silicones (2): menstrual cups (slightly updated mid-morning)

GREEN MENSTRUATION!
Because even gingers green people bleed too. Not green though. Not usually.

Confession time: I’m a fairly recent convert to The Cup—18 months’ successful use, on my second try of it (the first was about a decade ago??? and shite)—and I’m jolly enthusiastic about it. I regard that as perfectly compatible with remaining staunchly enthusiastic of its critics too: ex. a couple of weeks back, this greatest Green hit of the week.

I hope not enthusiastic to the point of a Born Again’s extreme missionary zeal and attached excessive earnestness, preachiness, and general annoyingness through boring the pants off people. Come to think of it, that would be one way to separate them from their pads and panty-liners. Could being super-tedious actually bore the tampons out of people? Or would that constitute an official proper miracle?

Well, if I were ever a candidate for (Catholic) sanctity, that’s just the sort of miracle I’d like to have, as one of my obligatory minimum three.

By Monthly Cycle #6, The Cup had paid for itself; the last year has meant saving the equivalent of a Netflix subscription every month. Not that I was deciding every month between unassisted organic meltdown and free-flowing online entertainment: being a fairly comfortably-off person in 2012, in a peaceful civilized place like Vancouver, I can have my cake and eat it. Sitting on a sofa, watching Netflix, comfortably plugged up and thus not gushing forth all over said sofa. Other than the usual verbal venting of spleen, laughing, crying, sighing, and so on. Re. cake: an appropriate one for TOTM might well be a rich chocolate and beetroot one, maybe with a cherry coulis on the side, and why not cover it in chocolate ganache while we’re at it? That or the obvious: chocolate melting lava cake.

But back to menstruation.

PRE-HISTORY: THE PAD

I’ve only used those pad-things a couple of time, when hit by my first Monthly Curse. Switched a.s.a.p. to tampons. I know there’s lots of reusable hand-crocheted etc. pads and other external devices out there, just as eco-friendly as cloth diapers/nappies. A viable eco-friendly solution, true. But I have objections:

  1. padding and wadding: uncomfortable, makes me waddle like a duck that’s just had a jolly good seeing-to by a drake, ungainly
  2. gains in malodorousness once the blood (and other tissue) hits the outside world and experiences the joys of oxygen: reminding me why so many cultures, and not just “primitive” patriarchal ones, regards menstruation as icky and gross
  3. insulting to my femininity: see, walking like a duck
  4. insulting to my humanity: waddling around padded in a device whose design hasn’t changed in millenia; they’ve been nicknamed “jam rags” for a long time: those fancy new eco-friendly reusable ones? they’re jam rags striking us down again, folks; insulting, as way too close in design to infant swaddling and diapers.

So no Party In My Pants for me. Though that company has such a cool name that it does actually nearly make me want to buy their stuff. Plus the company name’s resulting acronym, and their gentle friendly approach, gorgeous stuff, and general loveliness:

Has a tampon ever made you look forward to your period? Does your maxi pad make you smile? Nope.

Most menstrual products only make the whole affair more uncomfortable. What’s up with that? Women deserve better.

Party In My Pants will change the way you think and feel about your period. Forget trashy disposables and say hello to soft, gorgeous cloth pads. For the first time you’ll actually look forward to that time of the month and when it comes you’ll be more comfortable than ever before. This isn’t marketing mumbo-jumbo. It’s what women tell us over and over — even ladies who’s sworn off pads till the end of time.

The secret? A period product designed by real women for real women. A menstrual helper that doesn’t leak, bunch, or feel bulky. And did we mention Party In My Pants pads come in the loveliest, wackiest, cutest patterns ever? With Party In My Pants, you’ll be sittin’ pretty in style and comfort.

ANCIENT HISTORY: THE TAMPON

Tampons: been a fan for a long time of the OB, seeing as how it’s designed by actual female gynacologists, is made of cotton, is very simple and chic, (at the time I used it) was independent and cruelty-free, hasn’t got any pearly nonsense or scents or crap attached to it, and doesn’t have an applicator. I regard applicators as insulting too: foolish device, for fools. Yes, if you’re a female, you menstruate. More or less—yes, some don’t; some would love to and can’t—but this is what your body does. It’s part of you. Know thyself, embrace it, see yourself as a whole entity, it’s all very ennobling. Being squeamish and making some sort of virtue out of avoiding parts of oneself and knowing anything about them, including poking around to see what they do and how they work: folly. Associating that ignorance to religious, social, and political “virtue” and “rightness,” and trying to yoke that up to ethics? Multiply wrong, bad, pernicious, stupid, anti-feminist, and last but not least: foolish.

Anti-tampon people: get over yourselves. In return, I’ll try very hard to avoid making any of the obvious comments about having sticks up arses, and the analogy with having motes of dust in one’s eye.

As soon as I met them, I switched over to Natracare organic cotton, non-chlorine-bleached (a**lic**or-free) tampons. First found in the UK in the early 1990s. Stayed with them, a staunch and loyal fan, for nearly 20 years.

Then: the Road To Damascus Moment.

Thanks to discussion on MakeupAlley.

Here’s how I was thinking back in March 2010:

“if you use tampons WITH applicators, are they plastic or cardboard, and do you feel guilty about them?” asked Lucinda on the Green Board,3/30/2010 2:21PM

Quoth the Ginger: without applicators (using organic Natracare), no guilt. can’t stomach the cup & besides I get infections etc. at the drop of a hat at the best of times. tried the cup out of some moral sense, not a go-er. I’d try something else again, but waiting for the tech to improve. Meanwhile, the Natracare tamps are a compromise.

I don’t feel any need for guilt here. It’s not comparable to areas of life where I do feel guilty: not spending as much on charity as I could, even thinking for a moment about spending money on non-essentials or things where I have a perfectly acceptable fully functioning cheaper thing, and don’t *need* the newer, swankier, pricier, more exclusive, blah-dee-blah other one — yes, guilt there (luckily, conditioned self into now almost never buying such things).

BUT I do feel manufacturers should feel some guilt for not spending more time and money researching ways to help women have more comfortable and less messy periods, though.

A NEW GOLDEN AGE? THE CUP

Well, things changed. More discussion on the Green Board in July (2010) led me to experiment in August:

See how nice and supportive (ahem) people are about the whole menstruation and switching business? Very heartening. MUA at its best. So what’s all the cupping stuff?

From the Ecomenses.com website:

A Menstrual Cup is a soft bell shaped item which is used inside the vagina to collect the flow. They are removed to be emptied, rinsed out and replaced. They can be boiled in a pot of water to be sterilised before and after each period. The one cup can last many years, can be used while swimming or sleeping and does not have the same TSS risks as tampons do. They also have a much greater capacity than tampons and can safely be kept in place for 12 hours.

A splendid video:

USEFUL RESOURCES

Maybe the very best site out there (click on the image), the same livejournal one referred to higher up:

GINGER PLAYS WITH EXPERIMENTS ON HERSELF IN THE NAME OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY, EXPANDING THE BOUNDARIES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, AND FOR THE GREATER GOOD OF HU/WOMANKIND

In the name of science (yes, EVEN on the notoriously anti-scientific allergic-to-chemical toxic-fearing GREEN BOARD), I shared my experiences. Might be oversharing. Wasn’t graphic, sorry.

8/31/2010 9:37PM, just before first attempts at insertion, very excited about it all:

found! more divacup stuff inc folding video
http://www.wikihow.com/Use-a-Menstrual-Cup
loads of videos; and links to other wikihow entries. I particularly like the folding video, especially the “origami fold” 🙂

A couple of days later: ah, bless her cotton socks. The arrogant smugness of the shiny new convert. I still deserved a good slapping:

REVIEW & TOPICAL TIPS

Shortly afterwards (9/4/2010 12:45PM), I posted up some Practical Tips:

GENERAL STUFF

1. Practice helps: play around with the cup and different folding techniques; make sure your pelvic-floor muscles are in good shape (Kegels, etc.)

2. As much cleaning as with tampons. I used my usual all-over one, Everyday Shea moisturising unscented body wash. On hands and the cup, before insertion and after removal. Use warm water, cold ain’t happy down there.

3. It takes less time to empty cup down toilet than it does to wrap and dispose of a tampon/pad/etc.

4. Easier for travel: just carry mini-container of your wash with you (which I was bringing anyway); ditto for work, going out, etc. (but I dod anyway, being irritated to most public/restaurant/etc.bathroom soaps).

5. I have also, in the last two days: walked, hiked, rock-climbed, and swum. Nothing to note–as if without. One can also laugh, fart, and knock one’s head and fall over slightly concussed without any cup mishap. (Not all these things at the same time.)

6. Because it’s more flexible, the cup shapes itself to you better than a tampon; and is more comfortable: tampons expand as much with normal moisture as with menses, get big and chunky, and you can *feel* it’s time to remove. Not the case with the cup.

SPECIFIC PRACTICALITIES

1. When inserting cup, make sure it’s warm and damp. I found water usually enough. If using lubricant, use an unscented silicone-based one, and lubricate genital area–just 1″ inside vagina plus around outer edge– *not* the cup (otherwise it’ll be too slippy to use).

2. Make sure the open “lip of cup” end is rolled as small as possible; this makes insertion easier.

3. Remember: it’s not going far inside. The tip at the outer end is only just inside you, when all is in place.

4. To ensure a seal:
(a) insert only part-way, so that about half the cup is outside. Then twist it around; you can continue that with a sort of spiral motion all the way in.
Or (b) push index finger against vaginal wall. Run finger around between cup and wall, to check the cup is more or less unfolded (it’s not necessarily going to unfold in a perfect circle, few people have an exactly cylindrical vagina after all: but make sure you don’t still have a tight fold at the top);
and (c) press again against lower wall, to let some air through and create seal. That last thing I found the most useful trick for ensuring a seal.

5. When inserting, you may need to use your fingers a bit. If you’re squeamish or uncomfortable about doing so, the cup might not be your thing; besides, if scared or uptight, your body will go, well, uptight too–which won’t help insertion or comfort.

6. I found removal was the tricky one: this is where the instructions aren’t very clear. On my first removal, the cup came out fully open, and I had to act fast to catch and fold the top a bit; that could cause some stretching and bruising and discomfort. Just warning you: when removing, out fingers inside to hold and steady the cup, and squeeze it slightly **** at the open cup end.

7. Once removed, tip contents into toilet; if sink isn’t right next to toilet, wipe out inside of cup with toilet paper (so as not to drip on floor). Then wash cup and hands. Then reinsert.

8. Also, I managed to drop the cup into a toilet, and it wasn’t the end of the world. Fished it out, washed it and hands, inc a quick disinfecting rub with surgical spirit.

9. The final removal: I washed the cup and my hands as usual, then I DID NOT boil the cup in water. I got some surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol, my one was $4.99 big bottle of 99% isopropyl alcohol from local supermarket: see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubbing_alcohol). Soaked some cotton in it (you can use cotton-wool pads, the round ones; or surgical or baby cotton-wool). Wiped down the cup, inside and out. Just wipe, don’t soak.

Left it to dry on some toilet-paper by the sink, sitting on its side. That took under 1/2 a minute: if it takes longer, you’ve used too much alcohol, remove the excess. Then rinsed under cold tap. Left cup to dry again. Once dry, put into the nice cotton bag that came with it, where it will live until next use.

10. That’s it. I like the cup and I’m a convert, but I’m aware the cup isn’t going to be for everyone, and that’s a very personal matter, between you and your own body.

[EDITED:] UPDATES ON CLEANING & HYGIENE:
Still [02/2012 compared to 08/2010] using Everyday Shea unscented moisturizing body wash; I’ve also used A-Derma Cleansing Bar.
Cleaning tip: do it–the cleaning, the uncupping and recupping, the cleaning of self–in the shower. Morning and/or evening. Though I’ll not usually shower in the evening in winter.
Consider getting a second cup, so as to disinfect each cup completely between uses, while cup no. 2 is working its shift. Maybe I’ve been lucky (especially given how prone I am to delicate infections…); but I thought I’d stop tempting providence. This tip comes from the very sensible Elfy, who is being wise, sensible, and well up to date in medical research and articles (could put many so-called skincare “expert consultants” to shame).

Don’t let anyone bully you (environmental or otherwise) into using this, or embarrass you into shame or guilt about how you interact with and feel about your own body. If you don’t like the cup, that’s fine and your absolute right: one can be in favour of something in principle but not in practice, in plenty of areas; but this is as personal as it gets. It’s your body. Dammit.

After all, there are alternatives: those reusable liners are as environmentally friendly–no landfill, and the “waste” is biodegradable bodily matter. And organic fair-trade unbleached cotton tampons as a half-way measure, is you like tampons (plus they’re available both in non-applicator and applicator versions, which should keep various sorts of people happy, in various relationships with their body)

CUP USED:
DivaCup: the main one available where I live; good solid silicone, so a good buy as it turns out. I saw some online reviews of other cheaper cups from thinner silicone.
Pro: cheaper, more flexible.
Con: tear easily, wear down faster.
My one complaint about the Diva is a minor and slightly comic one: why do they also give you a little pin-badge? am I supposed to wear that while menstruating? I like the idea of a secret members’ club, but other people might ask why you’re wearing a badge with a daisy on it and the word “Diva.” The symbolism is a little odd, and could cause confusion, misinterpretation, and embarrassment…

[Adding: I’m not the only one. See also Blog It Out, Bitch and Motherhood Uncensored.]

ON THE OTHER HAND:

Celebrate, make it cool, be creative and witty and subversive:

Image at top: Organic Meltdown chocolate (71%), from Porter Foods.

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