There’s been an explosion of environmentally friendly, cost-effective period products in recent years. Period underwear and menstrual cups in particular have gone from products few people were familiar with to household names that people love as alternatives to tampons. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks, and everyone who has a period has their own opinions on what’s the most convenient and comfortable. The menstrual disc, though, is unique from other period products in a couple of very intriguing ways — including the fact that the design of reusable menstrual discs means you can comfortably wear them during penetrative vaginal sex.
Menstrual discs, which are different from menstrual cups (more on that later), are designed to sit high up in the vaginal canal, just below your cervix. While it can be tricky to get the disc in and potentially messy removing it, menstrual discs are longer lasting than pads and tampons and, for some people, more comfortable as well. If you’re thinking of trying a menstrual disc for the first time or are just curious about your other options for period care, keep reading.
What Is a Menstrual Disc?
A menstrual disc is a flat, flexible disc that collects blood during your period, rather than absorb it, as pads, tampons, or period underwear do. The disc sits just below your cervix in your vaginal fornix, Renee Wellenstein, DO, a board-certified ob-gyn, tells POPSUGAR. They’re long-lasting: you can use a menstrual disc for up to 12 hours (though you may need to change it more frequently if you have a heavier flow). According to Dr. Javaid, menstrual discs are not yet associated with toxic shock syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial infection for which tampon and menstrual cup use are risk factors.
They look and function most similarly to menstrual cups, but there are a few key differences between the menstrual disc v. cup. A menstrual cup sits lower in your vaginal canal, for instance, and is shaped more like a funnel, says Somi Javaid, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and founder of HerMD. Another difference is that menstrual cups are also nearly always reusable, unlike discs, “which can be reusable or disposable,” Dr. Javaid adds. (If you go for a reusable menstrual disc, know that you’ll need to clean it between uses. Follow the disc’s instructions on cleaning for the best way to do this.)
How to Use a Menstrual Disc
Menstrual disc insertion can be a bit tricky, since it sits so high up in your vaginal canal, but its placement may also make it more comfortable than a menstrual cup because “it is placed at the widest part of the vagina,” Dr. Wellenstein says.
To insert a menstrual disc, wash your hands and get into the most comfortable and accessible position, which might be sitting on the toilet or standing with your leg up. Fold the product lengthwise, Dr. Javaid says, and slide it into your vaginal canal “using a back-and-down approach,” she explains, “pushing it past the pubic bone.” You essentially (gently) wedge the disc behind your pubic bone.
For removal, wash your hands and sit on the toilet. Reach into your vaginal canal and use one finger to hook the rim of the disc, then pull it out while trying to keep the disc level and flat to avoid spillage. Menstrual discs, like menstrual cups, can be a little tricky to remove until you get the hang of it. One tip: bear down very gently, as though you were trying to push out urine or a bowel movement. You can also try squatting in the shower when trying to reach the rim, which may be an easier position than sitting on the toilet.
It’s the placement of a menstrual disc that makes it possible to have penetrative vaginal sex while you use it. Since it sits just below your cervix, the menstrual disc doesn’t take up much room in your vaginal canal. If inserted properly, you and your partner shouldn’t feel it. If the menstrual disc does cause any type of discomfort, remove it and talk to your doctor to ensure you’re using the disc correctly.
Menstrual Disc: Pros and Cons
A menstrual disc might be a good choice for you if you want to have penetrative vaginal sex on your period without worrying about blood, if you have a sensitivity to pads or tampons (or just don’t like them), or want longer period coverage, Dr. Javaid says. Menstrual discs may also be a good choice if you have a heavier flow, as they can typically hold around five regular tampons’ worth of fluid, depending on the brand.
Dr. Javaid adds that menstrual discs are still relatively new to market (they showed up around 2015), which means we’re still learning about their downsides. Difficulty with removal and potential messiness while you’re pulling it out are two possible cons to watch out for. Since some discs aren’t reusable, you’ll need to buy replacements more often than if you used a menstrual cup, but less than with pads and tampons.
Whether you choose to try a menstrual disc or not, know that the best option for period products is what feels most comfortable and convenient for you. Make sure to talk to your doctor if you have questions about whether the menstrual cup is a good choice for you, and consider giving it a try if you want comfort and solid protection for heavy flows.
— Additional reporting by Maggie Ryan