Have you ever gone on a search for tampons in a foreign country? Me neither, but I recently witnessed a friend attempt an emergency round of charades with a confused salesgirl at a 7-Eleven in Thailand, trying in vain to indicate that her monthly Flo had arrived and she needed a box of Tampax Pearls, super absorbency, stat.
Let me tell you, there is no universal sign for sanitary products. And attempts to mime what a tampon is and how it’s used are embarrassing at best, and risky at worst, in a country where pornography is illegal and hand gestures made toward one’s private lady bits could land you in hot water with the local authorities. Luckily for my friend, we were finally able to locate a dusty old box of o.b.’s. And lucky for me, I packed The DivaCup.
I first heard about The DivaCup in a professional development seminar in late February, when an outspoken woman announced to a roomful of 175 virtual strangers, “My name is Marla. I’m pretty direct. I’ll talk to you about anything, including sex, politics, and my obsession with The DivaCup.” At one of the session breaks, I took her up on her offer.
Turns out The DivaCup is a reusable menstrual cup. Made of medical-grade silicone and free from latex, plastic, BPA’s, phthalates, and dyes (basically anything that might be harmful to the inner workings of your reproductive anatomy), it’s a health-friendly and eco-friendly way to handle periods. It’s also a convenient item for ladies who like to travel and last month, when I set off for a trip to Southeast Asia, a DivaCup was one of the first things on my packing list.
I found the cup at my local drugstore, tucked on a shelf below rows and rows of tampons and pads. There were two sizes and I was immediately confused. I didn’t know the size of my vagina. Was I the only one? Were other women secretly measuring the diameter of their vajajays in the comfort of their own bathroom, prepared for the moment a product required this information?
The packaging didn’t offer much help. Size 1 is recommended for women under the age of 30 who have never had children. Size 2 is recommended for women 30 and over and/or women who have had kids. Being 33 but with no progeny, my size was unclear.
Luckily, a kind young girl behind the pharmacist’s counter saw the perplexed look on my face and immediately came to my rescue. Turns out she was a devotee of The DivaCup and advised me to go with a size 1. Later, I came across this sizing advice on The DivaCup website, “because the vaginal muscles hold The DivaCup in place, it is important to use Model 2 if you are over 30, even if you have not had children.” Oops. I guess my vaginal muscles are still intact because size 1 has been working for me just fine. TMI? Sorry about that. Back to the cup.
Even though I had purchased The DivaCup as a back-up option in case I had a hard time finding tampons on my travels, I thought it would be best to test it out while I was still in the comfort of my own country, so when my next period started, I pulled out the cup.
The instructions seemed pretty straight-forward. Fold. Hold. Insert. Seal and rotate. When ready, remove, empty, clean, and repeat.
Always the keener, I also watched a few YouTube videos to prepare (just in case you’re wondering, the videos are not a literal hands-on taping of DivaCups in use; most of them use some kind of vagina/cervix stand-in like a clear tube or a sponge, or PG-rated illustration and animation. There’s even a review from Bachelor bad-girl Michelle Money, who raves about her experience with the cup.). Eventually, the time for research was done and it was time to put the cup to the test.
I managed to insert The DivaCup on my second try, which was actually a bit surprising (I thought it would take a while to get it properly in place). I left it in for about six hours before attempting to remove it. The website says it can stay in for 10-12 hours but I had heard that during the first couple of days of your cycle it’s better to limit that to 6-8 hours, just to make sure there are no “accidents” that would end with me wearing my shirt tied around my waist.
According to the website, “removing The DivaCup is not at all like a scene from a horror movie.” Um, that’s reassuring, thanks. Despite this friendly pledge, I was still a bit nervous. How was I going to grab the sucker and manage to pull it out of my body while keeping it upright? What was I going to find inside? Was I really ready for this level of intimacy with my monthly cycle?
My worries were mostly for naught. For starters, it was pretty easy to reach in and grab the base of the cup to pull it out. And I managed to do it without spilling the contents. As for what was inside? I’ll admit it was a bit jarring the first time, to see the collection of menstrual blood in the cup. I generally don’t spend a lot of time examining what comes out of me during my period, but when I pulled out The DivaCup I couldn’t help but look. I also made the mistake of dumping it into the sink next to me, instead of directly into the toilet, as the site advises, and seeing the rust-coloured contents splashed onto the white porcelain made me a little queasy, but after that I learned to dump it directly into the toilet, which is a much better plan.
I continued to use the cup throughout that cycle and overall, I was pretty happy, so when I began packing for my travel adventure to Thailand, my DivaCup was the first thing that made it into my toiletry kit. Not only did it take up less room than a box of tampons (letting me pack one more bikini – hooray!), but it also guaranteed that I wouldn’t spend any of my precious vacation time scouring convenience stores for an emergency pack of Tampax. And on a 3-day camping and kayaking trip, where our “bathroom” was the great outdoors, I didn’t have to worry about where to dispose of my sanitary waste – I could just rinse with bottled water, and continue on my merry way.
I’ve since recommended The DivaCup to most of my female friends and family (plus a few random women). There are always questions and most of them center on how easy it is to insert and remove. I break it down like this: if you’re already comfortable using applicator-free tampons (like o.b.’s), The DivaCup will be an easy switch. If you use tampons but only those with an applicator, you may need a few tries to get comfortable inserting your fingers directly into your lady parts. If you don’t use tampons at all, and the thought of inserting something into your intimate piping makes you squirm, well, then using The DivaCup will be like jumping into the deep end of a pool of menstrual blood without a life jacket – messy and likely to get you in over your head. But I say give it a try.
Am I a complete convert to The DivaCup? Truthfully, no. I still used a tampon or two during my last cycle, but I can see myself making the switch to a tampon-free life pretty soon. Not only is the cup easy and convenient (once you get the hang of it), but it’s also cheaper than buying tampons every month (The DivaCup retails for around $39 and will last anywhere from 1 year to 10 years, depending on how you care for it and what website you believe). Plus, I’d been looking for a way to avoid the harsh dyes and chemicals found in tampons, and this might be it.
What I do know for sure is that The DivaCup will be a must on my packing list for every travel adventure from now on. So that even in the most remote locations in the world, I won’t be stuck playing an X-rated version of charades with the locals, trying to explain my womanly needs. One less opportunity for strained foreign relations. One more spot in my suitcase for souvenirs. A clear win-win.