to softcup or not to softcup

I’ve been resisting writing about Instead Softcup® for a while now as I have never tried it, nor do I think I ever will. Some may think that it’s hypocritical to write about a product that you’ve never tried before, but why try something that is not eco-friendly, sends a negative message about menstruation to men and women and in the end costs more money than the product I am currently using?

For those who have never heard about the product, Softcup is a reusable (well reusable for up to 12 hours or a full cycle, if you use Reusable Softcup) cup that is worn near the cervix and collects your menstrual flow.

While I must admit that their advertisements promoting the “benefit” of being able to have mess-free period sex are well done, from a marketing standpoint, from a women’s health standpoint they are very negative in their messaging. It’s not enough that the femcare industry tells women that we need to conceal and protect ourselves from that “o so awful monthly bleeding”, now we can’t even be secure in our sexuality without buying yet another product to ensure our cycle doesn’t mess up our sex life!

Take this ad for example:

While it sure does catch the eye, it also sends a familiar message – that in order to enjoy anything in life when you have your period, a woman must take extra, extra care to ensure it remains a secret. And of course that means buying yet another product to keep the “leaky” process of her body in check.

I want to let you in on a little secret…

Contrary to the negative discourse found within religious and cultural texts, having period sex is not dirty, infectious or dangerous. It must however be something both partners are comfortable with, still be accompanied by the proper protection (if require) and it should be something that doesn’t reinforce the age-old menstrual taboos we have so long been hearing. Yes, Softcup may keep the blood away, but it also keeps away women’s self-esteem and open communication about menstruation with your partner.

Additionally, as the high heels are suggestive of work attire, I can’t think of any woman who after a long day of work, and while having her period, would be caught between two drapes in such a state. Maybe after changing into some comfy pants and having some “me time”, but the reality is, this is not the reality (at least for me).

And if Softcup is paving the way for: “The next generation of period protection” I’d like to stay as a traditionalist, using a reusable menstrual cup that last and lasts… and not one that is only reusable for one cycle or one day.

A little more about the eco-friendly claim of Softcup. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health sought to investigate whether Softcup is a more comfortable and effective femcare solution for women. In addition to respondents rating the product’s convenience and disposal as low in satisfaction, the study cited that within three cycles, and of the over 300 women who participated in the study, 13,963 Softcups were used and disposed of. Not exactly the type of eco-friendly product you want to be using if you are concerned about your cco-footprint and the health of our planet.

On a side note, What’s defined as “mess free” and is “mess-free sex” even possible? Softcup’s website states that: “With Softcup, you and your partner can enjoy less messy intercourse during your period, and neither of you will even feel it’s there”. Which is it, mess-free or less messy?

Regardless of the idea Softcup is trying to sell to its young audience, my period has never stopped me from… well you get the drift. While I may be offering too much personal information about my relationship with my husband, I feel it is important that women know a few things about “being intimate” while on your cycle.

  • It may help alleviate cramps
  • There is less of a chance of getting pregnant (less not none at all)
  • Because of the “O”, sex during your period may help to shorten your period.. which can be nice if you have a 7 day cycle with extreme cramping prior, during and after your cycle.
  • Your hormones may actually want you to be intimate during your cycle, making for more enjoyable sex
  • As menstrual blood is a natural bodily substance, it makes a nice lubricant

You can learn more about this and also find some helpful tips here.

If you are going to avoid having sex while you have your cycle, the main reason should be that if you are not in a committed relationship, you are more susceptible to contracting an STI, not that you are bleeding. What’s worrisome about the Softcup “mess-free sex” ad campaign is that the demographic of college and career-aged women that these ads appeal to may actually put women at risk of disease and in turn compromise their health. If there is an increased risk of STIs during period sex and women are encouraged to not put being intimate on hold, they are also not being told the truth

And finally, as I was researching a bit about Instead Softcup, I learned that the design of the product inspired the creation of a similar product to be used as a disposable diaphragm which can hold a contraceptive gel that they are calling Amphora.

Since 1995, Instead Sciences has been developing and re-tweaking a formula for an over the counter non-hormonal vaginal gel contraceptive. Amphora is FDA approved, and undergoing clinical trials with hopeful release in 2014. You can even sign-up to join their clinical trial right now! Because of its latex-free and hormone-free elements, I can see how it can appeal to women who are looking for a contraceptive option that does not pump them full of hormones or induce an allergic reaction.

The website notes its qualities saying:

“Amphora is a bio-adhesive acid-buffering gel that coats the vaginal wall and cervix, helping maintain a woman’s natural pH level between 3.8 and 4.2, a level that has been proven in early clinical testing to render sperm immobile and inactivate most STI-causing organisms, including gonococci, herpes, Chlamydia, HPV and HIV.”

You can learn more about Amphora in their press release, Instead Sciences’ website and this promotional commercial. While the women in this video make a convincing argument, it still seems a bit too early to detect the effects this might have on women’s vaginal health.

It will also be interesting to see if Amphora’s capability as a delivery vehicle for other microbicides will provide a safeguard against STIs and if so, what, if any are the long-term health risks associated with it.

In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Women’s Health sought to investigate whether Softcup is a more comfortable and effective femcare solution for women. In addition to respondents rating the product’s convenience, leak protection and disposal as low in satisfaction, the study cited that within three cycles, and of the over 300 women who participated in the study, 13,963 Softcups were used and disposed of. Not exactly the type of eco-friendly product you want to be using if you are concerned about your cco-footprint and the health of our planet.


7 comments on “to softcup or not to softcup

  1. Beth says:

    I get where you’re coming from with the women-must-hide-their periods thing… but seriously, who wants to go to sleep on sheets splattered with sticky menstrual blood? Because that’s what happens to me, towel or no towel, during period sex. Unless I am at the very end of my period, or get the stupid towel just right, I end up with not just splatters but a puddle of blood. Plus, if you don’t get out of bed *right then* and wash said sticky sheets, they are likely to stain. I don’t want to wash the sheets, and if I leave it up to my boyfriend we’ll be sleeping on blood-encrusted sheets for the next two weeks. I guess I could nag him, but I hate nagging.

    Softcups just make sex easier. Plus, their whole one-use-disposable thing is just a ploy to get you to buy more– you can totally reuse them much, much more than that. I used a single “disposable” softcup for all the period sex I had in six months.

    That said, I agree with you on the benefits of truly reusable cups. For everything but sex, I use a Diva cup and homemade panty rags.

  2. Hi Beth,
    Thanks for the note and honest opinion. I agree, things can get messy and depending on the day of your cycle, mess can vary.

  3. Sarah says:

    I stumbled across this article while researching for ways to have a “less messy” experience during period sex, and I’ve just got to say, while I definitely respect your opinions, I felt just shy of insulted by your insinuation that because I want a way to “keep the blood away” during period sex, that I don’t have good self-esteem or open communication with my partner. I’m in a long-term committed relationship with a man I love. We discuss all things, including those of a sexual AND menstrual nature, openly and honestly. I love my body, my self image, and the person I am today. I think of myself in a positive light, and I’m proud of who I’ve become.

    Regardless though, my partner is NOT comfortable with period sex, vaginal or manual. I’m aware of this as a result of the open communication between us. In your article, you yourself say it’s something both partners must be comfortable with. He’s not because of the blood and the mess, and I totally respect that. Also, like Beth, the last thing I wanna do after the big O, is jump outta bed and throw the towels and/or sheets in the wash. My partner is however totally willing to try out Softcup with me because it claims to eliminate the mess, AND result in 5 – 7 more days each month where we can do the deed.

    Also, I feel that at a price of $5 for 6 disposable cups (at my local drugstore), it’s also a great product to pave the way for people who are new to menstrual cups. I’ve been researching both Softcup and Diva Cup, and while the idea of the reusable Diva Cup does sound fantastic to me, the price tag of $50 is pretty hefty for something I’m not even sure I’ll enjoy using.

    • Ariana says:

      FOr the record, Softcup has reuseable cups—priced at $6 for 2 (which cover two whole cycles), and that is indeed cost-effective. However, it also states on the website that you CAN wash and store the cups and use them beyond a single cycle if you so choose. You just cannot store them in a sealable plastic bag—it must be a ventilated container. That would prove to be both “green” AND eco-friendly, I should think!

  4. Hi Sarah, thank you for your honesty and I am glad to hear that both you and Beth have open communication with your partner when it comes to your reproductive health. You make some excellent points. My critique concerns the marketing of Softcup to younger women without paired knowledge of risks involved in period sex. I agree, having honest discussion, as well as ensuring your partner is comfortable with period sex and the tools you may use to collect your flow, is best.

  5. Cayla Snelling says:

    A softcup…..just like a pad or tampon is not meant to hide the period….it’s meant top keep you from bleeding all over the place and being unsanitary while you’re on your period….and the high heels, really? You are way too much.

  6. Nic says:

    I am a big fan of soft cups as they have changed my life for the better -I have a ridiculously heavy flow that could only be managed with large heavy flow pads every other hour- I now can go about my day (and night) as I see fit. I do not believe that periods should be something shameful but I do believe that there are some bodily functions that should be kept private (not hidden like a secret). I am a firm believer in being open with your partner but I am also a believer in being a lady. For me it is a choice based on cleanliness.
    My husband and I both have always felt that period sex is just beyond gross, and even though I have been using soft cups for some time, we still have not been able to comfortably enjoy sex while using one. While it doesn’t bother me much at all he complains that it is very uncomfortable,
    For me Softcups gave me FREEDOM to do things I would otherwise not be able to do while on cycle. Simple things like leaving the house, swimming, doing physical activities and not having the constant worry that I was going to have an accident. I guess you could say I am a firm believer in this product when it comes to women like me who have an unusually heavy flow.

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