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Menstrual discs have been the talk of many a social media feed lately, but what exactly are they?

A menstrual disc is an insertable alternative period product that’s supposed to provide 12 hours of protection, let you have mess-free sex on your period, and even help minimize cramps. What a time to be alive.

Here’s what you need to know about them before taking the plunge.

Menstrual discs and cups are very similar in that they’re inserted into the vagina and collect blood.

To make things more confusing, one of the first disposable menstrual cups on the market has since been rebranded as a menstrual disc, which totally makes more sense when you break down the features of each.

Cups look like cups, while discs look like, well, discs.

A cup sits in your vagina below your cervix and extends into your canal, depending on the type or brand you choose. A disc, on the other hand, fits back into your vaginal fornix, which is where your vaginal canal meets your cervix.

Getting the disc in there comfortably may take a little practice, but once it’s in you’ll know it because you won’t feel it at all.

Here’s a step-by-step on how to insert it:

  1. First things first, wash your hands — it’s going in a delicate place after all!
  2. Get into whichever position works for you. This can be sitting over the toilet, standing with a leg up, or squatting.
  3. Squeeze the sides of the disc together, making it the size of a tampon.
  4. Insert the pinched disc pointing down and back into your vagina. You want it to sit at a vertical angle so it completely covers your cervix.
  5. Make sure you push it past the pubic bone as far as it can go so the rim tucks in just above the bone.
  6. Congrats for getting it in! Bleed on!
medical illustration showing where a menstrual disc fits in the vaginaShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Irene Lee

Menstrual discs tend to be a tad messier than cups when it comes to removal. The key is to keep it as level as possible when you’re pulling it out so you don’t spill the contents.

To remove a menstrual disc:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Sit on the toilet — you don’t want to be anywhere but on the toilet in case your disc runneth over.
  3. Reach into your vagina with your index finger and hook it under the rim, pulling it straight out.
  4. If you’re having trouble reaching the disc, bear down with your pelvic muscles like you’re trying to poop. This will “untuck” the rim from behind your pubic bone.
  5. Empty the contents into the toilet, wrap in toilet paper if needed, and put it in the trash.

Menstrual discs can be worn for up to 12 hours, though you might need to change them more often depending on your flow.

First, what’s considered a heavy flow? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), needing to change your pad or tampon after less than 2 hours or passing clots the size of a quarter or larger is considered heavy.

Menstrual discs can handle a heavy flow, but you’ll have to change the discs more often throughout the day.

Depending on the brand, menstrual discs hold the equivalent of around 5 regular or 3 super tampons, which is around 5 or 6 teaspoons of fluid. For some perspective, the amount of blood lost during an entire monthly period is 4 to 12 teaspoons.

Menstrual discs don’t take up any real estate in your vaginal canal, making it an ideal option for period sex. They sit at the base of your cervix just like a diaphragm, so as long as it’s inserted properly, you and your partner shouldn’t be able to feel it.

That said, a particularly deep or enthusiastic sex sesh could cause it to shift. Based on user reviews of two popular menstrual discs, some people do report feeling the disc and have experienced leakage during sex.

The best way to know for sure how it’ll hold up is to take it for a drive. They do say practice makes perfect, right?

They seem to reduce some period-related pain, but not cramps specifically.

Flex, the company behind one of the more popular menstrual discs, claims this happens because menstrual discs sit in the widest part of the vagina.

Tampons, on the other hand, sit lower in the vaginal canal, which is much narrower. When the tampon fills with blood and expands, according to this line of thinking, it can cause cramping.

Seems logical enough — except cramps are the result of contractions in the uterus. They don’t really have anything to do with the vagina. Plus, the vaginal canal is designed to expand enough to birth a small human.

Still, plenty of reviewers report experiencing less pain when using menstrual discs instead of tampons. This may just mean that menstrual discs, which are super flexible, are simply more comfortable to wear than stiff tampons.

This is where the menstrual cup wins in the cup versus disc debate. Most menstrual discs are disposable and not meant to be reused, so they aren’t the most environmentally friendly option.

If you look around, though, you can find some reusable menstrual cups that come pretty darn close in design to menstrual discs (more on these later).

There haven’t been any serious risks associated specifically with discs, but menstrual cups have been associated with a risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) with a few cases reported.

TSS is a rare but serious condition caused by a bacterial infection that causes sudden symptoms, including fever, low blood pressure, and rash.

To reduce your risk of TSS, practice good hygiene by washing your hands when inserting and removing discs, and always use it as directed.

The likelihood of one getting “lost” up in there is no higher than with any other insertable menstrual product. Without a string or loop to grab though, you may need to bear down or try different positions to reach it.

You can find menstrual discs online. Some brands are even available in drug and department stores.

Here’s a closer look at some the options and where to buy them.

Softdisc

Formerly called Instead Softcup, Softdisc is made of a medical-grade polymer and is hypoallergenic.

It is FDA-cleared and contains no:

  • BPA
  • phthalates
  • natural rubber latex
  • silicone

Softdisc is now owned by the Flex Company, who happens to make FLEX, another menstrual disc option.

Shop for SoftDisc menstrual discs online.

FLEX

FLEX Disc is made by the same company that now owns Softdisc. According to their company website, both products share a lot of the same benefits, but FLEX’s rim warms to the body and forms for a better fit.

As far as reviews, they’re neck-in-neck with Softdisc.

Shop for the FLEX Disc online.

Intima Ziggy Cup

While Ziggy Cup is marketed as a menstrual cup, it’s very similar to a disc with a few key differences. For starters, it’s reusable and therefore more affordable in the long run. It’s also made of silicone rather than plastic.

It’s currently the only reusable menstrual cup that can be used for sex, since it’s more like a disc in its shape and where it sits inside the body.

Based on reviews, it rates around the same as others, though users really like the double rim because it’s sturdy and easy to remove without spilling.

Shop for the Intima Ziggy Cup online.

From menstrual cups to period-proof undies, period products just seem to be getting better and better, and menstrual discs are no exception. If you’re looking for something that feels like nothing, allows for penetrative sex, and handles heavy flows, consider giving menstrual discs a try.


Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.