I know periods. I first got mine when I was 11 and get mine every 29 days, for exactly 5 days. I'm a machine! I've been menstruating for half of my life now and have tried just about every option out there: pads, tampons, disposable and reusable menstrual cups, the Pill, sea sponges and just wearing old undies you don't care about. Few things worked for me. Pads and sponges felt too bulky, not doing anything is only something I feel comfortable doing around the house, and that fake period that you get from birth control kinda freaks me out. Really, the only products I ever felt good using were o.b. tampons and cups.
As I'm sure you've heard, o.b. tampons have been mysteriously disappearing off of drugstore shelves. Fans of the tampon (fan-pons?) are outraged, and rightly so. An o.b. tampon is quite different from the more popular brands at your local pharmacy. The most noticeable difference is that o.b. has no cardboard or plastic applicator. This feature helps the environment and, in my opinion, makes using tampons feel less like I'm performing some sort of medical procedure on myself. To insert the unusually small tampon, all that's needed are your fingers and a healthy dose of self awareness. The brand's advertising also lacks that groan-worthy trope of an un-bloated twenty-something leaping and stretching and brunching. It's a great tampon, and hopefully the "temporary supply interruption," as the company is calling it, will end soon. In the meantime, fan-pons, may I recommend using a menstrual cup?
The two have a lot in common, and I think that o.b. devotees will take to the cup. Cups are just as small and discreet, and even allow for some fun creativity. Case in point: for Hanukkah, my best friend Cecilia crocheted a cup carrier for me. It's shaped like a uterus, and the drawstrings look like fallopian tubes! (See below.) Cups are environmentally friendly, as well; disposable cups, like the Instead Softcup, have no additional applicator, and reusable cups, like the DivaCup, can be kept for years.
I can't say enough good things about menstrual cups. When I use them, I'm never worried about leaks, mostly because you can leave both disposable and reusable cups in for up to 12 hours without emptying them. Most cups hold up to an ounce of blood, and since women lose 1 to 2 ounces of blood during their entire period, the likelihood of your cup overflowing is very slim. Because you don't have to adjust anything for so long, the chances of having to deal with a mess in a gross public bathroom is also unlikely.
When I tell people I use a cup, I tend to get a lot of questions. While discussing this blog post over here at BUST headquarters, one editor asked if I found it easy to insert and remove. I do! I admit, though: it took an entire cycle to get the hang of it. But didn't it take most of us a while to get the hang of tampons? (Another BUST staffer admitted that during her first try, she inserted the applicator along with the tampon.) People also ask me if it's hygienic and safe. Of course it is! A menstrual cup collects instead of absorbs blood, so there's no odor AND no risk of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome. People also ask if they're outrageously expensive. Not really! A box of Softcups is sold for around $8--about the same as a box of 'pons, and you won't have to buy them as frequently. More expensive are the reusable ones, like the DivaCup or the Keeper. They range from $30 to $40, which is a steal if you consider how long they last.
The most common question I get when I tell people I use the cup is simply "Why?" As I said, I like the bang I get for my buck and dig the environmentally friendly benefits of disposables and reusables. And not having to worry about changing anything for 12 hours is a relief. But that's only partially why.
Can I be totally honest with you? I use a cup because I think periods are awesome. I throw up once a month because of raging menstrual migraines and have missed tons of school and work because of debilitating cramps, but I still think periods are awesome. And I mean awesome in the most literal sense of the word. Think about it: they're so natural--nothing makes me feel more connected to the physical world than knowing that my body's way of cleaning itself is inextricably linked to the moon and the tides. Periods are a normal bodily function, and the silence that surrounds them baffles me. I have a lot of friends--cool, confident chicks--who've admitted to me that they cringe when they have to buy feminine hygiene products. And how many times have we quietly asked a friend for a tampon and then hid it in our sleeves or pockets as we walked to the bathroom? But I digress. Menstruating isn't something to be ashamed of, it's something to be aware of. When I use a cup, I know exactly how much I bleed and what it looks like. I know which days in my cycle are heaviest and which days are the lightest. I use a cup because it makes me feel prepared, secure and self aware. And seriously, did you see my crazy cool carrier!?
I've given that speech before. I've gotten a lot of eye rolls and weird stares. I get it, I get it. Periods can be a real pain. And dealing so directly with a menstrual mess by sticking your (clean! I can't emphasize that enough!) fingers all up in your nether regions isn't for everyone. That probably played a big part in why o.b. never became a terribly mainstream brand. So while we're all mourning the o.b., fan-pons, I urge you to try out a menstrual cup. If you have any questions, leave 'em in the comments! I'm sure you'll have a great experience with them. I'm optimistic. I'm a (menstrual) cup half full kinda gal!
I found what works for me, and now it's time to find what works for you! For safe, healthy, and environmentally friendly options, check out these sites.