cup, I bought some cloth pads to use as backup. I don’t think leaking means the cup is faulty. I think that we women just happen to bleed a lot during our menstrual cycles, and the cup can only hold so much. So the rest of it will leak a bit. I’m happy to use both the cup and cloth pads. If I didn’t use the cup, I’d be using cloth pads, and those would have to be changed with greater frequency, washed and dried. With the cup, I don’t need to buy 100 cloth pads. In fact I only have five, which don’t get too bloodied up because they are mostly used for backup.

All in all, I love my Keeper cup. I’ve been using it consistently for the past year or so, and I wouldn’t go back to synthetic disposable pads or tampons unless I lost my reusable products.

Jeanie – MoonCup.

I first heard about menstrual cups from googling Thandie Newton to find her TEDx talk. I was intrigued by this thing that I’d never heard of before—what an elegant solution to our monthly messes! I found several message boards about the horrors of tampons, from the mold that forms inside the plastic to the rayon fibers that stick to our insides. I already knew that the blood oxidizing made it smell bad, so I preferred internal methods to keep the smell down. These message board stories led me to http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/ where I was able to learn more about silicone, its properties, and the wide variety of cups. The Diva was described as floppy and rather large, the Miacup was small, and the choices, colors, sizes…endless! Eventually, I narrowed it down to the Lunette and the Mooncup. The deciding factor between the Lunette and the Mooncup was that the Mooncup had a moderately stiff ring that was still flexible with enough capacity to be useful.

I ordered it for $24 online, and it came with a cotton carrying bag. I tried a couple of different folding methods after watching the videos on how to use it. Definitely do not cut off the stem before your cycle is over, because your cervix rises as the cycle comes to a close and a shorter stem can make it difficult to remove. You can wiggle it around to make it more comfortable, and it might make you need to urinate a bit more often. To remove, you have to pinch it and break the air hole seal before pulling it out, which is unlike a tampon.

If you’re in public, you can dump it out and put it back in without rinsing, but I generally prefer to rinse it in between uses. I also boil it with vinegar (not bleach, as it’ll damage the silicon from what I’ve heard) to remove the discoloration and potential bacteria in between cycles. I love it! I’ll never use tampons again, that’s for sure. It’s safe for all ages, and lasts for 20 years for $24, which is the best deal I’ve heard of anywhere.

Emily – DivaCup.

Two years ago, after getting tired of shelling out money month after month for organic disposables and being uncomfortable with the associated waste, I impulsively bought a Diva Cup. I understand now that different brands of cups may be better suited for each women’s unique anatomical design, but luckily, the Diva Cup’s size and design fits me well. It only took a few days to learn how to insert and remove the cup, as well as find a leak-proof position. Much to my surprise, I found that using the Diva Cup was no more “gross” than using a tampon. The Diva Cup needs to be changed less frequently than a pad or tampon, usually three times a day. When changed before it is full, it is completely leak-proof, eliminating the need to wear pads. I do, however, wear cloth pads on the first two, heaviest days of my flow as a back-up. A cloth pad is helpful to wear overnight when I am not awake to change the cup.

I am an athlete and I find the Diva Cup to be very comfortable. Since the cup holds a rather large volume (which can be measured using the mL lines imprinted on the side), I can go out for long runs or bike rides without having to worry about changing a pad or tampon. The only less flattering feature of the Diva Cup is having to change it in a public restroom or outdoors. Emptying and reinserting the cup gets your hands a little messy, which is troubling when I am not in the privacy of an individual bathroom with a sink. A tampon or pad is a bit cleaner to change.

Lori – Reusable Instead Softcups

When I was asked by Softcup to try out their product I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. I have a Diva Cup sitting that’s been sitting in the box for a few years. I have birthed children and been using tampons for many years, but I wasn’t sure I could handle putting in a menstrual cup! I was also pretty happy with my box of organic tampons.

The first attempt at putting it in was pretty awkward—to the point where I had tears of laughter streaming down my face. A deep breath was required and it actually helped. My biggest fear was that once it was in it wasn’t coming out.

I’ve been using a menstrual cup on and off for a few months and my learning curve continues. I’m still not perfect at placement (I’m at best awkward), but I’m certainly more comfortable. I’m going to keep on trying since it’s such a simple way to reduce waste and a healthier alternative for my body.

Jennifer Mo is a concerned global citizen and a long time cat/book/tree person. You can follow her green journey at It’s Not Easy to be Green.

Lynn Fang is a Writer, Scientist, and Conscious Business Coach. She writes about green living, personal growth, and social change at Upcycled Love. Follow her on TwitterGoogle+, and Facebook.

Jeanie Witcraft is a therapist who works with young people to resolve mood disorders and communication issues. She is also interested in sustainability and voluntary simplicity. Follow Jeanie on Twitter at @jwitcraft or visit her on the web at www.jwitcraft.com . 

Emily is an urban farmer and green living enthusiast. Keep up with Emily’s adventures in gardening, bartering, and reducing her impact at Living Lightly in a Wavering World. 

Lori Popkewitz Alper is the founder and editor-in-chief of Groovy Green Livin, a site dedicated to sharing simple green living tips and current information on sustainable living. Lori is a green living educator, social media consulstant, freelancer, blogger, borderline vegan and recovering attorney. She lives in the Greater Boston area with her three sons, chocolate lab and groovy husband.

~

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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39 Responses to “Squeamish? Five Women Tell All. ~ Jennifer Mo”

  1. [...] it’s not here. You’ll have to visit Elephant Journal to read it. But I promise you that there’s no hard sell or judgment if you’re grossed [...]

  2. Nicole says:

    After I got adept at using mine, I would never ever go back to using anything else. Takes a while to perfect the technique. In fact, although the instructions of mine suggested turning it to create the right fit each time, I found that always took a long time and pinched occasionally too. Instead, I now move it in and out, slightly, a few times and that does the trick. I have a feeling they didn't want to suggest that because it would seem more sexual somehow, not because they didn't know that is a better technique. Cannot recommend enough, but then I've never had bad feelings towards my menstrual cycle.

  3. EcoCatLady says:

    As several of you know, I've used the Diva cup for a few years now, and other than the fire hazard caused by asking an idiot to boil something she doesn't intend to eat (and therefore doesn't have a stomach alarm to keep her honest) I am very happy with it.

    I have had a few issues with leaks, but they were all caused by being impatient (who, me?) and not getting the thing to open completely on insertion. I'm not sure exactly how to describe this, but sometimes even turning the thing, and/or reinserting it doesn't do the trick for me. But (apologies for the graphic description here) if I stick a finger in and sort of press it downward on the top side of the cup it opens up instantly and I've NEVER had a leak when the cup is fully open.

    How's that for TMI!

  4. Yay for menstrual cups! There's definitely a learning curve, but like you say it's so worth it for how much money you save and waste you avoid by using one. I use the Diva cup and only have to change mine once a day, maybe twice on my heaviest day.

    One thing you guys didn't mention that I think bears bringing up is that the cup looks big, but when you compare it to a tampon that's soaked up some liquid, the sizes are pretty comparable.

    Thanks for this article!

  5. Cyndy says:

    I love my Diva cups! I've been using them for years. As long as they are kept really clean (I even add a little Young Living Melrose oil to help prevent growth of bacteria) with each insertion, they work really well.

  6. [...] Menstrual Cups Make You Squeamish? Five Women Tell All. ~ Jennifer Mo (elephantjournal.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPinterestLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  7. Great to see more and more blog post about menstrual cups! I am myself a big fan. I have an info site and online shop selling most brands. Have a look at http://shop.menstrualcup.co

  8. reader says:

    I have been using the Instead cups for years. I tried the diva cup and could not even get it in. I find the Instead cups very comfortable once you get the hang of them, much more comfortable than tampons. An added bonus: menstrual cramps disappeared! No smell either, but they can get a little messy esp. on heavy flow days–may have to use a backup for a day or two. And if you have fake nails…forget it. Overall, though, the disposable cups made my periods much more bearable. I was concerned about the waste, but they can be washed and reused for a day or two. And, I think they can probably be recycled.

    • anon says:

      Instead has re-usable cups now as well, if you or someone else didn't know. I still have trouble figuring out my best fit for anything. I have dysmenorrhea, and I've noticed that Instead cups work great when I don't want to leak as bad. But regardless of what cup I try, I leak.

      As for menstrual cramps, I highly suggest the following: Red Raspberry leaves, Fenugreek, or Muira Puama. I take them as herbal supplements at least a week before my period, and during. I use RR and MP combined and I honestly don't cramp. Most of my pain is gone, but I suffer from fatigue. With dysmenorrhea, I can say that I used to feel like I was dying.

      Cramps are from the stress your uterus goes through in shedding the lining. Where the Instead cup fits in seems to stay out of the way.

      As for the mess, use the Filipino toilet method called "Tabo." It's a manual bidet. Just wash yourself with water and a tiny bit of soap. I work best with the tub or sink next to the toilet. Just dump your cup, rinse it over the toilet with your cup of water, use the clean hand to wash everything, and set your cup on a clean folded napkin/toilet paper. I have this whole system down pat, and I end up being very hygienic.

  9. cupuser says:

    I have been using Indeed cups for years now. I try to introduce the to as many women as possible. It's such an upgrade to the tampon method! I can't believe more women haven't adopted these by now! Go for it, totally worth it!

  10. Sallie says:

    I love my Diva cup and will not go back to anything else. It does feel kinda heavy when filled on the heaviest days, but no more than I recall when using tampons or pads. It works great doing athletic activities and now even on those first days of my cycle I can put on a bathing suit and be at the beach all day without worries or need to find a bathroom.

  11. Jess says:

    I LOVE my diva cup, I switched from tampons almost a year ago and I'll never go back, since using the cup I don't get menstrual headaches and my cramps are less intense too. Never had a leak and call me odd, but I am not at all bothered by seeing the blood.

  12. Annabee says:

    I can't get mine in (Diva Cup)… I'm very frustrated and it's very painful from my attempts.

    • Claire says:

      You should try different folding methods, and it certainly shouldn't be painful to insert, unless maybe you're a virgin (in which case maybe this isn't for you?). It might be painful if it's popping back to full form as you're trying to insert it, so keeping firm pressure with your fingers so it stays folded until it's in should help. I tend to tuck one side in then fold it in half from there. Also, try sitting, so your muscles will be more relaxed.

    • Claire says:

      I had the same problem; I was frustrated to the point of tears. Here's what I figured out: You want to insert it almost completely horizontally. I kept trying to put it in like I would a tampon, more vertically, and when I finally figured it out, I was SO happy!!

    • Lanakila says:

      Keep trying, it'll be worth it! If you need to give up this month, just try again each month and you'll get it.

    • Miranda says:

      try a water based lube…it helps when you're having trouble…

  13. Argenta says:

    Wonderful things! I love mine, have been using it for almost five years, and preach to any who will listen. However, I find that after the first two heavy-flow days, I prefer a cotton pad in the evening and over night.

  14. Amy says:

    I've been using a Diva cup for years and I can't figure out why more women don't use them?! I would NEVER want to go back to using tampons or pads. It's cheaper, it's more environmentally friendly, and you don't have to run around with tampons in your purse all the time. Yeah, it takes some practice, but it's SO worth it.

  15. Ali says:

    Im very happy with my moon cup as well, and id like to add that I've been adding my blood to the water i use to water my plants, and they are growing so much!! really, the way plants respond is amazing, and i feel its a nice way to nourish the earth…

  16. Jennifer says:

    Will never go back. Totally worth the learning curve. Lube can help.

  17. Kate says:

    I've been using Diva Cup for over a decade now. I tried a Keeper a few years ago and have it for emergencies, but the Diva is more comfortable. Perfect for the gym, sleeping, swimming, etc. The only thing time I didn't use it was when I was doing aikido – being slammed down while wearing white pajamas creates a potentially embarrassing situation! I've tried to tell girlfriends about them – and even a couple of doctors, but they have all freaked out a little. Oh well, I'm happy!

  18. toni says:

    As a silicone implant patient and as a result now someone who liives with an auto-immune disease I want to warn everyone that believing silicone is safe is a dangerous belief. Just as saying that because the FDA approved something makes it safe is dangerous.

    Please search Vitek Proplast implants. They were once approved by the FDA too, and in 1991 were recalled. Too late for me.

    • prudence says:

      Definitely worth looking into the type of silicone. I found that my children's silicone ice cube trays left a taste on the ice cubes. Here's the test I used to determine if I should throw away those ice cube tray. Wash them several times with hot soapy water then, lick them. Yeah, I know in this case it's a bit icky but again, try this when they are brand new. If there is any flavor whatsoever then that chemical is going into your body.

      That said we live in a plastic world and I think there are silicone's that are properly and fully cured which could be safe. Your body has a fantastic level of sensitivity. Use it and trust it.

  19. Jenifer says:

    As a teen, I never figured out tampons, but used washable pads for years. I was never happy with it, but still couldn't figure out tampons and didn't dare try a menstrual cup.

    Fast forward to me being 36 years old — I know, took me long enough — and I was out on the road without my pads. I went to a little mini-market (we were in a very rural place), and they only had tampons. So, I figured out tampons. I know, i KNOW. it took me long enough. LOL

    After that cycle which was amazing rather than messy and uncomfortable with extra laundry, I went and got a menstrual cup right away for the next cycle. Living in another country, I got what was available at our local health food shop. I'd had a baby already, so had to get that one.

    I have not looked back. I ditched my washable pads (i.e., composted them as they were organic cotton), and I just have my cup. I love that darn thing.

    I'm an evangelical menstrual cup user.

  20. Sara says:

    no no no no NO! i am not sold on this product whatsoever. for some reason i have it in my head that sticking a rubber barricade into my vagina isn't sanitary. here are my thoughts/reasons to not want to try it: first, i don't think it's safe to let that area not be able to "breathe" especially during a cleanse. second, boiling??? please don't invite me to your house and make me eat food you've prepared with your bloody vagina catcher cup. third, "dumping" sounds horrific, you dump your blood out of the thing after your coagulated blood sits in your cup letting out copious amounts of methane rot gasses back into your vagina, this sounds disgusting. DISGUSTING. you're really not harming the environment using cotton tampons or pads and THROWING THEM AWAY. nobody thinks you're horrible for keeping your vagina fresh and clean with a disposable tampon or pad.

    • gemmalevine says:

      Hi Sara, Can you clarify how a tampon allows that area to breathe more than a menstrual cup? Either way, the area is completely "stopped up." Also, I just use alcohol swabs to clean my cup, so that is an option if you're uncomfortable with the whole boiling thing. Can you clarify what you mean by "methane rot gasses"? I haven't heard of blood producing methane, but I would be open to learning more about this. And in actuality, for me anyway, a very small amount of blood accumulates each time, so it really isn't very messy. I know that it can be scary to try something new. And it is absolutely okay if you are not interested in trying a menstrual cup, but your claims of uncleanliness are unfounded and I don't want these comments to discourage other users.

      • Guest says:

        Methanethiol (also known as methyl mercaptan) is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH
        3SH (also written as CH4S). It is a colorless gas with a distinctive putrid smell. It is a natural substance found in the blood and brain of humans and other animals as well as plant tissues. It is disposed of through animal feces. It is also one of the main chemicals responsible for bad breath and the smell of flatus. The chemical formula for methanethiol is CH3SH; it is classified as a thiol. It is sometimes abbreviated as MeSH. It is very flammable.
        A cotton tampon is going to allow for more breathability.
        Also, I have 2 friends who use these cups, and they have a smell to them.
        Did you know that many people don't smell their own odor? You may have it but not know.
        Lastly, silicone does not biodegrade. A tampon will biodegrade.

  21. Freya Watson Freya Watson says:

    Well, I guess I'll just have to go try one! If it's worth it, at this stage of my life :) I was put off trying them by the fiddly and unsuccessful attempt to fit a contraceptive cap a few years ago – the angle of my cervix didn't work with it. But I'll give it a shot and see how I get on. Thanks for the article.

  22. Kristine says:

    Mine was life changing, I am allergic to tampons and pads and had suffered for 20 years. When I saw them and read the reviews, I was excited. Took some time to get use to it and make adjustments, my cervix is severely tilted, almost upside down, but with some helpful advice on Youtube, I am problem free for about 3 years now. Only buying them once a year is also a blessing, cuts cost at almost 90 percent. I went through a pad an hour, imagine that, and have just learned not to make long trips on heavy day, but after thyroid treatment things have calmed down and changes are normal now. Do some looking for advice about tilted cervix if you have one, turning them inside out helps a lot.

  23. Meg says:

    I LOVE my keeper; i feel hygeinic, natural. and not dried out and uncomfortable as i did with tampons. As i knew someone who died from toxic shock i was glad not to be using them. I do sometimes forget Ive got it in, but it doesnt seem to matter. (i cant feel a thing when it in!) And of course its all so much cheaper.

  24. swampypie says:

    I loved my Diva Cup…until one day it became undeniably clear that my IUD had become displaced and therefore ineffective. About a month before that happened I'd taken a look at the "Diva Cup 2" and noticed they added an indication not to use it with an IUD, and thought, "but I've been doing that for two years and had no issues!" I can't be certain that the suction of the cup is what caused the shift in the placement of my IUD, but I would not encourage anyone else to take that risk.

    • Megan says:

      Thank you so much for your experience! I have an IUD and was wondering these things while considering trying a cup out. I have enough fears about my IUD and that's enough to keep me from messing around down there,

  25. Miranda says:

    I bought a Me Luna cup that has a loop at the bottom…it makes it sooooo much easier to remove! There were lots of trouble with suction when I used my Diva Cup…I guess the bright side is that it wasn't leaking :) Haven't had the same issues with Me Luna…haven't had any leaking either…it's a much firmer cup though…

  26. diaz_one says:

    Hi there, I discovered a new brand of menstrual cup offering starter pack, you should check this webpage:
    http://www.azencup.com

    They also sell intimate area gel cleanser… anything you may need for your intimate area you can find there a a lot of advice as well

  27. danielchrish says:

    I really like this article!!!!!!!!!! bleeding after period

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