Menstrual Cups: Feminist Torture Devices or Period Revolution? A Review

Hey reader: This is part three of a review on period products. To read part one about tampons, click here. Part two about pads is here.

One afternoon a few years ago, I tried to insert a DivaCup into my poon and it did not go well. I couldn’t get it in and when I did it was so uncomfortable it felt like I had put in a contact lens upside down — except the wrenching discomfort was in my vagina and not my eyeball. I spent the subsequent years explaining to anyone that would listen that the DivaCup simply didn’t work for my kind of pussy. I dodged their weird looks and continued with my regular routine of conventional tampons and pads, soaking up all types of toxic goo in the process.

But I kept having really terrible periods. And recurrent yeast infections. And generally feeling like my vagina was trying to kill me.

You know that feeling, right?

My gynecologist suggested I stop using tampons for a while and the yeast infections stopped almost immediately. That’s when I realized I had to start making some serious changes to inner-city Vagina Town.

A friend encouraged me to try the DivaCup again and suggested (much more diplomatically than I would have) that maybe I was using the wrong size. I crept into my bathroom to review the instructions for my Model 1 cup (for women under 30 who haven’t had kids). I had a flashback to a long forgotten day at Whole Foods when I had just turned 30 and decided that my childless pussy was just as tight as a woman in her 20s. I could certainly fit the smaller size, despite what the packaging claimed. Smh.

When I eventually tried out the Model 2 (for women over 30 or those who’ve had kids), it fit perfectly. This spun me into a panic about my old, sagged out puss and was actually the inspiration for my piece about Tight PussiesButthe moral of this story is that you should feel free to keep buying clothes that are too small for you in the hopes that one day you’ll lose weight or lying to folks about your age, but *don’t* apply this kind of logic to anything that goes inside your vagina. Trust me.

Menstrual cups

Just like the name suggests, these are little suction cups to collect your period juice. They’re usually made of a flexible but sturdy silicone, and are inserted into your vaginal canal as an alternative to a tampon. It just hangs out up there collecting (instead of absorbing) until you pull it out, dump the contents and re-insert.

The good

  • No toxic sludge. Most of them are 100% silicone and phthalate-free, so they’re supremely pussy-friendly. Hooray for a cootie-free cooch!
  • You really can’t feel it. I swear. It seems implausible, and sort of adds to the mystery of your vagina (doesn’t it seem like it’s constantly bending the laws of physics?). But I promise, if you’re using the right size it will fit great and you will forget it’s there.
  • You can leave it in for 12 hours. You still run the risk of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome if you leave it in too long (there are menstrual cup horror stories, too), but you can safely leave it in for up to 12 hours. So that means you can sleep with it in or work a full day without having to worry about it.
  • So little gore! For all the pain and suffering my period inflicts, I always assumed it would be like the prom scene in CarrieThe first time I removed the cup, I was sure that buckets and buckets worth of gushing blood would pour everywhere. In reality, there was such a small amount of liquid in there and zero splashing. They say the average person loses 2.5 tablespoons of blood over their entire cycle, and it just seems so much less monstrous when you can see it in this tiny cup.
  • No need to adjust. You know how you have to replace or readjust a tampon after you go #2? Well no need to do that with the menstrual cup (at least not with the DivaCup). I don’t know how, but that thing suctions pretty good. I never felt the need to readjust or remove it (may be different if you’re really straining or something though).

The bad

  • Takes some getting used to. It’s not hard at all, but the insertion and removal process is a bit of an art form: you put it in like a taco, and take it out like you’re unscrewing a squishy light bulb. Once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes much easier, but there is definitely a weird sensation when you “unsuction” that little puppy from your vaj. There are lots of tips online about getting it in and out that are helpful, hereand here and here. It took while to master tampons, so give yourself some time to become a pro.
  • Cleaning. So, this thing gets blood on it. This is obvious. And if you’re still squeamish about your period blood, I invite you to (1) get over it, or (2) get over it. In fact, one of the best things about this little device is that you can dump out what’s collected in your cup into the toilet and just put it back in. You don’t have to wash it out every single time. That’s great, especially for traveling or changing in a bathroom stall at work. But when you do want to wash it, that usually means washing it out in the sink. Am I the only person grossed out by the idea of period blood in the same place where I brush my teeth? I usually try to schedule cup cleaning for when I’m in the shower, which helps.
  • Careful with IUDs. It’s come to my attention that certain brands of menstrual cups suggest not using them if you have an IUD. If this is you, pay close attention to what their instructions say. The last thing you want is to pull out your IUD with your cup. Ouch!

The options

I had no idea there were so many menstrual cup choices on the market before I wrote this. I bought the DivaCup because that’s the one I’d heard of and they carry it at Whole Food$ (I think they also carry them at CVS now). Here is a handy lil comparison guide for most of the cups on the market, although I wouldn’t worry about it too much — they’re all pretty similar.

**Note to the makers of menstrual cups: maybe consider some better names? These are so lame.

In summary

Menstrual cups really are as rad as everyone says they are. They’re effective, painless and coochie-friendly. I can’t recommend them highly enough, even after my wrong size debacle and resulting pussy shame. It requires a bit of a psychological shift if you’ve been using tampons for years, but that’s all it is: psychological. And like any other change in behavior, give yourself some time to adjust. Your cooter will thank you!

Other resources:

Navigating the World and Your Cycle: Using a Menstrual Cup as a Fat and/or Queer Person

periodsTylea Richard