You may remember my menstrual cup misadventures last month. A recap of my journey so far:
- I started with SilkyCup, a medium sized menstrual cup with a stem (resulting in ‘vagitail’ in my early attempts)
- I practised and found a folding technique that worked for me and I’m still learning about insertion
- 7 months in, I discovered that the leakage that was happening was not normal. A menstrual cup replaces or should replace all other sanitary products like tampons, sanitary napkins and panty liners.
- I bought a SheCup, a medium sized menstrual cup without a stem
- Insertion was easier. I perfected the punchdown fold. Leakage vanished.
- The SheCup turned over completely inside me in December.
- It turned around 90 degrees in February. It also leaked out enough to stain my bed in my sleep.
- When removing the SheCup, it fell out and into the toilet bowl.
I’m over the upset of all this and I have decided that this is just trial-and-error till I find the best cup for me. Reema is of the opinion that the SheCup’s firmer material makes it ‘pop’ open inside on insertion while the SilkyCup being softer, stays folded and leaves room for leakage. I am theorising that a stem keeps a cup from spinning. And both of us think that the two cups may not have been the right size for me too.
With these in mind, I’m back on the road to the perfect cup. I’m going to set aside time, some money and the determination to soldier through and not give up. The menstrual cup has too many benefits (financial, environmental, feminist) for me to give up on it at this stage.
I know a lot more women are using menstrual cups now and several others are taking notice and have questions. I would like to start a discussion. So here are some questions. Share your thoughts and comments.
- If you are a menstrual cup user, do you prefer one with a stem or without?
- Have you had any troubles with the unfurling? How do you address those?
- What fold/s do you use? Have you experimented with angles of insertion?
- Has anyone noticed any increase/reduction in cramps? Any other physical changes noticed?
Leave your comments below and let’s get talking!
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I’ve received and given a few strange gifts in my time but the most unusual one was Reema’s birthday present to me this year. For context, Reema showers me with gifts of books, food, makeup and pretty objects year round so she managed to take it up a notch even further for the special birthday gift. She gave me my first menstrual cup.
So what’s a menstrual cup? It falls under what our world likes to call ‘feminine hygiene products’. In a nutshell (or a silicon cup), it collects period blood. Menstrual cups fit inside the vaginal passage, somewhat the way tampons do. Except tampons absorb the blood while menstrual cups collect it so you can take it out and empty it.
The benefits of this method are multifold. Tampons end up being blood soaked fabric bolts, which lend themselves to infections. The menstrual cup is made of silicon which as we all know gets put into people to enhance their curves (so presumably, it doesn’t react negatively with the body internally). Tampons are thought to contain bleach and other chemicals which could irritate the sensitive insides of the vaginal tract. No such issues with the menstrual cup. Of course all of this is academic, because I’ve never used a tampon, having been cautioned by the doctor who detected me (as a foetus) to avoid them for fear of infection.
Why menstrual cups over sanitary napkins then? After all, sanitary napkins have evolved (barring the ‘Have a Happy Period’ glitches). They’re more absorbent, don’t require itchy elastic belts, don’t slide out of your panty and have even gotten flatter (no unsightly bulges on the back of your pants). But any woman who has used them, knows about rashes and chafing, the inconvenience of having to find a place to change every three-four hours, the trouble of discarding used napkins in a private as well as hygienic and environmentally-conscious manner (don’t flush them down the toilet, yo!). Not to mention they’re an ongoing cost, EVERY DAMN MONTH. Anybody who thinks this is a trivial matter has never bought a sanitary napkin in their entire life. Menstrual cups are supposed to last for about 10 years.
None of this however, prepared me for the thought of sticking a strange foreign object into my body, especially in the time of cramps, low blood pressure, nausea and fainting. Oh Reema, the things you push me to do! But in Reema we trust and nothing she has introduced me to so far, has ever been regrettable. I did some reading up on menstrual cups online myself. I also asked my gynecologist about them. She didn’t seem too keen on the idea but she didn’t give me a firm no either.
“Maybe not because you’re putting a foreign body into yourself, you know?”
were her exact words.
As circumstantial luck would have it, for the first time ever in my perioding history, I fell short of sanitary napkins this month. My period arrived early, I was busy and then too exhausted to go down and buy some. Otherwise, I probably might have delayed the trial infinitely and the little silicon cup would have lain unused for years. Nothing to be done about it, I reached for the silicon cup.
- You may not be able to sterilise it by boiling the cup in your kitchen, owing to social/cultural norms. My mother won’t even let me stand in the kitchen while she’s doing her puja and I’m on my period. I doubt my ‘dirty’ menstrual things would find any place in the kitchen. I got around this by using a face steamer. The basic plastic variety you get for 100 bucks at the chemist, that lets you steam your pores or sinuses. Silicon bends easily so it flattened into a corner of the steamer cup.
- Inserting the cup is THE BIG CHALLENGE. I followed the instructions to fold it into a ‘C’ and I struggled for over 45 minutes before giving up. Then I tried again after I’d had lunch and this time I managed to get it in. The next time I put it in was difficult too but it took me 20 minutes. I imagine at that rate, I’ll be able to slip it in easy-peasy in another two periods or so.
- Figuring out how to position yourself during insertion is part of the challenge (I wonder if reading the Kamasutra would help). I tried squatting over a toilet or just the floor, as they recommended but nada. The only way I could get it in both times was when I sat on the floor, one leg splayed out and the other raised so the foot was resting on a chair or the toilet seat and slouched back about 45 degrees from the ground.
- On my second trial, I realised it slid it much easier when I angled it slightly to the left. I guess that’s just my body structure but it’s important to remember that our bodies are all different and none of them conform strictly to biological diagrams. A couple of degrees to the right to correct, made it very painful so I moved it back and it went right in.
- I put in the menstrual cup twice during the period, the first time for about 3 hours and the next time for about 5 hours. The instructions say that you can easily go 12 hours before having to empty the cup out. The first time I was freaking out worried that it would get lost in there. So I yanked it out in the early evening. Just in case it didn’t budge and I had to see my gynecologist, I wanted to ensure I’d be able to catch her. You might want to do this as well. All the literature assures you that the cup can’t possibly get lost inside you. But this is an intimate, big thing you’re doing and you need to do it at your own pace and with whatever support (emotional and otherwise) you need.
- The second time was sort of funny. The first time, I had put the cup in and sat in one place working. The second time, I decided to walk around to see how it felt. It was strange, very strange. After about 15 minutes, I had a sudden feeling like I needed to shit. But it passed in a few minutes. I guess the cup may have been resting on one of my internal organs and shifted slightly. Does that make you a bit sick? Yes, well, you’ll have to deal with it to go through this. A little later, I felt the urge to pee. When I went into the toilet though, nothing would come out. It was the strangest unpee I’ve ever had. It wasn’t like having a urinary infection where you burn as the urine passes through you. It was just as if I had a full bladder but nowhere to let it out from. I stood up and jiggled the cup around a bit and it started to come out. And immediately after that I was able to pee right. The stem of the cup must have been resting against the urethra blocking off the pee passage. Gross I know, but such a relief. I thought my urinary passage had closed up and I might have to pee through my mouth or something.
- There was no pain really but inserting the cup was an arduous process. If you’ve ever had a gynecological examination, you’ll know that the vagina isn’t like a straight tube where stuff just slides in and out. It has all sorts of angles, it’s bumpy and it expands and contracts. And finally it’s all soft flesh with hundreds of nerve endings so you feel every little poke and pinch. Taking out the cup was not painful either, just very awkward. Squat a little, tug on the stem of the cup hoping it doesn’t break in your hands, rotate or jiggle a little all the while feeling that strange tickly-rubby feeling that isn’t altogether pleasant and then WHOOOSH suddenly it’s like you sneezed and you can breathe again.
- The literature actually said to insert it so even the ‘stem’ was inside but I didn’t dare shove it up that deep and risk losing it to the vast unknown (isn’t it interesting how the insides of our own bodies are as scary and unknown as outer space?). So both days I had a little vagitail. But it’s not long enough to get in the way or even irritate your skin. Only you know it’s there because, well you know and not because it causes pain or discomfort.
- All the literature warns that it will be messy. I’m not sure why since it wasn’t more or less messy than changing a sanitary napkin after a hard day. You can’t really do it without getting some blood on your fingers. And if you’re on a heavy flow time, there’ll probably be a splotch or two of blood on the floor in the time it takes you to change. Get over your grossed-outness if that scares you. It’s your body, it’s natural. And finally, menstrual fluid is not shit or urine. It’s not really ‘dirty’ in the same way. The vagina is self-cleaning so you’re really not going to catch any germs from getting some stuff on your hands. Wash well with soap and water afterwards and that’s quite enough.
- I used a sanitary napkin along with the menstrual cup both times I tried it. I think both times and especially the first, the cup didn’t really unfold all the way, leaving a little way for leakage. It was better the second time, which might be because it fit better but also because my flow had reduced. But Reema suggests using a pad along with the cup for the first few times. I guess I’ll figure out a comfort level with going pad-free after a few months.
- And finally, a good intimate wash is worth investing in – to clean yourself and the menstrual cup. I used V Wash, which is available at all chemists. Regular soap irritates the skin so get the special one for yourself.
And before I knew it, the period was over! One article I read, said that using a menstrual cup actually reduced cramps for some obscure biology-based reason. Reema says it also reduces the period cycle by a full day. Apparently menstrual discharge takes a full day to seep down from the uterus to the vagina. If you know your dates, you can insert the cup even before you see blood and it’ll catch it all midstream. Ergo, you’ve saved time on the externally bleeding cycle.
If I have anything else to report on my next few period cycles, I’ll write more. If you’re looking for a menstrual cup, here are some places you can buy it online for India: Amazon, PrivyShop, ShyCart, Mooncart, SilkyCup
Write to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com, if you have anything to share or ask about menstrual cups and I will answer your question if I’m able to. I’m not a doctor or qualified to give any kind of medical advice but I’m happy to share my experience and listen to yours.
Empowerment begins with taking responsibility for yourself. Reema points out some common misconceptions around women and fitness regimes. If you’re a woman, take charge of your body. It has been your prison for so long. It’s high time you make it your personal vehicle into a better life.
1. Get yourself a gynaecologist you trust. You probably already have a trusted hair-stylist. This is just as important, if not more. Visit them for routine check-ups (and not just pregnancy scares or UTIs). Ask them how you can care for your body better. There is a reason there’s an entire branch of medicine devoted entirely to women’s bodies. Use it.
2. Monitor your menstrual cycle. This doesn’t just mean knowing when your next period should happen but also tracking how your moods, your energy levels, your blood pressure and your blood sugar fluctuate during the month and during the period. PMS is a real thing but if you know your body’s downtimes and special-requirement phases, you’ll be able to plan and work accordingly.
3. For the love of whatever God you believe in, if you are sexually active, use protection. The consequences of unprotected sex and all the so-called solutions are too horrific for you to put your body through. Emergency contraceptives are harmful if used often. Sex without condoms can spread STDs (not to mention pregnancy). You’d treat your car nicely, even if it was second-hand. Why settle for less with your own body?
4. Eat right. Nutritionists, doctors and the Internet exist for good reason. I won’t preach about smoking, drinking or drugs, if you enjoy those. But remember your own body is a factory that produces potent, mood-altering chemicals. Be prudent about mixing intoxicants (see point 2.)
5. Find a fitness regime that matches your body type, your schedule and lifestyle. I’ve tried yoga, aerobics, swimming and the gym and I find my body’s needs have changed and evolved over the years. Exercise in some form has always helped, not just to keep me slim and flexible but also sane and grounded (endorphins, watay drug!). A body that is kept physically active enough to balance out its 18-hour mental activity, is better looking and more productive.
Remember that women’s bodies go through many more changes and far more dramatically through the course of our lives than men’s bodies. We also live lives of greater pressures and scrutiny than our male counterparts. Keep yourself prepared to meet the challenges of being a woman, by having a healthy female body.
*This is a sponsored post.
I attended the 18Again launch earlier this week. I had been informed that the product is a vaginal rejuvenation gel and that the brand stands for Women Empowerment. To be quite sure, that connection wasn’t absolutely clear to me then. A lot of thoughts have been swimming around in my head since which is why I’ve taken this time to put up this post. This week has also seen quite a bit of conversations (yes, backlash too) about 18Again and on the #WomenOnTop hashtag they began. Let me talk about what I’ve seen, heard & thought. But first, the commercial that’ll go on air shortly.
I was struck by the tagline of ‘Like a virgin’. Virginity is a notion that’s not friendly to women at all. It’s patriarchal, painful and represses women. It wasn’t until the speakers began talking that I realized it was meant to imply only the sensation of a virgin – a tight, healthy vagina.
The event brought up a few interesting conversations. I spoke to Mahabanoo Kotwal of The Vagina Monologues fame. In keeping with the play’s premise, she talked about how women don’t have a space to even think about this part of their bodies, let alone express fear or concerns about it.
Prof.Dr.R.M.Saraogi was one of the panelists at the launch discussion. He talked about vaginal health concerns that women face, some of which even the more educated & ‘evolved’ of us may not know about. For example I’ve never even heard of urinary incontinence and vaginal flatulence. These conditions exist, causing a great deal of embarrassment for their sufferers – older, menopausal women. But in addition to suffering the conditions themselves, these women also suffer silently and alone. Dr.Saraogi says that some of his patients talk about the strain on their marriages and that it’s often a challenge to identify whether the cause is psychological or physical. Since the woman is unable to articulate something she is embarrassed about, she may fail to get assistance that’s easily and readily available.
The celebrity guest, Celina Jaitly had a similar thought to add to this. Any modern working woman knows a big challenge we face today. It’s not the glass ceiling or bigger issues – it’s clean, sanitary toilets. Yeast infections abound on toilet seat rims and are the most common way women get infected. Any woman who has to use a public toilet in an office, a set or a mall is vulnerable to these. If we can have calcium supplements, vitamin tablets & nutrition-enhanced foods, shouldn’t we have our choice of vagina-specific health products too?
To come back to the virginity bit of the campaign – aren’t we keeping vaginas trapped by repressive notions of that word? Sexual pleasure is only one of the functions of the vagina. It is also part of a complex biological system that undergoes several changes over the course of a woman’s life. These changes impact the woman in more ways and in more places than just in her panties. Depression, hot flushes, giddiness, nausea, fluctuating libido, digestive disorders, urinary infections – the vagina could be the source of any of these. As empowered women, we need to be able to first acknowledge these issues, secondly be able to articulate our needs and finally receive support for them. Our vaginas definitely deserve it.
I’m neither recommending nor disparaging the product 18Again. But I’m saying I’m happy that I’m being given an option to at least think about it. I deserve good health and everything that goes towards making it so, including a choice of products. If I were to consider using this product, I’d check with my gynecologist. Now how many women have one? If you don’t, please get one immediately – it’s the most fundamental step in empowering yourself: good health.
The 18Again gel promises vaginal health and protection from infections in addition to tightening. Personally, these are the features that I find even more interesting since there hasn’t been a product that addresses the need for good vaginal health. I can’t comment on the efficacy of the product but the fact that one exists forces us to recognize a need for it. And that I believe, is definitely empowering to women.
Here are some other views: