Let's hope this doesn't jinx it.
November 29, 2007 7:03 PM   Subscribe

Why would using a menstrual cup make periods shorter? To the squeamish: this question, shockingly, contains details about menstruation.

I have lost about a day off the end of my period since starting to use the Divacup six months ago. I'd say this was something I was making up, but other people on the web have observed it too. I'm not complaining, but why would this be the case?

For background, I started using Nuvaring in January which took me from about a week to about five days of bleeding almost immediately. Then I started using Divacup around May (at which point my boyfriend remarked that I had delegated all my girly tasks to my vagina) and it seems like every period has been slightly shorter than the last. At this point I can take out my cup after the end of my third-and-a-half day or so and experience only minor spotting.

Again, I love this, but I can think of absolutely no reason why it would happen. Anyone else experienced this? Any medical types with thoughts on possible reasons?
posted by crinklebat to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
are you sure it isn't the Nuvaring? I've had shorter periods on the Nuvaring.

Other theory: the cup removes the blood more efficiently?
posted by idle at 7:07 PM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: idle, I'd think it was the Nuvaring, but I think it would be weird that it knocked two days off my period for just a little while, then right when I started using another product, decided to kick it down another notch. I guess it's possible, but I don't think it's the likeliest explanation.

How do you mean, more efficiently?
posted by crinklebat at 7:09 PM on November 29, 2007

i would imagine that what you see on a tampon might not line up with what you would see on a pad, even if your flow is the same. what looks like a little spotting on a pad probably would look like more in a tampon, because it's up in you for longer, and soaks up everything all at once, whereas it might take a bit of time to work its way out the exit.

so some of it may just be mechanical. the rest, i think, is probably the nuvaring, and a coincidence.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2007

The explanation I've heard is that the cup might suction out the blood more than a pad. Don't know how that compares to tampons. Though as I understand, the suction that is created only forms a seal, so it wouldn't active suck out blood.
posted by scission at 7:31 PM on November 29, 2007

At the risk of sounding like a biology moron...could the mild suction exerted by the cup have anything to do with it? I've noticed the same thing since I started using mine six or seven cycles ago.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:32 PM on November 29, 2007

IANAD, but if there were any medically observable shortening of the period, even for some women, the ads for menstrual cups would loudly proclaim the news. In your case it could easily be the Nuvaring, natural variation, or some exogenous factor that hasn't occurred to you.
posted by ubiquity at 7:46 PM on November 29, 2007

When I was using the Divacup, I noticed that periods felt shorter but I don't think that mine were actually shorter. I figured that that's what everyone online who said that it made them shorter meant.

In your case, I would assume that the prolonged hormone use from Nuvaring would have changed the blood flow. Or, maybe, when you used tampons, did you use them for only 3.5 days or for longer? Because maybe the minor spotting that you experience later looked like a lot more on tampons?

In any case, have you tried asking this question at this livejournal community? I'd be interested in hearing the results if you ever do find out the answer to this.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 7:53 PM on November 29, 2007

Bodies are not machinery. Periods change.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:58 PM on November 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

This isn't a total answer, because even though I've used cupos and tampons both I can't attest to either making my period shorter, but the brand of tampon even changes how we observe our periods. I've been using ob lately, and my do they blow up like little balloons!

From what you've posted, I would just figure tampons aren't absorbing all available flow, and a cup will in fact collect it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:59 PM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: mooseandsquirrel, I only used pads before, but I definitely used them for vastly more than 3.5 days. Generally at least 6. I'm not even seeing any flow after day 4 anymore. These periods are definitely shorter.

The livejournal community you pointed me to was where I first heard that it made periods shorter, and I was like "Oh that's ridiculous" and then I started using it and it actually did. Hence my question, because I know people made vague noises about suction there too, but that didn't make much sense to me.
posted by crinklebat at 8:10 PM on November 29, 2007

I've certainly heard the anecdotes about cups (and washable pads, organic tampons, too) making periods lighter and shorter and less crampy. I think the prevailing wisdom/oldwifery is that the lack of chemicals makes your body happy or some such.

I use a Divacup and it doesn't make my periods any different, but I do love it.
posted by padraigin at 8:12 PM on November 29, 2007

"Minor spotting" can look like a hell of a pile of blood all absorbed and spread out in a pad or a tampon. Is it possible that the minor spotting you're experiencing is the same as the last day of your period has always been?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 PM on November 29, 2007

Echoing Ambrosia V. a bit, here's my theory:

The Cup catches everything at the source, the cervical os (opening).

Pads catch everything at the end of the line - outside the vagina.

So, with the Cup, stuff travels a shorter route, hence, ends sooner. Stuff making its way all the way out to the light takes longer.

posted by tristeza at 8:19 PM on November 29, 2007

Tristeza, you don't wear menstrual cups around the cervix like you would a cervical cup for contraception. Typically they rest just above the pubic bone.
posted by loiseau at 8:23 PM on November 29, 2007

Oh. Hmmm. Well then....I'm stumped (and want to try a Cup anyway)!
posted by tristeza at 8:27 PM on November 29, 2007

In the 1970s edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves there was, in the chapter on periods, a section about menstrual extraction. I don't really want to Google it because even at the time, the idea of it gave me cramps, but it isn't in more recent editions so I'm pretty sure that's a practice that was discredited on a fairly sound basis - what was described was a fairly, umm, rigorous procedure - and discarded by the end of the decade, sort of like macrame.

So I'd be going with "gentle suction" as the answer were it not for padraign's observation about pads and organic tampons.

I would think that if what you're seeing on the last day is not the kind of old, dark blood you normally see on regular pads and tampons at the end of your period, though, then something about the cup is just helping you shed and process faster.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:30 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: tristeza, try it! They rule.

DarlingBri, thank you for turning me on to the very cramps-inducing subject of menstrual extraction. That is one zany Wikipedia entry.
posted by crinklebat at 9:00 PM on November 29, 2007

Oh my God, I've dreamt of this ever since I was a teenager and I didn't even know they existed! Thanks!

Also, my periods are shorter when I use tampons instead of pads. I always assumed they were sucking the blood more quickly...
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:05 PM on November 29, 2007

Another data point for approx. one day shorter with cup vs pads (nice soft flannel ones & the regular disposable). I could use tampons only periodically (I swear that's not an intentional pun!), but they never were comfortable, they irritated my innie bits so I don't have even a full cycle to compare to. I just keep 'em on hand for emergencies & friends. I don't use any hormonal birth control, so that's not shifting anything.

Of course I never *don't* use a cup anymore, so I don't have a going backwards experience to judge by. :)
posted by susanbeeswax at 9:39 PM on November 29, 2007

I've been fascinated with the idea of menstrual extraction since I read about it--long ago (circa age 15!) in some hilariously charming 1970s lesbian feminist publication. The procedure is basically the suction portion of an abortion, i.e. not something one engages in casually. But the whole process brings up an interesting note about women's discomfort with our bodies and our own sexualities: most of us (myself included) wouldn't dream of putting our medical care in "unqualified" hands. Yet menstrual extraction was safely done by laywomen only thirty years ago (and when abortion was more widely illegal, it was also commonly and safely done by laywomen (though unsafely done, too)).

Sorry about the derail! How can I tie this in? Oh, how about this: by the same token, it's pretty amazing how often I hear all kinds of squeamish grossed-out blather about never being able to use o.b. tampons, much less menstrual cups, because you hafta touch your vagina. Gross!

Anyway, for what it's worth, I've used a menstrual cup for the past eight years. I don't remember noticing any decrease in flow (it was a looooong time ago, though), though recently my 5 day period increased to 6 days for no ostensible reason. Heck.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:27 PM on November 29, 2007

In an attempt to clarify what I said before: tampons absorb liquid, not solids, and cups collect all of it. Whereas you might see a lot of menstrual matter on your tampon or pad, you're seeing only the solids on the exterior, not the mixture of solids and fluids that fill a cup. So, if a tampon is lodged in your out-pipe, it might stop up some fluid without absorbing it. Even when you remove the tampon, because the vagina is not a laundry chute, but a soft sock, though it looks full of fluid and red with solids, it could leave some contents behind it in your vagina. A cup collects all the fluid and solids and pulls most of it out when you remove it. So, if you still have absorbable menses for an extra day with tampons, it's because tampons don't do such a great job of absorbing, do they? Blood is just not all that absorbable.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:06 PM on November 29, 2007

While I would love my divacup even more if it made my period shorter, it hasn't at all. I think mine stretch out for even longer now, with more days of very light flow at the beginning. It could be completely unrelated, but it certainly hasn't made anything shorter. I'm not on any hormonal contraception.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:29 PM on November 29, 2007

I seem to be getting this too. It's great. That said, it is apparently normal for your periods to get shorter at some point in your twenties - I'd noticed it about a year before I started using a cup, and been wondering if it was somehow down to a rather unusual lifestyle change (I didn't live, work or socialise with another woman for four months; I don't believe in the whole 'synchronisation of cycles in a house full of women' thing, but in a clutching-at-straws way I was wondering if being in a ridiculously macho environment had done something!), but a thread here in the green some time in the last year or so mentioned this normal shortening. You're a handful of years younger than me, so it could be that, possibly combined with the NuvaRing.

I'm now down to an average of one day bleeding pretty heavily, two more days a bit lighter, and maybe some spotting/coloured sliminess the day after. This is shorter than what it changed to last year, but may just be a continuation of that change rather than a separate one.
posted by Lebannen at 4:30 AM on November 30, 2007

btw, for people who want to experiment with menstrual cups I just noticed http://www.softcup.com/ "instead" cups in the pharmacy.
posted by bleary at 6:16 AM on November 30, 2007

I think "instead" works pretty differently than the diva cup or keeper--or at least they did when I bought some 5-6 years ago. (At Walmart, of all places!) I could never get Instead to sit right--it's much more like a diaphragm, as I recall, as you have to set it right on your cervix which I could never quite do--whereas the diva cup or keeper (which I use) sits much lower and is MUCH easier to insert.

Just don't want to discourage anyone who has had a bad experience with "instead" from trying alternatives (which totally rock and I'll never, ever, ever go back to dry *(#% wads of cotton again).

(Also, on the subject of menstrual extraction--surprisingly, something like this is still available in some countries like Bangladesh as an early form of abortion. I wrote a paper my senior year of college on it, and the technology pioneered by feminists in 1970s is no longer used in the US, but is used by paraprofessionals in countries where abortion is technically illegal--menstrual extraction if you're a couple of weeks late for your period is seen as a gray-area, not really abortion, "clearing the blockage" okay thing to do. The more you know!)
posted by iminurmefi at 6:27 AM on November 30, 2007

Response by poster: I would like to just say that I don't mind this thread being derailed for menstrual cup evangelism :) And I would like to add myself as a data point for people who absolutely freaking hated insteads, decided to give cups one more try, tried a divacup, and promptly tossed all my pads.
posted by crinklebat at 6:49 AM on November 30, 2007

I've been using Divacup for about four years now. During this time I was on hormonal birth control for about two.

Duration of period has changed, but most of that I would attribute to stopping hormonal birth control. My period duration shortened when I stopped taking the pill.

My periods can be anywhere from 3 days to 6 days, and I use the cup every time. I'm 23. Haven't noticed the Divacup shortening the duration of my period at all.

I'm going to guess that your shortened periods are more attributed to the hormonal birth control than anything else, with the constant flow of hormones.

Personally, I don't mind my period nearly as much when using a menstrual cup vs tampons. Ladies, if you haven't tried a menstrual cup -- do it! Seriously, it's one of the best inventions ever.
posted by Nerro at 6:53 AM on November 30, 2007

I've been using a cup for my period for about four years. Haven't noticed a decrease in period length, but have noticed significant reduction of cramps. I've also noticed that when I remove my cup to clean it out, it seems to suction out more material than it had collected in it. Maybe the act of removing it encourages the flow?
posted by Sara Anne at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2007

Tristeza, you don't wear menstrual cups around the cervix like you would a cervical cup for contraception. Typically they rest just above the pubic bone.

Some do. (I do. I think tristeza's right about the shorter trip.) Depends on your internal dimensions and your cup's dimensions.
posted by clavicle at 8:42 AM on November 30, 2007

This thread on menstrual cups is so fun.

Has anyone used both the diva cup and the keeper? Can you comment on the differences?

I ask because I used the keeper for many years, but I stopped because I found that putting in the folded-up cup started to really irritate the outside of my vagina. I wonder if the diva cup might be better.
posted by medusa at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2007

medusa: Did you try any of the folding techniques other than what is mentioned in their instructions? I use a diva cup and don't find it irritating.

crinklebat: Maybe you're still adjusting to the nuvaring? I found it cut my period down to 5 days almost immediately, and then my period changed again about 5 months later (starts and finishes a day earlier than before).
posted by heatherann at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2007

Another Diva Cup fan here. (Love it, love it, love it!) Haven't noticed any real change in the length of time of my period, though it did make me realize that I really only have 1-2 heavy days and the rest are much lighter. I agree with Ambrosia Voyeur's theory that tampons just can't absorb everything, so what the cup might collect in 1 day might take 2 days for a tampon to absorb, and then some due to the tissue/clots. As far as pads go, the "longer path to travel" explanation makes sense to me!
posted by platinum at 12:07 PM on November 30, 2007

DarlingBri, thank you for turning me on to the very cramps-inducing subject of menstrual extraction.

Hey, happy to share the love, crinklebat! Trust me, you'll never be able to quite forget...

medusa, have you tried doing it with a bit of lube around the edges? If it just isn't going to work out for you, you could try sea sponges. They're not as handy in a public washroom situation, but with a spare set and a little tupperware dish or plastic baggie to take used ones home, it can work really well.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:39 PM on November 30, 2007

Response by poster: medusa, people on the menstrual_cups LJ comm have concluded that sometimes people develop mild latex allergies over the course of using the Keeper (I won't speak for or against the medical validity of some of the opinions expressed on that comm; just repeating what I heard elsewhere). Generally when people start having symptoms like yours everyone tells them to try the Diva because it has a money back guarantee if you're not satisfied. Worth a shot, right?
posted by crinklebat at 1:51 PM on November 30, 2007

heatherann, DarlingBri, and crinklebat - thanks for the suggestions. I am SO going to try out the other cup folds; I haven't tried them other than the C fold.

Sponges and switching to the diva cup seem like good options to try next.
posted by medusa at 3:55 PM on November 30, 2007

Also, for DarlingBri - how do you avoid walking up to everyone you meet and saying things like, "I'm having a really good today today, because I have a sponge in my vagina"?
posted by medusa at 3:56 PM on November 30, 2007

how do you avoid walking up to everyone you meet and saying things like, "I'm having a really good today today, because I have a sponge in my vagina"?

Wait, so, like... I'm not supposed to tell them that?

Hmm. That explains a lot, actually. Who knew?
posted by DarlingBri at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2007

I love this thread. I am so going to try this.
posted by zia at 9:21 PM on November 30, 2007

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