by Ebba Zajmi-Gjergji – Fingers, tampons, dildos, dicks…and now the menstrual cup: all things you can stick up your you-know-what. But why does the idea of that last one – the menstrual cup – make some of us uncomfortable? You’re reading the words of a woman who didn’t dare think about masturbation until she was nineteen. You can call it conditioning or you can dub it Catholic guilt, but know that if there was anyone more apprehensive about sticking anything up there, you’ve just met her. Hi, hello there!
My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all grew up in this small country in Southeastern Europe called Albania during fascist occupation and 50 years of communism (read: a totalitarian regime that isolated the country). Their menstrual cycle equipment was a few cloths boiled clean on a stovetop, night and day. So while you might be squeamish about the prospect of taking out this strange silicone cup and cleaning it once every twelve hours, be thankful you’re not boiling rags clean several times a day.
Now, I never got much of an honest talking-to about my period. I actually don’t even remember having a conversation about it. One day, I went to the bathroom and spotted a red splotch on the mosaic tile. I stared at it for two seconds before I examined my underwear – the crisp, white underwear that Nana had gifted me that had the cutest little flowers embroidered at the crotch. Well, I outgrew them right then when I reached into the cupboard and grabbed a maxi-pad out of my mom’s bag of Always. For Mami, Always pads were an innovation and she would fume when Babi bought the ones without wings. To me, however, it felt like a glorified diaper. A diaper I constantly had to worry about and replace at least three to four times a day.
My first red scare was followed by millions of pairs of blood stained panties – you know, the ones you would never want spotted in your drawer. I stained my sheets, my jeans and even my school skirts. I sat at dinner tables worried that I would stain the upholstery, nervously and discreetly checking every time I would get out of my seat for fear that someone would spot it before I did.
I didn’t use tampons, which one of my middle school friends liked to refer to as “those things you have to shove up your ass.” My first encounter with a tampon was at a beach in the Hamptons. I had just gotten my period and was running from girlfriend to girlfriend asking if anyone had a spare pad. I was offered a tampon. After about four hours of discomfort under the hot sun, I felt nauseous and like I was going to faint…until I got home and took that horrendous thing out of my vagina. So, of course, I was apprehensive about the DivaCup. Nothing had worked so far, so how could this be a magic solution?
I knew about menstrual cups for years before I tried them. They came about and achieved decent popularity along with other cups and reusable cloth pads while I was in college, though they still haven’t quite caught on in the mainstream, yet. The first time I heard about these alternate products was on YouTube about two or three years ago. It seems like a lot of us are hopping on the bandwagon now, but I know some of you haven’t even heard about these options and others are acting a little shy – much like I once did.
I had two main worries: that my pelvic muscles wouldn’t allow this thing inside me for long and/or wouldn’t let this thing out ever, and that it would inevitably leak and cause yet another embarrassing moment.
The moment I purchased my DivaCup, I knew I would write a review one way or another. I had planned to practice inserting it a week before my period to get the hang of it. Of course, my erratic cycle was apparently as excited as I was to find out how well this was going to work. Surprisingly, though, I was able to insert it successfully after two or three tries.
There are two versions of the DivaCup: Model 1 and 2. Model 1 is meant to be used by women who have not given birth yet and model 2 is meant to be used by those who have given birth. Model 1 is only 1/8” smaller, however DivaCup recommends that you order the right model for you to prevent leaks. It is important to note, however, that if you find tampons or pelvic exams painful or uncomfortable, you should consult your health provider and opt for Model 1. They also recommend that you opt for Model 2 if you are a woman over the age of 30, even if you have not given birth.
You might be tempted, if you have a heavier flow to order Model 2, but don’t. I chose Model 1, even though I consider my flow heavy, because I am a woman under the age of 30 who has never given birth (vaginally or Cesarean). Trust me and do not panic, there’s much less blood coming out of you than you think!
There are two ways to fold the DivaCup before insertion:
That’s right: no squeaky diaper sounds or funny looking lumpy backside to accompany your chub rub in tight jeans. No subtle (or not-so-subtle) poofing air sound when you sit down. No bleach touching your most sensitive insides. No Toxic Shock Syndrome. No more spending twenty to forty dollars a month on what is essentially unnecessary trash.
At the end of the day, once you get past the initial ick-factor, you are saving yourself from discomfort, your vagina from bleached products, and the planet from mounds of bloody feminine products.
If that hasn’t convinced you yet, maybe your bank account will. You spend forty dollars once! (If you’re in NYC, may I recommend buying DivaCup from the lovely, independent activist Blue Stockings bookstore?) I promise you, forty dollars is a small price to pay.
Let’s see, I was spending about $20-30 a month on pads, so it’s safe to say I was spending roughly $300 a year (excluding those times your friend came early while you were out and you had to buy an emergency pack, which – let’s face it – happens more often than we’d like). The DivaCup website recommends that you replace your DivaCup once a year. Since I’m saving about $260 and loads of discomfort and stress, I can safely say that I am never going back to pads.
One of the other main reasons I do not see myself going back is that I live a pretty clean lifestyle since I have numerous health issues, and DivaCup is free of: latex, plastic, BPA, fragrance and dye. I mean, I use sulfate-free shampoo and vegan soaps, why exactly wouldn’t I give the same courtesy to my vagina that I give to my hair and skin?
The two questions I’ve been most frequently asked since I told people I started using DivaCup is: how can that be sanitary, and what about when you take it out? Well, the DivaCup is medical grade silicone – so it’s arguably more sanitary and safe than most lubes, condoms, toys and even feminine wipes. Here are some things to keep in mind and keep your cup as clean as possible: wash your hands before you touch and insert it. Before insertion and after removal, the DivaCup must be washed with unscented, oil-free soap and water, or you can try their own DivaWash. DivaCup also advises to NEVER use a lubricant to aid in insertion as some ingredients can degrade the silicone, so use water instead (it actually does work). At the end of the day, DivaCup is definitely safer than those bleached tampons most of us are swearing by and pouring money into.
And what about taking it out? Contrary to what you’re imagining right now, which is probably a murder scene set up by Dexter where you’ve got to saran wrap your entire bathroom to prevent a Pollock-like display of menstrual blood, you actually aren’t bleeding that much. I know, I thought the same thing: “But I use the maxiest of maxi-pads, and it’s a mess, and I end up leaking anyway! How is that possible?” Well, I have good news for you: I used to think I bled out pounds of this stuff. Not one pad could contain it. I was buying new underwear every three months. I was so over it! Well, on my second full day of this menstrual cycle, my DivaCup was less than half full…after being left in for fourteen hours. That’s right, fourteen hours – more than the recommended twelve.
I will say, however, that taking it out was more of a hassle than I expected. My pelvic muscles would contract every time and the little extension that makes it easier for you to pull the cup out kept slipping out of my fingers. I found it easier to find the nib, work my way up right past it to the base of the cup, squeeze gently and pull. Not to worry, there were still no spills.
So, of course, it will take a little getting used to – for some us that can take longer than others; as for me, it took about two days for me to fall in love (not an easy feat for this cynic, believe me). However, in the long run the benefits win: it’s cleaner, it’s definitely more environmentally friendly (not to mention more vagina friendly), more comfortable, less fussy, no leaks, and much cheaper over time. The biggest bonus: my cup runneth over no more. So what are you waiting for?
*Editor’s note The author did not receive any free products or compensation from DivaCup.
About the author
Ebba Zajmi-Gjergji is an Albanian immigrant, feminist, writer and photographer from the Bronx. She focuses on intersectional approaches to issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion and immigration in both her fiction and non-fiction work. She and her family grew up in communist turned democratic Albania, a country with a complex history that informs and influences her work. Read more at handsthatmold.net and Twitter and Instagram.
This piece was first published on CycleDork, a period-positive website dedicated to undoing the taboo, and is republished here with permission.