Periods. Menstruation. Aunt Flo. Whatever you call your monthly oven cleaning cycle, you can probably agree that it is indeed an inconvenient un-pleasantry. The physiological processes suck the life out of you, but the logistics come a close second. Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced the age-old rite of passage that is tying a jacket around your waist to hide an unhappy accident. Or you’ve ever stuffed a random tampon in your waistband on the way to the bathroom at the office. Well, thank God we have more options. Menstrual products have come a long way.
It’s the least wonderful time of the month! Where you’re most prone to swearing, your body is swelling, it totally suuuuucks! It’s the least wonderful time of the month!
Menstrual Products: A Feminine Hygiene Odysee
Picture it: Daytona, 2015. I was going to the Coke Zero 400 with the family, and I knew Shark Week was upon me. Sure standard pads and tampons would do the job, but I knew I deserved better. I needed a menstrual product that could brave both the beaches and the grandstands. Enter the menstrual cup. I don’t remember exactly when or where I heard about cups, but this vacation spurred me to do the due diligence. I was sold at “lasts up to 12 hours.” I had seen the DivaCup on the shelves of my local drugstore previously, but the price tag caused me to shy away. As I researched the many, many varieties available, I ended up choosing an entirely different model: Instead.
Softdisc (formerly Instead Softcup)
Price: $10-12 per box for 14 discs
Situated adjacent to the DivaCup on the drugstore shelves was the Softdisc. At the $10 price point, I thought it would be a great way to into the world of alternative menstrual products without a huge investment. Menstrual discs are made of the medical-grade polymer. It’s like a little saucer with a flexible ring that “caps” the cervix and collects menstrual fluid. Once it is full, you remove and dispose it.
Once I got the hang of the disc, my life changed. No joke. If you have it inserted correctly, you cannot feel it. And I don’t mean like tampon “can’t feel it,” I mean legit disappearing act. You stay completely dry on the outside, which is amazing because you can still tell when the disc is full, but well before you’re into emergency territory. It is also reportedly not linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome. The only con is that they are disposable and can be messy to remove.
Verdict: High and Migh-T
After a few years of disposable disc success, I decided it was time to make the leap to something more permanent. DivaCup was by far the most prominent brand on the market for reusable cups. The DivaCup has the classic tulip shape with the straight stem at the bottom. It is made of 100% medical-grade silicone and sold in three sizes: Model 0 for young women 18 and younger, Model 1 for women that are between 18 and 30 and have a medium flow, and Model 2 for women who are over 30 or have a heavy flow. The silicone rim and body are designed to be more flexible with your body heat and the cup has small air holes at the rim to create suction and prevent leaks. It is also designed to hold about an ounce of fluid for 12 hours.
DivaCup Wear Test
When I first got my cup, the description did not reference flow, it referenced whether or not you had birthed any children. I am over 30 and have not yet birthed any babies, so I had a hard time selecting a size. I took a chance on Model 2. There is a bit of a learning curve with this type of cup because of the insertion process. You have to fold and insert the cup, get it to pop open, and then make sure it is sealed within the vaginal canal.
It’s not nearly as complicated as it sounds, but I honestly had trouble. I was able to get it in most of the way, but I had trouble with it either opening too early, or not all. After researching and trying several folds, the punch-down method seemed to work best. Ultimately, though, the stem was a no-go. Once I got the cup inserted and sealed, the stem pinched and irritated me throughout the day. I trimmed it down as the brand suggests, but still no cigar.
Verdict: Not for me.
I was a bit discouraged by my DivaCup experience, but I wasn’t ready to give up on reusable discs just yet. I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed a couple of new brands of menstrual products pop up at Target, like Luna and Saalt. I ended up trying Flex Cup on a whim. I had never heard of Flex before, but I was intrigued by their Release Ring technology. Also, I was impressed with their Discovery Kit which included the Flexcup and two menstrual discs* for users to try and determine what is best for them.
This cup is also made of 100% medical-grade silicone and can be worn up to 12 hours. Flex comes in two sizes: slim-fit for first-time cup users (two super tampon/22 ml capacity), and full fit for experienced cup users, heavy flowers, or users over 30 (three super tampon/30 ml capacity). The Discovery Kit comes with the full fit size.
Flex is a bit rounder and more bell-shaped than DivaCup. It is inserted much like other cups, but unlike cups with traditional stems, it has a ring that is threaded through the cup. When it’s time to remove it, you pull the ring, pulling the “stem” through the cup with it and easily breaking the seal. One secondary advantage of this is that the cup itself is quite soft and flexible.
Flex Cup Wear Test
Like the Diva Cup, it took me a while to get the hang of the insertion, but it was slightly more comfortable, with less leakage. At the end of the day, the stem was yet again the deal-breaker. It wasn’t nearly as pointy or stiff as the Diva Cup stem, but it was roughly the same length, and you can’t trim it due to the functionality.
*For what it’s worth, I also tried the Flex discs. (Fun fact: The Flex Company actually bought the Instead Softcup brand and rebranded it as Softdisc to keep it from being discontinued.) I had great results with the Flex discs, but I felt the rims were slightly less flexible than the Softdisc. This, however, is a minor preference; I would still recommend them.
After trying the Softdisc, DivaCup, and Flexcup, I found myself reaching for the Softdiscs most often. In 2020, I discovered the Intimina Ziggy Cup. Like the other cups on this list, Ziggy Cup is also made of 100% medical-grade silicone and can be worn for up to 8 hours. It features a double rim to prevent leaks and has an innovative flat fit design to make it undetectable through all activities.
Ziggy Cup Wear Test
The Ziggy Cup wears much like its disposable cousin. I find it to be comfortable and I can trust it to protect me from leaks. I feel so free wearing it! The only drawback is that the fit seems to change toward the end of a cycle; it’s slightly harder to get in and out. Overall, though, it’s a perfect match for me.
Verdict: I THINK I HAVE A PERMANENT WINNER! High and Migh-T!
Menstrual Product Comparison
per 14 disc box
$12.99 per box
$9.99 per pkg
|Capacity||30 ml||17 -30 ml||22-30 mil||10-12 ml (super)||5ml (regular)|
|Length of Wear||12 hours||12 hours||12 hours||8 hours||4-8 hours||3-6 hours|
|Ease of Insertion |
|Wearability (1-uncomfortable, 5-comfortable)||5||2||2||5||3||1|
|Ease of Removal (1-easy, 5 – difficult)||1||4||2||1||1||1|
I prefer cups of any kind over pads and tampons. At this point, I have completely discontinued my use of the latter, with the exception of the occasional pantyliner. Cups and discs have helped me to minimize disruption to my life while on my period and improved my confidence. No more “smell checks, inconvenient irritation, or waking up in the middle of the night. If you time it right and insert one the day your period will start, you may not even have to be bothered by a drop.
Also, don’t be alarmed by the price. The reusable menstrual products are now FSA/HSA eligible! If you buy (There is also a $6 option making waves – June Cup). Now, let’s do the math. If you buy $10 worth of menstrual products (pads, tampons, etc.) per month, you will spend $120 per year. If you invest $30 in a reusable solution, you are saving a minimum of $90 for the first year, and $120 every year afterward that you don’t have to buy anything else. WINNING.
Bonus: Tips for Wearing Menstrual Cups and Discs
- Speak with your gynecologist. Your wellness is important. Regardless of what menstrual products you use, get your regular check-ups and discuss any concerns or questions you may have with your healthcare provider.
- Know your body. Menstrual cups and discs are designed to be inserted a specific way and work with the anatomy of our female reproductive system. Understanding things like where the cervix and pubic bone are located, for example, will cut down on the frustration when learning to use and wear these items.
- Try new menstrual products on a lazy day. Any new menstrual product comes with a bit of a learning curve. Also, every product is not for everyone. Give yourself the grace to have hiccups and try again.
- Trim your nails. The process of inserting and removing a cup is…intimate. Have long or sharp nails is a recipe for disaster. Ouch!
- Check them often. The same way you check traditional products during potty time, check your cups. Certain bodily functions can cause things to shift or loosen a bit. It’s worth a couple of seconds to make sure things are still sealed and secure.
All in all, finding the perfect menstrual product is a process of trial and error, but I want you to know YOU HAVE OPTIONS. We’ve come a long way from the error of pads and belts, stringless tampons, and wings that stick to all the wrong things. Hopefully, this information will help you to try something new and find a new menstrual product that works for you.
A period isn’t necessarily pleasant, but it doesn’t have to put a pause on your life.
Would you consider trying a menstrual product other than pads or tampons? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!