Let’s talk menstruation. In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day last May 28, let’s talk about that single most definitive thing about being a woman — our ability to bleed large amounts every month without bleeding ourselves to death.
A while back, I asked my friends over at Facebook by means of crowdsourcing about menstrual cups. I specified that I didn’t want to know the advantages and disadvantages, because I could easily google those. What I did want to know was how different life had been for them before and after using a menstrual cup. Essentially, I wanted to know the “reality” of the cup. Lo and behold, people commented and sent me messages about the advantages of using the cup nonetheless, and an overwhelming shared sentiment of how they’re “never going back”.
My purpose in writing this is not to convince you to “make the switch” (though that would be great for the environment as I write this to open Environment Month), try to sell you a product, or inadvertently sway you to try it out. In the same way, it is not meant to add to the dangerous social stigma that “a woman’s worth is in her virginity and insertion of anything in her vagina desecrates that integrity”. My purpose is simply to shed light on what really goes on behind the scenes when using a menstrual cup, the amount of anxiety brought on by inserting something foreign, the initial discomfort it brings, the thoughts running through a woman’s head while using the cup, and ultimately, why I have decided to stick with it. All are based on my own personal experience and in my pure, unabated, naturally charming tone.
First things first, just as any sensible person (or nerd) would, I did my research. I researched on menstrual cups, its availability in the Philippines, how to insert it, if there even are cup sizes (and goodness there are), others’ experiences, and just out of curiosity, the history of menstrual cups. I watched a ton of videos just to make sure they were more or less on the same page, read a good number of blogs, and interviewed those who commented on my crowdsourcing post on Facebook. Obviously, each one had a different experience and some found it easier to insert and get the hang of as compared to others, but the similarity I noticed among those who had an easier time was that they were sexually aware and open-minded. So it’s not necessarily the size of your vaginal opening or how “loose” you are, like those who have already given birth, for example. Because no matter how high up your cervix is, how heavy the flow, the strength of your pelvic floor, the activities you’ve engaged in that helps “open it up”, and whether you’ve given birth or not, it’s all in the mindset.
Which leads me to the second step of my journey —
Psyching Up Thyself
The fact that I even got interested in trying out a menstrual cup and went through the nitty gritty of researching on it as if I were writing a research paper meant that I already had the right mindset. Now that I’ve done the research, the bulk of the challenge was in getting myself in the right disposition to finally insert this foreign device into my body. This meant that 1) I had to have the right ambience and 2) I had to be open enough to try different ways of inserting it.
Getting the right ambience was actually more complicated than I thought because I forgot to factor in a very important part of the journey – that I was sharing a room with my brother in an apartment where we lived with my mom who had no concept of locks or knocking on doors. Since this was my first time to put the cup in, I had to finger myself to learn how high up my cervix was so that I could apply the right method of insertion based on the position of my cervix. After practically fifteen minutes of calming myself down, and just when I was settled in the right position for insertion, my conservative mother crashes in the room and spots me legs spread wide fingering myself. Naturally, an argument ensued which lasted for about another fifteen minutes and so by this time, my period was flowing out like crazy. By the time she finally understood what a menstrual cup was, I was so lubricated with my own blood that I figured it would easily slide in. And so I lit my Jo Malone candle in Peony & Blush Suede, played Handel’s Water Music, and closed my eyes and imagined I was the most zen yogi in the entire planet, and after five attempts, it was successfully and completely inside my vagina.
By now, this blog is starting to sound like a retelling of exploring one’s body for the first time – or for the inexperienced: a tutorial on how to get started – because of splashes of innuendos here and there. And let me tell you, as horrendous as our menstrual experience is, our sexual experiences are ideally just as exhilarating, because both female human experiences go through the same stages. They go hand in hand. And, essentially, both should make you more aware of your body.
When you know what works for you, when you know how to get yourself in the right headspace, when you’re aware of which motions are comfortable and feel good to you, you become more appreciative of your body and its capabilities.
Touched for the Very First Time
It’s been more than two years since I started using a menstrual cup and every time I get asked what it feels like, if it’s painful, if it’s intimidating, and so on, I always refer to it as essentially having sex for the first time. It’s a hodgepodge of anxiety, confusion, excitement, nervousness, and satisfaction/disappointment. Both my menstrual cup journey and my sexual awakening involved a lot of research, psyching myself up, setting my expectations, and learning from the experience.
On my very first cycle with the menstrual cup, I felt accomplished at managing to properly insert it but I also felt a pang of embarrassment and waves of discomfort throughout the cycle. The initial embarrassment was a result of the things I had to imagine just to get myself lubricated enough for the cup to easily slide in. It helps that I’ve had a great deal of satisfying sexual encounters to pull up from my memory bank to help in that aspect, but I also found it embarrassing that I had to prep my mind in that way to be able to prep my body. Meanwhile, the waves of discomfort stemmed from the knowledge that I had a foreign object inside me for two entire days while I was on my period. I started to question if this was really necessary, if I was willing to put myself through the same trouble every month, how far I was willing to go for the sake of convenience and environmentalism. When I thought about my answers to my own questions, it started to make sense to me that I shouldn’t even be feeling this way about something that would change my life for the better. I only felt embarrassed for thinking of such things because the society I’m in condemns women for being vocal about their sexuality and their preferences during sex, as if personal satisfaction was a bad thing. And I realized after a couple of cycles that the discomfort I was feeling from having a foreign object inside me was entirely psychosomatic. When I was engrossed in what I was doing and I was unaware of the presence of my menstrual cup, it was as if I wasn’t on my period.
Through this journey, I realized that my body was capable of so many things if I just opened my mind to the possibilities and if I could look past social judgement.
If I am attuned to my own body, it could be my greatest weapon in this world.
It took me three cycles to get the hang of using a menstrual cup. Within those first three cycles, panty liners were my best friend. Since I was still figuring out the “fold” that would work for me, I would find myself still leaking, although significantly less than I would without a menstrual cup. The panty liners helped catch red spots here and there, and especially with reusable ones, I saved SO MUCH money as compared to my life pre-menstrual cup. I only spend PhP 1,500 at most every two years on menstrual hygiene products, which would consist of one menstrual cup and two to three reusable panty liners, as compared to spending PhP 1,440 every year on sanitary napkins. And, mind you, one sanitary napkin takes at least 500 years to decompose.
Aside from saving myself money and lessening my impact on the environment, using a menstrual cup is SO CONVENIENT. Once you get past the breaking in period, you’ll notice significant changes in your monthly cycle, such as the absence of that bulky feeling, discomfort from having to sit a certain way, odor, and the feeling of being kulob (the best English translation would be feeling cramped or closed in). In fact, I totally forgot that I was even on my period until I had to empty my cup, which would be every 12 hours. I could perform at work in the same way I would as if I didn’t have my period. I could gym, dance ballet, swim, dive, and run if I wanted to.
To me, this meant that I could live my life to the fullest. To me, this meant equality.
If there was a denouement to my menstrual cup journey, the after care would probably be it. After all the highs and triumphs from living my life to the fullest with a menstrual cup, I quickly realized that getting it out is twice as hard as putting it in. Even after more than two years of using a menstrual cup, there are still instances when I would spend a substantial amount of time calming myself down and getting into the right stance. I remember this one time when I thought my cup got lost inside my vagina. My libido was particularly high that time and I was so lubricated that my cup apparently slid deeper inside to the point that I couldn’t find the stem. I was at the point where I was thinking of the most concise way to explain my situation so that I could reach out to the most progressive doctors in this country to help me fish it out. Apparently, I just had to do a really low sumo squat (my butt was practically touching the floor) and take on the ultra zen yogi disposition again, until I finally found the stem of my cup. I haven’t given birth, but I can imagine that this would be good training. You know how they say pregnancy makes you appreciate and love your body more because of its potential? Now I understand what they mean.
I can say with 100% conviction that I am never going back to the way things were before I gave menstrual cups a shot. As a person who is in love with life and lives it to the fullest, the existence of menstrual cups has made coping with my monthly period more bearable. When I was doing my research, I found out that menstrual cups have been around since 1987 for the very same reason that fellow women have been fighting for – convenience and equality. Despite it being around for decades, the global trend is that women are still hesitant to use it because of the social stigma that surrounds vaginal insertion. In the Philippines, although the culture in general is still mostly sex-averse, there is an increasing positive response to conversations around women’s health, especially among millennials and the succeeding generations. Local sustainable lifestyle brands like Sinaya have successfully marketed menstrual cups as a tool for environmental awareness, making the conversation less exclusive, less nefarious, and less intimidating.
As I mentioned earlier, and as ironic as it sounds after having said so much about menstrual cups, I’m not here to convince you to make the switch. My only wish is that through this unfiltered retelling of my experience, people would realize that conversations surrounding women’s health matters and that social stigmas can inhibit someone from realizing how much life has to offer due to fear of judgement.
Interesting how something as small as a menstrual cup can make such an impact on so many women’s lives.