Paul Simon sang about “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Kate Bush had “50 Words for Snow” and I have 50 different names for my period: “Red Dawn,” “The Crimson Tide” and a slew of other descriptions unfit to print. The names became much kinder, however, once I took the advice of several friends and made the move from tampons to the DivaCup.
This menstrual cup is a game changer.
The breakdown: It’s a flexible, silicone cup that folds into a u-shape and then rounds back out when placed in the vagina. As one friend put it, “It’s essentially a bendy shot glass.”
Once it is suctioned in place, the DivaCup can be left in for 12 hours at a time and collects flow instead of absorbing it. “DivaCup must be emptied, washed and reinserted at least 2 times a day (twice in a 24 hour period) and can be worn overnight without concern of leaking,” reads the company’s website. Most “only need to empty it in the morning and again in the evening.”
“In many ways, it’s a variation on the diaphragm,” says Dr. Lauren F. Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University. “The DivaCup isn’t something new, but it’s never really caught on.”
In the long line of inventions people have used to manage their menstrual flow, the menstrual cup is an often overlooked option. The first menstrual cups similar to today’s models were invented in 1937 by actress Leona Chalmers and made of latex rubber. When the demands of World War II resulted in a latex shortage, Chalmers stopped production and didn’t seek another patent until the 1950s.
An indirect descendant of that initial menstrual cup, the DivaCup is one of many different menstrual cups on the market. The current version comes in two sizes: one for before pregnancy and one after a vaginal delivery or cesarean section. Streicher notes that most people who use the DivaCup are already comfortable with insertion methods during menstruation. There is no additional bacterial risk, and it makes for a more environmentally sound choice.
“The only thing about the DivaCup is you don’t want to leave it in place too long, because there might be an overflow,” says Streicher. “It’s more of theoretical concern, like if someone were to forget that it was in and the blood wasn’t able to move past the really tight seal.” In this very rare scenario, she says there is a slight possibility of retrograde menstruation, where flow moves back up into the uterus and fallopian tubes. Most people who menstruate experience a little bit of this every now and then, so it isn’t something she’s too worried about.
“Certainly, we’re not more concerned with toxic shock syndrome with the DivaCup,” Streicher says. “I do suggest it when someone tells me that they are going camping and don’t want to bring along pads and tampons.”
Streicher says there isn’t a particular condition that should prevent someone from using the product; as is the case with any abnormal bleeding, it’s important to see a doctor immediately if any spotting or extreme flow changes occur. “There’s quite a bit of variation when it comes to anatomical size and shape, so there’s lots of room within the realm of normality,” Streicher describes.
It might also benefit those who experience life-altering cramps during their cycles. According to sex-ed website Scarleteen, “Because cups contain flow — rather than pulling flow and all vaginal fluids into something absorbent like tampons do, which also can cause some serious vaginal dryness — they can help limit extra cramping.”
While I am less than in love with its super-gendered name — not everyone who menstruates identifies as a woman or a “Diva” — my experiences with the DivaCup have me feeling like Celine, Mariah and Beyoncé all at once. I am finally able to run, dance and get to work without freaking out about what my body is going to do next.