If you are at all squeamish about the monthly occurrence that most women of a certain age(s) go through each month, then this post is not for you. However, I'm not going to apologize for how gritty I'm going to get on this one. Though I will share a nice pretty flower for my cover photo in case anyone perusing my page doesn't want to see a period cup, haha. Certain topics tend to be taboo in some settings and cultures, meaning too many of us don't get all of the information we need that could really be life-changing because people are scared or too "polite" to talk about them. Just like when I wrote about my experiences with the decision not to have children and how little that was spoken about growing up, this is another aspect of life as a woman that I wish I had more perspectives on earlier. I feel the need to do my small part to perhaps help shed some light for someone else and just keep the conversation going.
Still with me? Alright then, let's talk about periods! Just like people, they come in all shapes and sizes, if you will. What I really mean is that each woman's experience can be completely different. Some get them as early as 8 or 9 these days, while others don't start until their teens or possibly even later. You're lucky if you have a nice "regular" 28-day cycle, but it could be longer or shorter or completely erratic. Certain flows are very light and only last a few days, others are extremely heavy and seem to last forever. You could have terrible cramps one month, the next month your back hurts or your boobs hurt so bad the lightest touch makes you want to cry. Many of us turn into weeping messes or snap at the slightest provocation. All could be perfectly normal, but there are also plenty of disorders linked to hormonal issues or anatomical anomalies.
Here in the US growing up I do remember learning about the very basics in health class, though they really only scratched the surface. With two sisters (one older), my mom definitely did her fair share of discussing the ins and outs with all three of us, as well. However, there wasn't really a whole lot of options as far as how to deal with that monthly flow. I think it was basically start out with pads--and not re-usable eco-friendly ones, I'm talking the mass-produced stuff you can get at every grocery store and pharmacy here. I also remember some young girls talking about how only girls who had sex could use tampons, so as a girl who hadn't even had her first kiss yet the thought of using those scared the crap out of me initially (as I know now they possibly should have).
What's the problem with pads? Well, as I hinted to above they are not very environmentally friendly. They create a lot of waste and who knows what kind of materials are really in them. They do have organic options now, but growing up I don't ever remember seeing any other than a few of the big brands. Also, for a gal like me with an extremely heavy monthly flow, they just don't cut it on their own. I can still feel the flush of shame of my 12-year-old self having to call home because I didn't change my pad in time and bled through my pants. Told you I was going to get gritty here. It's definitely not a pretty experience each month. That is one thing that no matter how healthy I am and how well I treat my body--I'm a heavy flow gal. Two days out of the month I know what's going to happen and I try to deal the best I can.
When I finally realized that tampons were not just for non-virgins (where the heck do some of these ideas come from?), I jumped on that bandwagon to make my monthly experience just a little bit easier to deal with. Especially as a young athlete, I didn't want to sit out for a week every month during basketball or volleyball season. I think the first time I used one was actually at the lake with my best friend. Everyone was going in the water and I didn't want to miss out, so her aunt actually gave me the rundown. Just like pads, though, tampons are another pretty wasteful item in the long run, and even worse since they are in full contact with sensitive areas of the body, you don't want them filled with chemicals. There is also the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome if you use them incorrectly (using one too absorbent for your flow or leaving one in for too long). Even today you read stories about women dying and they still have warning cards in the tampon box.
Up until about 5 or 6ish years ago I didn't really even know there were other options! How crazy is that for living in a country that is supposed to be so advanced? As I started learning more about all aspects of health and wellness, I finally found some of those other options that are a little bit kinder in a number of aspects--to my own body and to the environment!
The biggest victory in my quest for alternative options came in the form of a cup. I really wanted to touch on this particular option because I almost gave up on it, so I felt like I should add my experience to the wide world of the internet to give others some hope that given enough practice and finding the right brand, it can be a really awesome option to use each month! You just have to get past some of the names. I sure don't feel like a Diva most months... 😂
First off, holy moly are there a lot of brands these days! I did a whole lot of research and YouTube viewing to try to find suggestions on which ones might work for me. That would probably be my first suggestion if you are just exploring the option. Though they all look a lot alike, they differ slightly on the shape, design and even the thickness of the cup. Personally I have found that even a small difference in design can make a big difference in how the cup fits. A few years ago I started with a Blossom cup, but never really got the hang of it as it never seemed to seal. In case the design isn't obvious--the cup gets inserted into the vaginal canal and when it is positioned correctly it forms a seal whereby the cup can collect the flow. You then periodically have to remove the cup, dump the contents, then re-insert. So unlike a tampon, you can use it over and over without causing waste! There's also a much lower chance of TSS when used correctly.
Once I decided to give the cup a second chance, I opted to try the Pixie brand this time around. Besides just sounding like the Luxe version would be a good fit, I love that they also donate a cup for each one sold. Gotta love a company that gives back! The difference in this version versus the regular Pixie is that the silicone is slightly softer, so it gives a little bit easier and the shape is more conducive to women with a low sitting cervix. I also decided this time to try a combo pack to see how the different sizes worked.
The sizes are a great option for different levels of flow, or other variations in anatomy and general preference. The little tabs on the end can also be snipped off depending upon how low the cup sits. If yours sits higher you can leave it on to have something to easily grab for removal, and if it sits lower you can trim it to be more comfortable.
I also found it interesting to use the lines on the inside of the cup to determine just how heavy my flow is. No surprise there, though it's really hard to tell what normal is with so much variation among experiences, I am still definitely on the very high end of the spectrum. The kit did include convenient pouches to store the cups when not in use, and a few samples of wipes. You don't need the wipes, though, as you can easily use a mild soap and water to clean the cups and sterilize them in boiling water. They're not really waste-free if you use wipes every time, but a great option in a pinch if you are in a public restroom I suppose.
Though I have only been using the cups successfully for a few months, I am sold on not having to use tampons anymore. It will save me money in the long run, reduce my waste, and the more I get past the learning curve, the more I like using them versus tampons. Can they be messy? Yep, it's a messy business in my opinion, but I've got quite a few more years of dealing with it so might as well try to make the best of it. I do find it is easier to use in a private bathroom versus a public one with stalls, but I've made it work either way. I do still have to empty frequently on my heavier days, but I find my trips to the restroom are much less than before. Sometimes I have a little trouble getting the fit right, but there are so many different ways to fold and insert that I continue to play around with my method each month to find what works the best. Seriously, some of the videos are a life-saver as far as learning that side of it, so look some up if you really want a more in-depth tutorial!
Period panties are a great addition to the line up, as well. They are a great alternative to a pad or panty liner as a backup to the cup, or on a light day. They're a little tough to hide underneath workout pants (my usual daily attire), but are great to use at home or overnight for me. The good ones can be a bit of an investment at first, but end up costing much less in the long run when you think about how many uses you can get out of them.
These are only a few of the options, as I know now there are plenty more. There actually are cloth pads and liners that you can wash and use like the panties. One of my girlfriends has also recently started using a sponge. Some even choose to free bleed. What other options have you tried? I would love to hear in the comments what has worked for you! Though single use pads and tampons were my only realm of experience for so long, I know in the total human experience they've only been around for a short time.
As usual in this type of post I am only just barely scratching the surface of the topic. Perhaps I'll come back to it soon to share some of the natural methods I like to use to ease PMS symptoms like consuming more ginger to help with cramping or eating extra lentils during to make up for loss of iron. I'm even curious to give seed cycling a try to see how that impacts my monthly cycle. The human body is a truly interesting thing. I am continually in awe of all the things I learn and enjoy always trying to incorporate more natural, holistic methods to deal with all of the seasons of life!