Comrade (aiffe) wrote in menstrual_cups,

My experience with cups, and some thoughts

So, a few months ago, I bought my first cup. It was a bit of an impulse buy--I wanted to go swimming, and I had my period. Because I needed it that day, I went to the only brick-and-mortar store I'd seen that sold cups (Capers), and bought the only cup they had, which was the diva. I guess this idea had been on my mind for a while, but it took something a cup could do for me that a pad couldn't to push me over the edge.

Before this, I was very much a pad girl. I have never been a fan of internal methods. Too much poking and hurting and feeling weird pressure from inside. In the past, when I needed an internal option for something, I would wear a tampon for a few hours, and switch back to pads ASAP. But a few years ago, I developed an allergy to commercial disposable pads. I went through pretty much every brand, and Stayfree was okay for a while, until they changed to "New and Improved!" which was not an improvement for me! I remember going to every drug store in the county, buying up all the old packages that weren't "New and Improved." When I ran out of those, I found Natracare pads, which are wonderful, but very hard to find in some areas. Since moving to a city, they're a lot more accessible, but it was still annoying having to make a special trip just for them, and worrying about how I would get them if I moved back to a rural area.

I know at this point you are thinking, "But what about cloth pads?" I can tell you that I gave them serious consideration, because at one point I was desperate. Not only was the price prohibitive (and I didn't feel confident making my own) but I have to be realistic with myself and what I can do. I know a lot of users say it is just a small extra task, but these people are not me. They already accomplish a great many things I cannot. They regularly do their laundry, wash their dishes, take showers, pick up clutter, sweep and mop and/or vacuum, and in general stay on top of their lives. They are capable people. I have a mental disability, and for me, these things are hard. I'm not at all proud of this, but I'm a slob, and no, changing that is not just a matter of trying harder, because there has never been a time when I have not been trying, so please think before you say something judgmental and hurtful. I've been at the point where all my underwear were stained and in a pile and sat there for months, so when I got my period I had nothing to put a pad on. If I cannot wash my underwear for my own good, I cannot wash reusable pads. This is true of me some of the time even when I have free time, and sometimes I have worked jobs with 10-12 hour days of hard labor. At those times I felt I had no extra time in my day--it was work, eat, sleep, and sometimes I felt I didn't have enough time for eating or sleeping. Showering had to wait till my days off, even if I was filthy. Also, repeatedly over the last few years, I have been in and out of homelessness. When you are homeless, you have enough problems without trying to figure out where to wash and dry your reusable pads.

In short, reusable pads are a great option for many people. I don't feel they are a good option for me.

The cup therefore appealed to my desire to have a reliable menstrual product that would always be there for me, that was safe for me to use, that did not require a lot of upkeep, and since I already had it, using it instead of pads would also save money.

I got the small Diva, since I'm 26 (was 25 at the time) with no kids, and also, even though I'm tall, I think my vagina is on the small side. I tried it on with the stem, and promptly yanked it out and cut the entire stem off before trying again. All the stem seemed to do was poke me in the urethra, which was about as pleasant as a poke in the eye. I've never felt I needed the stem for removal, so that's fine! (I don't like that the packaging said not to trim off all the stem. No stem is better for some people.)

Other impressions of the Ddva, let's see...the packaging was very pink, which made me eyeroll a bit. At least the cup itself was clear. There was also a pin I could wear, so I could announce to the world, "Guess what I have in my vagina!" I am not known as a timid person when it comes to these things, and I have told people I was trying cups, but even I balk at turning myself into Divacup's unpaid marketing campaign. Could they make the diva a bit cheaper without all that fancy packaging and the pin and whatnot? It seemed a bit unnecessary. The Divawash also seemed a bit sketchy. I thought part of the joy of owning a cup was saying goodbye to dependence on outside forces for your menstruation for the next decade or so? I know you might say, "But the Divacup makers are a small company and they're the good guys!" but dependence is dependence. If I'm spending money on a product, and especially if it's a product that's not easy to find, I'm not feeling all that liberated, here. So I skipped the wash. I've been cleaning it with soap and water, with a hydrogen peroxide soak at the end of the cycle. These items are cheap, easy to find, and things I would have in the house anyway.

The actual usage was worse, though. At first it seemed great, I got it in, got it to open, no leaks, felt a bit weird (like a need to pee, or a need to masturbate, where neither is actually what I want when I try to do it) but by the end of the day, the dull pain that had been slowly building was unbearable. I took it out and used pads for a few days to recover. Then I tried the cup again on the light days toward the end of my period, and seemed to have gotten the rhythm down, not only no pain, but I didn't even feel it most of the time.

Encouraged, I tried it again the next month, but was dismayed to find that not only was the pain back, but it was leaking constantly. Well, leaking might be the wrong word. More like gushing. I felt like 5-10 minutes after inserting it, it was already overflowing. And yes, I made sure my cervix was actually in the cup.

I turned to the internet for advice, and found this community. :) I was able to figure out that the pain was because my cup was too long, and also because of the shape. My cervix sits pretty low, and with the angle of my vagina, the rather acute tip of the diva was being pressed hard into the anterior wall of the vagina, just inside the pelvis. There was no doubt this was the source of my pain--when I held the cup away from that spot, the pain eased, and when I let go, the shape of my vagina forced it again into that spot. It was like some kind of pressure point or something, and the pain radiated through my vulva. I couldn't get it up higher because it was already hooked under my cervix (which protrudes considerably), and I couldn't get it lower without it sticking out of my body, and anyway it would either be crushed flat or sucked back in in that position. I figured out that my cervix actually GOES FOR A WALK during my cycle, and is lowest on my heaviest days. So on my lighter days, the diva sat high enough to be comfortable, but on heavy days, it was being pushed down into the Zone of Pain.

I got the trick of turning it inside-out from you guys, thanks for that! That definitely helped with the pain, but what it didn't help with was capacity, which went from poor to basically useless. And of course, I only needed to turn it inside-out on my heaviest days! Well, at this point, I realized I needed a new cup.

I did my research, and selected the large fleurcup, for the large capacity, and being a relatively low, squat model, in addition to the rounded bottom. What a contrast it is to the pointy end of my diva, which looks like some kind of torture device! It did take more than a month to arrive, which was a bummer, and once I got it, I ended up losing the purse I was carrying it in before I had a chance to use it. D: I was devastated. Happily, I got the purse back, cup and all!

Now, I've gotta say, a real downside to cups for the masses is the fact that these things aren't cheap (and it takes a while to get them), so you could end up spending a lot of money and time figuring out which cup is right for you. I know people keep saying cups save you money, but apparently this is a really long-term investment, because you lose money in the short run trying to find a cup that fits. There needs to be more awareness that every cup does not work for every vagina, so people can research the cup that will fit them in advance. This seems to be a lot more complicated than small/large. I had no idea when I bought the diva that it might not fit me!

I had trouble inserting the fleur at first, using the 7-fold, which worked best with my diva. But with the punch-down, it started working for me. It definitely works a lot better for me than the diva! On light days, I can go the whole twelve hours before taking it out and washing it, and on heavy days, I can at least get a couple hours out of it, instead of having to run to the bathroom every ten minutes. (At that point, I might as well just spend my whole period sitting on a pot, because I ain't leavin' the house.) It generally seems to perform as well as or better than pads, which is nice.

The fleur does occasionally get jammed into the Zone of Pain, but this is a lot less painful than when the diva does it, due to the shape of the cup. Oh, and when I open it, sometimes it thwacks my cervix, but this doesn't actually hurt, it's just a little disconcerting to hear a *thwack* from one's vagina. I tried opening it lower, but then I have trouble getting it to open fully. It just really, really wants to open there.

I did wake up in a pool of blood this morning, though my flow was so heavy, I don't know if a pad would have helped much either. It seems like overkill to have to use both, but I don't know, maybe one night a month I'll just have to.

The community here has been very helpful for researching the right cup for me, and also tricks like turning it inside out, folding options, etc. For that I am grateful, and I'm really glad you're all here. But there's something else I've noticed among cup advocates that's a bit less good. There's a lot of "green guilting," and lecturing about environmental impact. I don't want to give the impression that I don't care about the environment, because I do, I really, really do. But lifestyle changes and environmental impact are both complex issues. I have made some choices in my life to try to reduce my impact on the ecosystem (for example, a bicycle is my main transportation, and I make the extra effort to recycle, even though separating my trash is sometimes mentally difficult for me, and containers sit around for weeks with stuff growing on them waiting to be washed and sorted, because I will not give up and throw them out!) but I honestly think real change has to be systemic, that we will not fix our problems with a few hippies making an extra effort against the system. Think about how much more was recycled when recycling trucks started coming to residential streets instead of requiring environmentally-conscious people to go to recycling centers, or how much easier it is to convince people to cycle when there are bike lanes in place, or how a few well-placed laws can force corporations to be more respectful of the environment on a large scale. I really do not think Gaia lives or dies based purely on what I stuff in my hooch.

Given the fact that the diva was actually causing me pain, I felt resentful that I should have to deal with my ladybits suffering, or else I'm a bad person who is killing Mother Earth. (In fact, I am a bad person who is killing Mother Earth even with the cup. Most of us who live in first-world countries are. The laptop I'm typing on is probably worth 20 years of pads in environmental impact.) I just didn't like the way when people asked about options, there was a lot of pressure to choose washable pads or cups, and not tampons or disposable pads. Yes, making less waste is good, but it is not the only factor when weighing the options, and it's a decision I want to make for myself, not be guilted or shamed into.

There was such passion for the cup, and such pressure to convert others, it reminded me of another group of people I encountered and was a member of--Linux users. See, I read this book, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), which talks about self-justification and various cognitive biases we have. One of the biases is that if we put more effort into something, we think it's better. (This is kind of like how we think $90 wine tastes better than $15 wine, even if it's the same wine.) Then people who have made that kind of decision need others to validate their choice by making the same one. This was applied to how people in a cult need to recruit new cult members to make themselves feel that joining a cult was the right thing to do.

Now, I've heard a lot of things about Linux's superiority, how it works just as well as Windows or better in pretty much everything, how it's so easy a beginner can just hop right in, about what a utopia we'd have if everyone was on free, open-source software. Now, you can do some great things with Linux, and it's a perfectly serviceable operating system. That said, I hope you like searching forums for hours or days trying to figure out everything from how to get your computer to boot the live CD (I've had this problem on several computers, with several different builds), or why the sound won't work on a fresh install, or how to get this new program you thought was cool to actually function, or why the last update or something new you installed just broke everything, especially if that thing was your boot manager. I have never had so much hairpulling as I have trying to get things work on Linux. I hate having to say, "Sorry, I can't look at that page now, my last update completely broke Java and despite uninstalling and reinstalling it, I can't get Firefox to recognize that it's there." And you know what? Everyone I know who's tried Linux (and wasn't some kind of programming whiz) has had the same kind of problems.

But several of these users, who admit to spending hours pulling out their hair trying to solve problems they don't understand, still push the superiority of Linux, and try to convince others to install it on their computers.

Disposable pads and tampons, like Windows, "just work." Out of the box. You don't have to measure the length from your cervix to your vestibule, and there's a lot less of a learning curve. There's also just a lot more pawing around inside your vagina with cups--even with tampons, between strings and applicators, you don't really go fishing in there much. I never had to go online to understand how to properly use a pad or a tampon. I know there are convenience advantages to reusable methods too, like not having to go out to the store (unless you run out of DivaWash!) just as Windows has its little inanities, but I wish we would be fair about the pros and cons and trust people to make the decisions that are best for them, rather than slanting things towards reusable methods and shaming anyone who doesn't use those. It's a very personal decision, you know?

I think where I got the most angry was when I saw this article on pad use by poor women in developing areas of Africa. The short version: girls in some of these areas miss a lot of school because they have no menstrual products, so Procter and Gamble donated some. Apparently this is bad because it pollutes. Polluting is bad, yes, but it's such a widespread and systemic problem that to focus specifically on pad use by impoverished women in developing countries is just so unbelievably sexist and classist and I don't even have words. Because, yeah, the real reason the Earth is being destroyed is because a woman in a developing country, who probably does not even have electricity in her home, used a disposable pad so she could go to school. We people in the developed world, we can have our elaborate packaging and our cars and our ridiculous toys and waste waste waste, but god forbid those poor women have anything.

Let me tell you something, the poorer you are, the harder it is to make the "right" choices. I want to take a picture of shelves in my local supermarket, because you can get a large bag of chips for less than a can of beans. And you know what? Sometimes I got the chips just because they'd give me a full feeling, even though I knew it was hardly a balanced dinner. I want to do the right thing, I want to buy local and organic, but buying environmentally-destructive crap is barely affordable--buying local and organic is a joke. If you have the money, if you're middle-class, then yeah, it's "just a little more," and you can make that call. It's completely unfair to shame the poor for buying the food they can afford.

Another example of this: on the surface, it seems like owning a bike is cheaper than a car, right? Except when you're poor, you can't afford to live near where there are jobs. You get priced way the fuck out into the boonies, and when it's 40-80 miles to get to work, biking isn't really a viable option. What you lose on gas you save on rent, so again, it's actually cheaper to do something more destructive to the environment (like commuting 160 miles a day) that also sucks for you. Oh, and your car is also less fuel-efficient, because it's old and poorly-maintained, because that's all you can afford.

I could go on all day. The more you have, the easier it is to do the "right thing." So why are the poor under the most pressure to give things up? These are already people with nothing.

I like my cup and I plan to continue using it, and I would love to see cups become more mainstream, but I also think we need to stop with the hard sell and respect women's right to make decisions about what they use on their bodies. For example, I told a close friend I was trying cups, and offered to boil mine and let her try it out to see if she liked it. We talked some about vaginal characteristics, and apparently her cervix is really, really low, so there wouldn't be room for a cup, and her flow is also very heavy, so a smaller cup wouldn't do. I didn't lecture her on it. She was comfortable with the methods she was using, they worked best for her, and I don't feel it would have been right of me to judge her for not using reusable products. It isn't my place to make that decision for her.

I also feel a little uncomfortable with people telling me, "Good for you!" like I'm doing something great by switching to a cup. Right now, this is the most convenient thing for me. I don't know if that will change later, but it could, and if it does, I will keep doing what I think is best for me and my vagina, because when I think of areas in my life where I want to sacrifice for a good cause, sorry, my vaginal comfort just isn't one of them. I'm not doing this as activism, so I don't think I deserve backpats for it.

And I think if you really want it to take off into the mainstream, you have to accept that the majority of women aren't going to make the decision based on things like environmental activism. Most people just are not activists.

Wow, sorry this was so long...I guess I had a lot of thoughts.

On another note, since I love my fleurcup so much more, I don't think I'll be using the diva again. But what was the wrong shape for me might be the right shape for someone else. I'd love to boil it and give it to someone it might fit better who doesn't have a lot of money. I went looking for a charity or something for used-but-still-good cups, but all I found was discussions on how cups are a bad match for women in developing countries because of a shortage of clean water (and the MPower, which seems to disagree). But what about poor women in the developed world, for whom clean water is generally easy to come by, but still have a lot of financial need?
Tags: activism, brand comparisons, cervix position, divacup, environmental impact, first time use, fleurcup, heavy blood flow, pads - cloth, pads - disposable, sizes/size issues, sleeping, stem length/trimming, success stories, teething troubles
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