Simply Divine

September 24th, 2009 by Dionna | 45 Comments
Posted in Closed, Compassionate Advocacy, Environmentalism, Reviews and Giveaways

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My sister’s boyfriend groans inwardly every time my sister and I get together, because we inevitably start talking about something related to the female body. We really can’t help it, it’s all so fascinating! Tom, on the other hand, has either become so accustomed to it that he’s no longer affected, or he’s now able to tune me out at the mere mention of certain words. It’s probably a combination of the two. At any rate, I’ll lose both of them with the next sentence:

Today’s post is about menses. (I’ll wait while several of the male persuasion consult Merriam and Webster about that one.)

Now that we’re alone, ladies, let’s talk about our periods. (And if you stick with me to the end of this long post, there’s a potential reward!) More specifically, let’s discuss the subject of tampons, pads, and one of  their alternatives, the menstrual cup. Tom gave me “the look” when I told him I was going to blog about my Diva Cup. But why not? I haven’t seen any widespread marketing campaigns for tampon/pad alternatives, nor is menstruation a subject that most women discuss over lunch, or coffee, or a rum and coke. Or, ever, really.

That menstruation is taboo is not a new phenomenon, it has been this way for generations. In fact, while there is evidence that women have been using homemade pads and tampons as early as the ancient Egyptians in the fifteenth century B.C., the first commercial pad wasn’t manufactured until almost the twentieth century. (1) This first pad (a.k.a. the “sanitary napkin”) failed, because the makers couldn’t advertise it – such a topic was “improper.” (2) Even when Kotex came on the market around 1920, “[m]arketing these products was difficult because of society’s squeamishness.” (3) The company that made Kotex was so worried that the pad would ruin its image, it created a separate company to sell only pads. “Stores wouldn’t carry [Kotex], magazines wouldn’t advertise it, and sales unsurprisingly weren’t so hot[,]” until Montgomery Ward took a chance on it in a 1925 catalog. With the blessing of the retail giant, and with the “marketing innovation” that allowed women to buy a box of Kotex without having to ask a male store clerk to get it from behind the counter, the mass produced pad became mainstream. (4)

Early sanitary napkins were awkward things. (5) Women wore a belt that buckled around their waist and threaded a pocket between their legs. The pocket could be stuffed with whatever they chose – cotton, cheesecloth, etc.; almost all were washable and reusable. Women weren’t free of belts until the 1970s, when pads finally featured adhesive backings.

Tampons were available commercially (sans applicators) as early as the late 1920s; the first tampon with a plastic applicator appeared in the 1930s. (6) Surprisingly enough, menstrual cups aren’t new either – the first patents appeared in the 1930s. (7) The first cups were made of rubber; today most are “manufactured from silicone because of its hypoallergenic properties.” (8)

And while the market was slowly catching on to the convenience of more modern feminine products, the guys in charge were still reluctant to acknowledge the products’ existence. They were so reluctant that the National Association of Broadcasters banned advertising of sanitary napkins, tampons, and douches until 1972. (9) Today, we are more accustomed to advertisements for feminine products. Unfortunately, we still don’t like to talk about them or our periods.

Menstruation is a big part of a woman’s life. The average woman can have 350 to 450 menstrual periods in her lifetime. (10) Wow! That many periods means we go through a lot of tampons and/or pads. One site estimates that a woman uses almost 17,000 tampons throughout her lifetime. (11)

17,000 tampons. And if you are anything like I used to be, you might wear a tampon and a panty liner, just in case. Let’s stop and ponder the environmental impact of the millions of used tampons and pads floating around our Earth.

One waste consultant estimated “that 6.5 billion tampons and 13.5 billion sanitary pads, plus their packaging, ended up in landfills or sewer systems in 1998. And according to the Center for Marine Conservation, over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along U.S. coastal areas between 1998 and 1999.” (12) Setting aside the issue of the toxic waste we create by disposing of our sanitary products, consider the environmental impact of the continuous production of disposable products – both the product and the packaging. Not only is there the pollution of the manufacturing process, but there is also the not-so-small matter of the toxins introduced into cotton during the growing process. “No less than 170 insecticides are registered for use on cotton crops[!]” (13) One author predicts that if only one in twenty women chose to switch “to organic tampons, we could eliminate 750,000 pounds of pesticides annually.” (14)

In the US, it’s estimated that conventional cotton farms apply about one-third of a pound of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for every pound of cotton harvested. The various chemicals used to treat conventional cotton can harm beneficial insects and soil micro-organisms, pollute ground and surface water, and adversely affect the health of humans and wildlife alike—including fish, birds, and livestock.

Almost half of the chemicals sprayed on global cotton crops annually—an estimated $2 billion worth—are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization (WHO). Pesticide residues remain in tampons in the form of dioxins and other potentially harmful chemicals. The vaginal walls are made of the most absorbent tissues in the body, so these chemicals are absorbed directly into the blood stream. (15)

That brings me to my second point: the potential health concerns over using disposable feminine products. Aside from the toxins present due to the growing process, tampons can also contain absorbency enhancers, deodorants/fragrances, and chlorine compounds that are used to bleach the cotton. (16) Some of these substances may be carcinogens; others may “cause irritation, allergic reactions and may upset the vagina’s natural microbial balance.” (17)

Tampons also contain rayon, which is a manmade fiber composed of tiny strands of plastic. These fibers may cause “microtears of the vaginal wall when a tampon is inserted or removed, possibly leaving the vagina more susceptible to infection.” (18) And as we all likely know, both tampons and pads can increase your chance of developing a bacterial infection. (19)

As for the menstrual cup?

They are safe. There are no known health related risks to using a cup. (20) They are environmentally friendly: they can last for years, there is nothing to throw away, and they are not disposable (in the sense that tampons and pads are), so the manufacturing process does not have as negative of an impact.

They are cost effective. If you are concerned about your wallet, consider the cost: an average woman will spend approximately $10 each month on disposable feminine products. (21) You can get a menstrual cup for a one-time investment of $20-$30, and it should last you at least a year; some claim that their cups last up to ten years. Let’s say you spend $30 on a menstrual cup that you use for five years – that equals a savings to you of $570 (if you had spent $10/month in the same amount of time). Awesome!

They are comfortable. I’ve used mine for four cycles now, and I don’t notice its presence once I’ve inserted it correctly. (Insertion, by the way, has been my biggest complaint. It is a skill that you perfect over time, but it’s not really complicated.) One complaint many women have about tampons is that they cause overdryness. “More than a quarter of the fluids absorbed by a tampon are, in fact, natural and necessary vaginal secretions.” (22) Because menstrual cups collect, rather than absorb, fluid, you should not experience the feeling of dryness caused by tampons.

They are easy and clean. Menstrual cups hold more fluid than a highly absorbent tampon, so you need to “change” them much less often (normally two to four times on even your heaviest day). All you do when it’s time to change it is (carefully) pop it out, empty the cup into the toilet, give it a rinse (not necessary, but I always do), and reinsert. In between cycles, you should sterilize the cup by boiling it. And because of the secure seal they form, they are more effective than tampons or pads, plus they are perfectly safe for any activity – no leaks. For the record, I also use a thin cloth panty liner, just in case.

There are many menstrual cups to choose from. I use the Diva Cup; the other popular brand in the U.S. is The Keeper, and this Wikipedia page lists several other manufacturers.

______________________________

I have been so excited to share all of this with you, and if you’ve made it with me this far, (thank you!) there is a possible reward. The makers of Diva Cup are super cool, and they’ve agreed to sponsor a contest. Leave your comment about why you would like to try a Diva Cup. It can be serious, funny, clever, informative, or a straight plea for Diva Cup mercy.
I (and probably an impartial third party) will choose the best comment, and that person will receive a Diva Cup absolutely free! The winner will be chosen on October 1st, so please submit your comment no later than midnight on September 30.
I look forward to reading everyone’s comments. Also, be sure to tune in for an upcoming post on another hush hush topic . . . toilet paper!!

***Be sure to check back on October 1st to see if you are the winner. I’ll need to figure out how to contact you so Diva Cup can send you the correct size cup!***

(1) http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2252/who-invented-tampons (“The Straight Dope”) (quoting Freidman, Nancy, Everything You Must Know About Tampons (1981))
(2) The Straight Dope (citing Delaney, Janice, Lupton, Mary Jane & Toth, Emily, The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation (2d ed. 1988))
(3) The Straight Dope (citing Delaney, et al.)
(4) The Straight Dope (quoting Heinrich, Thomas & Batchelor, Bob, Kotex, Kleenex, Huggies: Kimberly-Clark And The Consumer Revolution In American Business (Historical Perspective on Business Enterprise) (2004))
(5) http://mum.org/belts.htm,http://www.mum.org/belt1908.htm
(6) The Straight Dope
(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstrual_cup#History (“Wikipedia”)
(8) Wikipedia
(9) The Straight Dope
(10) http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm?aid=1879
(11) http://www.emagazine.com/view/?510 (“E Magazine”)
(12) E Magazine
(13) The Period Predicament
(14) Rogers, Elizabeth & Kostigen, Thomas M., “The Green Book” at 105 (2007)
(15) http://www.greenyour.com/body/personal-care/feminine-hygiene/tips/choose-organic-tampons-or-organic-pads (“Green Living”) (citing http://www.sustainablecotton.org/html/who_we_are.html)
(16) http://www.miacup.co.za/eng/why_features.php (“Miacup”)
(17) Miacup (citing Armstrong, Liz & Adrienne Scott, “Stop the WhiteWash” (1992), Toronto: The Weed Foundation)
(18) Miacup
(19) Miacup (citing Wroblewski, Sandra Sieler, “Toxic Shock Syndrome” (January 1981), The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 81 (1), pp. 82-85; Neff, Melissa G., “Acute Female Cystitis”, US Pharmacist, vol 26 (9))
(20) Wikipedia
(21) http://www.comfyclothpads.com/
(22) Miacup (citing R. Levin et al., “Absorption of menstrual discharge by tampons inserted during menstruation: quantitative assessment of blood and total fluid content” (July 1986), BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, vol. 93 (7), pp. 765–772)

45 Responses to:
"Simply Divine"

  1. Sara

    Yay, I'm the first to post a comment! Wow thank you for all of the "menses" information and history! I would love to win a diva cup because not only would it be better than tampons and pads for the environment but once I put it in, it would be impossible to forget unlike that sinking feeling of rifling through your purse only to have nothing there…..

  2. Jill Cook

    Dionna, I love the footnotes. You are too much! I got Madeline a size 1 diva cup (or is it 2? the smaller one at any rate) when she started her period, and I made a bunch of mama pads out of my old prefolds as "back-up". You know, just in case. But I notice in the laundry that they are rarely needed at all. Great post. I hope you get lots of readers and submissions.

  3. Allison

    I've been thinking about buying one but getting one free would be even better! VEry interesting post!

  4. Emily

    I will admit, when I first read about a "cup" inserted… there… I cringed a little. But now I am curious and intrigued. I've been thinking a while now about switching to organic tampons, I just keep putting it off until I run out of, er, "time" and go to the closest store and get what I am familiar with. You know me, I am huge into the environmental concerns and want to do anything and everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint… even this. I just may not mention it to Matthew immediately, he rolls his eyes enough at me as it is.

  5. Jessica

    I'd really really like a Diva Cup because I'm a young lady who's sick to death of the mess and rubbish involved in using pads! I absolutely despise tampons and I love swimming, so it would give me so much more freedom to do what I love, and to help the enviroment at the same time! :) What a wonderful concept. -claps-

  6. Psivamp

    I DONT want a Diva cup.

    Because I already have one :D

    I just want to say: it is by far the best choice I could have ever made regarding my period. I have had mine for 3 months and do not regret it at all!

    (BTW though this posts as Psivamp, you would probably better know me as MaerynPearl!)

  7. Angie

    Ok, I have heard enough people raving about these and now that my monthly friend is back, I think I need one!! Ok, Dionna help me out!

  8. Lindsay

    Thanks so much for your informative post, and for the opportunity to win a Diva Cup!

    I'd LOVE a non-disposable menstrual product! I am currently using Instead Cups, which is at least better than tampons… but they are still disposable i.e. not the best for the environment. Something reusable would be a MILLION times better!

  9. Tammy

    I am aghast at how much the modern ways of 'dealing with' our periods impact the environment. Based on my new knowledge, I probably wouldn't be the best person to give a Diva Cup to, because I plan on buying my own as soon as I find a retailer who ships internationally. Nonetheless, I'm a poor graduate student working in Spain (therefore living on Dollars in a Euro world) who won't get paid for another month. Being gifted a Diva Cup would truly help me out. Additionally, I promise to pimp the Diva Cup on my own blog and with my own friends, so I will definitely pay it forward.

    Thanks for the information and the inspiration.

  10. Life In Training

    Wow, different sizes…now there's a topic I would have never thought about. How does one go about taking her measurements for that?! ;)

  11. Mandy

    I've been planning to purchase one after menses returns after our last baby. One of those "on my to do" things.

  12. Aravinda

    The cup is the eco-feminist solution of the century!

  13. Tonia

    I had to chuckle about your reference to the old belted kind. I was taught about menses from my grandma since my grandparents mostly raised me. And I was TERRIFIED! She didn't know they came another way so she was telling me all about the belt and got her old one out etc :) So for about a year I thought that was what I was going to have to wear.
    I have never been able to really wear tampons, they are horribly uncomfortable for me. So I adjust our plans/vacation etc around my cycle (which sucks :) ) Because I don't want to go swimming while on my period. So I would LOVE to get one of these, they don't look nearly as uncomfortable as tampons do.
    Of course right now I'm pg and not needing it, but my period came right back after our first daughter so I am guessing it will again :)

  14. meghanmongeon

    Thanks, so much for all that info. I never thought about the effects femine products have on the environment. I geuss I should have known but I have been blinded by the convenience of tampons and pads. Needless to say I still HATE them. I never heard of the Diva Cup (and such) until other mama's on MDC started talking about them. So seriously??? this magical cup has been around since the thirties? I am a labor and delivery nurse and never once heard of this. I am quite embarressed actually.

    When I was 11 I started my period. I was mortified and far away from home and my mom. When I told her I thought I started my period she told me to go see the camp nurse. She(my mom) actually thought it was a pimple!!! Needless to say the nurse didn't have to look to know that I started my period. So I "celebrated" in solitude by shoving a bulky 2in. thick pad in my underwear. Most of my activities at camp (yes it happened to be band camp but I wasn't going to say it) required sitting. I was so embarressed. I thought for sure everyone knew. how could they not? I was so antsy in my seat.
    I know a Diva cup, which would have been at home with my forever in denial mother, would not have helped me out here b/c I never saw it coming, but man would it have been nice.

    So now on to current affairs. On a slightly more disgusting note, I have problems with tampons. I can never get them in the right place so I always leak out one side or the other b/c my cervix is pretty low. I have to work hard to get it in right. I am familiar with checking my cervix so it doesn't bother me to guide it into the right place. But what a PITA.

    I am intregued. I would love to try a diva cup. Economically it makes sense. We are hurtin' and any bit helps. Environmently, where was I? You ladies are converting me (slowly but surely) from an environmental idiot to an environmental genius one Diva Cup at a time. lol

    One other thing that I am known for is being passionate. I have turned many people on to Hypnobirthing, waterbirths, and my most accomplished task of educating people about and turning them off of RIC. Many people no nothing about it. I love to educate people on these things. I would love to take on this too. I assume I will love it as much as others and I hope you will give me the opportunity to try it out.
    Thanks again,
    Meghan

  15. bishoujosempai

    Wow, that's eally awsome. I have to admit, I just heard about this alternative! I think it's very cool because not only is it cost effective, but it's also convienent and eco-friendly! I never would have thought a single woman would go through that many pads and tampons in her life! I think if we could all just suck it up and give it a try, I'm sure it would be well worth it! I have honestly never seen anything like this in the stores, and I bet they would be amazing if we all knew just a little more about them via public advertising.
    Thanks so much for all this great information!

  16. Stacey Tabor

    Thanks Dionna for a fantastic article on The DivaCup and for bringing awareness to your audience about our innovative alternative to tampons and pads!

    We look forward to sending the winner The DivaCup!

    For more information and FAQ's visit http://www.divacup.com or join us on Twitter @divacup.

  17. J's Curious Alley

    I am so very curious about the Diva Cup…so curious in fact that I followed them on Twitter and when I asked someone about them I was shocked to see that they commented asking what I was waiting for. Loved that!

    I have looked to all kinds of alternatives to tampons and pads…you know those cute little "soft tampons," you know the ones. They look like yummy marshmallows. I was checking out and took a look, as I salivated I realized it probably wasn't a good idea to buy a tampon that I wanted to stick in my mouth because it looked like a marshmallow. Well, not just me, but well, I have a four year old little girl who wouldn't hesitate to eat the marshmallow tampon, then I would have to go to walmart and buy regular ones and I would be right back where I started.

    One way or another I need these because I can reuse them, and since I am a huge cheapskate that is like the coolest thing EVER! And because there is no waste here. I don't have to worry about throwing out pads or tampon boxes. Just put it away, get it to use it and do it all over again. How cool is that?!?! Bet our Grandmothers would have loved to have these things around. Plus, I am sure my daughter will be eternally grateful when she gets older because she will get one too!

  18. none

    I'm in LOVE with my Diva Cup. My ONLY complaint is that you aren't technically supposed to use one when you have an IUD. There is a possibility that you could displace the IUD because of the "suction" effect from the cup. HOWEVER, I have been using mine anyway without any problem for nearly a year. Once I tried the Diva Cup and then got the IUD, there was just NO WAY I was going back to tampons and pads.

  19. Cari

    The Diva Pad sounds like possibly the best thing that could happen to me this year.

    I'm a busy college student and I'm always running somewhere for something! As a secondary education major (middle/high school teacher) I'm running between classes and schools where I observe and practice my teaching skills. But school isn't all for me, I've got 5 jobs! I have to pay for tuition, rent, and groceries (including tampons/pads) somehow!

    But as much as I would love to try the Diva Cup, it's just too expensive for me to spend so much money at one time (even though I recognize that it would save me big in the long run!). But I'm scrapin' to get by as it is.

    Not only will it save me money, but I'll be so much more convenient in school. When you're a teacher bathroom breaks are few, far between, and fast. The diva cup would make my menstrual weeks so much more comfortable and worry free! I won't have to worry about leaking while I'm explaining a complicated topic to a 9th grader, or while sitting in 2-hour class just hoping it gets out early.

    And best of all, I won't be wasting resources! I've been involved with the "Break the Bottled Water Habit" campaign on my campus to reduce the waste that is created by drinking bottled water and I worry about the waste I generate on a regular basis. My generation is being forced to deal with these issues more so than any in the past — and I'd like to do my part to be a good role model for my friends, roommates, co-workers, and generation!

    Having a Diva Cup will just be another great step towards the lifestyle I so desperately am trying to support but can't always afford.

  20. broomgrass

    I have a love/hate relationship with my menses. Half the time I call them a curse, because of all the annoyances that come along with them. Of course, then I feel bad after because they are the sign that I can have children and am a healthy female; I often think I should call them a blessing instead.
    At the same time, though, I hate going to class for hours, and then having to either mess around in a public washroom where everyone knows what you're doing, or wait until you get home and realize you left it for just too long. Tampons aren't even an option; they are dry and uncomfortable, not only in a physical way, but also in a mental way – I don't want chemicals shoved up there! So I'm stuck with pads. I can only go swimming certain days, I have to worry about pad/panty lines showing through my pants, and there's always that worry about smell. Even worse, I'm worried that I'm doing damage to my vagina by using chemically treated products!
    Economically, these seem like a pretty decent idea – although, as my periods are often irregular in both timing and amount, I can't say for sure how much I spend on feminine products a year. Environmentally, they are clearly better than all that waste being thrown away every year!
    They seem like the solution to every problem associated with menstruation. After I try the DivaCup, I'm going to suggest it to my friends, my mom, and, when my younger sister starts, to her. I know it will be a relief for her – she's involved in almost every sport, just like I was in high school. I can easily remember wearing spandex just so I didn't have to worry about anything leaking through during the game, or for my panty lines/pad lines showing when I crouched (which, in basketball, is about half the time!).
    I honestly can't wait to get my hands on a DivaCup. Just think about it…no more worries about the pad shifting and your underwear being stained, no more worrying about pads showing, no more stains on the sheets when you wake up. Cleaner, healthier, better!
    Well, I've probably ranted enough – I'm off now to do more research on the DivaCup at their website. Cheers for now, and thanks for such a great post – as you can probably tell, it really inspired me!

  21. maileachan

    Thank you so much for this post! I've been using the Diva Cup for about 4 years. I love it!

  22. Monica

    I love that you included the numbers. I never thought about how MANY periods women have over the course of their lives. Times the number of pads/tampons…. wow. That's a lot of waste! Like someone else who posted above me, I have been planning to get one but haven't yet. I am on a temporary reprieve right now, as I'm breasfeeding, but it's only a matter of time before "Aunt Flo" comes to visit again. (Hee hee, there's another blog post for ya-all the slang and cutesy terms for one's menstruation. Funny/sad that we're so freaked out by it that we have to make up little euphamisms.)
    -Monica

  23. KailaE

    That was not only very informational but very entertaining to read! Advertising's role in not making feminine products widely available never really crossed my mind but now I see! Love the history too! Dive Cup has never been in our budget but, eventually I'd like to take that next step in helping our environment ( and my body!)! Thanks for the great read! You Rock!

  24. Jenny Z

    First off, FANTASTIC article! I'm a bit of a nerd for people who use references, and you did a fantastic job :D

    I really, really, really would love to try one out. I bought one back in April, but then I got pregnant!! And I bought the size 1, so I'll have to get a size 2 after the little one comes… wasted a bit of money on that one. (Not that I'm ecstatic about the little one though!)

    I have Polycystic Ovaries, which gives me wicked awful periods. I'm talking "stay indoors and wear a diaper" awful. My final frustration was wearing a tampon AND a super-absorbant overnight pad to bed, and STILL having an accident when I woke up in the morning. Terrible!!

    I would love to have the peace of mind to know that simply rolling over won't require a shower afterwards (eew!!). I truly can't wait to dive into the world of menstrual cups once this little bundle is here!

  25. AndreiaRFPS

    thank you so much aboit this usefull information!

    This little trip through the history of feminine menstrual products was very interesting.

    I for one, am always looking for ways to recicle materials and help the environment as the world is ours to care for, and our only home.

    I have used to have very heavy cicles, and the pads weren't very effective as i'd go through them faster than superman could fly, plus they often get dislocated and i get blood on my clothes (it has happend several times i unfortunatly).

    The tampons, which were so far my product of choice, for their absorbant capacity were at fault for that same reason, leaving me with some vaginal dryness.

    The Diva Cup, seems to be the answer to all my problems! no waste of disposable products, no dirty clothes, no side effects for me and i save money!!!

    It almosts sounds too good to be true!

    I would love to get my hands on a cup to try it out, i really think if it works the way it is advertised to do, then its a god send, and i'll never use anything else ever again!

    thank you so much for this info and this great offer!

    Love,
    Andreia

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