Let’s be honest: When it comes to dealing with period blood, the options on the market aren’t all that inspiring. Or at least, they haven’t been for the last decade or so. Between pads and tampons—or, sure, a panty liner on a blissfully light day—it’s not like we’ve had a bevy of choices available. Which is pretty damn shocking given that, for a significant percentage of the population, this is a repeat occurrence that happens about every 28 days.
But as soon as workouts come into the picture, those options dwindle even further. Some ladies may be cool with wearing pads and panty liners, but come on—they’re not exactly comfortable when paired with tight leggings, nor do they move with your body as you blast through box jumps, burpees, and bear crawls.
So that leaves tampons, really. They’ve been my go-to for as long as I can remember even having a period. But I’d be lying if the stories about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) didn’t make me a little nervous. I’m definitely guilty of leaving a tampon in longer than I should, and sometimes that’s all it takes for a life-threatening bacteria to take hold. (Though let’s be clear: Only 50 percent of TSS cases are menstruation-related.)
Plus, tampons can throw off the pH balance in your vagina, and even cause yeast infections for some women. That’s one of the many reasons why menstrual cups and discs have been on the rise and, maybe not-so-coincidentally, tampon sales have dropped. FLEX menstrual discs, for example, have grown four times in sales since its launch in October 2016, and Softcup has grown about 58 percent in retail channels from 2015 to 2017. More proof: From 2016 to 2017, the market share of traditional menstrual brands—think Tampax, Kotex, and Playtex—dropped two percent year over year, whereas alternative products like The DivaCup increased 133 percent, according to industry reports.
Discs have been praised over and over because you can have mess-free period sex, but could they hold up to the sweaty, bloody mess that is a week’s worth of intense workouts? I grabbed a box of FLEX discs—which are circular, with an inset plastic catch for menstrual blood—to find out.
The first time I put one in, my only thought was, "Oh, f*ck."
Inserting a menstrual disc is not like inserting a tampon, which you basically stick straight up, and comes with a nice little string you can pull like a ripcord when you need to get that sucker out. Because the FLEX is round, you have to squeeze the ends together like a taco, push it as far up the vaginal canal as you can (ideally so it’s up against the cervix), and let go so it settles into place.
That process was very foreign to me, and I may or may not have freaked out about being able to take it out. Which is exactly what I tried to immediately do, setting off another wave of panic because the instructions tell you not to remove it standing up, and I bet you can guess exactly how I was positioned when I learned that valuable piece of information. A bit of advice: It’s helpful to read the pamphlet ahead of time (or just watch the video).
I eventually inserted the disc correctly, though, and pushed through my removal fears. (Side note: It was totally easy to take out once I was sitting). And, honestly, it instantly felt more comfortable than a tampon. As I walked to my first workout of the week—a Spin class, which usually helps alleviate my cramps—I didn’t really notice the disc. Lauren Schulte, CEO of The Flex Company, says that’s because it’s made of a different material—a medical-grade polymer blend—that uses your body heat to mold to the shape of your vagina, creating a custom fit. That alone makes menstrual discs impressively different from cups—most cups come in various sizes, and it’s a trial-and-error process to figure out the one that’s right for you.
Next up was yoga class. I was having a particularly crampy day, so I was hoping some light movement would help me feel better. With the FLEX inserted, I flowed through a series of twisting poses and was impressed with how well the menstrual disc moved with me, and that there were zero leaks. I’ve had problems with leakage while doing yoga in the past, so this was a welcome improvement.
Other workouts yielded the same results that week—running and boot camp, if you’re wondering—but the disc really proved itself a winner over the weekend, when my husband and I set out for a four-mile hike up Breakneck Ridge. It’s crazy steep and requires some scrambling, so it can take around four hours to complete roundtrip, plus the three-hour roundtrip drive to the trailhead. Usually, that means I have to put in a fresh tampon before we start—which means using the not-exactly-clean bathrooms at the trailhead or popping a squat in the wilderness. But menstrual discs can be left in for up to 12 hours, and since my flow was lighter, I put it in before driving out and didn’t worry about it until we got home that evening. I think they definitely win the award for Most Convenient.
At the end of the week, I asked myself: Would I use menstrual discs again? Hell to the yes. I won’t say I’ll never use tampons again, but these babies have officially become my new go-to.
Samantha Lefave is a freelance writer who is living, eating, and sweating her way around the world. You can find her Instagramming her favorite destinations, squeezing a Friends quote into every conversation she can or—when there's downtime—eating peanut butter straight from the jar.