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. Heather

    I first heard of these cups when our local Home-school group was learning to become informed and streamlined over the Y2K scare. I was too young to truly understand. But the benefits to the environment and financially in such a practical everyday need is still relevant. Admittedly, I have not menstruated much in the past six years do to constantly being pregnant and or nursing, but when I get back in the swing of things, it will be worth a try!

  2. Lilly Rose

    I had a serious, long post that I could not hope to repeat vanished by a sign-in error. To sum it up, I read the blog because I found the historical information fascinating. I always wondered what people did before disposable products. And I find the environmental impact disturbing :(

    My request for a Diva cup would actually be a challenge. The math doesn't work out the same for me–I spend about $30/year, or $2.50/month on products. Honestly, I don't think the Diva cup can keep up with my very heavy flow, nor do I believe it will be comfortable.

    So I would like to try one to be proven wrong. I see it as being no different than a tampon in both discomfort and inability to control my flow (I have to wear a full pad with the rare tampon, which I wear because neither is enough on its own some days). I would love an alternative option to damaging the environment and would like to give Diva a chance to save me (and the environment) from all the pads I have to use.

    So, prove it to me and I'll be a loyal customer, glad to fork over my $30/year to save the environment instead of to pollute it.

  3. tepym3

    I loved your post! I hate that periods are such a taboo to talk about… So, it's good to see a post like this, hah. Interesting history information there, too. I would hate to have to wear a "sanitary belt" like that, eww~

    I desperately want a DivaCup… I am 15 years old, and I HATE my period. I have endometriosis, which causes intense pain and bleeding (often at unusual times) associated with menses. It can lead to infertility, as it has with many members of my family (my mother had 9 failed pregnancies and 1 stillborn child before she ended up having her miracle baby– me!).

    My mom doesn't want to get me a menstrual cup; she doesn't think it seems safe or practical. There's no way she'd spend 30 dollars on something she doesn't even like. However, I really want one! I hate having these awful periods… I have tried EVERYTHING to make it easier– medicine, surgery… I even became anorexic for a year because it made me stop having periods (I am recovering now– 103 lbs at the moment).

    I'd love to be able to go through a school day without multiple bathroom trips or "springing a leak". I'm a huge fan of the DivaCup– seriously, I'm a fan of it on Facebook, haha (That's how I saw the link to this post). Yet, I've never used one. I've told all my friends about it and convinced some of them to make the switch. I even told the girls in SAVE club with me (Students Against Violating the Environment).

    I'm a huge hippie, haha. I love nature and animals. I hate using all these disposable products to deal with periods… I feel so bad! I tell people all about how they can help the environment, yet here I am, producing pounds of "sanitary waste" every month…!

    So yeah, I hope I'm considered worthy of a DivaCup, haha. xD Once again, I loved the post, and I hope to see more ones like this in the future! :]

  4. heffervescent

    This is a very informative article, I liked it! But I would also like to offer another alternative: not having a period at all. Multiple birth control methods allow you to avoid a monthly period, and from what I've read and heard from my gynecologist, it's perfectly safe and does not affect your future fertility. I haven't had a period in over a year and I love it!

  5. Rebecca

    Just as a complete sidenote, either walgreens or cvs actually carries either the diva cup or some alternative thereto in their brick and mortars. I saw them just the other day. I don't remember where….

  6. Erica

    awesome article, Dionna! I forgot all about menstrual cups, how funny! I used a Keeper for a year when I travelled across Asia in 1999. It was a life saver, not sure what i would have had to do otherwise! Would make a lot of sense to start using one again! Never tried a diva cup!

  7. Ginny

    Thanks for the great article! The information that your research turned up was very interesting.

    I've been wanting to try a Diva cup for a long time, but haven't been able to get one, yet. But, after two AF's ago, I know that I definitely want one. I am student teaching in a first grade classroom and really don't have much time for bathroom breaks. I'm also on my feet more than I have been in a long time. Well, during my FIRST week of student teaching, my pad failed me and leaked through to my khaki pants! Talk about embarrassing! Luckily, I had on a long shirt and was able to hide the mess until I went home. I've never been one to wear tampons, because I've always thought they were uncomfortable, but last month, I wore a pad AND a tampon to school…just in case. Ugh!

    I haven't been able to find anyone local that sells cups, but I'd love to find a reliable website that sells them.

  8. info

    Just a word to say that I have the chance to have been using a Diva Cup for over a year and just want to let women who haven't tried it yet know that if they don't win it, it is sooooo worth the $$. You will never want to go back to anything else, I can assure you! Do it for the environment or do it for yourself but just do it!!

  9. Cheryl

    OK. All this is stuff I know. But I have still been too… icked out to try a Diva cup. Go ahead and change my mind!

  10. rakshasi

    Hi Cheryl – I had heard of the Diva Cup for 6 years before I tried it for the first time.

    Tonia – I know how you feel wrt vacations. My first month with the cup was during a trip and WOW what a difference it made. Just felt like any other day.

  11. none

    Just as a few tips for those of you who are concerned with:

    1. leakage
    2. yuck factor
    3. comfort

    I have been using the Diva Cup for about a year and this is my point of view:

    1. There is no leakage even on your heaviest days if you are wearing it correctly (which takes a cycle or two to get the hang of) and you dump it once or twice in the middle of the day. I have never had an overflow, but I admit that on those one or two heavy days, I wear a thin panty liner pad. It has never leaked on me since I figured out the correct way to wear it.
    2. Well, I don't think it is any more disgusting than wadding up a stinky, very full tampon or pad in toilet paper and throwing it away. In fact, I think the yuck factor is significantly less. If you think that it is yucky because of inserting and removing, then please realize that it is really not much different in terms of touching your body than inserting a tampon without an applictor, accept you use a different technique, of course.
    3. comfort: Again, once I discovered the proper insertion method for ideal position, I DO NOT FEEL IT AT ALL. I mean it does not even feel like a tampon. I discovered also that you can cut off the tip of the cup. I don't really understand why the tip is even there because I always pinch the cup when I insert or remove, not the tip. For the first two cycles I did not realize that the tip was extraneous and unnecessary in terms of performance. I highly recommend cutting the tip off to make a blunt, rounded cup. I promise you, if you insert correctly, you WILL NOT FEEL THE CUP!

    Just my 2 cents. Oh, and I bought each of my four sisters a cup as a gift because they thought I was crazy when I told them about it. They are all believers now. :)

    And yes, sometimes I really do think it is just too good to be true! But I use it again and again with no problems and love the freedom it has given me. I went swimming in the ocean every day of my cycle over the summer, and didn't have to worry about an over-sodden tampon causing leakage and discomfort.

    This invention is truly awesome, and no I am NOT affiliated or attached to the company in any way. I swear. :)

    Oh, and my name is Jessica G.. I can't seem to get my google name to appear.

    I hope this account of my experience helps some of you make a decision about it. I bought mine at our local Whole Foods store for $13 and I can't imagine why some of you have seen it for upwards of $20 or more unless the company has drastically raised the price in less than a year. I don't see this really breaking budgets considering the cost of pads and tampons.

    Please feel free to ask me questions about my experience if it will help you make a decision to buy. That is if you don't WIN the Diva Cup that this blogger is offering!

  12. none

    Darn, how embarrassing. I meant "applicator" and "except" not "accept" in the above post. Sigh . . . and I was an English major.

  13. Funky Little Earthchild

    Well-written. I have had my Diva cup for over a year and I LOVE it. I wish I knew about it 20 years ago as it would have saved me money, time, my health and the planet. It's sickening to think of how much waste we produce each year in the form of pads, tampons and pantyliners. I haven't bought a single pack of disposable menstrual products since my cup came in the mail. I used to by the chlorine-free organic stuff which was NOT cheap. My Diva Cup paid for itself in a month. I started using cloth menstrual pads/pantyliners once I got the cup. Nowadays I don't use anything. I'm used to how it works and haven't had leak issues so I've been a lot braver about not using anything as back up.

    Thanks for writing this. I hope it inspires a lot of women!

  14. Naomi Clancy

    I tried the Instead cup, and it leaked. Regularily. And copiously. After being 4 years period-free, just having to think about a period is a bit of a shock; my reusable flannel pads are nice, but it'd be great to have something that didn't routinely threaten to fall in the toilet when I forgot it was there!

  15. Psivamp

    I have only once felt like my Diva cup would fall out: The very first time I put it in wrong (which actually wasnt until the 3rd or 4th time I put it in)

    If that is the case, you just take it out, rinse it off, put it back in.

    Once it is in, you should not feel it at all, as a matter of fact when mine is in, I do not feel like I am even on my period!

  16. Heather

    I want to try one very bad! If I had one, I might actually enjoy the return of my period after my baby is born… well, maybe not! :-)

  17. Crafty Capricorn

    I beseech you pick me for your Diva Cup winner! I'm mom of two and just recently got my period back after 2.5 years, thanks to extended nursing. It's back with a *vengeance* and I can no longer use tampons and pads without guilt! Save the planet, give me a diva cup!

  18. Aimee

    I just had to post that I use one and LOVE it!! I've worn it for about 8 or so cycles and am so in love I don't know why I hadn't tried it earlier. I've heard that you have to have a baby for it to really work. A gal at the Whole Foods where I purchased mine said it didn't work for her. But I gave it a shot and love love love it!!

  19. LaToya

    I just made a post about this on my blog. I would love to win because I'm looking to get a Diva. After making the switch to cloth diapers with baby #2 I've really been wanting to which to reusable momma products as well. Baby #2 is going to be one this weekend and I know that my cycle's return is looming (yay breastfeeding) and this would be a great moneysaver to win.

  20. Dionna

    I desperately wish these cups would work for me! I had a cervical prolapse after my son was born over 2 years ago. Since then I have needed a pessary and as a result tampons don't really work for me. I tried a cup and it wouldn't stay in place because of my prolapse. If they could just solve that issue I'd be so thrilled!

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