September 05, 2018

Softdisc Review - Alternative to Tampons

5 Pros and Cons of Switching to Softdiscs

Say what you will about third wave feminism, and whether the generation of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will finally be able to effect lasting social change with respect to gender equality, but one of my favorite things about this particular feminist movement is the products! For decades women have had to choose between a limited variety of feminine products when on our periods, some of which are extremely uncomfortable and don't allow us to continue with our lives as usual, and others which are pretty effective except for the small little matter of bodily toxicity and long term health. This new wave of feminism happens to coincide with an exciting time in technology, and women are finally beginning to see scientific advances impact our daily lives. 

The product I'm referring to is the Softdisc. Technically defined as a menstrual disc as opposed to a menstrual cup, this product can be used on your period instead of pads or tampons. I've been using this product for about a year now, and here is the list of pros and cons I've compiled based on my experience. 

What Is It?

The best way that I can describe the Softdisc is that it's kind of like the Nuva Ring, or like a diaphragm, but for periods. It is a thickish ring with a latex film in the middle that expands into a cup-like shape when full. Unlike the Nuva Ring, which is an empty ring, and unlike the diaphragm which is meant to keep things out, the Softdisc fits against the cervix and catches (rather than absorbing) the menstrual blood in the latex film to later be emptied when removed.

*For more details, see the handy dandy Youtube video from the Softdisc website below. 



Pros

Not toxic

Ever heard of TSS? Affectionately known as Toxic Shock Syndrome, this is caused by bacterial infection in a localized place in the body. Highly absorbent tampons, for example, have been associated with TSS. 

The Softdisc is non-toxic and hypo-allergenic. It is not associated with TSS. 

In other words, this is a healthy alternative to tampons if you need a solution during your period that is effective for physical activity and sleep (read: a solution besides a maxi pad). Personally, I enjoy having a flow-control solution to my period that isn't simultaneously a health risk.

Comfortable 

So comfortable, you can't even feel it, has probably been trotted out many a time by feminine product advertisers. Well, I'll vouch for this one. It's true. As long as Softdisc is in position you can't feel a thing. 

The disc can be pinched in order to insert (similar to the Nuva Ring, for those of you ladies who have ever tried that) and once it's in place it's as though nothing ever happened. 

I personally love this about the Softdisc. Not that tampons were ever terribly uncomfortable. They weren't, but as comfortable as they were there was always the added issue of the string hanging. In some cases this just isn't ideal. Say you're going swimming, or to hot yoga in little dry fit shorts, or lounging around in your underwear with a lover. Because there is no external evidence of a menstrual management device (sidebar: did I just coin a super high tech sounding period term?) your period does become sort of...well...negligible. 

Longer wear

The Softdisc is said to offer 12 hrs of period protection. The accuracy of this claim varies depending on flow. On heavier days I've definitely had to change it sooner than 12 hrs. More like every 7 or 8 to be honest. If my period is 5 days long, with days 1 and 2 being the heaviest, by day 3 I'm able to go 12 hours without a change or any leakage issues. 

Easy solution in emergencies (leaks)

Every woman has probably had that moment of horror of starting her period, or needing to change a feminine product, and suddenly realizing she isn't prepared. It happens. Maybe you gave a tampon to a coworker and forgot to replenish your on-the-go stock. Maybe your roommate needed your last tampon in the house. In any case, I've definitely been there, and my solutions before the Softdisc were basically making a temporary, make-shift pad out of toilet paper and then either finding someone to borrow a tampon from or making a run to the nearest pharmacy. 

In emergencies - and only in emergencies - such as being caught in public with a leak and no other options, or being on my last disc and needing to go out the store to get more, I have re-used my menstrual disc. If this has happened in public I have taken it out, emptied it, and washed it with soap and warm water before reinserting. The one time it happened at home I went the extra mile and submerged it in boiling water for eight minutes after washing, as is recommended for reusable cups/discs. 

While this is easier than creating a make-shift maxi pad until you can find a feminine product ally or run to the store, I don't recommend this for habitual use. The manufacturer does not recommend reusing this product, but instead that a new cup be used every 12 hrs. 

That being said, if you're in a pinch, it's better than stuffing toilet paper up your...well...you know. 

Sex friendly 

Softdisc is the first and only menstrual cup/disc I have used thus far. The big grab for me in the feminine product aisle when comparing products was that you can have mess free sex in the Softdisc

I've tried it. It works. 

I wouldn't say that it's completely negligible during sex. I personally do feel the rim of it, just a bit, during the initial penetration, but this is probably because I don't take care to push it all the way back before hand (as a result it ends up sitting much further back after sex, but I'll get to that later). If I'm with a more sizable male partner - and that's about as delicate as I can be about this matter - where I'd typically feel contact with my cervix being made while having sex, I will occasionally feel a different kind of pressure when the latex wrapping is pushed on by the...ahem...male partner's endowment. Finally, while I've yet to have any accidents in the bedroom while using Softdisc ::knocks vigorously on wood:: I'm still not 100% comfortable with the idea of a partner performing penetrative foreplay while using the disc. That being said, I would recommend a little bit of lube for those who feel like I do, or to compensate for the fact that the cup will invariably keep some of the more sex-friendly juices from flowing. 

Cons

One size 

Unlike tampons or other menstrual cups on the market, the Softdisc is one size fits all, as it's made to sit past the vaginal canal and directly against the cervix. The problem with that can be that this doesn't necessarily take heavy flow into account.

Again, while 12 hour wear is certainly possible on lighter days, I have found it absolutely necessary to change the disc no later than 7-8 hours on the heavier days of my period.

Can be tricky to take out, especially after sex 

Okay, so putting the disc in is easy. Living life in it - even having sex in it! - is easy. Taking it out...ummm...

At this point I've got it down to a science, but even then it can be a little tricky at times. The first time I changed one it was right before going out on New Year's Eve, and for a moment (or more like forty minutes, so for forty long moments) I was sure I was going to be one of those terrifying, I-had-to-get-my-menstural-cup-removed-in-the-emergency-room stories.

Here's why it's tricky. To be clear, I have never lost the disc. It's not as though I've reached in and found that it had vanished. What is tricky, however, is that the rim of the Softdisc is rather thick - thicker than that of the Nuva Ring if you've ever used it. Once the disc is all the way in position against the cervix, and especially if removing it after sex, I find that while I can feel the rim, it can be difficult to actually hook my finger around the rim and pull in order to take it out. The cup is usually in position once the rim is back behind the pubic bone, and you do need to be able to use quite a bit of pressure in order to pull it out from behind the bone again. In other words, you need a good grip, and that can be hard to find.

In instances where it's been more difficult to take out, I've literally pushed a bit (ladies, you know what I'm talking about) while sort of putting pressure on the rim (in a direction I hope is forward) to encourage the whole device to come down a bit. If it seems like it's really going to be a struggle, I'll also do this in the shower to avoid a mess (oh yeah, I said it. Mess. More on that later...). Still, while these instances can be a bit annoying when they occur, I've been using the disc for a year and have literally had three instances where removal has been challenging. So it isn't the end of the world. Just something to keep in mind.

Leaks

So on the one hand, if a leak occurs, this can be an easy fix even if you don't have a fresh Softdisc available to use. On the other hand, if a leak occurs it isn't quite as subtle as the type that might occur when wearing a tampon.

Because the menstrual disc collects blood rather than absorbing it, it responds differently when full. Where an absorbent tampon will start to drip when it is full, creating the phenomenon known as leaking, a menstrual disc will start to spill once it is full. That being said, by the time a leak has occurred the menstrual disc isn't quite as forgiving and there isn't as much time to react. I'm personally very against wearing even a panty liner on my period (that defeats he whole purpose, right?) and have been thinking about pairing this product with period-safe underwear so as to completely ease my mind. Otherwise, being proactive is much preferred to being reactive to prevent any leaking incidents with this product. I'll just leave it at that.

Messy removal 

This is a HUGE consideration with this product, and all other menstrual cups, actually. Frankly, I don't think it should be as big a concern as it is, but because of the lack of consideration for female specific hygiene needs when constructing public bathrooms, it needs to be taken into serious consideration. The consideration I'm referring to is a multi-stall bathroom configuration as opposed to single stall.

In a single stall configuration, all I need to say is that removal of the disc is messy. It's not incredibly messy. It's not horrifying. However, it's certainly messier than removal of the now seemingly archaic tampon. These discs cannot be flushed, you see. Further, while removal instructions encourage one to keep the product upright and horizontal while removing it to prevent spillage, to say that this is easier said than anatomically done is the understatement of the year. What does that mean? I'm just going to say it. Blood, ladies. It means blood. Welcome to the truth of your bodies. I'm not going to lie, I actually find this to be sort of liberating. I don't entirely mind that I have to interact with my menstrual cycle more than I previously did. It feels a little more natural. Maybe that's to do with my being two parts feminist, one part woke, but in any case, it's fine by me. The issue is the logistics with respect to public bathrooms. Again, in a single stall configuration, an easy solution (even if the sink and toilet are positioned unusually far apart) is to run the hot water, eject the device, control the mess with some toilet paper and then quickly clean it and the lucky removal hand thoroughly before reapplying.

But in a multi-stall configuration? Tricky! I've been stuck in this position (on my birthday!) without a backup disc and it needed to be navigated carefully to say the least. On the one hand, this product is disposable and the idea is that you will have a backup. That is to say that in a multi-stall setting, one could conceivably remove the product, control the mess as best as one can with toilet paper, insert a fresh disc, dry one's hands as best one can with available toilet paper (or moist towelette wipes if one is crafty enough to have them at the ready), reclothe delicately as though after a fresh manicure, and then wash ones hands diligently as though before open heart surgery.

Without this option though - or if one is using a non-disopsable cup/disc - one has to navigate the social aspects of using a shared bathroom on one's period. When this happened to me I chose the stall that was closest to one of the many sinks available and enlisted a friend to guard my area and explain the situation if and when a new women entered the bathroom. Honestly, it wasn't the worst thing in the world. Was it more work than simply changing a tampon? Yes. To be sure. But my hope is that as the world continues to adapt for feminine needs, awkward situations like that will be few and far between. Maybe we'll start to see moist towelettes inside women's bathroom stalls for such occasions, or select stalls with small, built in sinks similar for what we have for handicap bathrooms with changing tables, etc. Or, maybe as the culture around periods changes it won't be considered embarrassing or awkward to quickly wash out one's menstrual cup in a public place before reapplying.

Anyway, I'll leave the implications of public bathrooms and third wave feminism to the politicians. For now. My point is, consider the mess, especially if you work in an multi-stall bathroom environment.

Disposable 

Finally, while the cons of this aren't immediately obvious, Softdisc is a disposable product. This ends up being a con for a few reasons.

1. Expensive

The Softdisc is expensive. One box of Softdisc, which includes 14 disposable discs, runs about $12 (plus tax). This might not sound like a lot, but the average period (including spotting) lasts 5-7 days, the recommendation is to change the disc every 12 hrs, and the disc might (read: will) need to be changed more frequently on heavier days. Do the math and there's a good change that you'll end up buying a box of Softdiscs once a month, which comes to $144 a year. This is expensive compared to other menstrual cups that are reusable and intended to last for years. They are typically about $50 max, but do not have the benefit of being able to be worn during sex (with one exception).

2. Not Sold Everywhere

Because Softdisc is part of a new wave of alternative feminine products, it isn't sold everywhere that feminine products are sold. Big name stores like Target, CVS, and Walgreens will certainly carry them, but a local bodega, grocery store, or gas station might not. That being said, you really need to be prepared with some discs on hand when you're expecting and/or on your period just in case. Otherwise you run the risk of having to go far out of your way in a pinch, or having to downshift to using a more traditional but less safe/convenient product like a tampon or a pad.

Overall, despite the cons, my experience with Softdisc has been overwhelmingly positive. It has changed the way that I experience my period, especially when I am out and about.

The next thing that I really do want to try is the Ziggy Cup. The Ziggy Cup is apparently exactly like the Softdisc, except that it doesn't contain latex, and it's reusable! My only hesitation is that I've gotten used to removing the Softdisc and I'm worried that the Ziggy Cup may be more challenging to remove being that the entire thing is made of the same material. But the verdict on that remains to be seen.

For now, I'm happy with Softdisc, my favorite alternative period product to date. 

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