Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Diary of a Menstrual Cup User - Prologue

As a woman, I've been conditioned to not talk about my personal care and menstrual hygiene in front of men. We women are more often than not, embarrassed to buy lingerie or sanitary napkins from a male salesperson at the shop, we wrap our bloody sanitary pads in newspaper before disposal so that no one sees it, we don't tell people why we are moody even though it's so fucking obvious, we don't go to temples four days a month because we are "impure" with the womb-blood...

But my mother was very frank and open with me, so I was comfortable with the idea of menstruation long before the phenomenon set in for me. And because women do not hesitate talking about this in front of each other - depending on where your trust levels are with the woman standing opposite you - I took part in a great many conversations about periods, the taboos, the embarrassments, PMS, hormone shifts, sex, and everything else a woman's vagina and the psyche goes through.

Putting something about my own experiences with menstruation up on the internet will invite three kinds of reactions -

a) Why are you writing such gross things about yourself? Have you no shame that the whole world would get to know intimate things about you?

b) Whoa baby, show us your vagina in the next post!

c) Kudos, darling I'm so proud of you. You actually came out and bared your pubic life in public.

I'm going to risk these and any related reactions, and write about menstruation - because women have a right to know the options for their body and choose the best for it. And they need not go and consult gynaecs or friends in secrecy - they should be able to search the internet and get adequate information or opinion.

I do not profess to be any sort of authority on what I am going to write. In fact, this writing, and the whole experience with the product I'm going to be writing to you about, is a steep learning curve for me. I know my body better with each passing day. And I think every woman deserves to know her body as much as her inner self. And if reading about my experiences and opinions helps even one woman, I'll consider myself blessed.

What are Menstrual Cups?

This post and all others in the "Diary of a Menstrual Cup User" series will talk about menstrual cups - touted to be a safer, cheaper and eco-friendly alternative to sanitary pads and tampons. I learnt about them quite accidentally during some random internet search on intimate products. It fascinated me, and I decided to try it out, after months of deliberation.

Menstrual cups are a cup-shaped product made for use during menstruation. Unlike sanitary pads that are slapped on to your underwear to soak up the blood or tampons that are compressed cotton cylinders inserted into the vagina to soak up the blood, the cups collect menstrual blood and can be cleaned out without needing any external forms of disposal. No need for discreet methods of throwing the pads/tampons, no need to watch dogs chew on used pads and tampons in public dustbins, no need for littering. You can help reduce your contribution to land pollution drastically - instead of throwing away an average of 10 pads every month for five years - that is 600 pads for five years for women with light to moderate flow - you will only be throwing one small silicone cup every five years. A single pad or tampon apparently takes around 25 years to degenerate in soil, unless they are burnt, which will then add to air pollution.

The cups are inserted into the vagina in order to allow them to collect the blood. It is mostly made of medical grade silicon, is soft, smooth and rubbery, and require a more hands-on experience with periods than with any other product. Since they do not soak up the blood, they are said to be free from Toxic Shock Syndrome and bacterial infections. They also do not cause rashes typically associated with pads and tampons because of the smooth texture of the cups. The cups can be left in for 4-5 hours for women with heavy flow, 6-7 hours for women with moderate flow, and 8-10 hours for light flow.

An average cup can last anywhere between 5-15 years based on your usage. The price of a cup available in India, is between Rs. 700 to Rs. 2500 (depends on brands). Because of their durability, they also help you save some money. The count of an average of 600 pads for five years means you spend around Rs. 1800 for the most basic type of sanitary pad. Imagine if you can make your cup last longer, say 10 years, then you are spending only Rs. 700-Rs. 1500 instead of Rs. 3600 or more.

I got the delivery of my new ALX Care Menstrual Cup Size 1 (for women before childbirth) off Amazon.in for Rs. 700, on November 8. I wasn't menstruating then, but I decided to try it on to get used to it - what is popularly known as "dry run". The first time I tried, it wouldn't go in. Because I was nervous, and my vaginal muscles weren't loosening up, and the soft rubbery cup kept snapping between my fingers. I was also not able to figure out the best squatting position to slide it in smoothly. And when I did manage to stick it in, I thought the mouth of the cup was too big, and that the cup was not sitting properly inside.

I tried it on again the next day, and I faced similar difficulties, but was able to insert the cup into my vagina with less effort than on the previous day. This made me confident that that this will work out with practice. Until then I'd never bothered about understanding why and how and when my vagina is tight or loose or wet or dry (except obviously, during sex or masturbation). And I thought I knew my body well enough.

Meanwhile I also scouted a few websites and forums and found a lot of interesting information on both the cups and the reproductive system. Among the ones that helped me the most are: http://vagmonologues.blogspot.in/ and http://menstrual-cups.livejournal.com/.

If you have any questions on these posts or anything related to menstrual cups and periods, please leave them in the comments. Even if I don't know the answer, we'll find out together. Till the next post, happy exploring!

(This is a non-fictional diary entry designed to spread awareness about menstrual hygiene and menstrual cups. The author promises to give a true and honest review, and narrate her experiences as decently as possible.)
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