How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Menstrual Cups
My sophomore year at Oberlin College, I attended a student-run presentation on alternative menstrual products. Now, if you didn’t go to hippie school, you might not have had one of these, but besides tampons and pads, I had no idea what else was out there, so I figured it was worth checking out. After all, if I was going to continue being a student at a socially and ecologically responsible liberal arts school, I’d better keep myself in-the-know about modern day advances in feminine hygiene.
The presentation was very casual, and most of the products they presented were more low-tech than high-tech. Homemade pads made out of fabric that you wash in a washing machine (these have since gained traction on Etsy). Natural sea sponges that work much like a tampon. But the ones that intrigued me the most were the latex and silicone cups. They sounded like a dream come true: they are low-maintenance, don’t produce any trash, and you can keep using one for as long as you want. I was told I could buy one at the local organic market in town, so I set out to get one after doing some research online.
After buying my cup (a latex Keeper) and my period rolled around, my next task was to figure out how to get something roughly the size of a small lemon up my cooter. The trick is that you have to fold it up first. You stick it in just a little bit, and then let it pop open. Now, let me tell you, the latex rubber was really strong, and when I let go of the fold, that pop hurt. I would try doing it about halfway up to try and minimize the impact. You have to let it expand so that it can properly suction onto your cervix. After it pops, you push it up the rest of the way and give it a little twirl to make sure it’s in place. And then voila. Taking it out is even easier: you reach up, give it a little squeeze to break the suction seal, and pull it out. This also hurt with the strong rubber, and I gradually began to suspect that something was amiss.
When I became sexually active again, it became even more clear to me that perhaps latex was not the best choice for my cup. The friction from both my latex Keeper and latex condoms did not agree with my tender insides. I found a LiveJournal community centered around menstrual cups (http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/ – really a fantastic resource) and read up on different cups and reactions to latex. After about a year and a half with my Keeper, I went out and bought a silicone Diva Cup from a California health food store. I have been much happier with it. The silicone isn’t as strong as the latex, so when you pop it open inside you, it doesn’t hurt. It also fits my cervix better, which I didn’t even know was an issue before. When a cup fits you right, there is no leakage. That’s right, no leakage. No more backup pads. No feeling dried out from cotton both inside and outside of your hoo-ha.
There are lots of things I love about my cup: I don’t have to continuously stock up on tampons and pads and worry about not having enough on me for the day. This also means I don’t produce as much trash, which is good for the planet. Not using tampons is better for my vaginal health, as tampons can cause microtears (not sure how much I really buy this one, but it is a risk) in your vaginal walls, and of course as any box of tampons will remind you, can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. I also now know my flow very well since I literally see how much is coming out of me at any given point in my cycle, so I know which days and nights I’m lightest or heaviest and can plan accordingly. When I go on trips, I don’t even have to remember to pack anything extra, since I keep my cup in my purse (they all come with a little cloth bag to keep it in). I do like to keep a supply of extra-thin pantyliners around (the Kotex ones in the black box, haha) for light days, but other than that, my periods have become so low-maintenance. I even feel like my periods became shorter, although it’s probably because I had to spend less time worrying about exactly when I needed to go change my tampon. I would recommend a cup to any girl who is interested in reducing her impact on the environment and keeping her vagina naturally lubricated. Some girls may find it kind of gross to be in that much contact with your vag and your menses, but it’s natural and you’ll get over it. It all washes off anyway.
The only downside is probably when you need to wash your cup out in a public restroom. At that presentation my sophomore year, I remember the girl presenting getting asked that question, and her saying that you should just talk to strangers about how great your cup is if they see you washing a bunch of blood down the drain. I generally don’t do that (actually, I never do that). At the risk of not grossing out random women in public restrooms, I mostly opt to just wipe it out with some toilet paper and stick it back in.
Using a menstrual cup really does put you in touch with your flow in a way that tampons and pads don’t, and while your period may never be fun exactly, it can at least be less of a hassle. I would never go back.
Siena graduated from Oberlin College, majoring in East Asian Studies (Japanese) and English, so, of course now she works for a software company. She loves language, correcting other people’s grammar, and putting commas in all the right places. She hopes one day to live her dream of being a Japanese translator/interpreter, but is content for now living the life in Silicon Valley. A Los Angeles native, she enjoys computers, fashion, delicious food, and video games. She is also Sophia’s cousin.
Her fear is that she will somehow compromise on becoming the woman she has always wanted to be.