Since the day I first got my period (morning before sixth grade field trip to the UN, I wore a pair of red jeans and a panty liner and barely made it to lunch before there was an international incident), I have been looking for ways to make that time of the month less of a hassle. Less painful (three Advil at the first pelvic twinge), less exhausting (bedtime at 10 p.m. sharp on the first day) and less disgusting.
Yes, for all my comfort with my period at this point in my life—I’ve endured its reliable reminder of my fertility and femininity over 300 times—I am still vaguely grossed out by it. I strive to make my period as much of a non-event as possible, which is why I sheepishly ignore my normally eco-sensitive conscience and heed the wisdom of a friend who said, “Your period is not the time to save the Earth,” and use brand-name plastic applicator tampons exclusively. I am not fucking around with cardboard or o.b. when it comes the 2.4 tablespoons of “menstrual fluid” I extrude each month.
Which is why I’m so confused about women who swear by the DivaCup.
For the uninitiated, the DivaCup is “a reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is worn internally and sits low in the vaginal canal, collecting rather than absorbing your menstrual flow.” I have heard its adherents rave about everything from how much more cost-effective it is (OK, that’s appealing…) to how easy it is (let me get this straight: a tiny cup of blood is easier to navigate than a tampon?), from how environmentally smart it is (see above, we’re talking about a near-constant flow of blood between our legs—get a reusable water bottle and take fewer car trips) to how you can have with sex with it in. (You can’t.)
I get that I’m a bit of a prude for not wanting to stick my hand up in my vagina, and I accept this—I am welcome to continue with my Tampax Pearl and plan to—so while I marvel at DivaCup users’ comfort with reaching into their own viscera, I still have many questions for women who use it (and its off-brand relatives, all bearing vaguely condescending moon-lady names like Bella Cup and Lila Cup and Mami Cup).
1. How do you pull it out without inciting a bloodbath?
It’s a tiny goblet full of blood and uterine lining. You’re tugging it out of your vagina. How is this not spilling all over the bathroom and your body and your clothes? How do we not have a Carrie situation on our hands? I know you’re going to say that normally doesn’t happen, but what if it does? What if you’re not at home when it does? It’s one thing to have my tampon leak on my underwear a little, it’s another to have collected the entire 12 hours of menstruation in a little keepsake chalice.
2. What happens when it fills up?
The DivaCup is promising me 12 hours of leak-free protection. What happens in the 13th hour? If I wear a tampon too long, the string gets bloody, and there’s a tiny stain in my underwear. Hopefully it hasn’t gone through the cotton lining and onto the nylon outer part, but if it does I’m wearing my stained period briefs anyway, no big deal. I am picturing a champagne fountain, except there is no tier to catch the champagne after the top tier and it’s not champagne, it’s blood.
3. What the hell is going on in the public bathroom?
So you go to the public bathroom stall, you take your DivaCup out, you dump it in the toilet. Then what? You need to wash it, right? So you’re going out to the sink with your dirty cup. What’s the cleanliness situation of your hand right now when you open the stall door? And now you’re out at the sink and there’s a lady in a St. John knit suit fixing her lipstick on one side of you and a granny lathering up on the other. You’re washing your bloody cup out there under the fluorescent lights and everyone’s cool with it? Then back into the stall for reinsertion? Are your co-workers wondering where you are by now? Haven’t you missed your flight?
4. What is going on with your fingernails?
I know I’m harping a lot on “Ew, blood” and my own squeamishness, but I am concerned about the state of your nails after you’ve been handling a cup o’ blood. Do you carry a nail brush with you? I heard once that the way people get sick at the gym is that germs enter their bodies through the cuticles. What’s up with your cuticles right now?
5. What’s in the cup?
No explanation needed. Ratio of solid to liquid? I know it’s kind of gory, but I really want to know.
6. Is this thing going in the dishwasher?
I once ran my toilet plunger through the dishwasher and a germ-savvy friend advised me to throw out my dishwasher. This is probably more of a question about dishwashers and how clean they’re actually getting my dishes and whether or not one thing in the dishwasher (say, a bloody cup) can contaminate the other stuff in the dishwasher (say, a salad spinner). I would like to know, however, if you are, per manufacturer instructions, removing debris from the cup’s seal-creating holes with a toothpick. Admit that’s a bridge too far.
7. What about the smell?
The DivaCup website addresses this: “Menstrual flow only begins to develop an odor when it is exposed to air.” (Huh! Who knew?) “As The DivaCup is worn internally, your days of worrying about period odor are over. Menstrual fluid on tampons and pads is exposed to air which creates odor throughout the day.”
There seems to be a crucial step missing from this explanation. Isn’t the blood getting exposed to the air when you spill it or it overflows? And I get you about pads, Francine Chambers, co-founder of Diva International, that’s a stinky situation I’m only courting on those days I’m staying home all day, and I just can’t bear to put in another tampon because it feels like my entire body is convulsing with every uterine contraction.
But I am not exposing my bloody tampon to the air. It’s going down the toilet. And now is when I confess I know that I’m really not supposed to flush the tampon even though the box says I can, but I do it, I flush tampons. I am that person who you think about every time you see a sign in a public bathroom that says “Don’t put anything but waste and toilet paper in the toilet” and you think what A-hole is putting paper towels in the toilet? Yeah, it’s me. I’m the reason for those signs, a septic outlaw. Anyway! I don’t smell!
8. What if I can’t get it out? What if it falls out?
I know neither of these things is supposed to happen, but you’re also not supposed to flush tampons. If the DivaCup gets stuck, I’m assuming it’s going to be like the time I accidentally put a tampon in when I had a tampon in and I had to Our Bodies, Ourselves it in a way that I really never want to revisit. Is that a possibility? And what if it falls out? Like what if I’m swimming and it escapes and I go from Esther Williams in my cute retro swim cap to shark bait?
9. Are o.b. tampons the gateway drug to the DivaCup?
Did you get gradually more intimate with yourself, going “pad-plastic applicator tampon-cardboard applicator-o.b.-Diva”? Or was the Diva adoption a jump in, feet first, no training wheels kind of thing?
10. Do you miss shopping for ‘feminine hygiene’ every month or two?
OK, I know the answer to this one. You don’t. You don’t miss the husbands and boyfriends tittering as you do a cost-benefit analysis trying to figure out if it’s worth possibly injuring yourself with the sharp “petals” of the CVS brand tampons just to save two bucks. You don’t miss it one bit. Fine, one point for you! I order my tampons from Amazon anyway.
11. Do you think I’m kind of a terrible person?
Because I sort of do. I want to be the person who is totally fine with menstrual blood, who doesn’t care what people think of her at the public bathroom sink, who is not contributing any further waste to the already overtaxed earth that does not need 10 to 16 more plastic applicators in its landfills every month. I super-secretly want to be, if not a person who uses a DivaCup, then one who’s feminist and mature enough to not be so totally skeeved out by it.
I also want to be a person who makes pies instead of buying them, who doesn’t dye her hair or polish her toenails, who washes the glass jar of moldy food and recycles it instead of burying it in the trash hoping no one notices. I want to be these things, but I’m not. So please don’t judge me too harshly. I am many other good things, and starting today I am going to stop flushing tampons. I swear.