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So, uh…I finally took your advice.

April 29th, 2020 No comments

I want to preface this with: This is not a review.

I bought the cups pictured here from Amazon, but that link goes to the manufacturer’s site in case you’re boycotting Amazon. It is not an affiliate link and I don’t make money (or clout) if you buy these cups. All other links within this post are for reference and do not make me money (or clout). I chose Lena Cups on a whim because they had more good reviews than bad ones and they came two to the package; one for regular flow, and one for heavy flow. Seemed like a great deal for a beginner set of cups. I don’t know anything about the company. Frankly, I got lucky.

Here’s what happened.

As I’m sure you all know, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s fucking crazy.

I turned 40 (40!) in isolation (on April 6). I had to cancel my yearly visit with my mom because she’s in her 60s and immunocompromised and I will not be the reason she gets sick. She isn’t being as careful as I’d like her to be, but that’s typical Mom behavior. She’s always going to do what she wants to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

Truth be told, I’m not being as careful as I’d like to be, either, so I don’t really have much room to talk.

The first time we heard that other places were experiencing toilet paper shortages, I scoffed. We had gone to the store that day. The shelves were full. We live in a tiny town in a cluster of other tiny towns. There aren’t enough people here to clear our shelves. I figured we’d be fine. So we bought our usual package of 6 double rolls, and left the store confident.

It would be four weeks1 before we’d see toilet paper in any store within a 50 mile radius again. Four. Weeks. For those who haven’t worked retail, that’s at least eight delivery days.

So when I started hearing rumors2 of shortages on period products, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and ordered menstrual cups. I have enough to worry about right now without also having to worry about free bleeding. One way or another, I was going to make period cups work for me, even if I hated them.

I was really worried I was going to hate them. I don’t like spending money on things I’m not going to use. I’d tried those rings with the plastic bags (link for reference…I’ve never used this brand and do not affiliate with this company) on them. Those things suck (for me). They don’t fit in my vagina the way they’re supposed to. Inserting them hurts. Removing them is messy. I was so afraid that period cups would give me the same shitty experience, and I didn’t trust anyone who said that they wouldn’t because I felt like I wasn’t properly explaining the problems I had with the rings.

I fully expected them to take weeks to get here. Pretty much all major online stores have established a priority hierarchy for their products. Some have halted shipment of all non-essentials. But apparently, Amazon considers period products a priority because they were here in two days, so I got to try them out right away. Sometimes they get it right question mark?

https://twitter.com/RayneMillaray/status/1246154446872158209?s=20

Insertion the first couple times made me anxious. I’m a quick study, and generally get things figured out (on a cursory level) within a few minutes and a couple of tries, so when that didn’t happen, I got really worried that it wasn’t going to happen.

There is definitely a learning curve. Everyone’s right about that. But it’s not some mystical aspiration that you won’t ever attain, as a few people have suggested. One girl claims she had to go to the hospital to have hers removed because it went sideways and lodged itself in her vaginal walls. While I don’t doubt her story, I think it’s probably got a lot to do with her not taking the time to learn how to insert the cup and test it to be sure it’s inserted properly.

But what do I know? I don’t know her. Maybe she inserted it perfectly and it just wiggled around and got stuck.

I started with the Lena Small because the product page mentioned it being “for beginners” and women who have never had a vaginal birth. Thing is, it’s a tricky little bugger. It’s relatively soft silicone, and it’s about the size of a spool of thread, so if you don’t get a good grip on it, it unfolds as you’re inserting before it’s in place. Because I’ve got arthritis and pretty severe carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in both hands, it can be difficult for me to get a good grip, so any amount of friction can knock it loose.

And that’s how I learned I needed to add lube. Once I did that, I was able to get the cup positioned perfectly without it popping open before it was in the right spot. And while you’d think the lube would make the cup slip out of you, it stayed in place just fine.

If you’re not sure which lube to use, I’m a big fan of Sliquid (not an affiliate link) because their lubes are natural, and free of parabens and glycerin. I use their Organics Natural Aloe Based Lube (also not an affiliate link) for cup insertion, but I also really love Sliquid H2O (still not an affiliate link) if you just want something simple and water based. But you can use any water based lube (still not an affiliate link) you like. There are plenty to choose from.

I had seen somewhere that the fold makes all the difference, but the only fold I knew was the C fold. I did an internet search for menstrual cup folds, and found this site (disclaimer: I have no idea who owns that site. Didn’t even look into it. Just found the info helpful). And I read every section on that page. And I watched every fold video. And I tried every single one. I’ve settled on the triangle fold because it’s the only one that seems to allow me to get a good grip on the folded edge. But what with the arthritis and CTS, that could be a me thing.

Turns out, the fold does make all the difference, though. Once I’d figured out my preferred method, insertion became a breeze.

A thing to keep in mind when you’re picking out your cups is that size definitely matters. During a period, the cervix moves around some, resting lower than average in the vagina on some days, higher on others. This can result in longer cups not sitting properly in your vagina, which can lead to leakage and cramps. You want the cup to be positioned under your cervix so that the opening of the cup lines up with the opening of your cervix, but not touching it.

The Lena Large is one of the longest heavy flow period cups on the market, and it’s a little long for my vagina on days when my cervix is low. It still works a treat, though. I used it mostly for overnights because (nights are heaviest for me) I’d be sleeping so I figured I’d notice it less, and I was right. I didn’t notice it at all. But I think now that I’m comfortable with insertion and removal, I’ll be using it on heavy days, too, provided my cervix cooperates. I’d very much like to not ever have to empty my cup in a public restroom, please and thanks.

Some people experience discomfort if the stem hangs out of their vagina like a tampon string, so they cut them. The stems on the Lena Cups are flexible and have no sharp edges. The Lena Small doesn’t extend out of my vagina, and I can’t even feel it when it’s inside of me. The Large’s stem does extend out of my vagina, but I can’t feel that one either. I find it easier to remove the cup if I can grab onto the stem and wiggle it to my vaginal opening before grabbing ahold of the base and releasing the suction. So I’m keeping mine the length they came. YMMV, though. Do what’s most comfortable for you.

So my next concern was mental comfort. Am I going to be okay with sticking my fingers inside my bloody vagina to remove a cup full of blood, and seeing a puddle of blood come out of my body, and the smell, and whatever else comes with walking around with a cup that collects your blood and uterine lining inside of you? There’s a big difference between blood soaked cotton and an actual warm puddle of blood in a cup. But none of that was as jarring as I expected it to be. In fact, I was kinda fascinated. I’ve never seen my period blood in a puddle like that. It’s always half soaked up by something.

Physical discomfort isn’t an issue because I really can’t feel them when they’re in. Like, at all. Which is actually part of the draw for me because tampons are so uncomfortable. And this is just a theory, but I’m pretty sure I had less cramps because I didn’t have clots trapped against my cervix by a tampon. We shall see. My periods are monsters so maybe it was a fluke.

The first thing my sister asked me when I told her I was switching was how much of a mess it makes. Honestly, I haven’t experienced any more mess than I get when I use a tampon. My flow is irregular and unpredictable, so I change my tampon every single time I go to the bathroom (which I didn’t do when I was poor af and couldn’t afford period products, so if you don’t, no shame here). Because of the irregularity, I still end up bleeding through without knowing it when I’m wearing tampons, which results in messy retrieval and disposal. Most of the time, using the cups isn’t even that messy. Maybe a little blood on my fingers that I wipe off on toilet paper before dressing and washing my hands.

This does have a lot to do with how you remove the cup, though. I use the stem to wiggle it to the bottom of my vagina, squeeze the base to release the seal, then wiggle it side to side as I slowly pull it out. Some people prefer to slide their finger inside until they feel the rim and break the seal that way. But you have to be sure to break the seal. Because of the movement in what is basically a closed vacuum at this point, if you don’t break the seal, you’re going to have a difficult time getting it out.

I haven’t spilled the cup once, but I have dropped it after emptying it. I bumped my hand on the toilet seat and that baby went flying. Luckily, I was in my own bathroom. Hopefully, that won’t ever happen in public.

Honestly, I love them. Had decided I was a convert by the end of the first day, and I’d only been using them for about 8 hours. Unless my hands lose the ability to manipulate the fold, I don’t think I’ll ever use a tampon again.

So here’s some benefits, in no particular order:

  • You know what you’re putting in your body. As of right now, New York is the only state that requires companies to list all intentionally added ingredients in their period products on the package, and that only became law last year. It went into effect on April 9 but manufacturers have 18 months (Aug 2021) to comply. Most cup manufacturers disclose their products’ materials because they know that part of the reason so many people have switched is to protect their bodies from bleach and formaldehyde and other undisclosed chemicals cotton farms and tampon companies use as pesticides.
  • You don’t have to change it (in this case, empty it) every time you use the restroom. Menstrual cups are safe to use for up to 12 hours, so once you get to know your flow, you can go longer between cup empties without worrying about overflows and mess. And silicone doesn’t absorb liquid, so you don’t have to worry about urine being soaked up by your period product if you don’t take it out while you pee.
  • You won’t run out of period products when you don’t have the money to buy more. Even if you only have one cup, you still have all the cups you need because you can empty that one cup and reinsert. If you want to wash it in between dumping and reinserting, carry some butt wipes so you don’t have to waddle to the sink with your pants around your ankles in a public restroom, or time your outings so that you don’t have to empty it at all while you’re out.
  • You’re reducing your carbon footprint. The average person can create up to 62,415 pounds of garbage over the course of their life just from their period. That’s fifteen and a half whole cars of period products in a landfill for just one person. There are 169.22 million people with uteruses in the US. That’s potentially 2 billion 622 million 910 thousand cars worth of period products in our landfills. Most of which is plastic. Holy wow.
  • Cups don’t dry your vagina. Most of my period-having life, dryness hasn’t really been an issue. If anything, I’ve overproduced vaginal lubrication the vast majority of my life, even on my period. But over the last couple years, I’ve noticed a change. I mean, I am 40 (40!). I’m not having issues with dryness, but I am noticing that I don’t always produce as much wetness as I used to. It’s whatever, but I’ve also noticed that this has translated to tampons making my vagina feel like an old leather shoe someone dug out of an archeological dig, which makes insertion and removal painful and sometimes impossible without lube, which gets sucked up by the cotton and allows for less blood absorption.
  • I literally can’t feel the cup when it’s inserted properly. Obviously, on days when my cervix is lower, and my flow is heavy, I feel the Lena Large a little bit, but most of the time, it’s like I’m wearing nothing. Which is a major pro for me because tampons are hella uncomfortable and pads are…just no.
  • Better collection method for period magic. No, really. You can’t do much better than a cup that collects it all for you while you go about your life.
  • Less period smell. I won’t claim cups eliminate period smell altogether because that would be a lie. Every thing has a smell. But for some reason, the period smell is much less prevalent and offensive with cups. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know.
  • SAVE MONEYYYYY!!!!! Who doesn’t want to do that, right? I have a super heavy flow, so I’m spending, on average, $20 a month on period products, so $240 a year. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you learn that 33 states have a “tampon tax,” while Viagra remains tax exempt, $240 a year seems like way too fucking much.

M keeps saying, “If they’re so awesome, why isn’t everyone using them?” And I honestly couldn’t tell you.

What I can tell you is this. At least one of you is sitting here reading this, thinking, “Okay, maybe that works for her, but it’s probably not going to work for me. My pussy’s too finicky.” You want to be wrong, because honestly, tampons suck, and pads are gross, and you’d really like to have a better option.

I know because that’s how I felt every time someone in my stratosphere announced that they’d made the switch and gushed about how awesome cups are for them. And now I feel really dumb for waiting so long. That’s, like, 10 years I could have been having more comfortable periods and not spending money on something I use once for 5 hours and throw away.

And now that I’m done with that infomercial…I swear to you this is not an ad, or sponsored post, or anything like that. No one is paying me to write this. I just truly expected to hate everything about these cups because I hate everything about those stupid rings with the plastic bag attached, and when it turned out I absolutely love them, I was shocked, and I wanted to share the best thing to happen to my period life with you just in case one of you is in the same boat.

Hope you’re faring well in the pandemic.

We had a brief scare. My stepmother had to be tested for COVID19, but the test came back negative. That’s a whole nother post that I might write some day.

<3

1. Since then, we’ve only seen 2-3 packages on the shelf every other week.
2. So far, there has been no evidence of a period product shortage in our area, but if there is one in yours, I have two boxes of cardboard applicator tampons that need a home. One is a light, regular, super multipack and the other is super plus. The boxes are open, but I only used a few.