by Jessica Schaefer
A response to 11 Questions I Want To Ask Women Who Use The DivaCup, by Melissa Kirsch
Want to try a menstrual cup but aren’t sure how to pick one or what the differences are? This chart helps compare what is available on the market!
Well Melissa, it seems you’re not alone in your 11 questions about menstrual cups. You’ve got plenty of tampon-clutching hands raised in solidarity, even in the “crunchy” groups. They even thought you left out a few questions. So, out of complete lack of shame and a habit for being a know it all (yes, I was the oldest, thank you), here’s my answers. Now you should ask, “Do you really want to know?” or better yet, “will anything I have to say change your mind?”
If not, then, carry on with those tampons. We can still be friends and I promise not to ask if you slipped on the no-flushing tampons resolution.
While my original goals in using a cup were not related to making my period less disgusting or “less of a hassle,” (that’s what extended breastfeeding is for… but my timer has run out on that, twice) – it was my goal was to make my period significantly less painful and less exhausting. For me, an almost 5 year struggle with debilitating pain ended in exploratory-turned-corrective surgery and a diagnosis of endometriosis. My periods weren’t they only painful time, but they were often the worst days. I’d have done anything to make them better. Now, before you say, “well in case of crippling medical conditions, that’s different…” here’s the thing: I didn’t even know about menstrual cups. Seriously, why was no one knocking at my door giving me info on this option!?
So now, years later with well managed endo and semi-normal periods, when someone asks, I really want to answer. Shoot, I know the benefits when periods are pain free – and I’d imagine (nah, we talk… I know) that for most readers, they’re at least uncomfortable, if not miserable. So here’s my answers, cringe worthy and gross as they might have to be, so that maybe it helps someone just like me.
Cost-effective? Yes, even if you buy a new one every year or two because you really don’t want to boil it like you should at the end of each cycle (see question 6), and it eventually starts to break down.
Easy? Well, there’s a commitment there. My mother thinks reading Dostoyevsky is easy, and totally worth it. I have two kids and a business to run, so unless it puts the kids to sleep, I’m not reading it anytime soon. I have 6 back issues of RealSimple that haven’t even been touched. But here’s the thing, it does make things easier – and for that reason, it’s worth the learning curve. I imagine that how great that curve is depends greatly on 1) how comfortable you are with your body, and 2) how chill you are. So do a little yoga breathing/tv binge watching/chocolate eating first, and definitely don’t do it while the kids are yelling outside the bathroom door.
Here’s a crazy idea – try it before you have your period. Unlike a tampon, it won’t feel all rough and dry, and even better, you can do it in the shower. Hold the cup under warm water, squat like you’re on a hippie homebirth video, fold it (try youtube) and give it a go. Just remember to relax. So yes, even if only for the ability to insert it wet (shower or not) I give it a big win over tampons.
Environmentally smart? Yes, but while that’s a bonus, you’re right – a reusable water bottle and fewer car trips would have a much bigger impact. You should get on that too.
Sex? You covered that one. You’ve got to remove it. But if you’re trying to ward off interest, “I’d have to go fish my menstrual cup out first…” works even better than “I’ve got a headache.” Or so I’ve heard.
I don’t think you’re a prude for not wanting to “stick your hand up in your vagina” – this is pretty darn common. Which makes me a little pissed about how, somehow, while acknowledging that it’s totally normal for men to be well acquainted with all their manly bits, we’ve made girls and women feel so grossed about about their bodies – lady bits included. I grew up a little afraid that if i was to manage to reach “down there” I might be found out and everyone would know that I was going straight to hell in a STD filled handbasket.
As it turns out, my vulva, vagina, uterus, and ovaries are all actually mine. But that aside, here’s the great thing – you don’t really need to reach all that far “up there.” Two fingertips inside the vaginal opening is all it’s going to take most of the time – if you relax and take a moment – and even if you have to “go fishing” because you tensed up or because your body is shaped somewhat different and your cup sits a bit further back, most cups have that little tip on the end – give that a firm tug while pushing just a bit (like you’re pooping incorrectly, ahem) and things will be closer to the front.
Getting it in is all about the fold (and relaxing). Getting it out is all about breaking the seal (and relaxing). I know, that’s a lot of relaxing during period hell. Take some deep breaths. Or chocolate. Whatever works.
That’s probably already more than you want to know, so … on with your 11 questions (plus one more).
1. How do you pull it out without inciting a bloodbath?
“It’s a tiny goblet full of blood and uterine lining.” I’m almost sorry to inform you that it is nowhere near as interesting as you make it sound. There’s no horror movie in the making here (well, maybe if you drip on your MIL’s white bathroom rug). The 2-4 oz in a typical cycle are not nearly as much as you might think. Go measure out that much water, split it into however many days your cycle lasts, and spill one section on a plate. It is a bit fascinating, but it doesn’t move on its own. It won’t jump out of the cup and it’s really pretty hard to spill. I’ve got crazy shaky hands, and I’ve never spilled mine all over the bathroom, me, towels, or even the toilet seat.
What do you do if it does spill or get “everywhere”? In my ideal situation (is there an ideal situation for dyeing tile grout with menstrual blood?)… in that case, my husband would be home and I’d turn on the shower, tell him to handle it, and go collect the fragile piece of my already grouchy soul while he made up for one or two of the many times he owes me anyway. In reality, I’d do the same thing I do when someone pees on the floor… clean it up and scrub arms like I’m the on call doc.
2. What happens when it fills up?
“The DivaCup is promising me 12 hours of leak-free protection. What happens in the 13th hour?”
It depends on your flow. Eventually, you might get a bit of leaking… but I can go way longer without changing it. Typically, I change it before I leave in the morning and when I go to bed, and a time or two extra on my one or two heavy days when I am using the bathroom anyway (or taking a shower – have I mentioned it’s a really good excuse to chill?).
“I am picturing a champagne fountain, except there is no tier to catch the champagne after the top tier and it’s not champagne, it’s blood.”
Well, if that happens, you may want to get that looked at…
A lot of women wear light cloth pads as backup. I’ve never needed it and most of the women I know haven’t either, even if they still like the peace of mind. And if cloth pads (yes, washable) make you want to write another article, you can just use the lightday pads. Just don’t flush ‘em.
3. What the hell is going on in the public bathroom?
“So you go to the public bathroom stall, you take your DivaCup out, you dump it in the toilet. Then what? You need to wash it, right?”
OK stop there. You don’t HAVE to wash it. You could.. yes, just pop it back in. It’s going where it’s all bloody anyway… back to the same spot. Only your clean fingers have touched it. I wash up on the way in, keep that hand up well away from any surface, pop the cup out, dump it, and pop it back in. Then grab some toilet paper and clean my hand enough that I can go out and wash up without looking like I’m trying out for a horror movie. If you really felt off about it, you could bring wipes or a small bottle of water and do a quick rinse over the toilet. Personally, the less time in the stall the better, so I’m ok with popping it back in where it was a second ago.
“Are your co-workers wondering where you are by now? Haven’t you missed your flight?”
Change it when you get to the airport, unlike a pad or tampon you’re not “wasting it” if you change it early! And seriously, have you timed smoke breaks? Or man poops? Or “we-have-to-leave-now!” toddler potty times? You’ll be fine.
4. What is going on with your fingernails?
Thanks for your concern about the state of my nails after handling a “cup o’blood.” I should probably consider a nail brush now that you’ve informed me about my open door cuticles… thanks for that. However, as to carrying it with me, I hardly ever have to change my cup when out. If you did, I suppose you could opt for one of two things: use some hand sanitizer, or up your kombucha drinking and count on the protective power of probiotics. Or… just wash up with soap and water and call it a day.
I don’t recall ever getting that messy – or having anything much to scrub. If I don’t have a chance to splash a little water on my vulva (see: changing your cup in the shower recs) a quick pee and wipe means everything is pretty clean, then I wash my hands and pop the clean cup back in. During heavier times I might get blood on my fingertips putting the cup in, but I promise it will wash right off. Menstrual blood can carry STDs or yeast infections but in and of itself it’s clean… so if you don’t have either of those things to worry about, I wouldn’t panic about that fingernail brush.
Now, if you drip on your Mother in Law’s rug, that’s all on you.
5. What’s in the cup?
Ratio of solid to liquid… well, I suppose this greatly depends on the women, and on your current health (low iron may mean more clots, for example). Typically, mine is primarily liquid, thicker in mid cycle, with stringy bits at the heaviest times and a few tiny clots toward the end. But when we’re talking lady bits, there’s no chart. Menstrual flows – like vulvas – vary greatly. Just like snowflakes. Quite possibly the worst analogy ever. Can we start over? There’s blood. BLOOD in the cup. Whatever blood is usually all up in that paper tampon you stuff up there. Only, less of it, at least eventually. Which is a bonus.
6. Is this thing going in the dishwasher?
Mine does not instruct dishwasher cleaning. While it sounds a little overkill to me, I’d be more worried about the chemicals. Even “eco friendly” dishwashing detergent isn’t exactly vagina PH friendly, and even if you don’t add any, there’s still tons of residue in your dishwasher.
Many cups do recommend boiling briefly in the same way you would pacifiers (yeah, you’re supposed to clean them) or breastpump parts. Don’t want your (already washed) cup in your (washable) spaghetti pot? No biggy, Americans aren’t known for being minimalists… get a separate pot, or, boil water, pop your cup in a cheap mug marked “NO DRINKING” and pour boiling water over it. Keep the mug in the bathroom, because I promise you, men will not read that warning.)
As far as the holes getting clogged, the force of water from the sink is enough to clear those, a little brush over with your finger if need be. Toothpick cleanings? Ain’t nobody got time for that…
Keep it in a fabric bag so it can “breathe” and bacteria doesn’t find a nice greenhouse. Done.
7. What about the smell?
No smell unless you leave it in way too long because you forgot about because it’s so darn comfortable. It’s like a tagless t shirt. Yes, I set phone alerts, go ahead and laugh.
Of course the blood is exposed to the air when you spill it (I’m assuming you mean dump… it’s hard to spill) or it overflows, but then it’s headed right to the toilet or the drain anyway, so no time to stink.
I found it interesting that you said regarding pad usage,“I just can’t bear to put in another tampon because it feels like my entire body is convulsing with every uterine contraction.” Seriously, that’s not cool, not normal, and not necessary! For that reason alone, try a cup. Give it a decent two cycle try. See if those contractions don’t ease up a bit. I’m betting my sckooncup they’re aggravated by the chemicals in the tampons and pads.
I always felt like there was a distinct smell to my nether regions when using a tampon, a very nether regions smell which was not appealing at all. But I’m happy to report that there’s no smell when using a cup. Unlike a tampon, the cup is not absorbent and doesn’t upset the acidic environment in the vagina… therefore unlike a tampon it does not increase the risk of infection, and there’s no bacterial breeding ground. No yucky bacteria growth, no yucky smell. Happy vulva, happy life.
8. What if I can’t get it out? What if it falls out?
While your shark bait illustrations make for a fun at-your-expense chuckle, I hate to inform you that actual use of menstrual cups is pretty…. boring. If you can’t get it out, come back later when you can relax. Go in the shower and try again. Take a breather. Pop a squat. It’s not going “up” anywhere – there is nowhere for it to go… Disappointing, I know. I felt the same way when my dad informed us we could not actually dig a hole to China. Shame.
As to it falling out, have you ever dropped a lid into the sink drain? You know, one that fits so perfectly you think hateful thoughts towards the designers and check that you’re not being filmed? (Or…that might just be me.) Anyway, it’s pretty darn impossible to get out because you can’t break the suction. Once you do, boom, it comes right out. Same thing. If you’re just standing/swimming/dancing/jumping around, nothing is going to break the suction and make that sucker come flying out spewing blood everywhere. You’re going to have to reach up there (yes, two finger tips into the unknown) and pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, or just slide one finger against the side and boom, you’re good to go. If I make it sound too easy, well, I’ve done it a few times – but even early on, this was true – if I relaxed. And again, practice dry. So much nicer.
9. Are o.b. tampons the gateway drug to the DivaCup?
I know more people who have jumped straight to cups from tampons/pads… maybe facebook moms groups are the real gateway drug. Someone brings it up, everyone asks questions, and soon enough someone is trying it.
10. Do you miss shopping for ‘feminine hygiene’ every month or two?
Bonus question: One of the ones in the image looks like it’s for Sasquatch’s vagina how do you figure out what size you need?
Have you seen a jumbo / “heavy” tampon full of blood? Yeah, not small either. Most of the cups have two sizes, one for pre-childbirth and one for post (regardless of vaginal or c-section). It seems to be a pretty good guideline, but read the manufacturer’s guidelines. I read a few reviews and went with a Sckoon cup. I love it. Check them out. It seems like most women are fangirls of whatever one they try first – with the “except” part being that some of the stems are a little hard, and people tend to trim them. Sckoon cup: super soft. It’s like butta. Get it.
11. Do you think I’m kind of a terrible person?
Nope. Your vulva, your business. I really couldn’t care less what’s keeping your underwear blood free, if it works for you. But if it doesn’t, then by all means…