Hello Aunt Flo {And Toxins?}

aunt flo

Lets talk about PERIODS. Cycles. The Curse. Aunt Flo. Your Monthly Visitor. You know…that thing. The thing you were most likely taught to hide at all costs and were so afraid to be shamed about, be it from a stain on your pants to an “odor”, to hell…just being a woman.

Now readers – this is going to get personal. You are about to know a lot more about me. In turn, I would like you to keep gagging to a minimum. Okay? Alright. Here we go.

I come from a long line of bad periods. My mother, bless her, had a hysterectomy before she was 40 due in large part to her horrible, heavy monthly blood. I was told I was doomed to the same fate. From day 1 of my first cycle, which came ON my 11th birthday, it was heavy and annoying and painful. For years I had irregular, long, horrible cycles. Clotting. Cramping. Staying home from school and work. Nightmares basically.

I was told birth control was the answer. So I was on it for several years. Yes, the periods were shorter, but they were just as heavy. Just as painful. I still missed school and work for the first couple days so that I could lay on my heating pad and moan. Lets not even mention the many side effects of the artificial hormones on my body (that would be a whole post in itself).

I had my son and hoped that would kick my body into gear and force it to be “normal”. Not so much. I escaped cycles for 18 months total (pregnancy and then breastfeeding exclusively), but when they came back they were just as bad. What is a woman to do?

Then one of my friends online mentioned menstrual cups. What on earth was that? A cup in your underwear? She said it solved her cramps and heavy bleeding and get this – it saved her MONEY. Let me tell you – I am pretty cheap. Money saving gadgets draw me like a moth to flame. So I started my research.

Come to find out, they are not cups in your underwear. Lets liken them to flexible shot glasses in your vagina. Which sounds weird – but stick with me here ladies. Lets first look at the reasons WHY we should look at alternatives to conventional feminine products (disposable pads and tampons).

Dioxins, Toxins, and TSS

Since 1980 there have been concerns about tampons and TSS (toxic shock syndrome). That year, many women died from TSS. My aunt got horribly sick during that scare with TSS but thankfully recovered. Now we hear about Dioxin (a carcinogen) and other toxins in disposable tampons and pads. So what is all this about?

Dioxin, in simple terms, is the byproduct of wood pulp (rayon) or cotton bleaching methods when we are talking about tampons or pads. Supposedly, the new bleaching methods are dioxin free…and yet there are still detectable levels of dioxin in the products. This is due in part to the fact that dioxin is entrenched deeply in our environment due to pollution. Therefore, it is a part of the cotton or wood before the bleaching is even an issue.

The FDA states that very low levels of dioxin in tampons and pads are acceptable, though the FDA and the EPA both admit that dioxin is a powerful carcinogen. They state that the load is only 0.2% of the “acceptable monthly load” of dioxin each month. They do not include the fact that dioxin is long lived in the human body and builds up over time. They also forget to mention this is only one source of dioxin – our environmental load is large through our air, food, and water (in other words, we are adding MORE to our body through a product we don’t have to use, unlike air or water).

The EPA has done a recent study stating that dioxin is much more toxic than they previously realized. You can read the full 344 page report here (you know, light reading). They do point out, right at the start of the study, that the way they test can not take into account the ways we are exposed. They are simply injecting it and recording. They even specifically state that we don’t know how it changes when it targets a specific organ.

The targeting of of a specific organ is of special significance here since the pads and tampons are in contact with a very vulnerable part of our body – our labia, vagina, cervix, and through that – the uterus.

The list of non-cancer “endpoints” (risks) in animal trials include infertility in males and females, thyroid issues, birth defects and loss, diabetes, dental issues in both the receiving adult and in offspring, over-active thyroid, and several others. The human trials (which were done when there was a large exposure in a population in 1976) were all on children, newborns (who were exposed in utero) through the age of 10. Low sperm count/motility and over-active thyroid were both obvious results in those groups.

There is also a casual link to the increased use of disposable products over the last 50 or so years and a sharp increase in endometriosis, but further study is needed. Endometriosis is a common reason for infertility and hysterectomy. This link from the EPA talks about the casual link (pages 7-9).

There was also a survey done by a manufacture of medical-grade tampons (dioxin free) that suggests a link between one main brand of tampons and several female “issues” from genital warts to abnormal pap smears. The link is here as I don’t want to call out the brand. But this particular brand is designed to enlarge lengthwise in most types of their product and this creates more rubbing on the sensitive cervix, which can cause abrasions, which they speculate can cause more open paths for HPV and other viruses to enter.

Another (unproven) additive which may or may not be in these products is asbestos. Now, the FDA states that this is not in our tampons or pads. After all, they tell them it’s not allowed in there. However, the FDA does not have agents in each factory and rarely inspect them, and the manufacturer does not have to state any of the ingredients on the box. Hence why you rarely know if you are using an all cotton product or one which also includes rayon (which has a larger toxic load). *If* asbestos is in tampons and pads, it would create more bleeding and cramping. More bleeding equals more sales of the product. I leave it up to you, dear reader, to form your own conclusions on this particular additive.

And lastly – TSS. This is something you most likely know about. TSS symptoms are varied and the risks include death. The CDC states that rates are well down from the scare in the 1980’s – but admit that the rates are most likely under reported. Over a thousand cases are reported each year, half from tampon use, and about 5% die. The reason TSS and tampons are so linked is that the absorbent environment creates a breeding ground for the bacteria responsible for TSS. Tampons containing rayon are more likely to create this toxin overload and breed more bacteria.

Please take note that while much of this research has to do with tampons, your pads are created using the same cotton and rayon, and therefore carry much of the same risks (especially in regards to dioxin).

So now you know the truth about what is in your pads and tampons…so what do you do?

Your Alternatives

Now for the fun part! Your alternatives to those conventional products.

The main product I am going to talk about is menstrual cups since they hold the most mystery. You know, the flexible shot glass I mentioned back at the beginning.

Menstrual cups are pretty common place all over the world except in America. One brand, The Keeper Cup is approved by the FDA here, and one other brand, the DivaCup is now available in some Wal-Marts. A few brands (including DivaCup) are available in places like Whole Foods. But still, to the majority of the United States, these little cups are unknown.

There are many, many brands. Some are more popular than others, some are only available in a few countries. To name a few: DivaCup, Keeper, Keeper Moon Cup, Moon Cup UK (different from the Keeper Moon Cup), Ladycup, Lunette….I could go on and on. Really, there is a whole smorgasbord of cups out there. Which means you have to choose one that is best for you.


Each vagina is a bit different. That is the fun part about the human body – we are not all alike. Therefore, cups come in different shapes and sizes and with different features. The cup that fits me like a glove may not work for you. A cup for a teenager is going to be smaller than a cup for a mother who has had a vaginal birth (this is why cups come in two sizes – before and after birth). I will post LOTS of links to help you figure this out at the end of the article. Don’t worry. The opinions vary but you can piece together which will be right for you with a little thought.

  1. Have you had a baby? Think about this one…did another person emerge from your vagina lately? Ever? Keep in mind that for some women a Cesarian birth also changes the size of the vagina. Don’t ask me why…no idea. After childbirth = the larger size cup. No children = the smaller cup of your chosen brand. You may also need the larger size if you are over the age of 30/35 even if you have never had a child.
  2. How long is your vagina? (I told you we would get to know each other well). Squat down on your ankles and figure this out. When you reach in with a couple fingers, do you hit cervix easily (it feels like the end of your nose if you are not fertile right now, or more like a squishy bump if you are)? Congratulations, you have a “shorter” vagina. If you reach back and feel nothing…and more nothing…you most likely have a longer vaginal canal or a very posterior cervix. Please check this a few times over the course of your cycle since your cervix does move around depending on if you are in your fertile phase or not. Short vagina = shorter cup (not cup and stem, just cup).
  3. How sensitive do you feel your vagina is? Also think about the connection between your bowels and your vaginal canal. If you push on the canal from the inside back towards your bum, does it get rather uncomfortable? (Please, do not do this too hard – just gentle nudges). If it bothers you a good bit, you may want to consider a cup with a softer rim.
  4. Do you have a very heavy flow? Now this is tricky. I would have told you before the cup that my flow was very heavy. I would not give that answer now. But just think on it. If you use pads, or if you did, how often would you change them? If you use tampons, are you needing to change them all the time due to leaks? You may want to avoid the few cups who have smaller capacity unless you want to empty it more.

There are a few common questions that I always get when I talk about cups. If yours is not here, please feel free to comment below and I will try to answer them for you or find information.

  • Does it hurt? Let me be honest. The first clumsy attempts are a bit uncomfortable. Not horribly painful, and I did not injure myself. Once you get the hang of it, it is no more uncomfortable than a tampon going in.
  • Do you get leaks? Honestly I never had a leak. Not even the first time wearing it during my period. However, I practicing inserting it before my bleeding began (use a tiny bit of lube as the vagina is more dry most of the time than it is during menstruation). I also researched as much as I could to get the cup I thought would fit me best. If you are worried about leaks the first few times you use it, wear a cloth pad as well.
  • How do you put it in there? This boggles the mind when you first see one. It is round…like a cup. So how do you put it in? You fold it and once it is inside you let go and it opens up. A firmer cup is better at the “popping open” then softer cups. My cup (the Keeper Moon Cup) is considered to be a cup with a firmer rim. The DivaCup is considered by many to be a softer rimmed cup. (Just as an example)
  • Isn’t it gross? Not really. Once you know how to take it out, you don’t even have to look. You just take it out, tip it into the toilet and walk to the sink and rinse. No matter what, we see blood during our cycle at some point. And let me tell you, the blood in a cup looks way better than the brown weird blood that was always on my tampons.
  • How often do you empty the cup? Most people empty twice a day and that is with a regular to heavy flow. I empty morning (when I wake up) and night time before bed. I have never needed to empty it while out and about. However, if you did do that, you can simply wipe it out with a tiny bit of toilet paper or use the handicap stall which usually has a sink. Or you can carry some of the wipes that are made to clean cups!
  • Is it sanitary? Yes. If you follow directions and you know, clean it, then of course it is! Most (except the original Keeper Cup which is latex) are made of medical grade silicone and very easy to keep clean. You simply rinse it out with warm water. At the end of your cycle you can give it a quick dip in boiling water to really be sure – but be aware with some cups that can discolor them a little. Harmless, but worth knowing. The original (brown) latex Keeper cup is even approved by the FDA for safety. Also – there has never been a case of TSS from cup use.

Now, there are other things to think about too. The fun stuff. Some cups come in COLORS! Yes, I know – exciting! Your vagina and cervix can be treated to a pretty color during this process. For some people the reason for a color is practical – you don’t see the blood as much as you would in a totally clear cup. It also hides the slight discoloration that can happen over time (which is harmless). The Lunette is a popular brand that comes in several colors.

Some cups come with goodies. The new DivaCup package comes with a swag pin for your purse…or shirt…or to never see the light of day. Your choice. Some come with very pretty storage bags or with wet wipes or specially made washes for your cup. As a side note – never store your cup in an air tight container. Please store it in the fabric bag it comes with. If you cut off the air, the product can degrade.

Some simple “trouble shooting” tips include cutting the stem (shortening it or cutting it off totally), turning your cup inside out (helps with some brands – cut off the stem first), learning to bare down for easy removal, adding a small “twist” after insertion to seal your cup, and learning new folding techniques if you have a hard time inserting the cup.

Cups normally last about 10 years. So for your $20-$40 investment, you get 10 years of not paying for disposable products.

So…enough about cups right? I will include lots of links at the end – I promise!

Alright Lady…what are my OTHER Alternatives?

Cloth Pads are a great option. I think they are pretty easy to understand. Most are designed with the same shape and style of disposable pads, but you wash them. For those who cloth diaper, this is not a foreign idea. A popular company is Gladrags, but there are many brands – just do a search on Etsy and you will be amazed.

These are really fun. You get the basics of absorbancy levels and lengths/widths. But you also get to look at all types of fabrics, pretty colors, organic or conventional fabrics, things that sound exotic like sherpa or minky. The options are endless. And if you are crafty you can make them yourself. These are reusable for several years with proper care and they save money and the environment.

The range of prices with these is pretty large but affordable – especially considering you use them many, many times. You will need 4-6 heavy pads (for overnight and heavy days), 10 or so regular pads, and 6 or so light pads/liners. Or – just keep track of how many disposable pads you are using right now.

Expect to do laundry with these every other day (much like cloth diapers). You can wash them with your cloth diapers by the way, but I would suggest keeping the wet bags seperate so you do not stain your diapers before you wash. Many women just hang a wet bag in their bathroom for “disposing” of cloth pads until wash day. Some women prefer to get enough for their whole cycle and wash one load at the end.

You can pre-rinse the pads to help keep away staining (keep in mind some fabrics stain more than others), or simply buy a color or pattern dark enough to cover stains if you think it will bother you.

Organic Disposable Pads and Tampons are available. Seventh Generation, Organyc and Natracare are three popular brands. These are all cotton and organic. They give you a bit more piece of mind about toxins and fragrances and all that. However, you still have the cost, the pollution aspect, and the chance of TSS (with the tampons).

Another option is Sea Sponges – I will not pretend to be an expert on these. But basically, it is a natural sea sponge that is trimmed to fit inside the vagina (think, smoosh and push up there). You then rinse them and reuse them. You can use them for about 3-6 cycles. They contain no toxins and should be sustainably harvested. This is actually an ancient method of both menstrual bleeding control and contraception. Make sure you get yours for a reputable source of sponges for menstrual use and not Bath and Body Works.

My Testimony

You know all about my horrible pre-cup periods. But how are they now? Since my switch to the Keeper Moon Cup my periods went from 6 or more heavy days to about 4 regular/light days. They no longer cause me to double over in pain or run to my heating pad. I have maybe a small back ache the first day. That’s it. Truly, it has been life changing for me. I no longer spend a crazy amount of money on disposable products every year. I spent $20 and I am done buying for about 10 years. I don’t have to keep up with tampons in my purse or send out my husband in the middle of the night.

I cannot stress enough how much I want women to try something different. Apart from the fact that tampon and pad manufacturers have taught us that our periods are weird, smelly, to be hidden, or shameful (or the opposite spectrum of fit athletes running around with no bloating and sexy ladies in lab coats), I really do feel that this can improve our health.

The FDA and EPA seem to think that there is an acceptable level of toxins we should snuggle up by our cervix every month. But really – do we want to risk that? Knowing that we already have a toxic load just from the air we breath and the food we eat, do we want to add to that? I hope that this has given you some insight into a different way of embracing your cycle and protecting your health. Again, comment below with questions!

Now….all those links I promised! Please note that the brands/shops linked are not endorsed by BWF, but are simply helpful tools. Feel free to buy from where you wish.

Brand Comparison Photos (this also has many helpful links to the right of the page)

Helpful WikiHow Article

Cup Comparisons (also with lots of links to more posts on the right)

Videos on YouTube (comparisons)

Videos on YouTube (folding your cup)


The photo of the cups if from this lovely website which has more comparison information as well.


  • Larene

    Ok, I have a question about these cups. I have been wondering about them for months. I have an IUD (non-hormonal copper Paragard) and I cannot use tampons in fear of yanking the string attached to the IUD. Would I have the same worry with these cups?

    I do use cloth pads but there is usually one super heavy day that I am resorted to the disposable pads. I’d love to make the eco and healthy choice to move to these cups but am worried of the IUD risk of dislodging it.

    • Mama Bice

      Women in other countries were IUDs are the preferred method of BC, and the cups are common do use the cups with no issue. The suggestions I am finding are to 1) be careful to break the suction first before tilting and pulling out. Another precaution suggested is to wait two cycles or so, as it is more likely that the IUD is really in place by that time and not going to come out easily. The MoonCup UK has this to say on their site:

      “With correct positioning and usage the Mooncup can be used by women with an IUD. The IUD expulsion rate for all IUD users is around one in twenty (Mooncup user or not) within five years of the IUD being inserted (NICE guidelines CG30; 2005). You may choose to discuss this with your doctor/nurse/gynaecologist if you have concerns or you feel that your Mooncup may interfere with your IUD strings.”

      We would recommend;

      When an IUD has first been inserted, you should wait six weeks before using a Mooncup (or any internal sanitary protection)
      Remember to place the Mooncup low in the vagina and ensure you have an adequate seal
      It is important to always release the seal before removing a Mooncup.
      After each period, check you can still feel the IUD strings. If you cannot feel them, think that your IUD/IUS has moved or is causing/has caused you pain, use another form of contraception such as a condom until you have had your IUD checked by a doctor/medical professional.”

      As always – nothing here is medical advice, so I would discuss with your care provider and do more research yourself.

    • Leah

      I had a Paragard IUD for over a year and used a Diva Cup the whole time. I never had an issue. The cup sits lower down in your vagina, not right up by your cervix. I could always feel my strings, but I don’t think they were long enough to get snagged when taking the cup out. I knew I was obviously accepting a certain amount of risk using a cup with an IUD, but the IUD made my periods SO heavy, I can’t imagine what else I would have done. I agree with Mama Bice – be sure to break the suction first and very carefully and slowly remove the cup. Don’t just go yanking it out. I’m sure you’ll be fine! The Diva Cup package says not to use with an IUD, but I think that’s their lawyers talking…

  • ajira

    Thanks for this fantastic, informative post about alternatives to toxic pads/tampons near our jewels. 😀 I am confused though about how using a cup would decrease your associated pains and aches and heavy menses. I have had the same experience- began at 10, always been heavy and painful, went on the pill to reduce length and pain and it took the edge off but was still longer, heavier and more painful than any other woman’s that I knew. After childbirth I thought it would return lighter and it did at first but has reverted more and more each month. Definitely want to try out the cups but curious to know how you think it has resulted in less pain and heaviness. Just want to understand it. I have some cloth pads, homemade out of flannel that work okay but sometimes are uncomfortable as they bunch. Something to work on, I guess.

    • Mama Bice

      Many people feel it is due to not having any toxins in and around the cervix and also due to the less drying nature of cups (since they do not absorb anything, unlike a tampon). This reduction in length and pain is not true for all, but many do report positive change especially in cycle length. As for your cloth pads – I know many women who have bought just one or two of a nice brand and then tweaked their own creations to match those pads more. I hope this helps you!

    • zstar

      ajira, i use a diva cup. i’ve had long, heavy, painful periods for as long as i can remember. when i finally got my cup, i noticed an immediate difference in pain levels. it was still painful, but didn’t keep me bed-ridden. i still bled heavily, but i only had to empty the cup four or five times the first day, and three or so the second. then twice the third, fourth, fifth, and the sixth was mostly nothing (but i kept it in just in case it was just a dip or something). it’s been about a year now, and i cramp even less (there are still pretty bad ones, but closer to what i think “normal” cramps are), my flow has seemed to even out to needing 4 empties the first, 4 empties the second, and two empties for the last three days. my periods are only 5 days, as opposed to the original 7-9. it’s a really noticeable difference. even my husband has noticed how much better the pain is, and how there are no more accidents, etc. he even told his sisters to get a cup XD.

  • Elizabeth

    I absolutely love my cup!! Been using the keeper for about 6 months now and it has completely changed my relationship to my period. I love it. My period has changed, quality of blood is better and no more pain. Never ever going back .

  • Frond

    I never correlated less cramping with the use of my mooncup UK, but now that you point it out it did happen. I used to be completely out of action one day a month… Now I get at most one heavy day and two or three light ones… So much better… Switching to the cup was one of the best things I did! And I’ve gone from dreading my period to looking forward to using the cup. Funny huh?

  • Allison L Aronsky

    I have been using a Mooncup for four years now and will never go back. It is healthier and more Earth and woman friendly. Give it a 3 month trial sisters! You will not regret it.

  • Robin

    Love my cup, but was not lucky on a lighter flow. The good part is now I have an approximate ml count to tell my gyno (some cups have measure lines). Also the less leaking thing is amazing along with the convenience! Someone asked about IUDs, there was a small study done in Canada that found no differene between cup and non-cup users when it came to “expulsion”. I wonder where that link is . . .

  • Sharon H.

    I’ve been using mine for about 7-8 years now and will never go back. I’m just wondering (for when my daughters are older) if there is a brand in particular that is preferred or recommended for teenage girls. I remember finding tampons painful when I first tried using them and don’t want my girls turned off to the idea of a cup because it might hurt if they have one that’s too wide/long.

    • Mama Bice

      Here is a chart of measurements of many brands – http://menstrualcupinfo.wordpress.com/cup-stiffness-comparison-chart/

      For teens you would most likely want a cup with a small diameter and shorter in length. Being able to really be comfortable teaching them/telling them how to insert will be a big help. There are so many videos on YouTube to help learn folding techniques too – smaller folds will be easier for younger girls to insert.

      And of course, helping them keep in mind that even if the cup is not a great fit right now, it may be in a few years as they mature. The first cycle is also the most likely to have issues as they get the learning curve. Good for you – wanting to help you girls have a healthy view of menstruation!

      • Sharon H.

        Thank you! I had just awful periods as a teenager. They put me on birth control as well. I still don’t know if it was the switch to the cup or if it was getting my thyroid in order (I’m hypothyroid). I did both around the same time, so it’s hard to know which helped, but I do know that I don’t want my girls putting stuff on or in their bodies that contain harmful chemicals. The cups are the best solution, IMO, and I want them to at least try them. Not to mention, with three girls, buying organic tampons/pads would be $$$$ every month!! 🙂

  • Gwendolyn Wilkins

    Wonderful article!
    I forget that most people don’t know much about menstrual alternatives.
    I discovered Glad Rags around seven years ago and never turned back! I love my rags (I’m still using the same pads I purchased initially!)
    Because I don’t do laundry often, I hand wash my cloth pads without any issue (I keep them in a soak pot until I can get around to washing them – making sure to change the water daily if I can’t get to them on the same day). I actually enjoy this little chore as I consider the menstrual time as a period (pun intended) of introspection and slowing down. The act of hand washing my pads every day or two is a lovely excuse to take a break from the day and focus on one simple task.
    To be perfectly honest – I do still use disposable pads while at work or when I’m traveling, but if I’m home or not going out for long, I’m on the rag and quite happy about it 🙂

  • Brianne

    I made the switch after my first child when I got my IUD inserted and ended up with heavier periods (copper IUD) I found myself needing supef absorbency tampons which led to extreme drying out of my vagina and therefore a lot of pain with that 🙁 Not fun. I started searching for other options and found mh Lunette. I will never go back to disposable menstrual products! I love my cup. I do use cloth liners together with it because I’m still no pro at finding the best fit/seal somi run into minor leaks once in a while, but nothing bad enough to deter me.
    It does sadden me though that the women in my life arent confident enough with their bodies to try something new. Most of the responses I get when the topic comes up are about hoe disgusting that must be 🙁 Many of them have major issues with their cycles and think their only options are drastic measures like hysterectomies.

  • KtCallista

    I switched almost a year ago to a Lunette. I’d been reading about cups a bit, but it is a HUGE world and there is so much confusion. Plus it’s so hard to talk about this with others, I mean how do you bring it up? When do you think about other then when your, there or almost there? My cramps are almost completely gone (occasionally, one day). The more I use my cup the easier it gets, the first three months were rough, and I spent half of them CAMPING! – Super easier than dealing with pads, just bring a water bottle for rinsing (I do this at work too!)

    Now I worry about what to do for my daughters. Cloth just doesn’t work for me (too heavy) although it’s a great back up. I’m not sure how comfortable an 11 year old can be getting a cup in, do they even come that small?

    Long run, I feel great, I even forget I’m on my period, I feel normal, can wear normal clothes, and do normal things. I just hope I can find as good of a solution for my daughters, and soon!

    • Mama Bice

      I posted a link above under Sharon’s comment that has information to help decide which cup would be the smallest for a young woman.

  • Beth U.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this amazing post! I have been looking into the Diva Cup ever since my husband mentioned it to me… yes, my HUSBAND! He is an avid backpacker, and one of the forums he reads has some female moderators who did some reviews on them. However, this post is FAR more informational than theirs. We are both trying to be as green as possible, and if I can stop using tampons, that would be another step closer to our goals!

  • Amy

    I love my mooncup and have been encouraging others to try it. My friend purchased one but as she still has an intact hymen she was unable to insert it. Are there smaller sizes sold in the UK? Are there even ones for use with intact hymens that you happen to know about?

    • Mama Bice

      There should be smaller sizes available. If you look above, under Sharon’s comment I posted a link that has measurements of many brands. Keep in mind places like online stores (amazon, etc) would have a larger selection than a local store as well.

  • Jamie

    Thanks for the post! I’m curious. What’s your take on disposable cups, like Instead-brand SoftCups???

    I was always aware of cups as an alternative to pads and tampons, but never had tried them until recently. I tried and liked the SoftCups but had heard feedback that the DivaCup and other non-disposable cups are very stiff and difficult to insert compared to disposable ones–like SoftCups.

    • Mama Bice

      I have not personally used them, but I know many people who have. The main difference (as a matter of opinion with those who have done both) is that Instead has to get up higher and sit better…more “fiddly” basically. The reusable cups tend to sit a bit lower and pop and seal easier. Again – I have not used both, so I am just going from what other women have told me. Either way – you are avoiding toxins and lowering your carbon footprint!

      As for insertion, I really don’t find my cup hard to get in there at all, and I do the basic (and “largest”) c-fold. There are many ways to fold them, and sometimes just finding the right fold for you increases the ease of insertion.

    • Doree

      I really like the Insteads. The main benefit of those for me is that you can have sex while using one! (I have never had a leak with the Instead/sex situation, no reports of male pain/noticing either). Not possible with a cup! The Insteads are much larger in diameter, and if you’re able to navigate that, switching to a cup should be an easy jump. The cup is smaller in diamer but deeper in depth. If you like Insteads, I think you’ll like a cup.

      I also think a cup ‘lasts longer’.

      I like having the option to use whatever.

  • Ingrid

    Question: is there any correlation between use of the cup and I creased bladder infections? I used to use a diaphragm for birth control after my first baby was born, and had a problem with recurrent bladder infections. It took a long time of suffering until I stumbled upon a magazine article that linked diaphragm use to a risk of bladder infection (due I think to irritation on the bladder from pressure inside the vagina). I gave up the diaphragm and haven’t had problems since then. Any ideas if a cup might pose a similar risk? Thanks!

    • Mama Bice

      I have never heard of this. I know that the cups generally sit lower down than a diaphragm, but if you are sensitive to this already, you may want to try something else. Also – I suggest D-Mannose for UTI/Bladder infections. Natural and works FAST.

  • cynthia

    Ok..all this sounds great and wonderful..I am going to give it a whirl. My question is, I have increased sexual drive during this time, can you have intercourse with one of these in? I understand the stemless type most likely…just curious.

    • Mama Bice

      No – intercourse with a reusable cup is not an option as it sits lower in the vagina. I do know women who have intercourse with the Instead Softcup (a disposable version of the menstrual cup). You can also have intercourse with the sea sponges.

      I personally just pop the cup out before intercourse. I never have a big “mess” to clean up. lol. I just protect the bed and have a wet cloth ready just in case.

      • Shalora

        I have a friend who actually sometimes will put in her Sea Pearl sponge even when it’s not during her period when she’s going to have sex. She says she loves the way it *ahem* soaks up his contribution, that she finds cleanup afterwards to be easier.

  • Erin

    I have a question on what you think it the best to use after giving birth?? You are told not to insert anything for 6 weeks, so do you just us cloth pads?

    • Mama Bice

      Many cloth pad makers actually make PP pads. Use those for the first six weeks (or as long as you lochia lasts). You can not use anything vaginally until after the first six weeks. But cloth pads will work great – just have a good amount of heavy/PP style on hand.

  • Julie

    I love this article! I must say after my baby I only use pads. I tried using the sea sponges but I wanted to provide a little feedback since there wasn’t alot of information given. I gotta say ladies (not sure about you) but those bad boys stink to high heaven pretty quickly. Didn’t really find them to be efficient when washing them out, it made it worse. Natura-care organic pads rock!

    • Shalora

      How were you disinfecting them between uses? I generally soaked in vinegar or tea tree oil (diluted) and never had a problem with smell. I usually would swap sponges (there are reasons they come in 2-packs) every other day or so during my cycle and let the used one disinfect, no smell issues for me.

  • Alyssa

    I am curious as to how well the cup works during heavy exercise. I am currently in an interval training program that includes plyometrics (lots and lots of jumping). I guess I would be worried about any issues associated between the cup and exercise. Thank you in advance for your response.

    • Mama Bice

      If the cup is properly inserted and sealed, exercise of any type is fine – jumping, running, swimming, etc. I have never had any movement or leaking with it, even running around the playground (and climbing all over the place) with my 2 year old. I have heard from other cup users that even yoga poses don’t move the cups!

    • Mama Bice

      No – nothing vaginally until six weeks after the birth or longer if you bleeding is not done yet. For the PP bleeding you can use cloth pads – they come in heavy and PP sizes.

  • Reedu

    I commented earlier today but it seems not to have made the cut. Trying again…

    First off, thanks so much for writing this post. It was enlightening. My questions: Can you do the vaginal test if pregnant – would one get a proper measurement? Also, what do you think is the science/reasons behind the cup not only lessening your flow but also nearly eliminating your cramps?

    • Mama Bice

      I didn’t see a comment from you earlier…maybe it didn’t go through?

      The vaginal check for length should be fine to do while pregnant – just be careful with your cervix. I would not suggest in the last weeks personally. The reasoning behind the lessened flow and cramps is not exact – there are no studies. But most people believe it has to do with less toxins and irritation to the vagina, cervix, and uterus. No one is really sure what having those chemicals next to our cervix and uterus really does. All I know is the tampons and pads = cramps and horrible bleeding (for me). Cup = none of that, just a normal period. Almost everyone I know shows reduced flow and cramps with cup use.

  • Vanessa @ Sauteed Happy Family

    I live abroad and less-toxic/organic products are hard to come by and super expensive… so when I was back in the US for a visit, I invested the $40 in the Diva Cup and WOWIE KABOWIE! The worst part of my period is containing it while I sleep (tmi?), but the cup is perfect for that. Less ucky, less trash, and just simply all ’round easier! If you’re even somewhat interested, check out the research and look into it seriously. You’ll be glad you did!

    • Mama Bice

      Large huge clots, no…But those are not really normal range anyway. 🙂 Small clots should be fine. Maybe on the days you have those (heavy days?) just empty more?

  • Kristyn

    I bought a Diva Cup with immense excitement for all the good reasons mentioned here. I gave vaginal birth last April 2012 and bought the correct version. But after 4 months of trying, it still does not stay in place no matter how I insert it, turn it for suction, or practice Kegels. After a couple minutes or walking it slides all the way down so the stem is protruded out and very uncomfortable. I am so disappointed. Any feedback or suggestions?

    • Holly

      I was hoping there would be a suggestion for this, too, Kristyn. I have a Lunette, which I love using, but it falls too (no matter what I do). I’ve had 5 kids vaginally, though, and I”m wondering if there is no hope for me ever being able to use one. I hope someone will reply with a suggestion. Just to let you know you are not alone….

      • Rachel

        I have been using The Keeper. I am actually on my second one. My first lasted 8 years. Never had any issues. It has have a nice firm rim which I feel helps my cup stay in place. My mom used a Keeper that she bought 20 years ago and she has never had any problems.

    • Mama Bice

      I would try another brand – maybe one with a larger circumference or a more “firm” rim. The links at the end go to pages that have charts of all that. Just like for key words like “firmness rating”.

  • Bri

    Oh what a lovely post to see! I haven’t used a disposable method in six years or so, can’t believe anyone does anymore, and it’s definitely saved me a ton of money. Can’t emphasize enough how much I LOVE my Divacup and Lunapads. The Divacup was awkward at first (I’d never used tampons either), but once I got it nestled in place it was perfect. I think the lessening in cramps, which I too suffer hugely from, may be from the pressure the cup places on certain muscles. Sometimes when you get a cramp, if you can just put the right pressure in the right spot you can get a lot of relief. The Divacup saved me when I was in the Peace Corps and other long travels when I couldn’t really carry around soiled reusable pads, but settled back home now I prefer the Lunapads for the most part. It feels more ancient and natural to let it flow out that way, but when I’m busy or extra crampy, the Divacup is great.

  • shari

    I use Sea Pearls sea sponges during the day and Glad Rags at night. With appropriate cleaning, they do not stink at all. I use a half and half water with hydrogen peroxide solution with a drop of tea tree oil in it. I use one sponge during the day, rinse and reuse during that day, then it gets rinsed and put in the solution overnight. In the morning, I use a fresh sponge and rinse the previous one and let it air dry in a clean, safe place. I use 3 sponges per cycle now (the first one is a smaller one for the first and last day of bleeding that needs more than a panty liner). They last between 4 and 8 months each (smaller ones last less time as they are used more often).

    I too had horrifically heavy flows with large clots. I found that I just don’t have the large clots anymore, and I went from 7 days to 4 days for my flow. In addition, PMS and cramps and bloating are almost non-existent now. However–a warning. The few times I have been caught unprepared and snagged commercial products from the store to use, while I don’t have changes that cycle, I absolutely have bad cramping, clotting, and prolonged bleeding with my next cycle. Took me a while to figure that out, but it happens every single time.

    FYI–tried the Diva cup and was completely unsuccessful. I had already had a child, but the larger cup was *way* too big. I have scared to try cups since then. Now that there are more options, I’m going to look at one of the smaller, softer cups to try. 🙂

  • Kirsty

    Hi Mama Bice I can empathise with you! My first period also showed up on my 11th birthday! I used to use the moon cup but found it difficult to get it to ‘sit’ comfortably and effectively. I will be looking into the other options though!

  • Bleu

    I have used the diva cup for years and really loved it. Sadly since my last child I have a lot of clots and the heaviness of my periods necessitate me changing the cup every 2-4 hours, but if the clots are at all big, which they often are, then I leak over the cup. I am wondering if you know which cups hold the most flow?

  • Kait

    I use the diva cup, and charlie banana pads. It has seriously changed my period, night and day difference. My period use to involve lots of medication, heating pads, and tears. And now (when not pregnant) I have some discomfort, but nothing like how it use to be.

    One thing I have noticed for myself, I don’t wash my pads with our cloth diapers. I think I had a mild yeast infection (didn’t notice, due to Aunt flo being present…) and I washed the pads and dipes together. Basically I am still stripping them, trying to get the yeast out of both.

    Anyone have any suggestions for PP cloth pads?

  • Ambyre

    Hi! So I was wondering, I have a tiled uterus (shots on my spine) could I still use a cup? I also have endo and my period are super heavy, but a very short vagina. I tried the nuvaring birth control, but it kept slipping out. Doc said it’s because my tiled uterus (also why when I’m preg, I don’t have a huge belly like most women) I’m worried a cup would fall out. I haven’t had a period in a while because I have the implanon (got out because preg I’d only “cure” for endo) but I’m planning on getting it out so we can try for another baby. So I’m looking at my options since I hate the disposable stuff. Thanks so much!!

    • Mama Bice

      I have a tilted uterus and mine stays just fine. I would however look for a short cup. The links at the end go to amazing blog sites with comparison charts of all the cups.

  • Rhianna

    There are also disposale Instead Cups that can be found at most stores. I live on the coast and have used then for about 10 years since I hate using tampons durring the summer when I’m usually on the lake or at the pool or beach. The Instead cups are pretty cheap and are reuseable or can be thrown away and replaced with a new one if you’re out somewhere and theres not a sink in the toilet stall. They’re one size fits all which some people may not like but its never been a problem for me and after I got the hang of how best to insert them I’ve yet to have a leak though I still wear a liner with them after having 2 babies within 10 month of age…

  • Leah

    I tried a Diva cup a few years ago and had horrible back pain and cramping until it was removed. I couldn’t seem to get it in right. I have endometriosis and heavy bleeding and cramping that last forever. I would love to find something that helps!

  • Meaghan

    Great article! I’ve been using a menstrual cup for about 11 years now – I started in my junior year of college and never looked back. There is definitely a learning curve – I would say it took 2-3 cycles before I learned how it worked, when to empty, etc. I WISH these were more talked about as options for menstruating women (but big business has a lot to lose if we all start using re-usable cups). I too feel as if my periods improved; less cramping, shorter periods. Personally I think it’s largely because everything can flow out more…smoothly? I’m a runner, and have never had an issue with my cup while running. I’ve used both the Keeper and the Diva cup – the Keeper is definitely more “firm”, while the Diva Cup is more flexible. Both are wonderful. Give it a try, be patient and get to know your body before you give up!

  • Julia Schopick

    Thanks so much for this wonderful posting about menstruation and menstrual products. And thanks, too, for mentioning the environment-friendly aspect of using REUSABLE menstrual products.

    I hope you will want your blog visitors to look at these comparison photos on The Keeper’s website: http://www.keeper.com/photographs.html. They show the amount of waste that is caused by one woman’s use of disposable tampons in a) 1 month, b) 1 year, c) 10 years and d) a woman’s menstruating lifetime (ie, 35-40 years). I think you’ll be amazed that we had to use a DUMP TRUCK to show the amount of waste ONE woman causes in her menstruating lifetime by using disposable tampons.

    On our site, we also have some fascinating audio interviews, including one with Suzan Hutchinson, a woman who almost died from Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) many years ago, and is now a spokesperson for NOT using tampons. (Yes, unfortunately, TSS is still around. Alas.)

    Thank you so much.

    Julia Schopick
    Marketing Director
    The Keeper, Inc.

    • Mama Bice

      I am so happy you read this! 🙂 Good to know our information was “up to snuff” even for someone who works for a cup company. And your link is wonderful – it is crazy how much waste we produce just for our cycles! (if we use disposable products).

  • Tyler

    I switched to a Diva Cup right after my second was born and I will NEVER go back! I sometimes forget that I had my period because it is so light and pain free compared to before. I also can’t stand the thought of the waste that happens using tampons, etc. I live in a third world country where trash disposal is very much an issue, so I definitely didn’t want to be contributing to the pollution in that way! Thanks for sharing this and I will definitely refer this article to friends! 🙂

  • Molly

    I have a cup but was told not to use it when I had my iud put in. So I switched to the sea sponges. I bought a bag of ten “facial” sponges on amazon as they were about half price for the whole bag than buying two “meunstral sponges”. Some were oddly shaped but most were good. It was nice having the choice of larger or smaller ones depending on my flow. While I did miss the convenience of putting in my cup and forgetting about it, I did enjoy using the sponges very much. They are so easy to put in and take out and I never felt them at all. They are soft to the touch and can double as facial cleansers:)
    I highly recommend them to women who are looking for alternatives but may be nervous about the cups. On my heavier days I put on a cloth pad just in case, but as long as I remembered to take it out and rinse it off I did not have leakage problems. I love the healthy clean feeling of using either of these alternatives and encourage everyone I know to invest in them. Besides, who wants to fill up thier garbage with stinky gross pads or tampons? I love not having to worry about buying pads, knowing I am always prepared.

  • Katie

    Everyone has already said it, but I want to shout it from the roof tops: I LOVE my DivaCup! I feel like my period is my friend now instead of my enemy. Like I am supporting my reproductive system through this process each month instead of just shoving a “cotton” sponge in there to shut her up until I can have my life back in 7 days. It has changed my relationship to my own body, to my fellow sisters (all of you!), and to Mother Earth. I’m just disappointed that they don’t teach us this as an option when we learn about period management from the beginning. What a shame!

    • Mama Bice

      There is only one latex cup – the Original Keeper cup. It has been approved by the FDA (along with most other cups on the US market now). Unless you are allergic to latex you should be okay with it. However, all the other cups on the market are made of medical grade silicone and should not react to the body.

  • Paula

    I LOVE this! I had been thinking about looking into the cups. I have such a hard time with tampons. My body is NOT okay with them. And thanks to my IUD pads have become a problem from such a heavy flow. I almost want to cry sometimes when I see that Aunt Flo is coming to visit because it is miserable.
    Are the plastic cups BPA free? BPA being the chemical in plastic that leaches out of the plastic when it is heated up, like when you would be boiling the cups to clean them.

  • Liana W.

    Love my Lunette! Well, for the few months I got to use her before getting pregnant again. Completely life-changing! I also used back-up cloth liners (just paranoid; leaks are very rare!) and I’m stocked with postpartum cloth. I still have almost a full box of tampons that have been relegated to the guest bath….

  • Kelly

    I heard about cups years ago, and wanted to try it out, because I was having issues with extremely irregular periods and I would be just slightly heavier than spotting for weeks. I hate pads and knew tampons wouldn’t be healthy to use that frequently/long, so I started seeking alternatives. I tried the instead cup which was mentioned above and had mixed experiences…

    I loved it because it was great to use on those light days.

    I found it did tend to leak on heavier days so I couldn’t use it exclusively, and changing it in public was a bit of a murder show lol, but I could use a lot of toilet paper and deal with that. I also did get better at it.

    I also found it was completely comfortable to use while having sex. The instead cup has a firm ring and a completely flexible plastic collection cup (could also contribute to leaking issue?) my boyfriend at the time could only tell the difference when I pointed it out. I was on birth control and wouldn’t recommend trying this with a condom.

    But this is my biggest gripe and why I stopped using them….
    Putting it in I got the hang of, but found it extremely hard to get out, and the sensation of the hard rim dragging across my cervix makes me cringe again just thinking about it!!!

    So my question is:
    Does anyone know what type of firmness level the instead rim has vs the non-disposable brands?
    Also any ideas if its is more comfortable to use the reusable cups?

    Has anyone out there tried both?

    I would love to give cups another try, for so many reasons, but don’t want to spend $20-40 on something I wouldn’t be able to use 🙁

    Thanks so much for any feedback.

    • Mama Bice

      The cups are much easier to insert/take out because you can grasp the actual cup part, not just the rim. 🙂 They also don’t go up as high as the Instead cups. Those cups go right up by the cervix – the reusable cups sit lower. Be sure to really research the types/brands and get one you think will fit best!

      • Kelly

        Thank you so much!!
        I’ve decided to go for it… Doing the research now 🙂
        Between the article and the comments I should be all set once infer through it all.

    • Mama Bice

      I’m not sure about this. I know there are degrees with prolapse, correct? I would ask your care provider. 🙂

  • Susie T.

    I have been using a cup version for years, although not reusable. I use the brand Instead. This might be a good alternative for your readers as well if they don’t want to reuse something, but still get the benefit of a cup 🙂

  • Michelle H.

    I’ve been using the brand Instead Softcups brand for awhile now – can’t remember how long exactly, but around a year, give or take. How does this compare with the others you’ve mentioned?

    To share my story: My periods have almost always been painful & heavy. In school, I would barely be able to walk for my first two days unless I took an alarming amount of pain meds (such as 2,000mg of Ibuprofen spread out over two doses in two days – most of them on the first day)! Leaking was ALWAYS a problem, no matter what I used – and even now, still is, so am thinking of switching brands. I had gone on the pill for a few months – the only thing it did was to make the timing of my period that much more predictable. One month, I even got nauseous from the pain (that’s the only time it’s happened). So to recap: With disposable pads/tampons, I had massive, put-you-out-of-commision cramps, heavy bleeding, tons of leakage, and had to be careful about everything – even while sleeping. Since switching to a cup, my periods are a bit lighter, far less painful, leaking is still a problem (this could indicate a need for a different brand, however), and while I’m tired the first 1 – 3 days of my period, I’m not completely out of energy like before.

    I buy my Softcups at Walmart – mine doesn’t have any other cup options, so might be hunting online after I have this baby!

    Speaking of which, is it best to wait till after baby is born to find a cup or is it ok to look now?

    • Mama Bice

      You will most likely need the “after birth” size of any brand, so you could look now for sure. 🙂 As far as how they compare – the reusable cups are a bit easier to insert/take out, they sit lower than the disposable cups (they sit below the cervix, not so close to it). You can not wear them during sex like the disposable cups though. And a biggie for me – you save money! That one cup will last 5-10 years!

  • Leah

    I love love love this post. You have done such a great job of presenting a variety of options. I am pregnant now…and this will sound silly…part of me misses using my cup! I plan to exclusively breastfeed and then do extended breastfeeding after that, so I am sure I won’t be using it much over these next couple years. But oh my goodness, what a life changer the cup was for me. I used to have to sleep on a towel, and at least once or twice during “that time” I’d usually leak off my pad (not because I had a particularly heavy flow – just something about my body and the positions I liked to sleep in – the pad would not catch everything at night). I’d have to change my pajamas and the towel and it was such a mess. I had to lie flat on my back all night to minimize leaking even though I prefer to sleep on my side. With my Diva Cup, I could toss and turn all I wanted and had no problems. And during the day – I just always felt so much cleaner and dryer than when I would wear a disposable pad. It was divine – my cup and a stash of Glad Rag panty liners was all I needed. And I mentioned above that I wore it with my copper IUD for over a year…the IUD made my periods SO heavy…I can’t imagine using pads with it. I was changing the Diva Cup every 2 hours some days because it would get so full…it’s supposed to last 8-10 hours. I can only imagine how many pads I would have had to use. Tampons never worked for me. They were so dry and scratchy and always leaked (again, not because I soaked through them – they just didn’t fit my body right). I could always feel them when they were in, too. With the Diva Cup, I honestly would forget I was even on my period a lot of times. Someone mentioned above though how sad it is that a lot of women are “grossed out” by their period and are not comfortable enough with their own bodies to use a cup…I have told my sister and a couple close girlfriends about the cup. None of them share my enthusiasm. No one I have told about it has actually tried it for themselves. It was so life-changing for me – they are really missing out!

  • Kilby

    I am so glad for this post. I started using tampons as soon as I thought my mom wasn’t looking (though to be fair I don’t think she’d have had a problem, she just gave me pads to start out) but always hated the idea of TSS and the feeling of pulling a wad of rough fiber in and out my hoohah. I’ve also always had debilitating cramps for the first 2-3 days of my periods, and childbirth didn’t help any, boo.

    Today has been the first day I’ve used a Mooncup, because I saw this post after my last period, and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. I feel it even less than a tampon, it’s so easy to put in, and I’m getting the hang of taking it out. I love the idea of never spending any more money on menstrual care, lessening cramps, and not having to switch yucky things out every four or five hours. And sleeping without marinating in my own juices! I’m looking forward to years of tampon and pad free periods. Thank you!!!

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