Thursday, February 22, 2007

Frugal Menstruation - the Diva Cup

The High Price of Menstruation in America
A recent frugal practice in my life is the use of the Diva Cup instead of tampons. I had long resented the high cost of tampons and other "feminine hygiene products." As with many toiletries and grocery items, when making the switch to a frugal lifestyle I initially looked for the cheapest price on the items I was accustomed to using. Unfortunately, I came up empty when looking for good deals on my preferred brand, OB tampons. The best unit price I could find was about 15 cents per tampon. I never actually counted the number I used each month, but I know that I bought the large boxes (40 count) and used at least half a box per month. Estimating conservatively then, I was obligated to spend $3 for a disposable, non-environmentally friendly product each month.

I didn't want to switch to the cheaper Tampex tampons because they introduce even more waste into the landfills. Finally, I got annoyed enough by the high prices that I looked into menstrual cups as a radical alternative. I ended up buying the Diva Cup based on the consumer comments on the product website. I was especially interested by the reports from some women that using the cup instead of tampons reduced cramping. But I bought the Diva Cup from an online retailer that offered a better price than buying directly from the manufacturer. Go figure. I paid about $26 out of pocket for one cup delivered to my door.

About the Diva Cup
The Diva Cup is made of silicone, which is a well-tested material used in many medical implants. It looks a little like a diaphragm, and it comes in two sizes: one for women under 30 who have not had children, and a slightly larger cup for women over 30 and any woman who has had a child. It also comes with a small draw-string bag for storage. It sits snugly in the vaginal canal and collects blood, rather than absorbing it as a tampon does. It might seem like a small cup would fill up quickly and need to be changed regularly. But the average woman only loses a moderate amount of blood over several days of bleeding. According to the manufacturer, the risk of toxic shock syndrome is significantly less when using a silicone cup than when using tampons. Still, the company recommends that anyone with a history of TSS not use the Diva Cup.

Using the Diva Cup
A childless woman in my mid-30's, I found the larger size Diva Cup easy to use. It's definitely a more hands-on way of dealing with menstruation. I came into a lot more contact with my own blood. I'm not a particularly squeamish person, and after all, it is my own blood. But I can imagine that some people would just not feel comfortable dealing with this. There was a learning curve to removing the cup when it was full. I had a few small messes to clean up, but I quickly got the hang of it and had no further problems. In my use of the Diva Cup, I found that even on my heaviest flow days, the cup did not need to be emptied anywhere near as often as I would need to change tampons. This made it seem feasible to use a Diva Cup even in a public restroom. If I was forced to use a public restroom while using the cup, I simply wouldn't empty it until I got back home. I'm confident that even on my heaviest days, I could go at least eight hours without dealing with the cup at all. At home, I empty the Diva Cup into the toilet, rinse it out, wash it well under hot running water, rinse it again, and then re-insert it. When my period is over, I wash it well, let it dry and then store it in the drawstring bag until next month.

The Diva Cup was extremely comfortable when in place. Most of the time I couldn't tell it was there at all. Inserting it comfortably took a little bit of practice, but I never had any pain associated with its use. I don't know if I would recommend this product to younger menstruating teens or those who have never been sexually active. I might be wrong here; it's just something that I would leave up to women in that category to decide for themselves. I think that anyone else would be able to use a menstrual cup without discomfort.

I was curious to see how the Diva Cup would perform overnight during the heaviest days of my period. I have had overnight leaks with tampons in the past. Unfortunately, I did have some leakage during the heaviest part of my period the first time I used the Diva Cup. Since then I have learned to make sure the cup is emptied last thing before I go to bed, and emptied first thing when I wake up. I've had no further problems. Women with especially heavy flows might see different results. I would consider using a water douche along with the cup during my heaviest days if I experienced more overnight leakage. Still, I can say that the Diva Cup performs no worse than tampons for me in this regard.

I have noticed some apparent reduction in cramping when using the Diva Cup, which frankly surprises me. I wasn't expecting to see this benefit. But I can't be 100% certain of this yet because the amount of cramping I experience varies quite a lot from month to month. I haven't been using the Diva Cup long enough to know whether these have just been easy months or whether the cup is making a difference. One other possible benefit is that the Diva Cup also eliminates the increased risk of yeast infections associated with tampons. I have had a few yeast infections now and then, and I had never heard that tampons contributed to this problem. Apparently, tampons dry out the vaginal canal too much, thus making it harder for the body to maintain the population of healthy bacteria in that environment. So two possible points there for the Diva Cup.

To sum up, I'm glad I've started using the Diva Cup. According to my calculations, my financial break-even point for the purchase of the Diva Cup is about nine months. ($26 divided by $3 per month in tampons.) With at least another ten years of menstruation ahead of me, I should see a net savings of $335. And I don't have to worry about running out of tampons in the middle of my period, thus eliminating one possible reason for an emergency run to the store. Additionally, there's the benefit of introducing less waste into the environment. Now I wish that I'd started using the cup ten years ago. I can recommend this product or others like it to any adult menstruating woman who wants to save money and/or be environmentally responsible.


Sally Michelle said...

I use a diva cup too and love it. I don't get a period too often, my cycle is 38-45 days long because I breastfeed a toddler. I love that it doesn't dry me out or hurt like a tampon can. Good article.

Kate said...

Thanks for stopping by Mama Bear. I'm sure many of us would love to have a cycle as long as yours. Mine has always been slightly long. But nothing like what you report.


Rebecca said...

The thing with an increase in the likelyhood of a yeast infection during menstuation is that menstral flow is like food for yeast. It makes the conditions ideal for the yeast to multiply.