So aside from the whole bag issue, about which I have firm opinions (I am constantly struggling with store people NOT TO GIVE ME A BAG!!! I HAVE BILLIONS!!), I thought it was time to give my current Final Word on menstrual cups.
It's been about a year now since I began my experiment with menstrual cups, driven by periods that were going from 8-14 days and driving me nuts. Pads get really irritating for that long, and I never came to terms with tampons. Not only did I come of bleeding age in the 80s when the warnings about toxic shock syndrome were constant and alarming, when I was younger they were never comfortable, and even since I got older and discovered OB (which is the only comfortable brand of tampon I ever met), I do not love the idea of sticking a dry wad of material inside me all the time.
So my concern was originally comfort, not just environmental-ness. And yet, it IS a good idea not to constantly be using up paper or rayon products that just get landfilled.
I started with the large-size Diva Cup. These are the most widely available in this country, and the company, like most cup companies, makes two sizes of their product and recommends women over 30 to use the larger size. These are often carried in health food stores and other hippie stores, as well as online.
I eventually purchased a UK Mooncup, again in the larger size. I'll get to why in a minute.
Then I finally gave in and purchased a Diva Cup in the smaller size.
Let me tell you why I bought so many cups:
First, vaginas are really individual, it turns out. I'm constantly amazed, reading the LJ comm on menstrual cups, how different everyone's vagina is in shape, size, orientation, everything. The variations in cup size are small - but they matter.
Second, cups have a "knack" to them. I'm discouraged that they'll never widely replace paper products because they are not idiot-proof, and they have a learning curve. It takes some time to learn how to place the thing, get it to pop open for you, and seal it appropriately. You also have to figure out how and when to take it out. In combination with the first point, this means it can be tricky to figure out what's wrong, if you have cup leakage or it's uncomfortable. Is it you, or is it the cup? It's hard to tell.
Third, you really have to keep a cup SCRUPULOUSLY clean. This isn't hard - they're easy to soak in a hydrogen peroxide solution, or boil, between periods - but you GOTTA DO IT. Vaginas are just too warm and wet and yummy for bacteria. And you have to take the time to figure out what works for you. You can't just wash a cup daily with soap and stick it back in; most soaps are too irritating for vaginas. Some people never wash the cup during a period - but I found THAT uncomfortable, and also smelly. It took me a while to hit on a combination that works for me - rinsing the cup every time it comes out (can be three times a day on heavy days; otherwise just once every 12 hours is required) and washing it thoroughly with Cetaphil, a PH-balanced face cleanser, once a day. My cup never smells or stains, and I don't get burny or itchy inside. But it took a while to figure this out.
Fourth, cups are not perfect. The plain truth is that with everything I've learned and with a complete choice of sizes at my disposal, I still occasionally get leakage. Last period, I had one day where it just leaked. All day. It seemed to be positioned right and was catching SOME blood - but I was just spotting anyway. Also, I have very heavy periods on my heaviest days (I now know HOW heavy, since you can measure your output with the cup) and the first time I know that my cup is full on those days is when it leaks. My answer to this is, *shrug*. I buy massive stockpiles of the ultrathinnest panty liner, and I carry them with me essentially ALL the time, and I use maybe half a dozen of them or more during my period. It severely reduces my paper usage, but remember, that wasn't my first concern, which was comfort. And it's completely comfortable. I'd rather wear a cup plus a liner than any other solution I've ever tried. I sometimes don't sleep in the cup, either. A lot of people report leaking at night with the cups. I began by taking the cup out and using pads at night anyway - I felt like I needed a "rest". My vagina would get sore wearing a cup 24 hours a day. But that was before I got the smaller cup, see further below. The smaller cup has made all the difference. I do not get sore with it, ever. And it generally doesn't leak, even at night. So I'm working my way up to just using the cup during the whole period. And let me tell you, THAT is AWESOME. You really do get to a point where you don't even feel like you're having a period. Sleeping naked during your period? Awesome.
So I had to buy all those cups to find all these things out. My Mooncup UK was a big improvement over my original Diva cup - much more comfortable and easier to pop open. You can order straight from the UK company and they send it overseas to you for the same 19 pound purchase price. Yes, it's a killer, esp. right now with the exchange rate, but I could afford it and I LOOOOOVED my Mooncup. (Beware, there's also a US Mooncup - it's different and in my opinion less desirable - certainly a different size. The Mooncup UK is shorter, which is what I wanted.)
But even my Mooncup UK didn't quite satisfy, and I couldn't shake the thought that some of my problem with it was that it was too big, no matter what the guidelines say. Yes, I just turned 40 - but I finally gave in and bought a smaller Diva Cup, the one they say is for the under-30 crowd. And you know what? I LOVE IT. It's damn near PERFECT. It's MUCH more comfortable - I frequently do forget I even have it in - and it's easier to open and to get to seal (you do a few kegels to seal it once it's in, by the way.) I would have been much happier with it to start with. But I didn't know my vagina was a little smaller than average for my age. How would I know? I hear OBGYNs measure you for diaphragms. If you've ever been so measured, it might be easier for you to pick a cup - they all advertise how long and how wide they are. But if you haven't, I think some trial and error is inevitable.
One guide I'd say, for those who can handle the TMI - if you can really only just get about one finger in your vagina when unaroused, I'd put you in the smaller category and suggest trying the smaller cup no matter what the age guidelines say. If it seems "roomier" in there, try the larger size, again no matter what the guidelines say.
The other good tips for getting used to a cup are all in the LJ comm. Yes, it hurt me like the dickens the first time I did it - don't know what to say about that except to say that you get used to getting it in and you figure out where to place it and no, it doesn't hurt at all when you have it right, in fact it's far more comfortable than tampons. If you still have your hymen, and want to keep it, I wouldn't recommend the cup - too many young women seem to have too much trouble trying not to rip the hymen while fussing about with the cup; I can't see that working out well. Water-based lube is absolutely essential if you want to put it in while not yet bleeding - it makes a HUGE difference. Your cervix also drops during your period, changing the shape of your vagina, which you should know. Yes, it works fine during exercise, even vigorous exercise. Go ahead and ask other questions in the comm, happy helpful people will undoubtedly answer. (I will answer too.)
All in all, if you menstruate, I can recommend trying a cup, and would warn you that there's a learning curve and that you may have to buy several before you find one you absolutely love. (Doesn't bother me - the others are still USABLE, and I put one in my desk and can have one in my luggage and not worry about losing it.) They are rated to last about 10 years. This is real reusability.
But if you remember, I started for comfort reasons - and I still use one primarily for comfort reasons. My periods are down to usually about 7-8 days now. Sometimes they're a little shorter, and I blame the suction effect of the cup for that - and I'm grateful. I do get cramps more than without the cup, but I take an Advil and I don't worry about it. (I always had wicked bad cramps anyway. In fact as I get older I'm having less SEVERE cramps, but having them longer. *shrug*)
But that's why I don't really BUY feminine products any more. And it IS nice, very nice, to not have to pay for them and stock them in appropriate sizes and blah blah blah. And I don't have them to carry up to the checkout counter and ask them not to put in a bag, either. :-)
*crossposted to my journal