Image source: https://www.menstrualcupsaustraliaonline.com.au/product/divacup/
Diva Cup Review
Guest writer Natalie Cooper shares her experience of the Diva menstrual cup – an environmentally conscious alternative to pads and tampons
After seeing several ads on Facebook for menstrual cups, I finally decided to give one a try after I turned 40. Part of me wishes I’d tried this years ago – I’ve likely only a few more years of needing to use such products, but considering I’ve basically eliminated the need to purchase sanitary products…
Based on statistics on http://www.sustainablemenstruationaustralia.com.au/greener.html, the average woman uses around 12,000 pads and tampons in a lifetime, contributing to approximately 120 kg of landfill. From a financial perspective, the average period costs around $7.50 a cycle (based on 3 regular pads and 1 overnight pad per day for a five day cycle every 28 days) which rounds out at just under $100 a year, and roughly $4000 in a lifetime.
One diva cup costs around $50-$60 and if taken care of well, will last up to ten years. That’s a saving of $940 – not even mentioning the reduction in landfill.
And here’s where it gets personal – if you don’t want to know the detail, skip to the bottom for the pros and cons, and some tips (though frankly, I think there needs to be more open conversation about periods – they are a fact of life, and shouldn’t be taboo).
My personal journey started about four months ago – towards the end of a period I decided to bite the bullet and fork out the $49.99 for a Diva Cup at Chemist Warehouse. In Australia, the Diva Cup appears to be the most accessible menstrual cup from retailers, though there are a few others with limited retail sellers. Other cups are more easily available online. My choice was mainly due to accessibility. The Diva Cup comes in two sizes – one for younger women who haven’t had children, the other for women who have given birth, or are older. Muscle elasticity changes with age and giving birth, so I went with the suggested size for my age.
In the box, you get the cup, a little cloth bag, and an instruction leaflet. First and foremost – you need to wash your hands before starting, and give the cup a wash with some fragrance-free soap in warm water. Because I had spent a little time online researching the cup and how to use it, I wasn’t going in blind with my first try – I did read the instructions in full (it’s important to do this as they can vary from brand to brand), and managed a successful insertion on the first try.
There’s two different folds you can try for insertion – either squish it flat, and then fold it in half, or you can kind of fold in the side from an angle. The instructions suggest the first as your initial try, then the latter if the first doesn’t work. Since the first one worked for me, I didn’t bother with the second during that cycle (I have since, but prefer the first). The angle of insertion is a little different too – rather than more of an upward angle, you insert it pointing the rim towards your tailbone. Once it’s in you need to run your finger around the base to make sure your cup has opened – you might need to pull it out a little and give it a twist (anything from a quarter twist to a full 360 degree turn). I find that I know it’s opened fully when I feel a little bit of suction, basically creating the seal. (Note that some cups don’t have to open fully – another reason why you need to read the instructions in full before starting).
The leaflet says you’re not supposed to feel it (the bottom of the cup basically sits almost flush with your vaginal opening, unlike a tampon which is pushed further in). On the Diva Cup, there’s a little stem that protrudes from the base of the cup. I can feel it when it’s first inserted, but then pretty much forget it’s there, but then Ialways could feel a tampon string too, so it doesn’t really bother me. You can actually trim some of the stem off the bottom, but as it hasn’t caused me any issues, I’ve left mine attached. It also has a few grooves that can help with the removal process.
I can’t remember how many hours I had it in for the first time – probably around six to eight. I must say, it’s one of the most refreshing periods (pun intended) of my life! As someone who frequently gets rashes due to things getting claustrophobic and up close and personal with plastic for hours on end, being able to wear whatever underwear I liked and letting things breathe was like a breath of fresh air (there’s those puns again…).
I think removal was kind of a worse experience than insertion…or maybe just different. Again, starting with clean hands, you have to get your fingers up there a bit, pinch the cup to break the seal that forms around the rim, and pull it out. If you don’t break the seal properly, there’s a weird suctioning feeling from your insides – not painful, just very odd and a little uncomfortable. It also takes a little care to keep the angle and balance right so you don’t end up with blood all over your hands or the floor (or heaven forbid dropping your cup in the toilet – it hasn’t happened to me (yet), but it has happened to others!). It was at this point I discovered that long nails aren’t recommended for this process – pinching things down there can get a little unpleasant!
A quick wash in the sink with some fragrance-free soap and warm water, and it went back in, again, without any issues. Overnight was just as comfortable and leak free. Morning removal and wash were performed in the shower, and back in it went after I dried off. In all, I wore the cup for two days and two nights, and I was a convert.
Between periods it’s a good idea to sterilise your cup – I usually do mine twice; once immediately after my period finishes, and again a couple of days before it’s due. If you feel squeamish about putting a cup in your cookware, buy a cheap small saucepan for the express purpose of sterilising your cup. Cover it to about 1 cm above the cup, then boil for about five minutes. Be careful taking it out of the water – it does retain the heat for a few minutes. Let it air dry, pop it back in its little bag and you’re done. (I usually sterilise the bag at the same time!).
I enthusiastically rhapsodised to a friend about the diva cup the following week. “It’s like being a vegan, but you can eat meat!” My friend laughed at me because it’s true – most menstrual cup converts will rave about their experience if asked. It’s not a topic we generally raise in conversation (something that needs to change, because if something feels “not normal”, lack of communication might mean you don’t follow up something that could be harmful).
I always felt like I had excessively heavy periods – feeling like on days three to four of my period, cups of blood were coming out rather than the average couple of teaspoons. After using the Diva Cup, I had a way to measure my flow (the cup has a couple of measurement markers on it, if you’re interested in tracking your flow). Turns out mine is average. Maybe I’ve just got sensitive nerves which make the volume of blood feel like more than it actually is.
If you’re interested in what it “looks” like, don’t get freaked out that you might see two layers of liquid – the plasma and red blood cells separate naturally from sitting in the cup for hours on end. I was frantically googling the first time I witnessed this, and greatly relieved when I realised it was perfectly normal! There are also likely to be stringy bits, globs and stuff – it’s just the lining of your uterine wall shedding.
Period number two was due to start the day I flew interstate for a work trip. Being able to pack light in terms of sanitary products was a relief. I wore my cup for the flight up (just in case), and again the next day at work (again, just in case), but my period was a day late due to having been ill the week before. For whatever reason, I didn’t wear it the third day, and of course, hello shark week. Unfortunately, I also hadn’t put the cup in my bag either, so I raced to the nearest pharmacy, nearest supermarket, convenience store, and eventually the Go Vita store at Southern Cross Station. Sure, I could have just forked out for a packet of pads, but it was the principle of the thing!
Wearing the cup throughout a full period was fabulous. Not one single pad or tampon was used that cycle, no rashes were experienced. Previously, I’ve never been able to swim during a period, even using a tampon (for some reason they never worked effectively for me, and I’ve always had to wear at least a light pad as a backup), but this time I could swim. You can wear the cup for up to twelve hours at a stretch. I find that mine shifts a bit when I pass a stool, so I usually remove, empty and wash the cup then too and re-insert after.
Cue period three – and I finally had a couple of days when my lady bits were just like…”nope”. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get the cup to sit right. The first day I used it anyway, had a little bit of leakage but nothing major, the second day I reverted to pads. I’ve had days like that with contact lenses too – maybe I just get uncoordinated. The rest of the period was fine. I did discover that the positon I held my body when inserting made a difference (like with tampons). Find your comfortable position and if it works, stick to it.
Between that period and my current one, I did fork out some money for a couple of pairs of Thinx undies. They do give me that little bit of extra reassurance that if, for whatever reason, I do get a little bit of leakage, I’m covered (so to speak). Having said that, there’s been no leakage to date!
I’ve shared my experience with my sisters…though they are all older and either experiencing or approaching that stage of life when things like menstrual cups aren’t necessary! I’ve since encouragedthemtotalktotheirdaughters! Imaginethereductioninwasteandlandfillifwecouldget people onto using menstrual cups or other re-usable sanitary products at an earlier age?
All in all, my experience has been positive – I’ll never go back. I keep a few pads and tampons on hand for backup, but I doubt I’ll be buying more than a packet a year for the remainder of my reproductively fertile days!
Pros – reduction in waste, saving buckets of money, not having to carry or store stuff for a week, or being able to anticipate (start wearing it the day your period is due), ease of travel, it can stay in for up to 12 hours!
Cons – can take a bit of practice, some days it might just not work, you get VERY familiar with your lady bits, getting blood on your hands (get used to it!)
A few tips:
– Research and make sure you’re purchasing the right size – most cups come in different sizes, and your needs will vary depending on age and whether you’ve had children or not.
– Research some more – there are blogs and blogs out there, and even some somewhat graphic videos on YouTube.
– Guess what? Do a little more research! Cups aren’t the be-all and end-all of reusable menstrual products. Reusable pads, period-proof underwear (I’ve already mentioned Thinx)
also exist. And if you want to stick with pads and tampons, research biodegradable products – Tsuno is one great brand I’ve tried in the past, it’s available on subscription order (so you get an automatic delivery each month) and they contribute half of their profits toward charities that empower women living in poverty.
– If you decide to try a menstrual cup (and I hope you do!), there are a few different brands and shapes out there. It may seem like a lot of money to fork out, but if you can make a cup last six months to a year before buying a different type, you’ve likely saved yourself some money already.
– Disabled toilets can be your friend during this time – they usually have their own sink, so removal, emptying and washing the cup doesn’t have to be awkward. Having said that, you can (at a pinch) just wipe it out with some toilet paper, provided you give it a proper clean when you empty it next.