By Gigi Engle. Photos: Courtesy of Brand.
Menstrual cups and various tampon alternatives are all the rage lately: From Thinx period underwear to the LadyCup, there are more options than ever for those of us looking for something different. It’s refreshing to see people with vaginas making products for vaginas. We know what we need, after all.
Take a tampon, for instance. They can throw off the pH balance in your vagina and cause yeast infections for some — clearly not invented by someone with a vagina. The need for something better is what lead Flex founders, Lauren Schulte and Erika Jensen, to create a new kind of menstrual cup, a spherical disc with an inset plastic catch that promises mess-free periods and a happy vagina. You can pop in a Flex, leave it for up to 12 hours, and not need to worry about leaking. There’s even a helpful video that walks you through insertion and removal.
What makes it different than a regular menstrual cups, you ask? Its spherical shape makes insertion easier (menstrual cups are not small), it's disposable, and the ring can be pushed up against the cervix, making period sex both possible and mess free. TBH, they had me at period sex. I had to try these for myself.
I was wearing cream cashmere underwear and a grandma nightgown so, I knew already that it was going to be a wild night. Try me, period. I’m wearing cashmere. I spent most of the day terrified of putting Flex in. When you take it out of the packaging, it’s intimidating. The disc is about 3 inches in diameter. I decided not to look at the directions. I wanted to see if this product was intuitive, and also, I'm lazy.
To insert, you squeeze it flat like a tampon. You then push it back towards the cervix. When I put Flex in, it flattened itself out against my cervix by itself. I would have taken a moment to appreciate this if I hadn’t been panicking unnecessarily. My boyfriend thought I'd fallen since I was screaming, "AHHHH!" during the entire insertion process. There was no reason for this other than the fact that I was being a wimp. I got a little period blood on my fingers, but that can happen with tampons, too.
Once Flex was in, it was in. I couldn’t feel it anymore — obviously the ideal outcome with any form of period-centric device. To my delight, within a few minutes my cramps began to subside. It no longer felt like a cat with rusty nails was scratching at my uterus. How does a menstrual disc alleviate cramps? I had to wonder. According to Jane van Dis, an OB/GYN with Flex, the real secret is in the materials.
Flex is made of a medical-grade polymer blend, which are used in all types of products that are approved for use inside the human body, including surgical tools. "It's an inert material, [which] has no inflammatory effect in a woman's vagina and thus does not exacerbate the inflammatory effects of a woman's menstrual period," van Dis told me. The vagina is also at its widest up by the cervix. A tampon sits in the mid-portion of the vagina, but Flex sits all the way up. Some of the cramping women feel during their menstrual cycle is due to the tampon's expansion with blood, Van dis says. She also notes that the lower third of the vagina contains more sensitive nerves — and Flex doesn't rub them like a tampon. "Many women who can feel the pressure of a tampon expanding in their lower vagina [causing] cramping, cannot feel Flex in the upper vagina due to the differences in innervation and shape of the respective products," she adds.
Rebecca Brightman, an OB/GYN at East Side Women's Associates, sings a rather different tune. She tells Allure that Flex acts like a diaphragm (a cervical cap which was used prevents pregnancy) in that it, "rests in the vaginal fornices and covers the cervix by sitting behind the pubic bone." She also adds that cramping is not likely to occur due to a filling tampon, as the vagina is very flexible and can accommodate a fetal head. "Cramping occurs because prostaglandins are released from the uterine lining and the uterus contracts to push out blood as a result. These contractions are menstrual cramps," Brightman says.
OK, so the experts don't agree. But what I do know is that my cramps felt better with Flex. And in that case, I'm good with it.
When my boyfriend and I first tried to have sex, it didn't go very well. Like your vagina would with a kegel ball, the muscles contract around Flex, making penetration difficult. We couldn't get my partner's penis more than halfway in either missionary or cowgirl. He said he could feel something up there, and that it hurt to bang against it.
I was also distracted because I have an IUD. I could picture the Flex getting trapped on the strings and yanking it out. In the end, it was totally fine — I use tampons during my period so, why would a menstrual disc be any different?
The second time we had sex, it was better. I made sure the disc was higher up in the vagina this time, as close to the cervix as I could manage. For the most part, it worked. The vagina definitely still contracts around the disc, but it’s not unmanageable. Not that there's anything wrong with messy sex, but I'm personally not into it. So, if you’re trying to have mess-free period sex, this is the way to go.
After sleeping in Flex, I was pleasantly surprised that I had no leaks! The cashmere panties were safe.
At first, I thought Flex was stuck when I tried to take it out. Shocker — it turns out that's because you don't remove it standing up. If you sit on the toilet and lightly tug on it and push, it moves down and comes to the front of the vagina by itself. I got period blood on my hand again during removal, and the disc was slimy on the way out, but again not that surprising when you think about it.
My favorite thing about Flex is that it helps with cramps. If I could change anything, I would want it to be reusable like a menstrual cup. One of the things I like about menstrual cups is the ability to buy one and then not have to worry about it again. With Flex, you have to buy more each month, like tampons. It’s also a little messy, but I’d say that is more due to my own ineptitude and lack of coordination than it is Flex's fault. You are bleeding and putting something up the area where the blood is coming from — it makes sense you’d come in contact with some period blood.
I’d recommend Flex to anyone who doesn’t like messy period sex, has bad cramps, and has issues with tampons. It’s definitely a good alternative and is easy to use — just be sure you wash your hands thoroughly after insertion and removal.
This story originally appeared on Allure.
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