A few months ago, I was standing in the feminine hygiene aisle at Walmart, staring at a literal wall of plastic and cotton and cardboard. I knew this wall would be rotated out via customer purchases and promptly restocked to fulfill demand for more customer purchases. An image bubbled up in my mind, of a mountainous landfill comprised of nothing but blood-soaked tampons and pads. Considering the average vagina-having person uses about 9,600 tampons in their lifetime, that seemingly preposterous image that popped into my head is entirely plausible.
But there on the shelf, tucked into an inconspicuous nook between 20 different varieties of tampons and at least as many different types of pads, was the Diva Cup, for about $30. Hmm.
I’d never considered using a menstrual cup before. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I have to admit, I was a little squeaked out by the thought of… ramming this thing into my vagina. While bleeding. Then removing and disposing of a cup full of blood.
Tampons are so tidy. I can insert the kind with an applicator without even touching myself. Like cleaning a pool with one of those nets on the end of a long pole.
But a box of tampons was $6-$8, depending on the brand—an investment in the Diva Cup would recoup itself in under 5 months. A sudden rush of save-the-environment-while-also-saving-money induced confidence overtook me, and I threw the Diva Cup in the cart.
At the checkout, the sweet little elderly cashier held up the girly-as-hell pink and blue box and said, “Oh, pretty! What’s this?” I said, “It’s a Diva Cup.” She asked what it was for. I said “It’s for when you’re on your period.” She gave me a quizzical look. I said, “You insert it into your vagina and it catches the blood.” For some reason she wasn’t keen to chat anymore after that. I think she may have thought the Diva Cup was a fancy shot glass.
A few days later, I got my period. After sterilizing my Diva Cup via boiling water per the manual, it was go time. I read the insertion instructions several times, planning to use the “fold it twice” method and emotionally preparing myself to wrestle with my vagina for at least an hour. Would I get it in there far enough? What if I put it in too far? Could I put it in too far? Would my cervix swallow it? How bloody would my fingers get, exactly? And yet I also didn’t want to be overly timid about the process and end up with the thing dangling out of my vagina.
So, just like the instructions said, I exhaled and relaxed my nether regions as much as possible and inserted the twice-folded Diva Cup, angling it toward my tailbone. And, magically, it ballooned open inside of me. Like an inverse umbrella for your vagina.
But seriously, it blew my mind how perfectly this thing fit inside me. I stood up and did a little dance to see if it would slide out and splat on the floor all, “Haha, joke’s on you, sucka!”, but it stayed put, and I couldn’t feel it, not even a little. WHAT SORCERY IS THIS?
Another confession: I’m one of those people who grew up feeling really out of touch with and ashamed of my body. I didn’t masturbate until my twenties (and even then was confused about where stuff was and how it worked), and I still sometimes get weird and shy about bodies and sex and touching. A couple of years ago, I asked a friend visiting from out of the country for a tampon, and she gave me one of the kinds that don’t have an applicator. I was utterly mystified. You mean you just… push it up there? …with your… finger??
So sticking my fingers inside myself to get the Diva Cup in place was kind of a big deal. And feeling it flower open and stick in place, knowing I’d done it right and that it was doing its job, was oddly empowering. Yes, I got blood on my fingers, but that’s why we have soap and water. Besides, I’m a mom—I’ve caught all manner of bodily fluids in my hands. I can handle a little blood.
The other thing that was surprisingly empowering was getting to see exactly how much blood my body produces. It was intimidating at first, though, pulling a literal cup of blood out of my vagina. I was sure I’d fling it across the room and turn my bathroom into a scene from Carrie. Removal was tricky—I couldn’t get a grip on the little hanging plastic piece. I grabbed the bottom of the cup and gently tugged, but it didn’t budge. I began to panic, but then I realized my anxiety was making me flex my vaginal walls, so I exhaled again and released my muscles, bearing down a little at the same time I tugged and twisted. It came out! It looked like a tiny cup of wine. Ew. But also, super cool, because it worked! I did it! Vagina power! Woohoo!
I dumped the blood in the toilet (gory but mesmerizing), washed the Diva Cup with some mild soap, and stuck it back in just like the first time. No bloody tampon in the trash. No evidence of any blood anywhere. Nice.
And I’ve been using the Diva Cup ever since. I’ve left it in for up to 12 hours and only once had a tiny leak (on my heaviest day, and it really had been a full 12 hours—I was at home, intentionally testing it). I’ve exercised with it in, slept with it, ridden a bike with it. From what I can tell, it’s more reliable than a tampon and also more comfortable. With tampons, by the time my period slows down, my poor vag is all dried out. This is a non-issue with the cup.
I bought my menstrual cup on a whim thinking I was doing something good for the environment, and I am, and I love that, but I’ve been surprised by the additional positives. I’m especially surprised by this extra connection and comfort I’ve developed with my body. I don’t just mean with my vagina. That first time I tried to remove the cup and couldn’t get it out, I was forced to be cognizant of the tension I held in my body, all the way down to my literal core. I thought I was relaxed, but I clearly wasn’t. I wasn’t expecting a freaking menstrual cup of all things to teach me how to release tension.
And there really is something weirdly affirming about seeing the blood leave your body as actual blood and not as a soiled wad of cotton. It’s a small but meaningful thing, connecting with yourself like this, especially if, like me, your default has always been to detach. So, yeah. I’m a little late to the party, but I’m a menstrual cup convert, all the way. If you’ve never tried it, I absolutely recommend it.
Just remember, if and when you do decide to buy one, try not to traumatize the cashier.