Updated: Feb 3, 2019
Alternative period products was the topic of episode 3 of the Wine & Gyn podcast. We had a lot of fun talking about all the reasons to ditch your tampons, but also the most popular alternative product- the menstrual cup. The Diva Cup is one of the most asked about things regarding periods in our social circles. Women love the idea of it but it can be a little intimidating to try. We go over why you want to try it, how it works best and some of our favorite troubleshooting tips.
We were raised on disposable everything it seems. Being able to throw evidence of your shameful period away as a young woman was a hallmark of dealing with it. Even women who don’t feel ashamed of menstruation agree that convenience is key when dealing with your monthly bleeding. What’s not convenient is having to remember to buy tampons and pads and staying stocked up each month- and it’s also not real convenient to have to pay for these products month after month.
Some other reasons you might want to consider dumping the disposables is that using them contributes to global waste, both with the trash and the industry resources needed to produce them. Women also feel more and more conscientious about potential toxins and chemicals in the products that go in and on their bodies. There are some social reasons, like getting rid of peek-a-boo strings in bathing suits. And there are some health reasons, like effectively decreasing cramps, labial chaffing and chronic urinary tract infection.
Some of the products we get curious about when we want to leave cotton behind are menstrual sponges, mama cloth, and period underwear and silicon menstrual cups. Menstrual sponges are actual seas sponges harvested from the ocean. Women love that this is a natural product, free of toxins, creates less waste and holds about the same amount that a tampon does. You insert a dry sponge into your vagina near your cervix and it absorbs the flow. When it’s time to change it, removed the sponge, squeeze out the blood with your hand, rinse in a sink and replace it back in your vagina to keep doing the heavy soak job. It is recommended that these sponges get replaced every 6 months or so, but they are pretty cheap and many sellers provide value packs to last you quite a while. Some ladies don’t want to be quite that up close and personal with their period blood, but for others it’s a really effective way to avoid cotton products and cost-effective to carry one in your purse, one in your gym bag, leave one at home or in your car, etc.
Mama cloth refers to reusable pads that are typically made out of cotton, wool or flannel fabric. They are stacked in layers to provide absorbency in the underwear just like a cotton pad except when they are soiled, they can be washed and dried and reused indefinitely. There is usually Velcro or a snap that holds the pad in place over the underwear. This is ideal for women who want to manage their period without placing things in their vagina but want to reduce waste. Mama cloth is a little more of an investment for a set of quality handmade pads but definitely the most comfortable and healthy pad options.
Another growing trend for alternative period products is something called period underwear. This is similar to mama cloth but all one piece and the absorbent layers are inside the lining of the woman’s brief. These are usually commercially made and also a bit of an investment, as you’ll need several pairs. Manufacturers of the Thinx brand tout that is can hold the volume of 1-1.5 tampons without leaking. Friends of ours say that it’s comfortable, effective and odorless. The downside is having to take off your pants completely to change into a dry pair, but it definitely challenges the way we think about managing menstruation.
The menstrual cups that are popular in our circles are the Diva Cup we mentioned previously, the Luna, the Lunette, and the Ziggy. What women try first seems to depend on what was recommended to them by a friend. Kelly & Tiffany are only familiar with the Diva Cup in our own bodies and both love it so much we haven’t come across a reason to try another brand, but one thing that some of the women do who have trouble with one brand is give another one a try. They are all roughly the same size and material and shape- but their design and thickness and contour can vary enough to make some work for certain women’s anatomy and some not as well.
There is not an exact science to figuring this out unfortunately, but one of our favorite resources is Put A Cup In It, which is like a personal shopper for your vagina- helping to make a perfect match in the type of cup you should give a go first.
Lots of women hesitate to try the cup because they are afraid of hurting themselves, spilling the blood, grossing themselves out, leaking at an inopportune time (is there ever a good time for leaks?? No, but there sure are especially terrible times!). A lot of women are curious about using the cup but they just don’t know how to use it and it’s an intimidating thought. Some of this can come from a lack of anatomical familiarity, or misinformation. Don’t forget, you can always go back to the information in the second episode about anatomy and getting to know your body to get “a leg up” in this department. Feeling comfortable with your body and where your cervix is in your vagina is going to go a long way. So do yourself a favor and work on this part of your hesitation before you try the cup out- it’s going to make it much more successful for you!
Ultimately, some ladies try the cup and are disappointed because it doesn’t feel right, it’s leaking or they don’t feel like they can get it placed well. We always encourage women to be patient with this process- most of us on the other side had to do some troubleshooting to get it working spectacularly in the end.
The first tip is to locate someone you know who uses one because as odd as it sounds, you will want to talk about this with someone who understands what you are trying to do an can help you figure it out. Do not underestimate the wisdom in using lube, trying it in the shower, waiting for your heaviest flow day to pass, trying different positions with your legs or pelvis movement or inserting it differently. There are a lot of women who find success in folding the top in, folding the top down the make a point with the rim, flipping it inside out and using it that way, squeezing it to increase the suction inside, and spinning it to test the placement on your cervix.
Some women feel like they can be brave with the cup at home, but the idea of being out in public is a major fear factor for them. What if it leaks? What if you have to change it in a public restroom? Our best ideas for handling cups in public is to try not to need a change while youre out and still getting used to it. Dump it before you leave the house and wear a liner in your undies for peace of mind. If you have to change it out, you’ll get good at this too eventually- but you can start with some wet paper towels before you go into the stall and use them to clean your fingers before you come out of the stall. You don’t need to wash your cup out in these circumstances- just dump the blood, reinsert it and clean it next time you are at home again.
Inside our private Facebook group called Wine & Gyn Community we have a live video that we did the Wednesday after episode 3 aired on the podcast and we do a demonstration of how the cup works and getting the cup inserted the best. This is a great resource for you is you are interested in trying the menstrual cup but would like a visual aid and pep talk.