The Big Sister Project: A series where I try new and unknown things first so you don’t have to.
The first I ever heard of a Diva Cup/menstrual cup was from a friend in grade 9. She whipped out this silicone, bendy cup and said it was a “life changer”. My beautiful friend was from overseas, so I assumed it was a strange, foreign alternative to the tampon that didn’t have that much hype.
Skip to years later and I’m on my period for the millionth time and thinking to myself, “I cannot be bothered to get up again for the 3rd time this hour to change my tampon”. There HAD to be something easier that didn’t involve me feeling like I was wearing a nappy (pad) or an expensive, uncomfortable and sad excuse for a sponge (tampon).
Then it struck me. That weird silicone cup I’ve seen maybe twice in my life. The voice of my friend praising this little device echoed in my mind.
And then an even more genius idea came to me.
Hear me out… WHAT IF… I recorded my first experience using this cup. Noting its leakage factor, comfort, price and environmental waste factor.
BOOM! I had an experiment with variables, a hypothesis and procedure planned. My chemistry teacher would be so proud of me. Shout out to you, Mr Edwards.
So that’s the origin story of this journey.
Before we get into the experiment, let’s have a chat about our current sitch. Tampons and pads.
The $$$ we spend:
First things first, we currently pay wayyyyy too much to ensure we don’t leak everywhere.
Fact: In Australia there has been an 18-year campaign (pretty much the duration of my life), fighting for the removal of the 10% goods and services tax on pads and tampons. This campaign was won in 2018.
The UK currently has a 5% tax on pads and tampons. Apparently, the tax will be dropped when the transition period for Britain leaving the EU ends on 31 December.
From a HuffPost article I discovered that: (click here to read the maths)
Of the 70% of women that use tampons, an average of $60 will be spent on tampons in a year and $1773.33 in a lifetime.
In Australia alone, women use up to 500 million pads a year.
Those who use pantyliners use an average of 5 per period. Resulting in $443.33 spend on pantyliners in a lifetime.
80% of women use oral birth control. Every country is different in how health care covers birth control or not. From this article it is stated that women pay an average of $11,400 on birth control in their lifetime.
New underwear due to stains (the cause of my tears nearly every period)...on average $912 in a lifetime.
Period pain relief tablets, an average of $1229.83 in a lifetime.
These numbers and costs differ between countries and communities. However, looking at the big picture, that’s a lot of money to spend on regulating a bodily function that half the world’s population has.
The average menstruating Australian disposes of 10-12 thousand used sanitary products in their lifetime. To make that sound worse, most sanitary products are a mix of cotton, plastic and synthetic rayon which can take up to 500-800 years to biodegrade.
*Add one more cause for the global environmental crisis…
Adding those numbers up reveal women in Australia alone use up to 800 million sanitary products a year!
This number becomes around 200,000 tonnes of waste in our landfills per year – most of which is plastic.
In a Taboo article, a secondary problem is brought up. The waste caused by flushing tampons and pads down the toilet. Nearly 0.5% of marine plastic debris is tampon applicators alone (if you do this, please don't).
Sydney Water is estimated to have spent over one million dollars each year on removing products that block up pipes and sewer systems. A large percentage of this is sanitary products.
Click here to read more about the history and future of sanitary product environmental waste.
Every woman’s period flow is different. However, I consider myself to be the PRIME test subject for this experiment. Why?
My flow is somewhere between heavy and painfully heavy for the first 3 days out of 7. The remaining days (like most women), it lessens until it’s gone altogether.
I work as a personal trainer 5 days a week and exercise 6 days of the week. Meaning that I quite literally wear a G-string and active wear 24/7 and am constantly exercising. Running, boxing, dancing, skipping, squatting, you name it. If anyone is going to have leaks, it’s me betch.
My experiences whilst using a tampon goes a little something like this. (P.S. I use maxi tampons. These hips do indeed lie)
An idea of what my cycle looks like:
Tampons: Can hardly feel them unless I’ve done a lazy application which will contribute to worsening my cramps. 0-1 trust level because one jump or squat at the wrong time and that sucker is falling out :(
Liners: Annoying because I wear G-strings for work, efficiency is minimum.
Pads: Hate to my core. Feel like I’m wearing a diaper. Wearing a soaked pad with no tampon is the worst feeling ever.
Ok, now that we have established, in depth, the details of my menstrual life (I do not apologise for the TMI, you clicked on this article, your fault hehe), let’s get into the actual plot of this story.
I purchased my first menstrual cup a couple of weeks before my period. To my knowledge, the menstrual cup could only be purchased online. So to the online I went. I visited the following sites:
This site gave me a great insight to the menstrual cup experience and priced their product at $41.90. Compare spending that every 1-10 years compared to tampons and pads every month. Already looking good.
I thought my search was complete. By the information I was given and the smiling lady holding her cute little cup in a case, I took that as a good sign to make my way to the shopping cart.
But wait! I remembered there was a certain brand name... 'Diva Cup'? I left the tab open and typed “Diva Cup” into a new tab.
This looked similar, to the previous site.
Here's what I saw:
Diva Cup priced their product at $43.99 but with a bonus surprise. Their product was available at Woolworths and Chemist Warehouse! Lucky for me I live 10 minutes away from a Chemist Warehouse! Booyaa! Just $2 extra and and I don't have to wait for delivery!
The package and manual:
The first thing I learnt when receiving my Diva Cup, is that they come in different sizes. Model 0, 1 & 2. These sizes were categorised according to age and flow. I was recommended the ‘Model 1’ for women between ages 19 and 30 and have a medium flow.
The nicely coloured box came with the cup, a little portable bag and a manual. I’m going to refer to details from the manual however, I want to display it below for your benefit.
Diva Cup User's Guide:
Some housekeeping: (health and safety)
When handling the Diva Cup application and removal always have CLEAN HANDS.
Because the Diva Cup is a medical grade device, it is recommended you replace it annually. (This is applied to the Diva Cup via its manual. Depending on your menstrual cup brand, recommended years before replacing your menstrual cup may differ from 1-10 years).
The Diva Cup is not a contraceptive device, remove it prior to having sex.
If you have an IUD, consult with your doctor prior to purchasing the Diva Cup.
Do not use the Diva Cup if you have a yeast or bacterial infection.
Dispose of cup immediately if you have dropped it in the toilet.
Menstrual cups have been associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare but serious disease that may cause death.
Before using for the first time, boil Diva Cup for 5-10 minutes. This is for cleanliness. It is not critical to boil before each cycle as it contributed to the thinning of the cup over time however, it does clean the cup thoroughly. It is a personal choice.
To insert cup refer to the U-fold or the pushdown fold (refer to manual for details).
While sitting on the toilet or standing with one leg on the bathtub, separate your labia with your free hand. Holding the folded cup between the thumb and forefinger, push the curved edge of the folded cup into your vagina horizontally.
Gently push the cup into your vagina until the stem is even with the vaginal opening.
Once the cup is in, grip the base of the cup, not the stem, and turn the cup 360 degrees to create the seal (to prevent leakages).
To remove cup: with your forefinger and thumb, pinch the base of the cup to break the seal, gently move the cup side to side and pull down. Dispose of blood down the toilet or sink and clean cup with warm water and unscented, oil-free soap. Ensure to keep the tiny holes under the rim of your diva cup clean at all times. During cleaning, stretch the cup around the holes and run it under warm water.
You are now ready for re-application.
My first experience:
After I had read through the entire manual (super important btw), boiled my cup for 10 minutes and prepared myself in the bathroom, I was finally ready. I’ve always applied tampons from a squatting position and the thought of sitting on the toilet was too risky for me, so I decided to stick to what I was comfortable with.
Squatting down, holding the cup in a U-fold (this is the most efficient fold in my opinion) and remembering to aim it towards my tailbone at the base of my spine, away from my cervix (refer to manual for visuals) I attempted my first application.
Uncomfortable and awkward. So I tried the 'one foot up on the bath' method. Still awkward but I managed to get it in to the best of my ability. I was unsure how to execute the 360 twist. This was all at 4am mind you. The next 3 hours I was at work and in discomfort. I was paranoid that I was leaking, luckily, I was wearing a liner. It was at hour number 3 that I decided to take it out. That was a stranger experience. Pinching to ‘break the seal’ didn’t work for me so I tried turning it and it slowly made its way out however, the suction feeling was weird.
To my excitement there was a little pool of blood sitting at the bottom of the cup!
However, there was leakage on my pad which I learnt was due to my incorrect application. I emptied it down the toilet and shuffled my way to the sink. The manual was right, the tiny holes around the rim were blocked so I made extra care to wash them out.
In my second application I decided to risk it all and try the ‘sitting on the toilet’ method. GAME CHANGER! I was able to slip the cup in with ease, keep a hold of the base of the cup and rotate it a couple of times to create the seal AND I couldn’t feel a thing!
The diva cup did its job for another 3 hours before I took it out, again due to fear of leakage. This time there was only spotting on the liner. Improvements were definitely happening.
I made it to 5 hours after the 3rd application. This time no leakage!
24hrs since my first application, I had improved so much! The Diva Cup stayed nice and snug for a maximum of 11 hours at one point.
I know this isn’t recommended, however, a busy woman like myself forgets she’s actually on her period sometimes. So I blame my actions on that. I do not encourage anyone to go against manual directions and use the diva cup for more than the informed 8 hours.
So, this was my first 24 hours using the Diva Cup on the heaviest day of my cycle.
I did wear a liner for its duration because not even a plug can stop my uterus from destroying yet another pair of underwear. However, I was immensely impressed that I didn’t need a pad! By my 5th application I was a professional.
The remaining days of my cycle were similar. Improving my application skills, being able to use it for maximum 8 hours, being able to sleep with it and eventually not needing any extra security (liner/pad).
Some questions you might have:
Is it gross?
Like a lot of new things, it’s strange. If you hate blood and can’t stand the sight of your used tampon, this will take some time for you to get used to. HOWEVER, no it's not 'gross'. Why? It’s menstrual blood, it came from you, it will continue coming from you until after menopause. There are more important things to be worried about than your menstrual blood.
Do you have to stick your fingers up your vagina?
Look, I’m not going to lie. The vagina is a complicated and layered organ. If you can manage to insert a menstrual cup or even a tampon without touching your own vagina, I applaud you. Although that would be a little weird I will admit. Similar to those guys who refuse to wipe their own buttholes. Mmhmm Yes, some do that.
It is your own body, it’s not going anywhere and it is yours. Don’t be afraid of it.
Can you sleep with it?
Yes! This was my favourite thing about the menstrual cup. I’ve always suffered from disturbed sleep due to my heavy periods, the feeling of wearing a pad and fear of getting blood on my clothes and sheets. So this, THIS, was HUGE for me.
We're coming to the end of the experiment.
Let’s look at our results!
$$$ I spent/will spend:
I spent an overall of $43.99 on a chemical free, medical grade, silicone cup that is recommended to be replaced from a variation of 1-10 years (depending on the brand and condition of the cup). The average menstrual cycle using tampons and pads costs around $60 per year. By switching to a 30-40-dollar menstrual cup, you could save nearly $800 over ten years. That’s nearly $2000 AU over the next 25 years.
One menstrual cup will save the environment from one truckload of waste in 10 years for every single person who switches to a cup.
Menstrual cups also support the United Nations sustainable development goal #6: clean water and sanitation.
Here’s how the menstrual cup supports the United Nations sustainable development goals: (this is pretty cool)
Goal #6 Clean Water and Sanitation
Goal #5 Gender Equality
Goal #3 Good Health & Well-Being
Goal #1 No Poverty
Click here to learn more.
The environmental benefits are crazily positive. This is one of the main reasons I encourage switching to a menstrual cup.
Almost non-existent. Depending on your application skills and menstrual flow, the rate of leakage you will experience will be significantly lower than that of tampons. I will continue purchasing liners to use alongside my menstrual cup on my heaviest flow days.
Again, depending on your application skills. Personally, I am never comfortable with tampons as I often feel uncomfortable in my stomach and uterus when I sit and move around. They have often contributed to the level of pain I endure when I have period cramps. I did not experience this with the Diva Cup.
As an active person, wearing tight clothing and always compromising the security of my tampons via my job, I rate the menstrual cup very highly. ALSO, let’s not forget no awkward tampon string making surprise appearances whilst wearing swimmers!
Calculating the savings you make on costs, the benefits you create for the environment and your own body, the decrease in fear and security whilst wearing the device and even just the thought of only having to go to the shops to buy sanitary products every 1-10 years. The results are 95% positive. I’ve left the remaining 5% due to the warning of rare TSS and UTI’s. Then again nothing is ever perfect. Cough cough* Especially when it comes to the support and products research for women’s sexual/reproductive health.
I am currently writing this during my second cycle using the Diva Cup and I have named myself a certified professional menstrual cup user. This is me saying Sayōnara to tampons 4 EVA.
I hope this article helps more people with periods that I expect. Thank you for reading and don’t be afraid to ask questions! DM us via @feminandco or email@example.com
Lots of love, from big sister ;)
Written by Elise van Mierlo,
Co-founder of Femina & Co