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Cupping To The Chase: Menstrual Cup Musings

By: Lisa Lai

*This post is not sponsored.

Uncomfortable with a lumpy pad? Anxious about the whereabouts of your tampon up there? Tired of changing your menstrual product every couple of hours? Yeah, me too. That’s why I looked into some alternatives like period underwear, cloth pads, and– oh, this one caught my immediate attention– menstrual cups.

Menstrual cups have been circulating around since the 1930s but were not officially publicized until 1987, when The Keeper, made out of latex rubber, was introduced. Nowadays, though cups like The Keeper are still made from rubber, most cups are made of medical grade silicone for their flexibility, hypoallergenic, and hardwearing purposes. As such, they are reusable and have a life of about ten years before necessary replacement. Cups today are still relatively unknown, as they only tend to circulate around social media rather than on mainstream television. Pads and tampons, on the other hand, though they both have circulated around the same time as menstrual cups, have received more attention, as they are apparently easier to sell because of their disposability. Fun fact: In 1985, Courtney Cox made history as she uttered the word “period” for the first time on national television, making her partnership with Tampax the first recognized period commercial. How cool is that? Crossing my fingers that history can be changed again with a widely publicized menstrual cup commercial! Just saying. 

I’ve always been hesitant to try out a menstrual cup myself, just because “What if I can’t get it out?” and “What if I get an infection?” dominate my “But it is less trash” and “It saves me money” thoughts. Ultimately, I did some research and jotted down a quick pros-and-cons table for myself. If the pros outweigh my cons, I would get a menstrual cup.

My pros outweigh my cons 7-4. Okay, it looks like I’m getting a menstrual cup. But the cons…

It turns out I did not need to worry at all; there are many different solutions, as outlined in a Menstrual Cup FAQ:

The Menstrual Cup Quiz By Put A Cup In It: https://putacupinit.com/quiz/ | Me Luna: https://meluna-usa.com/ | Lunette’s Cupwipes: https://store.lunette.com/products/lunette-cupwipes

And for those who are allergic to latex or silicone, there are cups that are made of natural rubber like The Keeper, as well as some made of Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE), which do not contain silicone, rubber, latex, Bisphenols (BPA/BPS), or heavy metals, like The Hello Cup, that you will still be able to use safely and comfortably.

Another concern regarding the insertion of menstrual cups is how it affects virginity. Cups in fact do not affect virginity, as virginity can only be lost during sex. That said however, menstrual cups can “break” or stretch the hymen, which is still sometimes thought to be a physical, valid indication of virginity. In truth, the hymen does not prove sexual activity or the “innocence” and “purity” of someone with a vagina– Healthline sets this myth about hymens straight in their article here. Menstrual cups are just one of the many ways that hymens might stretch, just like dancing, riding a bike, or using a tampon. And just like using a tampon as another tool to care for your reproductive health, menstrual cups, in short, will not “pop your cherry.” Feel free to refer to Rubycup’s article about virginity and menstrual cups for more information.

Now, the next question in my cup quest is… which cup do I choose? 

I took The Menstrual Cup Quiz and I was offered the Lunette Period Cup. I haven’t ever heard of this brand before; in fact, up until I decided to try a menstrual cup, I had only heard of The DivaCup on social media. This led me to ask: Why aren’t menstrual cups, or even other period products for that matter, advertised openly in the mainstream?

A representative of Lunette had this to say: “With a taboo product […] it pays to hold [advertising] back a bit because otherwise you could be shot down.” This does not sit well with me– why would periods– something completely natural, something we have no control over– and period collection methods be silenced? We have no control over our bodily fluids, yet we are taught to hide it, as if by hiding it, what naturally flows out of us would disappear or go away. Maia Schwartz sums it up nicely: “Menstrual blood is the only blood which isn’t born out of violence, yet it is the only one that disgusts you the most.”

There is significant harm in this culture of stigma around periods. Firstly and most obviously, many young menstruators, especially those experiencing periods for the first time, will not only be unsure of how to manage their menstruation, but they also will not know what or who to turn to for help– not everybody is comfortable with using the typical tampon or pad methods. My high school self definitely would have opted for other collection methods had I had then known about them. Along that same note, not everybody who menstruates is a woman. Because there is an assumption that folks who menstruate are (young) women– and it does not help that existing period advertisements frequently only show athletic women using pads or tampons– the talk about periods leave out some communities. There are, for instance, non-binary and transitioning people, as well as some men who menstruate and some women who do not. And then there are some communities that are neglected in their need for period products in the mainstream as well, like those incarcerated or in shelters. No matter which communities people belong to, silence around periods benefits no one. 

However, nowadays, there is more awareness about inclusivity for all menstruators; brands like UltuCup promote their gender neutrality, while advertisements (see Bodyform’s Blood Normal) have recently taken a turn for the realistic, using red liquid to not only educate and advertise, but to also redefine and revolutionize period culture. (What a vast difference from Cox’s 1985 commercial!) Shelters, clinics, and other non-profit organizations strive to uplift and advocate for marginalized communities needing period products. In fact, organizations like Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters have been instrumental in promoting menstrual equity and passing legislation that would allow menstruators in shelters access to menstrual products free of charge. Additionally, as more and more news circulate online, communities and websites have videos or interactive activities to help with things like locating and measuring your cervix, tracking your period and other discharge, or, like in my case, finding the ideal menstrual cup.

I remember I used to feel anxious hearing my pad ripping echo in a public bathroom. (“Are you eating chips in there?”) While I now am more comfortable with myself and talking about reproductive health in general, it is time for a new change for me and a Lunette seems to be the way to go. There’s something almost liberating in both talking unashamedly about periods and deciding to try out different period products. Thumbs up for menstrual cups! Or should I say–

Thumbs cup! 👍 👍 👍

👍

Additional Resources:

Choosing Your Menstrual Cup: https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/menstrual-cup-comparison#1

Menstrual Cup Size Comparison Chart: https://putacupinit.com/chart/

Learn to Insert A Menstrual Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9fPUfm-uYE 

The Life Cycle of Your Menstrual Cup: Menstrual Cup FAQ (& Some Not So Frequently Asked Questions)

Using Inclusive Language: https://periodpositive.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/queeriods-lgbt-stem-poster-feb-2016.pdf

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Uppers, Dilators, and Vaginismus

By: Flora Oliveira

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert in health, but I linked all helpful resources from which I gained information.

“It wasn’t until going to therapy that I was able to have penetrative sex.”

 . . .

While sitting at my desk, I call a friend, someone I have learned a lot about sex from. Kazayran (pseudonym) and I attended school together since our earlier childhood years. She sits excitedly on her bed, ready to talk about a topic we usually glossed over growing up. For background, Kazayran has dealt with Vaginismus since her early years. First the realization of pain came from being unable to use tampons or get vaginal checkups. After years of doctor visits, Kazayran discovered that she had Vaginismus, a condition that creates uncontrollable muscle spasms during any form of penetration. Naturally, I ask about her sex education and if she had ever considered Vaginismus as the culprit. Kazayran states she was exposed to formal sex education in middle school and in 9th-grade biology, but never once was she informed of Vaginismus. She feels this sex-ed was inadequate because the teachers discussed abstinence as the only way to protect oneself. Although she doesn’t remember much else of it, she remembers there being no education on LGBTQIA+ sex or LGBTQIA+ resources either.  

 Kazayran’s story is the first of many we will review. This week’s interview provides insight into the differences of how sex is perceived, how certain abilities may affect sex, and what expectations may be keeping you from living your best sexual experiences. 

. . .

How do you define your sexuality?

Kazayran: I would say… wow I don’t know… I would say I am bisexual. Maybe I’m open to both… I think that’s the first time saying that because I mostly had straight interactions but I’m open to anything. I would say the way I participate, show myself, and present myself in bed would be more feminine, I don’t want to say submissive because that has a different connotation.

 

How did you come to define your sexuality?

Just through experimenting. I was always very open… I think that’s the number one way to know yourself. Just to be open with things and to be wary about other things that people have normalized to happen in bed. Like when I think about how people talk about choking, spitting, hitting whatever, and then I think about 16 to 19-year-olds being told that’s normal it bothers me. The key is to be open but also aware of how outside dynamics such as patriarchy influence what I’m allowing to happen in bed.

How do you define your gender? How did you come to define your gender?

Female, she/her. I’ve never experienced dysmorphia or anything like that. When I first learned about the trans experience and body dysphoria, I reflected on if I had ever felt uncomfortable with being called a girl. The answer was no.  Would I feel uncomfortable if anyone called me a boy? No. But, just because it doesn’t bother me, doesn’t mean it isn’t real for other people and that’s why I identify as she/her. Even though I’m technically okay with all pronouns, I don’t want to take anything away from trans people because to me it means nothing while to them it could mean everything.

What did your virginity mean to you, if anything?

For me, virginity was something I always wanted to lose. It was really hard for me to lose it and it took a long time, even though I wanted to. I did define sex as penetrative and even though I engaged in oral sex, when I took stock after having penetrative sex, I felt different.  

Is there anything you do that you feel is different from the norm?

Just depends on who I talk to. If I talk to my lesbian or bi friends, they don’t see anything wrong with me only having had oral sex for so long, but my straight girl friends don’t value oral sex at all. I don’t want to police what people do in the bedroom, but I just don’t know how people are having sex without having oral first. And how so many girls are okay with never having orgasms! People definitely need to be more vocal.  When getting eaten out, it’s okay for the person to be weird at first, but it’s your job to tell them how you like it. If they ignore it then maybe, it’s time to go. But you should be active and tell your partner what you like, if they need to move, go softer or harder, etc. I’m honest during and after sex—I’ll never fake an orgasm.

Do you think your sex falls within the heteronormative? Why or why not?

I believe it does. Or maybe not because I’m actually cumming.

How do you care for yourself before, during, or after sex?

Before: Obviously, I always shower before sex, so I feel clean and comfortable. I don’t really have a ritual or anything, but I do turn to the things that comfort me (cleaning, making a cup of tea, smoking). It’s also important for me to turn negative self-talk off and stay present. Maybe the most important thing is to talk to your partner before anything.

During: I am an advocate for my orgasm, I rarely leave unsatisfied. If my partner wants to satisfy me, I’ll get there, but if they don’t care it’s almost impossible.

After: I use the restroom, clean up, if possible, I will shower again. I always check in with myself and make sure I feel okay because sometimes I get post-sex blues. I have a serious problem with getting post-sex depression. After I worked on it, I traced it back to that guilt from religion. I try not to fall into that after sex. 

Were you influenced by family, religion, or other things that limited your sexuality, gender, or expression of sex?

Definitely. I come from a very strict Muslim family. It wasn’t until going to therapy that I was able to have penetrative sex because I had so much guilt around the idea of losing my virginity. Even though I would read articles and I would tell myself virginity isn’t keeping me sacred or pure, it was still hard for me to lose it. It wasn’t until moving out and going to therapy that I was able to take control of my body.

What is an interesting sexual experience you’ve had (whether alone or not) that you’d  like to talk about?

I had to use dilators to work up to penetrative sex. When I was working on the final boss (the widest dilator), it was really hard. I had to put on genital chakra meditation music, and it took half an hour to calm down enough to put it in. Afterwards, I was bleeding and I realized I had broken my hymen. 

A weird experience I had was the time I was under the influence of an upper. I was doing it all night with this guy. The whole night long was oral, fingering, blow jobs, role-playing, and massaging. It was wild, but limited, because of the upper. We were at the brink of an orgasm all night long—which was awful, but we didn’t wanna stop. We created all these different role-playing scenarios, the strangest one being set in the medieval times, coupled with dirty language that had me blushing all day the next day. At 6 am, when it started wearing off, I realized I couldn’t move because my pussy had been licked raw. I needed to get an ice cube and use that because it was raw for like two days—red, swollen, and pulsating. Absolute insanity.

Have you ever had sex in return for something? 

No. I’m not going to lie, I’m worried about losing my soul. Thinking about sex as something transactional is upsetting to me, but maybe I’m naive. I don’t think I have the range to be a sex worker. It seems like a lot of people believe it’s easy, especially young girls. I just don’t think it’s for everyone. I don’t want young girls getting caught up in something now, and have it affect them later, which I have seen happen with some of my friends. It’s more intense than we might realize. 

This is no shame towards sex workers—I know some people are able to do it and separate their lives from their work. Power to them. Sex workers deserve love, respect, and support because it’s a hard job. 

Is there any advice you’d give to others?

Never go out of your comfort zone because your partner wants you to. You should care about them and want to please them, but don’t do it despite yourself. No means no just doesn’t just apply to sex, it applies to everything so don’t be scared to say what you want. 

What do you wish you knew more about sex?

Honestly, I don’t wish I knew anything in particular… Like all things in life, experience is the best teacher. All I can do is be the best student.

What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner?

I wish I had known it was okay to talk to my friends about how hard it was for me to have sex because for a while—maybe a year and a half or two years—nobody knew. Everyone assumed that I had had sex, even my sister, and close friends. Nobody knew I was struggling with something. It was embarrassing for me to tell people that I struggled and that I could not have sex. A lot of people still can’t wrap their minds around the idea of me not having been able to have sex. Everyone still asks “oh you wanted to, but you couldn’t? What does that mean?”. I wish I had known that it was okay to talk about it more. 

What is one nonsexual thing you find sexual?

Rings… violins…

. . . 

*Vaginismus, a medical condition that causes muscular spasm of the vagina, making sex painful or at times, impossible. In other words, the vaginal muscles spasm when anticipating pain (NIH). People who experience vaginismus often experience a burning sensation with any penetration, are unable to use tampons, and usually cannot withstand pap smears. Termed from its diagnoses, vaginismus can also be known as “genito-pelvic pain or penetration disorder” but oftentimes those who experience these symptoms go undiagnosed. “Roughly 2 [vagina owners] in 1000 will experience vaginismus” but this number could be much higher due to the shame surrounding this topic (Vaginismus.com). When further discussing her struggles with vaginismus, Kazayran mentioned that in high school, during her first pelvic exam, her doctor swabbed her, which caused sharp pain. Kazayran recalls taking a deep breath while the doctor incredulously asking, “That hurt?” Although Kazayran felt there were no malintentions in the doctors questioning, her confusion and shame caused her to wait another two years before seeking specific gynecological help. 

With little to no medical research on vulva/vaginal health available, causes for vaginismus are not well defined but may be result from physical and non-physical factors (In depth video HERE). Physical causes can include a history of abuse, medications, medical disabilities, previous childbirth, or pelvic trauma. Non-physical causes can range from fear and discomfort, partner issues, trauma, anxiety and stress (Vaginismus.com). 

As Kazayran guessed, the root of her vaginismus was the instilled mindset that pre-marital sex should be avoided. “There was a lot of unlearning” to do for Kazayran to be able to perform penetrative sex and along that journey, she used vaginal dilators (Dilators explained HERE).  

Dilators are commonly used as the main source of treatment for Vaginismus. Dilators are a training device that serves as a tool to stretch the vaginal canal when paired with specific exercises. When paired with therapy and daily exercises, dilators can be a successful nonsurgical solution to vaginismus (more information on how to use Dilators HERE). 

With access to adequate therapy and information, Kazayran’s problem subsided. Now, happily, Kazayran can engage in penetrative intercourse, but this may not ring true for other vulva-owners. With a prioritization of abstinence in sex education, kids are often shamed into avoiding topics on sex and its experience. What would the world look like if Kazayran and others who suffered from vaginismus had access to sex-positive education instead?

One thing is certain, sex education needs to center on encouragement of safe sex education and not abstinence. There needs to be LGBTQIA+ sex education and accessibility sensitivity included in the curriculum, and there certainly need to be more open discussions on sex in schools, at home, and with friends.