Let’s Talk about Periods

Hello, readers!  It’s been a while, mostly because I’ve wanted to do this topic and also was terrified to do this topic.  Mainly because this subject is taboo among, well, practically every female (let alone the males) I know.  In real life.  Personally.  Of course, in the world-wide web, there are plenty of women (and some men) that are more than willing to talk about a woman’s menstrual cycle.  And I feel that those brave women that I know (because I will be sharing this post on Facebook) would do well to learn about some green things I’ve found that have, in all honesty, made my period weeks a lot better.

Those who feel a bit queasy, I’ll put a brief summary below before jumping into the details.  Feel free to read as much or as little as you like.

Two years ago, I discovered something called a menstural cup.  Previously, I’d been buying pads and tampons, spending anywhere from $8-30 per month, and I was fed up.

Depending on the menstural cup, it can cost anywhere from $15-$50, but they’re reusable (after sanitizing, of course).  They’re made of medical-grade silicon and can be used for a year (some women have used the same cup for ten years, but I think that’s gross).  I buy mine on Amazon because the only other places I’ve found them is REI and Whole Foods, and I swear both places like to sell their products for more than everywhere else (my city isn’t exactly forward-thinking in some respects).  I still have to buy pantiliners, but not as often.  I also had to buy a small pan specifically for cup sterilization.  I bought it at a yard sale.

One of the scariest things about buying something that expensive is buying the wrong size.  I used the following informative video to help make my decision. Bree is very good at being mature while discussing this and other topics:

Using a menstural cup has made me more willing to exercise during my period and has saved me money.  I’ve only bought three since I started using them, and one was because I accidentally burned the other one.

Finally, I think that menstural cups should be an option every woman should know about, along with the more commonly known pads and tampons.  Of course, it’s ultimately a personal choice, and if you continue onward you’ll know (in hopefully humorous yet sometimes “graphic” detail) why I went on this search and why I’ll continue using them until I die (or go through menopause, which is hopefully before I die).

End of summary.

If you are squeamish, think periods are taboo, or just don’t like talking about this sort of stuff, STOP!  TURN BACK NOW! GO NO FURTHER! HERE LIES GROSSNESS!

You have been warned.

Now, over two years ago, I was tired of my period (as almost all women everywhere have been at one time or another throughout the modern era).  I was spending oodles of my limited funds every single month on feminine supplies: pads, tampons, pantiliners, and stuff to get blood out of clothes.  And I couldn’t go for the cheap stuff.  I needed ultra absorbent, overnighters, the biggest and best that money could buy.  Why?  Because, especially the first couple days of my period, I filled up those pads and tampons ultra fast.  And I didn’t care how leak-proof the boxes and advertisements said they were, I leaked all the time.  I don’t know if pads were made for figures that were unnatural or what, but however long the pad, even if I wore overnighters during the day, inevitably the blood would trickle up my butt and up my front and would end up on my underwear.  And my pants.  And my pjs.  And my sheets.  Every. Single. Month.

And tampons weren’t any better.  You know those extra-large made-for-athletes tampons that could supposedly hold the heaviest flow for eight hours?  Yeah, not only were they hard for me to insert, but they were uncomfortable, inevitably crept down, and would fill up in a maximum of four hours before I bled all over whatever I was wearing.

And, to top it all off, I was getting “diaper rashes” every single month.  Plus, sometimes my period would start a few days early, so I’d end up wearing pads for days before my period even started.  And it was worse in summer.  So much worse.  Those diaperpads would fill up with sweat every couple of hours, and I’d have to change them, and I stunk even whenever I wasn’t on my period (wearing them waiting for my period to start).  It. Was. Horrible.

At the time, I was friends on Facebook with some openly active feminists.  Now, I consider myself feminists, but one or two of these people could also be considered feminazis.  The downside of this was that very negative stuff kept coming through my feed, stuff that went above and beyond feminism in derogatory ways that I could never condone, but the upside of this was I ran across groups of people that would openly talk about things like breastfeeding (which I’ve never needed to do but someday plan on doing), healthy body image (which I’ve gotten better at), and menstrual cycles (which brings me to this post).  Having no one nearby that I could talk to about these things, I browsed the comments on these posts.  One post said something similar to, “Oh, I don’t use pads or tampons.  I use a menstrual cup.”

“Huh?” I thought.  “What’s a menstrual cup?”

I couldn’t ask my parents about it.  My dad might be okay, but I felt awkward talking to him about such things.  My mom, however, would turn bright red, stammer, and demand that such things were taboo.  So what did I do?  Turn to the internet, concerned that I might accidentally search for things that would lead to porn.

I didn’t find porn.  Instead, I found an entire community of women and girls who were willing to discuss such things as menstrual cups, periods, cramps, the quality and quantity of menstrual blood in such candor that I felt my face grow red.  But I kept reading.  And eventually I decided I would buy a menstrual cup.

The only type I could find in the store was something called SoftCup.  It was a one-use only disposable menstural cup that cost around $12 for 12 cups.  Not even enough for a single cycle.  But I decided to try it.  I read up on how to insert it, read some more tips online, grabbed a pad just in case it didn’t work, and went forward.

It hurt a lot. As in, I thought I was going to die.  You see, SoftCups can barely be called cups at all.  They’re a ring of not-very-pliable plastic with a thin sheet of plastic across the ring to form the “cup.”  This ring likes to spring back to its original shape, whether it’s sitting on a counter or inside your cervix.  Since I already experienced cramps that are more painful than “normal,” this was a torture device that would have made me spill all our national secrets in a moment’s time, if I had known any.  Also, I’m glad I was wearing a pad just in case.  I was at a museum with my mom and my nephews, and I sneezed.  All of a sudden, I felt the familiar trickling down onto my underwear.  The SoftCup didn’t work at all.  Blood was everywhere, and when I forced that hard-plastic ring out, blood went everywhere else.  Somehow, I managed to clean up sufficiently that nobody noticed my near-disaster once I exited the bathroom.

Several months went by, and I had returned to pads.  But I kept researching.  You see, I had my very first 5K coming up, and my period was scheduled to start on that exact date.  I’d already learned that if there was a camping trip or a holiday or a race, my period would inevitably start.  And it would be heavy.  If simply existing, wearing a pad, during the summer was bad enough, try exercising.  I didn’t want to bail out, but I also didn’t want to bleed everywhere while having the edges of the diaperpad rubbing against all my sensitive areas the entire run.  So I reasearched like my life depended on it, ran across the video above, and bought a DivaCup.

True to form, my period started on the day of the race.  I’d put the cup in the day before, so I was at least moderately competent with putting it in and taking it out and was more comfortable with how it felt.  I ran through the race without being bothered by it at all.  Now, menstrual cups can shift a little while exercising and can break their seal against your cervix wall, so a little bit of leaking is common.  It happened with me (it always happens on my heaviest days, I’ve found), but no more than if I’d worn a tampon and been sitting around.  I emptied it, cleaned it, reinserted it, and went on my merry way.  And nobody ever knew.

I still haven’t told my parents.  When I first started using menstrual cups, I was living in my parents’ basement.  I had gone back to school and used up all my savings on tuition, so to save money I’d returned home.  I’d bought a countertop burner for the express purpose of boiling water in the privacy of my bedroom.  My parents thought I bought it so I could make mac and cheese.  Once, while I was sterilizing my menstrual cup, my dad walked in.  He asked what it was, and I went so red and started stammering so much that my dad just laughed, walked out of the room, and never asked me about it again.  But I’m sure he’s guessed or at least has an inkling.  He has four sisters, all more open than my mom, and he’s pretty smart.  My mom, well, I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m still using tampons.

So why have I kept going on with menstrual cups?  It’s pretty messy to clean up.  You have to dump out the blood, clean the cup with soap and water at most or a wipe at least, and then reinsert it. Then clean the blood off your fingers, either with a wipe, soap and water, or both.  Some people would be turned off by all that mess, but it’s not that much messier, for me, than tampons.  I’ve gotten used to it (though I do wash my hands extra well before and after).

For me, it’s partially about cost.  Like I said before, I was spending $8-30 every single month on feminine supplies.  Back when I was living with my parents, every single cent spent on those supplies was like shooting myself in the foot.  I was desperately trying to save money, and each month I was bleeding literally and metaphorically.  I still have to wear a pantiliner on the first two days of each period because I’m so heavy those days that the menstural cup starts leaking several hours before the 12-hour recommended changing time is up (Yes, they recommend you remove and clean your menstural cup at most every 12 hours).  So there’s still that cost. But it’s a far cry from the $8-30 monthly.  I buy Always’ Dailies thin, in the blue individual wrapper.  I once bought the dailies in the pink wrapper, but that was a mistake.  They’re just as useless as wearing only underwear.  Anyway, after the first couple days all I need is my cup, so those pantiliners last a lot longer and I have far less diaper rash.

Mostly, though, the cup is about comfort and freedom.  Like I mentioned before, I’d get so rashy and uncomfortable wearing pads and tampons.  And the smell!  Oh, the smell!  I once worked changing lab mice’s cages, and every so often one of the mice would die and I’d find it hours later.  When I was on my period and wearing pads, I smelled a lot like those dead mice.  And of course every dog I ran across would smell my crotch area with keen interest whenever I was on my period.  “Yes,” I’d think at the dog.  “I smell like death.”

With the menstrual cup, there’s no smell.  None.  Even when it starts leaking, you can tell and empty the cup and change the pantiliner quickly enough that the smell doesn’t come.  It’s awesome!

And ahhh, the freedom!  Before, I was always concerned with if I was going to leak, if I’d be hiking and blood would creep up my butt, if my pad would fill with sweat while I was working out at the gym.  I was always worried while swimming if the tampon would fall out, or fill, or soak up water through the little string.  In short, one week out of every month I spent carefully sitting on the couch, or standing, or pacing back and forth, but never exercising.  But now, I’ve gone camping, hiking, running, and swimming while wearing a menstrual cup.  And so long as I empty it afterwards (because it does come a little out of place each time), I’m happy as a clam.

And the lack of leaking.  I do leak occasionally with a menstrual cup, especially on my first couple of days (I probably need to move up a size, but I want to wait until this year is over so I don’t waste money).  But it’s not every single month, and it’s never as bad as when I wore pads.  And if I wanted, I could wear a pad at night to help to mitigate any leaks that may occur.  But I don’t want to.  So I deal with the minor mess when I wake up.  And it is minor.

In summary, I love using menstrual cups.  I will never go back to pads unless directed by a doctor.  I will never go back to tampons except in an emergency (aka, my period started early and I didn’t have my cup).  I will continue maintaining the cup, cleaning it and sanitizing it, and I will be diligent in buying a new one every year.

And I’ll add less waste to the world by buying and using fewer pads and tampons.  That, itself, is cause for praise.

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