Period Cramping Your Workout? You Need This. [How to make sure any blood you leave on the mats is only from your torn hangnail]

by Charlotte on November 19, 2012 · 54 comments

Boys, consider yourself warned: You’re just going to want to skip this post.

Benjamin Franklin forgot something when he said that “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Namely, menstrual cycles. Being that he’s a man, I suppose I’ll have to forgive him for not knowing what millenia of women do: That every month the majority of us women between 12 and 50 will spew stain-inducing bodily fluids with a regularity and frequency that put both death and taxes to shame (after all, unless you’re Elvis you’ll only die once.)

The worst thing about Aunt Flo, Aunt Rosie, My Friend, Mother Nature’s Visit, My Present – besides the stupid nicknames we give it – isn’t that it knows no regard for expensive cruises, athletic tournaments or white dresses being worn while riding a white horse on a white beach inexplicably holding a white badminton racket; it’s the hormone fluctuations that go up and down behind the scenes. At their very worst, out-of-control progesterone and estrogen fluctuations cause misery ranging from wicked PMS/PMDD to cystic acne to unwanted facial hair. (side note: Ever notice how it’s always “unwanted facial hair”? Is there such a thing as wanted facial hair? Eyebrows, I suppose. But even those we pluck, wax or thread into submission.) But we know all this already. The part we rarely talk about is the effect of our monthly hormone cycles – and you still have some hormone fluctuations even if you’re on a hormonal birth control method that lessens or eliminates your period – on our workouts.

I once had a yoga teacher ask me if I was menstruating. No, I hadn’t leaked all over my yoga mat (although that would have made for one heck of a story) but we were getting ready to do headstand inversions and she wanted to make sure none of the women were bleeding because – and I swear she actually said this to me – going upside down would inhibit my uterus from being able to expel the blood because of gravity working against it. I did not retort that seeing as my uterus is a very large powerful muscle capable of expelling whole human beings, it would probably be okay with a few extra g’s pulling on that blood. Not to mention that if our hearts can still pump while we are upside down I don’t see why the rest of our body wouldn’t be similarly able. Needless to say I did the headstands anyways. And yes, I did happen to be “men-stroo-ating.” While my period hasn’t affected my yoga practice much, it has put a crimp in some of my other workouts.

There are really only two ways to bleed out while working out (okay, there’s three if you watch a lot of C.S.I. but you only have to worry about that way if you have a chimera twin, an enemy in the mafia or are Marg Helgenberger’s asexually produced spawn.) Basically you’ve got an accident of some type like a ripped-off fingernail in a basketball game, a scraped knee from stepping into a pothole or a bloody nose from punching yourself in the face during kickboxing class (done all three!) Or you’re a menstruating woman. The former is easier to fix, both your skin and your ego, than the latter.

If you’ve had an accident of some sort, take a time out and bandage yourself up. Don’t try to gut through it; none of us want to see your blood on the court, the pavement or the gym floor. Band-aids are cheap, awesome and can even add to your street cred on the weight floor if you buy the cool camo kind. For the love of little green apples, cover your open wounds!

Aunt Flo accidents are a bit harder to contain. In an ideal world every woman of a certain age would be prepared at all times with appropriate surfing gear to ride the crismson tide. And yet all of us have been caught by unawares by Mother Nature’s gift at least once. So, how to best avoid become a walking Rorshach test? I used to carry a tampon in my gym purse all the time until my children decided it was candy. That I wasn’t sharing with them. Thereby necessitating them to pull it out and whine loudly that I open it at least 7 times a day. Now – when I’m not gestating, that is – instead of riding the cotton pony, I use a Diva Cup. Seriously girls, this thing is the best invention for athletic women since sliced bread (what bread has to do with menstruating, not even I can come up with). I love it so much that let’s just say I’m always walking along the beach in soft focus.

The Diva Cup is a “modern menstrual cup.” I know that evokes images of weird hippies or placenta casseroles – hey, I don’t know how you grew up – but let me assure you that this is much closer to a modern surgical implement. It’s a medical-grade silicone cup about the size of, but more pliable than, a one-ounce shot glass. Ever since I found this, I’ve been baffled as to why it isn’t more popular as it is so much better than anything else on the market.

(Okay, I’m not totally baffled. Read the first “con” and you’ll get a good idea.)

Pros
- This. Doesn’t. Leak. Not ever. Not even once. No pads need apply.

- You can leave it in up to 12 hours at a time.

- No cotton so it doesn’t dry you out and significantly reduces your chance of toxic shock syndrome – that lovely little malady that any girl who has ever read a tampon box is deathly afraid of.

- It’s reusable indefinitely. One costs between $24 & $32, so that’s a good thing.

- Two sizes: one for women who’ve birthed kids and one for women who haven’t. (And if you need to ask why the distinction then you’re clearly in the latter group.)

- It’s so much better for the environment.

- It will never clog your toilet, your friend’s toilet, your date’s toilet (!) or any other septic system you can think of.

- You can’t feel it.

- According to some women it also helps with stress-induced incontinence during running and other jostle-y types of exercise.

Cons
- The ick factor. It requires you to deal with your own bodily fluids by emptying the cup into the toilet and then rinsing it out in the sink. I understand that this is a deal breaker for some girls but trust me when I say it’s only a little tiny bit worse than dealing with a tampon. And (I probably shouldn’t admit to this) it comes with the measurements marked out on the side so if you’re curious about all things bodily like I am you can actually see that while it may feel like you’re hemorrhaging enough to attract all the vampires in a two-mile Twilight radius, you’re not even good enough for shark bait much less the adoration of the undead.

- The lack of an applicator. Those of you using O.B. tampons are already familiar with how to get things up there without the aid of a plastic bullet but for the rest of us, it’s kind of a learning curve. It took a good 5-6 times (ahem, days) putting it in and taking it out for me to get comfortable with the technique. It involves some folding, twisting and – yes – a “pop”. (Because every woman wants her lady bits to pop.) The Diva Cup website has a really good FAQ section though that gives you all kinds of helpful tips. Plus you will really want to read the brochure that comes with the Cup. You’re already on the toilet, you’ve got time!

- Getting it out. If you’ve had children and know that feeling of “bearing down” then this will be no problemo. But seeing as there isn’t a string (just a little stem on the bottom) and the whole contraption is a little slippery, it can take some practice. And Valium.

Once you get past the initial weirdness of the whole thing (but really, how weird is it to save every drop of blood on a piece of cotton, wrap it in plastic, wrap it in toilet paper, wrap it in a garbage bag and then put it in a landfill so your 20th-great-granddaughter can get a sample of your DNA so she knows who to blame for her nose?) you’ll wonder why you haven’t been doing this all along! I love it. Love love love it. (And, to be clear, this isn’t a review post nor is it sponsored. I’m not getting paid nor did I get any free product.) Talk about “set it and forget it”!

How do you take care of business in the gym during that time of the month? Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something because you were on your period?

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather November 20, 2012 at 1:07 am

I have used a Diva Cup for two months now and it has changed my life! I feel more in tune with my body, more aware of my cycles (without having to think too much about them) and more comfortable with myself and the whole process. There are some great videos on YouTube on how to insert them which really helped me feel better about the whole thing. There are quite a few brands to choose from out there as well!

I love that I am not adding to the landfills and am becoming more comfortable with my body. They are great for working out too. I can just keep going on and on about them! Thanks for talking about this Charlotte!

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Claire November 20, 2012 at 2:21 am

Totally with you on the diva cup. I’ve had one for about a year and it’s my favourite by far. I think tampons are just as gross and I had reusable cloth pads before so it’s much of a muchness really…
I’ve never had any problems inserting or removing it although if you have heavy periods I wouldn’t leave it in for 12hr straight. I’ve managed to fill it in about 6 before on a particularly heavy day.
I don’t think I’ve ever been told I couldn’t do something because of it, although my father read that exercise helped cramps to used to drag me to the gym to ‘get rid of it’! Everyone used it as an excuse to get out of swimming in high school. The sports teacher eventually cracked it and told them to get over using tampons… interesting class that one.

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R November 21, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Sorry for the super specific question but how do you clean it out between usages? Do you just like… waddle over to the sink and wash it and then waddle back to the toilet to put it back? I’m confused by the logistics–I don’t know any sink/toilet situation where you would be able to clean it without getting up.

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Claire November 21, 2012 at 4:03 pm

No worries- because you can leave it in for so long I usually empty it at home where I can just reach over to the sink while still seated. The other option (which I’m yet to use) is emptying it then wiping it clean I guess…

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Another commenter mentioned this but I’ve found it’s most convenient to take it out, rinse it and reinsert it in the shower. I have, however, (TMI alert!) taken it out on the toilet, stuck some toilet paper there, waddled over to the sink and rinsed it out. They also say that if you’re in a public toilet you can empty it out and then reinsert it. Then when you get home you can clean it out. Like Claire said though, since you can go so long between changing it, it’s pretty easy to plan so that you’re not somewhere awkward:)

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Mary Kate November 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

so you really can wear this while doing heavy squats or other lifting where you may ‘bear down’? I am getting interested in this since I am buying pads for my daughter in addition to me….

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:06 pm

I’ve never had any problems with it while doing squats. Although that is an interesting mental image!

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Mary Kate November 20, 2012 at 6:11 am

oh…and when I saw that picture I thought you were going to write about infertility…that is totally how it feels. We are infertile and before we adopted it was like mother nature was laughing in my face each month!

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Oh I’m so sorry! I didn’t even think of it in that context. I can understand it a little – when we were having our pregnancy issues (my problem wasn’t getting pregnant but staying pregnant…) I felt like the kid in The Sixth Sense except instead of seeing dead people everywhere I saw pregnant women… usually they were smoking teenagers :/ Congrats on your adoption – babies are wonderful!

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Katie November 20, 2012 at 7:24 am

My period doesn’t bother me at all. It’s the pms and the bloating and lack of energy that I hate most. I don’t gain water weight or anything, but oddly enough, my midsection bloat up like a mini whale and my sugar cravings get out of control. My period is super light and easily controllable with a light tampon. I’m actually glad to start my period because it means I start feeling human again.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Oh I feel you about the PMS! I bloat and get mad sugar cravings too… If you find any solutions, let me know!!

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Katie November 20, 2012 at 8:03 am

I’m a decades long devotee of the Diva cup. I haven’t used tampons since before the millenium. I love it with a passion. I’ve even purchased them and given them as gifts to my close girlfriends. Gross? Maybe.

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Katie November 20, 2012 at 8:04 am

I mean giving it as a gift is maybe gross, not the thing itself. Obviously, I don’t think it is gross or I wouldn’t use it.

That probably didn’t need clarification, huh?

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Hahah! Yet another reason I love you. Best gift ever.

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Emily November 20, 2012 at 8:05 am

I so wish the Diva Cup worked for me. I tried it for years, and would always end up going back to tampons because the Diva Cup hit me in a spot that just HURT and I could never figure out if I had it too low, too high, etc. and sometimes I could NOT get it out (I haven’t had kids and don’t know about bearing down, maybe that was my problem…).

That yoga thing is real– about headstands/inversions while on your period. It’s not because fluid will get trapped in your uterus, but because you just don’t want to reverse the energy flow at all while your body is working on expelling stuff. A lot of yogis I trust and other alt medicine folks are very serious about that rule– no inversions on your p.

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Nicole November 20, 2012 at 10:52 am

My sister has the same problem. She said it felt like the diva cup was too big (of course it could have just hit a sensitive spot) and she had to keep using it.

I keep getting curious but a) I would be nervous about trusting it at first and b) what if you have to deal with it when you aren’t at home? You are supposed to wash it after every use (which is good!) but if you are at work or camping etc, I wouldn’t want to be washing it in a public sink!

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Emily November 20, 2012 at 11:42 am

The Diva Cup instructions say when you’re in public, like in a stall, you can just wipe it clean with toilet paper and wash it once you’re at home again. This worked fine for me while I did use it. Eventually it just got too annoying and painful, and though I wanted to use it for environmental reasons (it is so much better for conservation) I just couldn’t take it anymore! I really wish they made an even smaller size.

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Kari November 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm

You should try different brands. I used to use the Diva Cup but found sometimes that I couldn’t urinate if it was in a certain position. I did some research and ended up buying a Lady Cup (made in Czech I think) and have never had a problem with it. Have been using for 3+ years now and would never go back to pads and tampons! And environmental reasons is the least of it – cups are so much more convenient and comfortable I sometimes forget I have my period.

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Lauren November 21, 2012 at 7:49 am

Stacey at Paleo Parents JUST blogged about this stuff yesterday, and gave alternate brand suggestions.

Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Yes, Emily’s right – no need to wash it in a public sink! You can wait to wash it with soap and water until it’s more convenient and since you can leave it in so much longer than a tampon it’s easier to plan so you’re not in an awkward place when it comes time to change it.

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Liza November 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I also have read about inversions while you have your period possibly causing endometriosis, though they often say that the research isn’t conclusive and it would most likely only be an issue if you have a very heavy flow.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:24 pm

One of the Gym Buddies has this same issue. Did you try the other size? And I agree about trying different brands – they all “sit” differently!

Thanks for the info about the inversions – I didn’t realize they meant my energy flow and not my flow flow, lol.

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sarah November 20, 2012 at 8:09 am

The Diva cup is awesome. I was scared to try it for a long time, but now I am a total convert.

I once had a yoga instructor ask me if I was menstruating. I was only 14 or 15, so I was really creeped out. I had a migraine, and he wanted to help by pressing on that trigger point in between your thumb and forefinger. I was menstruating, yet I said I wasn’t. He pressed on the trigger point, and I didn’t die. I also still had a migraine.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:39 pm

ROFL. You sound just like me. I told my yoga instructor I wasn’t, did the inversions anyhow and was like “Yep, still fine.” I had a friend who was really into accupressure and said there was a spot on my ankle that would put me into labor if she pressed it. So when I ended up a week overdue I told her to go nuts. I ended up two weeks overdue.

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Bethany November 20, 2012 at 9:24 am

I like the diva cup when I can get it in correctly but I’m not always successful with that. Once I get it up there I can’t seem to get it to twist around and pop! It’s usually pretty lodged (but not 100% sealed) once I get it unfolded.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Yeah it’s a little tricky! Watching the YouTube vids really helped. I know what you mean about it not being totally sealed though… ack.

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Geosomin November 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

“..every woman wants her lady bits to pop” *snort* :)

I’ve looked at this over and over but I haven’t been able to bring myself to try it. I suppose I really should…it seems like a logical solution. I always feel cheated having to buy stuff every month…

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I was nervous too but I’m so glad I tried it! I’m pretty sure the Diva Cup has a money-back guarantee if you try it and decide it’s not for you.

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Alyssa (azusmom) November 20, 2012 at 9:39 am

I tried the Diva cup a few years ago. Maybe I didn’t insert it correctly, but I found it a bit uncomfy. But that could also be because *Warning: TMI alert:* my uterus is slowly collapsing.
The main way my period affects my workout is fatigue. The first day, I am just wiped out. So it’s usually a rest day.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 10:56 pm

One of the Gym Buddies says she has the same issue with the cup for the same reason. It sounds like there are some physiological issues that make it just not work for some women:/

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Alicia November 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

I actually just got a Mooncup. I’ve only used it for one period, but so far I’m really, really loving it. I struggled a little bit with the removal, though. The insertion was fine, no biggie, but removing it was a bit of a pain. I actually dropped it in the (totally clean) toilet once, which was super fun. I did figure it out by the end of it, and everything went very smoothly. I even went swimming with no problems. So yeah, I’m very much a convert.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Ooh I have not yet dropped mine in the toilet! Knock on wood, lol… So glad you figured it out and it’s working for you!

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Sara November 20, 2012 at 11:41 am

I’ve already testified to you in an email how much I love the divacup. It may seem costly upfront but if you consider how much you spend over the year in tampons/pads – it’s a money saver. I do have to say that you should do your lady exercises down there as that will help keep it in place & keep it comfty.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Hahah – yay kegels!

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Helene @healthyfrenchie November 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I keep hearing wonderful things about the diva cup. I have been meaning to try one for ages..
As far as working out is concerned, I usually get migraines and intense fatigues, so I rarely workout. Let alone do handstands!

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irene November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Oh man, I can’t imagine how this would work if I had to empty it at work. Ick. Major kudos to all of you guys for saving the planet by not throwing away a million tampons, but I’m not ready to try it yet.

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Mephyle November 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Ladies considering the cup should know that the diva is just one of over a dozen different brands. Each of them has a different sizing, as well as subtle differences in the shape and texture. So if the diva doesn’t quite fit like it should, you can try another brand and find one that works for you.

As for questions (like “how do I manage when I’m not at home?”, “what if I…?”, “what if it…?”), every single question or problem you might have (and some that you didn’t even think of) are answered at the livejournal forum (everyone can read it, you don’t have to be a livejournal member: ) and it has all the information about every possible brand of cup, too.

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Thank you for the info!! Do you have a link for the livejournal?

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Mephyle November 21, 2012 at 11:25 pm

I don’t know how to post the link in this forum, but if you google “menstrual cup livejournal” (without the quotes), it should be the first hit.

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Megan Ward November 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Did you ever use yours when you had the IUD? I got my IUD and my Diva cup at the same time. My first month with my Diva cup was when my IUD fell out. I’m sure it’s just coincidence, but I’m scared I suctioned it right out of there!

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Charlotte November 21, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Actually I don’t think that was a coincidence… I remember reading a warning about using the two together. Although I will say that I had my IUD in and used the cup for 2+ years without any issues.

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Di November 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Ok for all those wondering “can you really do XYZ workouts whilst wearing a diva cup” let me tell you this:
I’m a personal trainer and fitness instructor. Some days I can teach 5-6 classes. Diva cup stays PUT! Through spin class, yoga, pilates, personal training sessions, bodypump, abs class, swimming etc. Never had an issue.

For those that say the diva cup is too big other brands are smaller so check out other brands, you can see a comparrison chart for sizes here
http://menstrualcups.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/www-clothpads-org_cupcomparison_8-11-11_2b.png
I actually have the ladycup which is smaller than the diva cup. The sizing issues for my age they said the bigger size even though I’d never had kids! I got it and it was too big, got the smaller one and it’s perfect!

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Anne November 20, 2012 at 3:46 pm

I. LOVE. The Diva cup. Yeah, it does have a bit of a learning curve, but the fact that you can leave it in for 12 hours is invaluable when you play outdoor sports. No more trying to wrangle a tampon in a disgusting porta potty! No more worrying that your pad is going to turn into a soaking mess if you slip and fall in a puddle! Plus you just CAN’T FEEL IT. Love!

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Kirsten November 20, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I would second trying out different brands if the diva cup isn’t working out for someone, they each have slight variations in size and pliability.

On the ick factor, I used to have such issues pulling it out on the toilet, half the time it would “snap” on the way out, splattering bright red droplets all over everything. Ew ew ew. Then one day I had an epiphany and started emptying it while I was showering. That greatly reduced the number of times I was changing it on the toilet and making a huge mess.

Oh, and I recently learned that the hip new nickname for Auto Flo is “Shark Week”. It took me a while to realize they weren’t talking about that Discovery Channel thing. :D

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Tami November 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I’ve been using the diva cup for years and I love it. I have done judo while wearing it and had absolutely no problems. So for people wondering if it can stand up to strenuous activity… if a bunch of six foot tall guys pick you up and throw you on the ground repeatedly for an hour and a half and nothing happens (with the diva cup, anyway) I’d say it would work for just about anything. :-)

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Jody - Fit at 54 November 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Well, I am past this & I am still not sure which is worse, all the crap that happens when it stops due to the hormone changes OR the blood!!!!!

I just always brought a supply of everything with me to the gym when I did have it including Advil & never let it stop me & I had it bad with bad cramps…. just did my best! :) I always had to wear a tampon AND a mini pad anyway so…..

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Laura P November 20, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Lol. I was getting all excited to try one when I realized that I just had a hysterectomy 2 weeks ago. I’m almost disappointed I never got to try it. I have a store-room full of hundreds of various sizes of tampons and pads that I need to give away.

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Sabrina November 20, 2012 at 11:24 pm

So I had one of these maybe 3 years or so ago– I swear at that time the instructions said you were supposed to throw it out after a year, which I did, though I can’t find that on the website now. I have very heavy periods caused by a copper IUD and at the time I was in school and the public restroom thing was just too yucky. I should try it again….

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Jess November 21, 2012 at 1:54 am

I’ve never even heard of a diva cup! Sounds great though, as great as it can.

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Sylvie @ StruggleswithaFatA November 21, 2012 at 10:38 am

I just love the way you word things. I would be terrified to try this since I don’t like feeling around “there” with my fingers, which is mostly why I never even thought to try a NuvaRing. I’ve started to think more about the “green” factor though and if I still had a period, I might be inclined to try this. I haven’t had a period in a year though due to the Mirena. I don’t miss tampons one bit, they dried me out like no tomorrow, and got increasingly uncomfortable through my cycle since I have a light flow anyway.

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Tara November 21, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Three years ago I discovered the “soft cup” and I love it!! It is not reusable like the Diva cup but other than that it is very similar. I can even swim with it which is amazing!! This may be TMI but it fits so well with my “tilted utuerus” that it even empties itself when I go to the bathroom. SO easy! I, too, wonder why cups like these aren’t more popular. I can only find them in one store in my city, not even Wal-Mart carries them. I actually fear my local store will stop carrying them at some point and then I’ll have to run around like Elaine on Seinfeld when the sponge was pulled off the market. :)

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Cate November 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I love my menstrual cup! My mum recommended them to me about 5 years ago but it wasn’t until this year that I actually bought one. Best purchase of the year! The first period I used it I called her and told her it had changed my life :-).

It’s not actually that much of an exaggeration – I used to dread my periods and resent them (and the fact that I always had to think about them, all day, and worry about leaks and cramps), even as I used the pill to only have 5 or so a year. Now, I don’t look forward to them or anything, but they have become such a non-issue that I no longer use the pill to delay them unless I have an important trip coming up.

I don’t know whether it is the menstrual cup, or my change in the use of the pill, but I have also found that the cramping, diarrhoea and back pain that I used to experience with every period have decreased or completely disappeared. Either way, it’s still down to the cup, as I would still be delaying my periods using the pill if I didn’t have it. I also love that it’s more environmentally friendly and I don’t have to carry around so much period paraphernalia. I don’t mind dealing with my own bodily fluids, so that’s not an issue, and since it only needs to be emptied twice a day, I actually end up dealing with them less than with pads or tampons, although it is somewhat more immediate :-)

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Kda November 25, 2012 at 11:07 pm

I love my Diva Cup. I did have to trim the stem, but that was easy. I also like to empty mine in the shower. If I can’t do that and there’s no sink within reach, I wipe it clean with toilet paper. I swear, it was the best money I ever spent.

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SALVADOR January 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm

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