No More Tampons or TSS Worries

A guest post
by Ashley MacInnis

January 2012 was a pivotal month for me. At 24 years old, I was bidding farewell to an almost five-year-long relationship, which had stemmed to a five-month-old marriage. A single mum who had lost herself in her relationship and motherhood duties, I felt like a ghost of myself. Devastated at the loss of my relationship, I decided I needed to make some changes for me and improve some of the other relationships in my lives – namely, my relationship with myself: my health, my happiness.

I can still remember the day of my first period. My friend was visiting from another province, and I was wearing navy blue corduroy pants and a grey turtleneck sweater. I had turned 13 two months before. I was mortified. My mother gave me pads, and after my friend had left, we discussed menstruation in all its negativity: cramps, headaches, pads, tampons. My first impression of menstruation was that it was nothing but a pain (literally).

I used pads originally, for a few months, but the bunching and discomfort was no good for an athlete. My mom bought me my first box of Playtex tampons that summer so I could go swimming with friends, and I began to use tampons during the day and pads at night. Suffering from low iron, I was almost always anemic and would often get sick during my periods. I went on birth control to reduce the heavy, heavy flows and regulate my period. I had a period every 28 days, with a five day moderate flow, and one to two days of light flow or spotting. This was my life for the next nine years, when I got pregnant.

Following the birth of my son, my periods were different – irregular and sometimes incredibly heavy – and tampons were out of the question. Even though I had no internal stitches, I found them uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. I could ALWAYS feel it. Fast forward two years, to my separation.

I woke up one morning, made myself a coffee and sat in my living room while my son ate his breakfast and played with his trucks. A girlfriend dropped in and informed me I needed to pick myself up. We started talking about this and that, and she mentioned a new product she was in love with: The Diva Cup. After she left, I felt a little ashamed. I did need to pick myself up, make a meal and get on with it; I needed to show my son that I loved myself, that my health and my happiness were important. For some reason, the Diva Cup stuck out in my mind and on my next trip into town, I dropped by the Health Food store and bought one.

As I sat at home that evening, I looked at my purchase. For just under $40 dollars I had bought this bizarre looking creation, and I eyed it with a little bit of skepticism. Was it really that great? I hit the internet to check it out. What I found was a ton of good reviews. Not only was it eco-friendly (yay!), but it lowered – almost eradicated – my chances of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) compared to using tampons. Plus, it was good for a year making it economically friendly – a great bonus for a single mom, or anyone else!

The first insertion was a little tricky, but I followed the instructions, took a break and tried again. Success! The key was finding what worked for me. I bet I dumped it four times the first day, just out of fear. Within a few days, I was able to dump it twice a day – at 9AM and 9PM – perfect for my busy life.  With tampons, and my fear of TSS, I had to stop everything and change them every four-five hours. Who has time for that? Plus, I could wear it to bed – no leaks, no bunching!

I have spent my whole life avoiding things that would hurt me. I would never take amoxicillin (which I am allergic to), or eat spoiled food – so why did I voluntarily put myself at risk for TSS. How many times had I, as a naïve teenager, left a tampon in for ten hours or more? I thought things like TSS just couldn’t happen to me – and I was lucky it didn’t.

It sounds dramatic, but the Diva Cup was the first of many positive changes for me this January. I started eating better, and my inflammatory bowel syndrome has been reduced to irritable, at worst. I began working out regularly, and lost over 25 pounds. I rediscovered my athleticism, and am planning to run a half marathon next May. In January 2012, I decided to make my health a priority.

The Diva Cup works best for me for a few reasons:

  • On my heaviest flow days, I only have to dump it about 3 times – morning, late afternoon or dinnertime, and just before bed (only as a precaution).
  • I have found my periods to be shorter – Perhaps because I’m not scraping the walls of my vagina pushing in and pulling out tampons.
  • Eco friendly – no plastic wrapping, blood soaked cotton, cardboard boxes, or feminine pads going into the trash every month.
  • Economic – for about $40CAD, I am covered for all of my periods for about a year. That’s under $3 a month – and pads/tampons are expensive!
  • No leaks!

Today, at 24, I have a very different outlook on menstruation. I can now see menstruation as a gift, a sign of femininity, fertility and health. I wish my Mom could have had this kind of positive outlook, or been aware (or open – she’s grossed out by my cup) of the other feminine hygiene products out there. I know if I ever have a daughter, she’ll know all about menstrual cups!

Happy Periods, girls! Be healthy and stay strong.


  1. I must ask, is this site really about TSS or just trying to promote cups? It seems like in just about every one of the stories involving TSS the new method is to use cups. As far as I can find, cups create the same environment tampons do to cause TSS. Also I have saw no actual evidence they are any safer. It seems like since such a small percentage of women use them, there are not any real stats or studies about them. I dont understand why women do not just use pads. I would like to hear your responce about this.

    • Well, first of all, cups do not scrape the vaginal walls, and also do not have dioxins, and a hazardous chemical (I don’t remember what the chemical is called) which is used to soak up the blood, making them *absorbent* causing TSS. Also, a lot of money is saved. It is also better for the environment. If using a tampon, you also cannot inspect it before it goes in if it has an applicator, and if it doesn’t have an applicator, than doing that much handling would most likely contaminate the tampon itself. There is evidence that they are much safer! Thats what google is for, am I right ? 😉 Pads, well, I truly appreciate pads much more than I would ever appreciate tampons at all.

    • I now use a combination of cups and reusable cloth pads. I switched to cups after being a tampon user for about 10 years, because disposable pads always made me feel uncomfortable, sweaty and wet, even with a light flow. I like cloth pads though, because they are soft and breathable. It is my understanding that cups present a MUCH lower risk of TSS (if any), because what promotes TSS in tampons is the fact that they are absorbant. TSS is caused by the overgroth of a particular bacteria (staph aureus), which is often found in minute quatities in the environment, multiplying until it gets out of control and entering the blood stream via the vaginal wall. When the body becomes overwhelmed with this bacteria, is when toxic shock occures. Tampons provide 1. A fibery, moist environment suitable for the bacteria to grow and multiply 2. It dries and scrapes the vaginal walls making entry points for the bacteria to enter the blood stream. Cups are not fibery or absorbant, they are completely smooth and none porous, so they don’t harbour bacteria. They also don’t react with the mucuous vaginal walls, and don’t dry them out from their protective fluids and healthy bacteria. So overall, they are much healthier than tampons and present virtually no risk of TSS. I know my explanation is not perfect but that’s, in summary, what I read online many times. I’m sure you can research it more thouroughly if you’re interested in the details.

  2. Jenn,
    Thanks for writing. To answer your first question, this site is about tampon related TSS. I am not aware of any cases of TSS caused by menstrual cup use. To attempt to reply to your statement that followed I can only speak from what I know to be true for myself and assume is true for others. Many who have provided posts describing their switch from tampons to ______ have indeed mentioned cups. My guess is that they chose cups over pads because prior to changing they had opted for tampons, not pads. Women use tampons (and cups) because they prefer (in my opinion) NOT to use pads. Some women have allergic reactions to pads, some women have active lifestyles and pads are not a favored choice. Some women have extremely heavy periods and need more protection from leaks than pads can provide. Perhaps you would like to provide a post on why you prefer pads to tampons or cups.
    Thanks again for writing.