a very menses post

Content note: MENSES. (Actually my thoughts on menstrual cups, but, you know, if you have problems with periods, just wanted to give you a heads up there. Add also, this will probably not interest you if you do not have ovaries. Also also, full disclosure, I am not getting paid for anything I'm saying here. Like everything else I write, this is for free.)

I know, guys. I know. Menstrual cups seem insanely weird.

I was really skeeved out by the concept when my first converted friend told me about hers. She waxed rhapsodic on the many virtues of it - how it's safer (no recorded cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome from use! Which has been one of my greatest fears since I was like eleven and first read that little pamphlet inside a box of tampons), how it's more environmentally friendly, how you can leave it in forever (the max is 12 hours! TWELVE HOURS!), how it pretty much never leaks.

I smiled, nodded, and thought, "This is just like that time someone talked to me about burying their placenta."

Likewise, I just attempted to tell my sister about it - being that I am her sister and not someone she's trying to be polite to, she responded with, "EW EW EW BARF."

It took probably three years and two more converted friends (one of who - my awesome friend Sonia, who writes cool things - converted the other) for me to try it out. I have to say: two enthusiastic thumbs up.

What is a menstrual cup?

Better known by the groan-worthy proprietary names DivaCup, MoonCup, LunaCup, and so on, menstrual cups are flexible latex bowls that you fold to insert, then you let it go and it sort of pops out and suctions around your cervix. I know. I know. I'm ruining this as I'm saying it.

Anyway, it basically acts as a barrier between your uterus and the world.

Ew. Why would I try this?

There are a few reasons.

1. Cheap and environmentally friendly.
Most of these things cost around $30 apiece, which seems like a lot until you realize that with proper care and cleaning, one should last you several years. Also, anyone whose period lasts 3 days or more probably ends up filling their trash can with horrific waste that is probably hidden in toilet paper or magazine pages or whatever, and obviously with a reusable cup you're not going to be throwing it away.

2. Clean.
I don't know about you guys, but using tampons and pads always makes me feel a little bit gross. Like, you get out of the shower, and you're all clean, and then you have to put this cotton business all up in your business, and then you just don't feel very clean anymore. With this thing, the whole business is (or should be) out of sight until you change it, which you only have to do every 12 hours-ish (once in the morning, once before bed, it's absolutely awesome - I get some pretty serious menses and I've still been totally fine changing twice a day), and then it's kind of like when you blow your nose and you are like, huh! That just came out of my body! Weird! And then you throw away the tissue. Except here you just clean out the cup and put it back and voila, you're good for another TWELVE HOURS.

3. Our bodies, ourselves.
Part one: you don't know the shape of your own damn vagina. Seriously though. The direction that it goes was a complete surprise to me. Lessons!
Part two: the volume of your menses can be indicative of health problems, such as eating disorders (less) or certain tumors (more) or just general issues that are good to know about. If you're using tampons or pads, it's pretty much going to be "I seem to be going through them faster than usual," or something like that. Many menstrual cups come with little lines on the side, like a measuring cup. It's a useful thing to know, just like knowing your body's average temperature, your blood pressure, or your weight, where fluctuations may be indicative of larger health issues.

Okay, yeah, that sounds okay, but what about public bathrooms/camping/my upcoming space mission?

In order to clean a cup during your period, you really just need to rinse it or wipe it off with some clean toilet paper or a paper towel. So, that's not a concern. It isn't really any more awkward to put in than a tampon, though I do prefer to change it out in the shower for simplicity and ease of cleanup.

If you have your period in space, I think it's going to be awful and weird no matter what you do. Stock up on extra birth control pills and just skip it for the time being? (Thanks, internet, for being the internet: here's a column from The Straight Dope about menstruating in space.)

If you feel weird about having your period in public, you can always go Old Testament and go live in a tent for a week. I'm not going to judge.

In between cycles, you should do a more thorough clean-up job, by boiling it or using sanitizing solutions, and keep it in the little cloth bag it came in, because sealing it in a plastic bag could lead to gross things growing on it.

I dunno, man. I get these intensely bad cramps.

Me too! My cramps make me want to punch absolutely everyone in the face. And myself, in the ovaries. I loudly curse my ovaries for days every month. It's great.

I was really worried about this, because I mean, my cramps, they are insane. I kind of thought that putting something in the way of their psychotic path could only make things worse. But it definitely didn't increase my crampiness, which is good, because then I would have to take a sledgehammer to something. I almost thought that my first day was better than usual, but then, I just switched birth control pills, so those could be part of it. I didn't do a real study about it or anything.

Okay, I'll think about it. But how do I choose?!?

That is an excellent question. There are dozens of brands (most are based in Europe), and quite honestly, I'm pretty sure most of them are the same. You want to make sure you're getting one that is medical grade silicone or latex, because that will be more durable and less likely to host infectious beasts. Almost all companies sell just two sizes - the smaller size is generally for those who haven't given birth, and the larger size is for those who have.

I have friends who use DivaCup, and they're perfectly happy. I picked LadyCup because it comes in different colors, and I picked green, because, why not? Contrast? I don't know. I like that color. It was mature decision-making at its finest.

If you're living in the US, you'll probably have to order one online, as very few places carry these so far - I think some Whole Foods locations do, and maybe if you have the sort of grocery store in your neighborhood that carries twelve types of grain and the people there often talk about placenta or doulas, they might carry them too.

But, be warned in advance, dear readers - you'll probably want to tell everybody about your menstrual cup too, and then they will all say, "EWWWWWW," or nod politely and smile while backing away slowly, so make sure to find someone who you can share your joyous menses experiences with. I'd imagine the readers of blogs like Radical Doula and Feministing (i.e., me) would be a good place to start.