Ladies, are you sitting down and comfortable? Let’s talk about Aunt Flo. Crimson Tide. Shark Week. The Time of the Month. Do you know you’re flushing money away by using tampons and pads? An average woman spends $50 a year to keep the floodgates at bay. Instead, you could make a one-time investment of $20-$40 for something that can last you up to 10 years. TEN YEARS. It’s called a menstrual cup. I know even the words “menstrual cup” might skeeve you out. Maybe you associate them with Birkenstocks or hairy armpits. I sure did — at first.
HOW IT WORKS
A menstrual cup is a bell or cone shaped piece of plastic, latex, or rubber that you put in your vadge to catch your period blood.
You fold it in half, then insert it like a tampon without the applicator. The cup fits against your vaginal walls, just below your cervix. When it’s up there, it unfolds and creates a suction mechanism that keeps it in place. When you remove it, you just have to twist it counterclockwise to release the suction and grab the stem to pull it out, sort of like a tampon. (If you are a visual learner, a good demonstration is here.)
Because menstrual cups catch your flow rather than absorb it, menstrual cups don’t cause TSS, which means (drumroll please) you can leave it in for about 12 hours, less if you have a heavy flow, more if you don’t.
To empty it, you sit on the toilet, take it out, then dump it in. You can use TP to help you out if you need to, but once you have the technique mastered, you’ll rarely even get blood on your hands. And if you do, it’s just blood. It’s not like poop or anything. To clean it, you throw it into the sink next to the toilet and wash it with non-harsh soap. If I’m in a public restroom, I usually just empty it and put it back in after cleaning with TP or a wet paper towel, or I’ll try to get a bathroom with a sink in it. Totally easy!
IS IT GROSS?
I’ll be honest, like a lot of new things, it’s weird at first. It’s a lot of direct contact with your lady parts, but once you get used to that it’s no big deal. The idea of using a menstrual cup may sound weird to you because American women are skeeved out by their periods. Seriously, 95 percent of European women prefer the tampon without an applicator, while less than five percent of American women do.
SAVE THE PLANET TOO
The Keeper’s website claims that 12 billion pads and 7 million tampons are used once and disposed of annually, and that 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along the US coastal areas between 1998 and 1999. That’s A LOT. Now imagine the amount of space that stuff takes up in a landfill biodegrading for years and years. And those are the ones that do biodegrade: Many pads and plastic applicator tampons don’t.
Assuming the average menstrual cycle uses 12 tampons and four to five pads, that’s roughly $50 per year. By switching to a $25 menstrual cup, you could save $475 over ten years. That’s $1,187.50 over the next 25 years.
Here are some things you could do with that money: buy a 1997 Cadillac Deville, go to Space Camp for grownups, or buy me two of the Marc Jacobs handbag I really want and then take me on an extravagant 16 Handles friend date.
You can buy the Keeper and the Diva Cup in almost any natural foods store in Brooklyn. However, there are way better deals online. When buying, keep in mind that these little guys usually come in two sizes: A for “after child birth”and B for “before child birth.” Larger selections and variety (like the Lunette and the MoonCup) can be harder to find because menstrual cups are still considered a neo-hippie thing.
Keeper: Though it may have a creepy name, it’s the grandaddy of menstrual cups and was the first one introduced to the market in 1987 (and it’s FDA approved!). It’s easy to insert and unfurls right away for great suction. The packaging is environmentally friendly and it’s made in the USA, probably by a coven of witches in the Midwest. The only drawback to the Keeper is that, because it’s gum rubber based instead of silicone like the other cups, it can get a little, um, smelly, but sunlight removes the smell, so set it on the windowsill for a few hours (Gross, I know). Available for $35 at Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen Street in the LES or online for $22.
Diva Cup: This is the cup to get if you feel sassy. It’s larger than most of the others, so it might feel a little unwieldy, and it’s super, duper extra suctiony. Available for $40 at Northside Pharmacy, 182 Bedford Ave at N7th St. or online for $23.75.
MoonCup UK: $27. The Moon Cup is shorter than all of the others, and depending on your body shape, potentially more comfortable. The packaging and website are really cute, which sells us.
Only available online for $29.88.
Moon Cup by Keeper: Controversy arose in the menstrual cup community, (yes there’s a community and it’s made up of the same women who Livejournal about ren faires and goddess circles) when Keeper named its silicone, non-latex version the same name as a menstrual cup from the UK. Scandal! This is exactly the same as a regular Keeper but made from a different material, which will eliminate that icky smell.
Available online for $27.17
Lunette: $34.99. The thing about the Lunette, is that yes, it’s super expensive, but you can buy them in blue and green! SOLD! It’s firmer than the Diva Cup, but not as firm as the Keeper, so it stays in place pretty will without being uncomfortable. But it’s not available in stores in New York, from what I gather, so you can only get it online.
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I will be buying one for my wifey!
Have one and love it. Takes a day or two to get used to and then it’s easier and just as clean as disposable alternatives – without expensive landfill-clogging!
Diva Cup was great until I got Mirena, an IUD with low-dose hormones that prevents menstruation in the first place. IMO, no blood is better than well-kept blood, and the IUD cost only a co-pay!
Also if you use any IUD (hormones or copper), you shouldn’t use a menstrual cup because the suction can pull the strings.
Not necessarily true. I work in OB/GYN and the docs always say you can use them just to make sure you “break the seal” before you pull it out. I use my Diva Cup with my Paragard…no problem.
I bought mine over a year ago and for that 4-5 days out of the month that I need to use it, it has changed my life. I gave away all my tampons. It is a great economical and environmentally friendly buy. I spent $30 a year ago and haven’t had to spend any more money since then on anything having to do with my period, and haven’t been creating any more trash having to do with my period. It did take some getting used to, but by the time my second cycle after beginning using the cup came aroud I was a pro. When you first start using it, when you need to empty I suggest doing so in the shower until you’re used to how it works as far as breaking the seal and removing the cup, that way you don’t need to worry about making a mess, which you probably won’t make a mess anyway, but it helps to not have to worry about it. Trust me after the first few days it will be super easy and you won’t even have to think about it, it will be even easier than tampons. On my first couple days I need to empty a few times a day, but after that I can leave it all day and only empty it once per day. There’s no way you can do that with a tampon, for one it would soak up and two, you’d risk toxic shock with a tampon. What finally pushed me into getting my diva cup was that every time I used a tampon I felt very nauseous, I don’t know why, but I have a feeling the chemicals were adversely affecting me.
Get one, get one, get one! You’ll wonder why you waited so long. It’s totally not gross, and if you’re really THAT grossed out by your own period then maybe you should….I don’t know, pull the stick out of your ass?
I’m always a little weirded out by options that eliminate your period entirely. Doesn’t my body have stuff I need to get rid of?
I had never heard of these until a few years ago: My ex was a big keeper evangelist, and she definitely sold me on them on the environmental benefits. I think they’ve been so slow to catch on because they go against our love of disposable culture: people automatically assume the disposable option is the better one because it requires less effort. But I will concede that my knowledge of the technicalities of handling lady blood is extremely limited.
I have used this (and the Keeper) for over 10 years and I will never go back to tampons. I love it!
@Sue – Nope! Speaking as someone who works in the repro health field, there’s really no medical reason why you NEED to get a period. Some people just like getting it and some don’t. In fact, on any hormonal birth control, the bleeding you would get isn’t actually a “true” period – it’s technically breakthrough bleeding from the placebo. Things like Mirena (or just continuously taking pills with no placebos) simply eliminate the breakthrough bleeding.
Hooray for the Diva Cup! Never going back.
used one for 2 years, was a complete convert, then found out i had cervical dysplasia. the suction literally caused damage to my cervix. my doctor told me to stop using it, and now i’m just using the unbleached organic products. bummer, but something to be aware of.
Wendy, cervical dysplasia is the result of HPV — not menstrual products.
I used the Mooncup by Keeper in the past, and loved it! Then not sure what happened but went back to tampons, but you have inspired me. Great article – well organized and so articulate, despite talking bout thangs one puts in the vadge!
In terms of using a BCM that causes menses to cease, or occur less frequently, if synthetic hormones prevent your uterine lining from building up, then there simply isn’t anything TO shed. A clinician I worked under stated that as long as a women bleeds four times/year, there is no ill negative effects (think the oral contraceptive Seasonale).
Thanks for the helpful info!
Also a proud user of the diva cup for 2.5 years and NEVER going back to tampons! It’s funny how this freaks people out so much, but after using it I cringe at the thought of shoving cotton up there. Way fewer leaks than tampons, environmentally friendly, and cheap cheap (I don’t know where you got $50/yr., but I definitely used to spend more than that on tampons per year)… be a diva!
As a woman with a particularly heavy flow, I just want to warn all the ladies out there that the Diva Cup can be a bit of a disaster on really heavy period days, and thus requires backup in the form of pads. It’s pretty frustrating those first two days and definitely much more of a hassle than a tampon (dealing with your period explosion anywhere outside the home is really no fun) but I suck it up anyway, because it is cheaper to use a few pads every month than it is to buy two boxes of tampons (which I used to have to do).
I sometimes have the same issue as Jo on my first couple days, not every time, but my flow is so heavy the first two days that sometimes the cup fills up really fast and I get a little leaking, but not a ton, it’s actually the same thing that would happen to me when I used tampons. I’m thinking about getting lunapads for the first two days, I can’t do disposable pads, even the thinnest disposable feels like a diaper.
We actually have a lot of customers who use the DivaCup for extremely heavy flow and heave great success with it. It makes sense to use the cup for heavy flow because it holds 2X as much as the highest capacity “Ultra” tamon can.
You just need to be mindful of changing the cup often enough so that it doesn’t overflow and make sure the cup is correctly inserted and sealed before going about your day.
Thanks so much for the terrific article. It is so wonderful that more and more women are using (and writing about) menstrual cups.
I’d like to respond to Sherry’s comment that “if you use any IUD (hormones or copper), you shouldn’t use a menstrual cup because the suction can pull the strings”:
The OB/GYNs with whom we consult have all indicated that there should be no problem using an IUD simultaneously with a menstrual cup. Also, many of our customers have reported using the cup and an IUD at the same time without any difficulty.
Thanks so much for giving me an opportunity to comment here. I really appreciate it.
Again, thanks so much for this wonderful article.
Director of Marketing
The Keeper, Inc.
Uh…you wash your cup out in a public sink? I don’t care how clean menstrual blood is, that is uncomfortable-making. No.
There’s no need to wash it in a public sink. If you have to empty it in a public washroom at all (which might not ever happen since you can leave the cup in for up to 12 hours) you can just empty, wipe it out with toilet paper and re-insert. No muss, no fuss!
Don’t forget the sea sponge! Cheap, lasts a couple of months, really gentle if you are a lady who gets cramps. And you can have sex with the sponge in.
I’ve been using a Diva cup for 6 years, and you could not PAY me to go back to tampons/pads.
Among the variety of issues that tampons/pads present – one of them is how unnatural they are for you in that they are an absorbent piece of cotton drying you out. They create an imbalance in the moisture level which can cause severe skin irritation and degradation of vaginal walls. I used to be extremely sensitive (aka a lot of pain) and within a few months of switching to a menstrual cup I finally felt a sense of normalcy.
I love my diva cup and will never go back to tampons!
Its so much easier to travel with, and no, you don’t need to wash it public sinks. If you have to dump it out during the day, which you may never even have to do, you can just dump it in the toilet and wipe it clean with toilet paper until you get home.
Also, I found for heavier days it leaks much less than tampons do.
Plus- I believe if every woman had one of these, the restrooms would be much cleaner. I doubt most women would leave one of these on the back of the toilet seat like I have horrifically seen tampons/menstrual pads left on seats in stalls.
You can also get the Diva cup at Whole Body ( the Whole foods health and beauty store). It’s about $40.00.
You forgot ladycup.eu! It’s a little weird to order your menstrual products from eastern europe, but after a lot of research I decided on them because they are supposedly the most comfortable. They also come in a bunch of colors :-)
To Jo and anonasaurusrex: I started out with the moon cup (US), and constantly leaked. I thought I had bad technique, but it turns out the cup was to small for my very heavy flow. For those who haven’t had kids (like me), but who aren’t particularly narrow: try out the larger size of a cup. For those over 30, it’s what is recommended anyway.
If you have a very heavy flow, try a cup that is more hoop skirt shaped, such as Lunette, Fleucup, or Yuuki brands, vs the Diva-type silhouette, which is much narrower. Hoop skirts have a larger capacity. Since I bought my Lunette, I haven’t had a single leak, not even overnight. Hallelujah!
And no one even mentioned not having to sneak tampons into the restroom, or pack a box of pads in your suitcase when you travel on your period.
I have more money, more fun, less stress—even shorter periods than before.
Try it, you’ll never regret it.
For more info on cup sizing, check out: http://menstrualcups.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/www-clothpads-org_cupchart2b.png, and for general info and very helpful troubleshooting, go to:
Oh hey guys! Update: I finally tried the Lunette and it’s a great product that doesn’t smell at all! (After using The Keeper, that’s a big deal.) It’s dainty and the rubber is very soft. It also leaks less than other menstrual cups I’ve tried. Hooray!
I’m a Diva Cup user of 4 years. Love it.
About that smell:
Over at theHairpin.com someone said that if you soak your cup in a hydrogen peroxide + water solution overnight, it will eliminate the smell AND the stains. I was skeptical, but it totally works!
I use the “instead” cups which are horror of horror plastic. They are wonderful though. These cups look so awkward to me. They would save money if they work…..
Whoop! I love the Diva Cup so much I made an educational video about it:
Good article. I use cloth pads and never really liked tampons, so I would probably go with a sea sponge before a menstrual cup. But cups definitely seem easier to clean. If your afraid of leaks there are a ton of panty liners and light cloth pads out there.
I tried this. It didn’t work for me. It leaked.
Diva user here since 2006….and counting….yeah you have to fist yourself, but who cares??
oh and i got my diva cup on ebay for like $24!
I have on and it’s great – I barely had a learning curve.
However I would just like to point out that the first sign of menstrual cups came in the 1930s or around that time – not Keeper.
I spent so much time trying to work out where I could get one in stores (don’t want to buy online), then I heard about this website http://menstrualcupmap.com which shows all the locations for all the different brands – such a lifesaver! It actually says there are several places in new york that sell lunette, so you might want to correct that in the article.
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[…] from the fact that it does not harm your vagina, switching to the menstrual cup will save lots of money because you only buy two pieces of it and you can use it repeatedly. Additionally, it is cheaper […]