Over the years, women have improved their relationships with their bodies; but we are still so unfamiliar with them. We still swallow the lore, that our bodies are dirty and shameful. Our bodies for centuries have been presented as a mystery, like an ancient language without a Rosetta Stone. The human body is complex and glorious. There are aspects of our bodies, that we now finally feel acceptable to speak freely about. There are myths and shame accompanying those aspects of our bodies, that we are beginning to dissipate. Take for instance, the wonder of childbirth.
In the Western World, there are still women that go through this experience believing the only kind of birth possible, is a medical (medicated) one. Many are completely unaware of the basic common phases of childbirth that make the process manageable. That education can offer a couple peace and understanding of the process they are undergoing and release to mom, the keys to her own body. What a powerful thing.
We are seeing the same occurrences in female sexuality. Women have become more knowledgeable of men's bodies, with gadget parties, and books, but have surprisingly neglected their own. On the rise in the last decade, different forums have sprouted up providing women with the platform to learn how to explore what is pleasurable for them. Exploring this without the pervading label of being a loose or a "whore", simply because she holds the desire to educate herself about her own body and sexuality. A woman well-educated in her own body, does not directly equal a sexually promiscuous woman. Those who are confident in their own bodies are becoming better able to joke about the negative labels society has attached to women and watch the power of those labels beginning to diffuse.
Yes, we are braver and also finally feel worthy to demand safety regarding issues that are Feminocentric. Issues that have been avoided by government agencies, because with those agencies being more Androcentric, it just did not concern them. Many have been led to believe that sex is solely for the purpose of procreation. I am not getting into a debate about married sex vs. unmarried, so depending on which side of the coin you are on, hopefully you can still agree, men's sex organs are on the outside and quite obvious as to how to stimulate. Women's sex organs are less upfront and like some men can need individualized manners in which to stimulate them. It is helpful for both partners, when a woman can provide her own set of instructions, so to speak. Once the instructions are present, sex can be a glorious event. There will be those that disagree, but I believe that sex can include a beautiful spiritual, energetic interaction, if a couple is in that place and slows themselves down enough to notice it.
the crimson wave
Menstruation is a loaded subject. It begs the implications of sex, because it is the beginning of the possibility of procreation for a girl, transitioning to a woman. When discussing menstruation, many try to speak as clinically as possible and often women feel uncomfortable to go into detail about body parts and basic experiences they are having or questions they may have. Even though many have had sex ed in school, they are still puzzled about basic locations and functions of body parts. Perhaps it is because these classes are given prior to the onset of menses for many girls. It is no surprise then that any discussion of tampons or anything other device inserted into the vagina makes society uncomfortable
Does comfort in inserting a tampon (for instance), for the purpose of menstruation, equal sexual promiscuity? Does it mean a girl/woman is not a virgin? Well I can tell you there may be some women that find this experience pleasurable; right on if this is the case, but I have yet to meet a woman that found inserting a tampon for the purpose of menstruation to be an erotic experience. I think society needs to give it a rest.
Issues with tampons
Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), back in the 1980's, made us aware of many health issues that tampons can and do cause. The two major issues where TSS was concerned were, do tampons upset the natural vaginal fluid balance while simultaneously giving way to the possibility of its fibers become a breeding ground for bacteria? The other concern was type of fibers that were being used in the tampons. The FDA sought to correct this by placing guidelines for absorbency on tampon boxes and eliminating 3 of the 4 fibers that were of concern. This gave rise to other concerns however. Women began to realize that there was much less regulation on feminine hygiene products than they thought. As a result, the safety of non-organic cotton tampons have increasingly come into question. Cotton is known to be one of the dirtiest crops in existence. It is laden with pesticides prior to cleaning and very low levels of toxins after cleaning the fibers and the production of tampons. The levels are low enough that the FDA still grants approval for the products, but it may leave many women feeling unsettled, once they become aware. It is for these reasons that organic cotton feminine hygiene products have increased in sales and women have begun to actively consider other solutions, like the menstrual cup.
What is a Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is a small pliable cup that is inserted into the vaginal vault. Instead of absorbing menstrual fluid, like a tampon, it collects it.
The cup is inserted into the vagina and opens up similar to a diaphragm. Once inside the vaginal vault, the muscles of the vaginal walls, close in to meet the cup and form a seal that prevents leakage. The cup can stay in for 8-10 hours and removal is not as messy as one would think.
The History of the Cup
Menstrual cups have been around since the 1860's when they were first patented. They had the label of catamenial sacks. Not the prettiest name. They looked quite archaic then and had much room for improvement.
By 1937 they started to look more like the ones on the market today, but were made exclusively of latex rubber.
Silicone became all the rage in the 2000's and it was at this time that cups started coming out in the US, made out of silicone as well.
It started with the Keeper Cup
...and now the supply of brands has proliferated.
Part of the reason that it is taking off, is that it is more ecological
...and more cost-effective.
They are also comfortable and viewed by many to be safer than tampons. I believe another reason for their rise in popularity, in large part, is because women are becoming more secure with their bodies and their bodies functions. There seems to be a communal decision arising among women, that that our bodies are finally acceptable. Women of all ages are feeling braver, more empowered and more willing to try different things. Which brings into discussion the menstrual cup.
When mine arrived I was seriously excited, but it was daunting, I must say. I have gone through natural childbirth and I was still concerned that it was going to hurt; conceptually it seems like a sizeable object to insert. The trick is in the fold. The cup came with instructions; the first step was to sterilize it, by putting it in boiling water, for 3 minutes. I suggest getting a small Pyrex bowl, solely for that purpose (some use a glass container with a lid and sterilizing solution) that you can sterilize in and store the clean empty bowl, after use in your bathroom. Following that quick step, I looked at the instructions that chronicled its insertion. I was happy to know it gets folded up, making it just a little larger than a tampon. It gave a myriad of ways to fold and insert it and you can see those and more on instructional videos online .
Being from California, I chose the taco fold. Yes, I know my jokes aren't funny...
There is the fold I call the Superwoman fold and a few others.
The insertion of a cup may be too daunting for a young girl, that is individual. I have spoken with girls that love them and ones that don't. Granted hymens can cease being in tact from bicycling, gymnastics, horseback riding etc., but if you come from a culture where it is important for a woman's hymen to be in tact until after marriage, then this may not be for you either.
Once the cup was inserted there was a funny queff noise made. Good for a little giggle. I rotated the cup a bit to make sure it was opening up. I also inserted my index finger to run it along the rim, to check if it was unfolded. I did not need to place it too far up it kind of moved into position itself after a bit. The cup is somewhat similar to a diaphragm, though different and should NOT be used for contraception. It does however slide up and open, while the vaginal walls secure around it making a seal and making the cup secure. Once mine was in, I did not feel it, after a few minutes.
Women come in different sizes and so do menstrual cups. There are typically at least two sizes, small and large. This is based on mostly whether you have had children before and the quantity of fluid typically needed to be collected. I used a disposable one once before and it was a little uncomfortable (I probably just inserted it incorrectly), I figured I would actually try a small, regardless of the fact that I have gone through childbirth. For me, a small worked well. What did not work well, was that I could only go about 5 hours without having to empty the cup. A larger size may have been a better choice. Some cup companies offer a "two fer"-- you would receive one small and one large.
If you do not feel it immediately, relax. It is not lost in your body. It is not possible, as the cervix kind of caps the other end of the vaginal canal. Bear down a little to help the menstrual cup come down the vaginal tract a bit. You can also try squatting which shortens the canal. I did not really have this issue, but if you do, I assure you, it will get easier. Then find the nub at the bottom of the cup, to know where to pinch the cup when removing. Next pinch the bottom of the cup and slowly pull down and remove. Relax it will come out! Removing the cup was not as messy as I thought it would be. I expected a huge release of fluid into the toilet and onto my hand. Instead, probably due to the viscosity of the menstrual fluid, it mostly fell back into the cup. I then poured the fluid into the toilet. It was kind of cool to see the amount of fluid that was coming out of my body, as opposed to it being soaked up in the fibers of a pad or tampon. Following the removal, if I was near a sink I rinsed it, dried it off with toilet paper and reinserted it. If I was somewhere where that was not possible I cleaned it off with toilet paper (it was not like it disgustingly dripping in blood) and reinserted it.
I used mine for two days. I did not have the fortune of only having to change it every 8-12 hours. I had to change mine every 5 hours. Since I was not having an issue with leakage, I tried sleeping with it (which you should not do with tampons). I changed it right before going to bed; I did not have any leakage. Some women get their periods while sleeping or leak occasionally when using a pad to bed, so if you do happen to have an issue of some leakage, you know the beauty of cold water and soap. I have read one is able to have sex with the disposable menstrual cups, but I have not tried this. You will have to go on other reviews for that one.
I only reviewed one cup. There are so many. Several have names that are similar, but the styles are a little different. I found this fantastic website that chronicles the various styles and brands. I used the Luna cup. I found out there are several different Luna cups. I would warn that it is important to purchase from a reputable company that is forthcoming with information. I look forward to reviewing the Luna Cup Menstrual Cup, as the owner was a dear person and so very helpful in providing requested information. My review for the other cup the Luna Menstrual Cup can be seen here.
A quick note about silicone. Silicon is the second most available element after oxygen. It is a chemical substance that cannot be broken down and divided into smaller particles. You would have to split atoms to do that. Silica, is a compound that you get when you combined silicon and another element. It is in our bodies already and some people take it for various health purposes like, health of skin, hair and nails. Silicon, which is what menstrual cups are made from, is generally inert. It is a synthetic polymer, that is made when carbon and/or oxygen is added to silicon. It is used in many applications. We see it used for baking cups and Silpat Baking Sheets and medical grade silicone is used for devices such as pacemakers and cups!
This polymer is FDA approved and according to the FDA is a food-safe substance. The record states that it does not off-gas and it does not leach into liquids. Yours should not have a chemical smell. Silicone has not been tested at high temperatures, but is said to be safe at freezing and up to 428 F (about 220 C). As we saw with the discussion of cotton tampons, there has not been a great deal of research conducted on silicone. Previously there were theories about silicone implants being linked to breast cancer, and those have since been debunked, but it remains difficult for us to wash that from our memories. There is no evidence of it being harmful, but as that goes, then there is also not much evidence to show that it is safe. This is a big downside for me regarding this product.
Vegan or Naw?
Are silicone cups vegan? Though most of these companies do not themselves test on animals and though the product is not made with animal based ingredients, the silicone supplier to most of these companies has used animal testing. It is required for it's use as a medical device. Some testing may be done on cells and others by injecting or implanting them into rabbits or mice. "It would seem that all classes (1-6) require injecting the compound into animals. Classes IV and VI require implanting the compound into the muscle of a rabbit." Now typically the silicone supply company has conducted the studies at the onset of developing the silicone. They do not typically test per batch. Sometimes testing must be done if they care to add loads of new colors or make some kind of material change or the FDA may require it if some threatening issue becomes present. This is the case with other medical treatments as well, like Tylenol or thyroid medication and can be showstopper for many vegans who do have other choices.
If you have an IUD, a tilted uterus or for some other reason, have been told by your doctor to not use tampons, then this product may not be for you. Check with your doc! I wore a glad rag panty liner or organic cotton panty liner with my cup. It wasn't because it was necessary, it was rather because it was my first time using it really and it gave me a little extra confidence.
the take away
The cup offers security when you must be away from a bathroom for an extended period of time, like while going hiking or traveling. If the ambiguous information regarding the safety and vegan status of the silicone doesn't present a problem for you, then I would say it is a great option. It is comfortable, reliable and environmentally friendly.