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    I Haven’t Used A Tampon Since Discovering Menstrual Discs — Here’s Why

    While many people who menstruate are loyal to tampons, there's something new on the market: menstrual discs, which offer a happy medium between traditional period products and sustainability-centric options.

    When it comes to period products, innovation isn’t necessarily the name of the game. Recent years have popularized products like the Diva Cup and made way for maxi pads with “cuter” packaging, but those of us who menstruate certainly don’t anticipate the appearance of brand-new period management methods every season.

    an image of a tampon applicator on a white marble background
    Kilito Chan / Getty Images

    I imagine that other millennials have struggled with the resistance I’ve felt toward new period products. After all, we were raised to believe that Tampax Pearl was the ultimate in menstruation innovation — at my middle school, at least, there was a clear hierarchy that associated certain menstrual products with “cool” folks and more antiquated ones with kids who fell into the late bloomer category. While most of us still resorted to hiding tampons and pads up our shirt sleeves when heading to the bathroom, I do recall feeling like I’d reached some sort of higher echelon of burgeoning adulthood when my mom let me buy name-brand Tampax Pearl tampons, plastic applicators and all. 

    With tampons forcefully hammered into our young minds as the pinnacle of all period products, many of my fellow menstruating millennials have surely joined me in remaining loyal to them throughout the years. Some of my more sustainability-minded peers have opted to use menstrual cups (Diva Cup being the most popular), but I’ve felt hesitant about changing up my 15-year-long period routine. 

    Enter menstrual discs (not to be confused with menstrual cups, pictured below).

    Multicolored menstrual cups
    Serg Myshkovsky / Getty Images

    It’s important to make a distinction between menstrual discs and menstrual cups, as their differences are significant. Cups, including the aforementioned Diva Cup, are typically made of silicone and entirely reusable. While recommendations vary by brand, most suggest rinsing your cup after each use and thoroughly cleaning it (often by boiling or even heating it in the microwave) on a regular basis. The cup creates a tight seal inside the vaginal canal that collects menstrual blood and should be emptied every 6 to 12 hours, depending on the heaviness of your flow. 

    Menstrual discs are something of a meeting point between typical period management methods like tampons and reusable menstrual cups. While they are available in reusable form (Nixit, for example), the most popular brands like Flex are disposable, allowing for use while traveling or when unable to easily access a cleansing method.

    Stock image of a menstrual disc
    Viktoriia Ablohina / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Like cups, discs are inserted through the vaginal canal, but they’re pushed farther up behind the pubic bone to form a barrier at the cervical opening. They consist of a plastic ring and a plastic film that collects blood. Discs are approved for up to 12 hours of safe wear for those with a typical flow, so you can usually insert one in the morning and forget it’s there until the end of your day — no more worrying about tucking away a tampon string to avoid peeing on it or changing it every time you so much as enter a bathroom. 

    Another touted benefit of the menstrual disc is its comfort and cleanliness during sex. Because of its deep placement alongside the cervix, many users find themselves able to have mess-free intercourse while actively menstruating, a feat that’s less easily achieved with the cup. They’re also wearable while sleeping. Combine all of this with a minimized risk of the ever-feared Toxic Shock Syndrome and less vaginal dryness, and you’ve got the recipe for a pretty top-notch product.

    My journey with menstrual discs began as many of life’s greatest journeys do: with a targeted ad on Instagram. Perhaps it appeared because I’d been googling menstrual cups or because I’d discussed periods with friends and my phone was doing its typical eavesdropping, but an ad for Flex menstrual discs popped up on my feed.

    A box of Flex brand menstrual discs.
    Sophie Boudreau

    At first glance, I assumed it was some sort of barrier method for birth control. Looking more closely, though, I realized that it might actually solve some of my period problems. 

    These particular menstrual discs drew me in because  — embarrassingly enough — they had cute packaging. I cannot tell a lie: I’m a sucker for a well-designed box. The Flex packaging I first saw was simple but elegant, with gold lettering and what appeared to be a convenient storage method for discs. After a quick internet foray into what these weird disc things were, I decided to take the leap. At nearly 30, I thought it was finally time to try something new for managing my monthly menses. 

    As something of a penny-pincher, I had a tough time getting over the relatively high cost of the discs. For a box of 12 Flex discs from Target, I paid about $15.

    A screencap of the Flex listing on Target's website
    Flex/ / Via

    When it all boiled down, though, I realized that one box would likely carry me through at least two average-flow periods if I were to only wear one disc per day. When combined with the other touted benefits and reality that I typically end up going through three tampons per day during my period week, the price felt worth it.

    I’ll admit that I felt guilty about opting for a disposable method when products like the Diva Cup exist, but I know myself. I’m not one to deny my “lazy girl” side, and the idea of regularly washing a menstrual cup felt like one extra annoyance for my to-do list.

    I travel relatively frequently and don’t always have the time or resources to keep a cup clean while on the road. Also, I’ll be honest: The idea of boiling a once-bloody menstrual cup in the same pot where I make delicious pasta seemed a bit…icky. Ultimately, I figured that my personal efforts for sustainability elsewhere in life were enough to make up for choosing a disposable period product. 

    So I’d purchased my discs, told a few curious pals about my new period endeavor, and taken off my pants. The time had come. I opened the box and was pleased to find a pretty thorough brochure with instructions for insertion and removal, along with a link to a YouTube video that provided even more details.

    An image of the disc outside of its packaging in the author's hand
    Sophie Boudreau

    Because I’m a human being in 2021, my phone was obviously right by my side as I sat atop the toilet. This made it easy to access the video and follow along.

    The first insertion was weird and a little bit scary. After over a decade of sliding tampons in without a second thought, I wasn’t sure how I felt about learning something new. The experience swept me back to middle school, when one of my close friends told a horror story about trying to put in a tampon for the first time by placing her leg on the bathroom counter and inadvertently spraying blood all over her mom’s prized bathmat. 

    I chickened out and couldn’t push the first disc far enough into my vagina. The instructions said that it should be placed vertically behind the pubic bone, which forced me to give more thought to the internal structure of my vagina than I had in quite some time. Was I actually feeling the pubic bone? Despite the presence of my cervix, would I somehow be the first menstrual disc user in history to accidentally shove this plastic thing so far into my body that it ended up inside my uterus, never to be seen again? It didn’t help that I was visiting my baby boomer mother at the time, who was outwardly skeptical of this newfangled blood hammock.

    A stock image of the female reproductive system
    Hakule / Getty Images

    After a few deep breaths and several rewatches of the YouTube video, I felt the disc settle into place. I had done it  — and, much to my surprise, it didn’t feel weird at all. In fact, within minutes of successfully inserting my disc, I had forgotten it was there. I even noticed a small improvement in my period cramps. This minor sense of physical pain relief might be placebo or simply attributed to the fact that I was less tuned into my period to begin with, but when you remove the discomfort of muscles clamping around a dry piece of cotton right inside your vaginal canal, everything does feel a bit less tense. 

    Following only a day or two of use, I felt confident enough in this new product to take it on the ultimate period test: wearing it while trying on wedding dresses.

    An image of the author trying on a wedding dress
    Rachel Syens/Contributed

    Yes, you read that right. Not only was I lucky enough to be actively menstruating while visiting the bridal shop, I also decided to do it while wearing a period product that I’d only been aware of for a week. Luckily, the day was a remarkable success. I tried on a handful of dresses, found The One (no, the dress I'm wearing in the photo above is not the one I bought), and did it all without so much as a tiny speck of leakage on my underwear. 

    My partner and I haven’t yet opted to try sex with a menstual disc, but I can imagine that this might be a major draw for those who enjoy period intimacy but aren’t super keen on the idea of bloodying their brand-new Brooklinens. I have, however, become embarrassingly fond of the disc removal process and its slightly crude delight. I’ve found my discs easy to pull out with a clean finger and a steady hand — and I derive a disgusting pleasure from seeing what my body has produced throughout the day. It’s akin to popping a pimple: The satisfaction is hard to describe, but equally difficult to deny. 

    Ultimately, my menstrual disc experience has turned out to be a major net positive. While I began with Flex discs, I tried another product from the same company after using up my first Flex box. Known as Softdiscs, these discs feature more of a traditionally “feminine” aesthetic and don’t have the trademarked ComfortSeal technology advertised by Flex, which claims to create a fully airtight seal alongside the cervical opening. Anecdotally, I’ve had a handful of minor leaks while using Softdiscs, so Flex takes the cake for me!

    My voyage into the world of menstrual discs has reminded me that my menstruation experience is just that: mine. I’m not bound by the norms hammered into my head back in middle school, but I’m equally unbound by the pressure to make sustainability and adult peer pressure the sole focus of my menstrual health. While moving forward as a person who menstruates, personal satisfaction and comfort will remain squarely at the forefront of every choice I make.