A disclaimer: I did receive a free box of Instead Softcups to try as part of the For the Love of the Run/Instead Softcup Challenge. That being said, the opinions expressed in my review are completely my own.
An additional note for squeamish readers: There may be some moments in this review that are too much for you. If you need to, skip to the bottom for my review recap.
After I started running, I started hearing more about alternatives to tampons and sanitary pads. Most women can tell you that menstruation is not a terribly convenient or tidy process. Having one's period while running frequently and training at long distances, while using the "traditional" methods of period protection (such an odd term), is much less so. It can also get terribly uncomfortable - including the possibility of chafing in some of the worst places imaginable.
Even before I learned about the Instead Softcup Challenge, I had already purchased a sample directly from Instead. I've never been able to comfortably use tampons and was getting tired of ruining panties every month, so I was excited to try something new. The Instead Softcup website has a lot of information about use of the product and really thorough FAQs, so I'll focus on my experience with the product here. You can get your technical information from them.
Like many women, I can be a tad squeamish about my own body, so it took me a little while to actually try this product. I've used Softcup for two cycles now and am planning to continue into the foreseeable future. (Warning: skip to the bottom now if you're not interested in all the details.)
As with any new product, getting the hang of using it properly took a few tries. Within half an hour of inserting my first Softcup, I had to try again because I hadn't pushed it back far enough and I could tell that leakage was imminent. Once I figured out exactly how to place the Softcup (resting behind the pubic bone), all leaking stopped, except for when I used the bathroom. A friend who has been using this product for a while and Instead's FAQ section confirmed that this was normal. Also, during the heaviest days of my period, I have to make sure that I empty the Softcup a little more often to avoid tiny leaks that can result from overflow.
Taking out the Softcup without a mess is a skill that continues to elude me, even as I'm in the midst of using it for a second cycle. Removing the Softcup is simple enough, but I always end up with some blood on my fingers. For me, this is not a big enough drawback that I will discontinue use of the product, but it is less than optimal when using public restrooms. As I was traveling while first trying the Softcup, this issue presented some challenges. I am going to make a kit for Softcup use, to include hand sanitizer to use before inserting or removing the device and wet wipes for after (before leaving the stall). Many women may already keep these items handy; I am not one of those women.
I have done a variety of activities while using Softcup, including running and yoga. When it's inserted, I don't notice that it's there. I've never experienced any leaks as a result of physical activity even on heavy flow days. Compared to my experience with tampons (terribly uncomfortable/lots of leaks) and pads (leaks/chafing/smells), Softcup is incredible.
THE BOTTOM (oh, squeamish ones, you can start again here): Going forward, Softcup will be my choice for period protection (yup, that's still weird), especially when running. Not only is it comfortable and reliable, it's much more cost effective and environmentally-friendly (there are both disposable and reusable options) than the products I've used in the past.
Ladies, I'd recommend giving this product a try - whether you run or not. If you're interested, there may still be time to get in on the Softcup Challenge. Those of you who don't want commit to publicly discussing your period, respond to this post. I will order Softcup sample packs for the first five to respond before January 30.