“It won’t go in.”
I’m sitting on the toilet in the bathroom, my boyfriend is standing just outside the door. He doesn’t really offer any suggestions, he has none to give. All he can muster is, “That sucks.”
“It does suck.”
I’ve been struggling to insert a menstrual cup for the better part of five minutes. I’ve tried folding it just about every way that the guide suggests. I’ve put a bit of water based lube around the edge to make it a bit easier (even though the official website for the cup in question says not to). I’ve relaxed my body just about as much as I can – and I still can’t get the damn thing in.
Eventually, by the grace of the period goddesses, it’s in, and things are already off to a bad start.
I suddenly feel like I do whenever I get a pap smear, when the speculum opens my vagina. It’s not a good feeling. I feel like I’m going to faint – whether due to panic or hitting the vagus nerve, I’m not sure. I carefully stand up and look in the mirror; I’m whiter than my iPhone. I sit back down, this time on the edge of the bathtub.
“How’re you doing?” my partner asks, still standing just outside the bathroom door.
“Like I’m going to faint.”
“That’s not supposed to happen, is it?”
I’ve been wanting to make the switch from tampons and panty liners to a menstrual cup for months now. But whenever my period seems to arrive, I’ve forgotten that during my last cycle I declared that I wanted to make the switch. Finally, I’ve remembered, and am both excited and nervous at the prospect. Excited to be saving money on menstrual care products, to be putting something in my vagina that isn’t a tampon, to not have to worry about leaks. Nervous because I’ve read that it’s not always roses.
It’s certainly not all roses for me.
With my menstrual cup in place (or so I think – I wasn’t able to fully turn it as the instructions suggested), I figure I’ll leave it where it is and assess the situation later. It’s the first day of my period, so I have a heavy flow. I’ll know soon whether or not my menstrual cup is working.
It’s not. It’s leaked. All over some nice new underwear that I should’ve known better not to wear.
Frustrated, but understanding, it’s my first time, after all, I begin the process of taking the cup out. This involves some calmness and “bearing down,” both of which don’t feel nearly as easy as it should be when there’s a small part of you screaming that you have something inside of you that you want out of you. Taking the cup out is significantly easier than putting it in, though it does feel a little strange.
I begin the process of putting the menstrual cup back in all over again, this time with minimal light-headedness. I chalk all the unpleasantness from before to it being my first time. That night, even with the menstrual cup, I wear a panty liner to bed – just in case.
I wake up the following morning to find blood on the panty liner and am both relieved and frustrated. Relieved that I had the foresight to wear a liner, frustrated because the point of the menstrual cup is so that I don’t have to use liners anymore. What am I doing wrong?
Most menstrual cups come in two sizes – one for those under 30 who haven’t had children, and one for those over 30 or who have had children. Even though I am 31, I purchased the smaller cup. Why? Because according to my old family doctor, I have a short vagina. Whenever I went for my yearly checkup, she always used the smaller speculum, because using the regular sized one would have me howling with pain in her office.
I’m beginning to think that I should’ve purchased the larger cup to stop the leaking. But with having this much trouble getting the smaller cup in, I can’t even begin to fathom trying to insert something slightly bigger.
After showering and getting ready for work, I insert the cup again. It still feels really difficult, and even though I am relaxing, frustration is beginning to take over. It shouldn’t be this hard, I tell myself.
Hours later, in the bathroom at my office, I’ve discovered I’ve leaked all over the place. I want to cry.
Just like tampons aren’t for everyone, I’m beginning to think that menstrual cups aren’t either. Thankfully, I have the bathroom all to myself with no chance of anyone else coming in, so I do my best to clean the cup and myself up, but spend the rest of the day feeling dirty and with a wad of toilet paper shoved between my legs just in case, because I did not have the foresight to bring back-up.
When I get home from work that day, I spend a lot of time in my bathroom, reading about menstrual cups online – techniques for inserting, tips and tricks for getting it to work when you’ve not had success with it, those sorts of things. I consider abandoning the cup entirely, but I’m nothing if not stubborn, so I’m sticking with it for the duration of my period.
The problem I seem to be encountering, which may be leading to the leaking, is that I can’t fully rotate the cup once it’s inside my vagina. I get about halfway there, and then I just can’t do it anymore. I try just about every technique I can find recommended to me on the internet, but nothing works. I decide that it’s probably just not meant to happen for me, and spend the rest of my period rocking both the cup and a panty liner to pick up the leakage.
I continue to leak, so it’s probably a good thing that I do.
My periods, on average, last roughly five days. But by the fourth, there isn’t a lot going on down there, it’s mainly spotting at this point, the remaining vestiges of my uterine lining ruining a pair of underwear every month because I’m certain that I’m finished.
I’ve slept with just the menstrual cup the night before, and there appear to be no leaks, but again, that might be because I’m close to being finished. It’s the same old story again – I take it out, shower, and put it back in.
It’s a lot more uncomfortable today, likely because I’m nearing the end of my cycle, or because my poor vagina feels battered and bruised at this point. The entire day of wearing it, though I’m not physically aware of its presence, I am mentally aware – more so than I have been during previous days.
It may or may not be leaking, it’s hard to tell. There isn’t much left for it to leak.
When I get home from work at the end of the day, I take out the cup and empty it. After washing it, I debate putting it back in. Given my track record over the last few days, I know that I’m just going to end up wearing a panty liner with it anyway. And at this point, I’m so sore and so tired of wrestling with it that I just can’t be bothered anymore.
But I’m nothing if not stubborn.
I try, one last time, to insert the cup. It just won’t go in. I try for a few minutes because I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it, even if there’s nothing to base that on. The experience has been nothing if not a hassle over the past few days.
Everything hurts and I’m sweating from the exertion of trying to get a damn menstrual cup to go where it’s supposed to go. I don’t feel like it should be this difficult.
Finally, I give up.
I set it on the counter, and opt for just the panty liner instead.
The next month, when my period begins again, I pull the menstrual cup out of the drawer where I keep my period accouterment. For a few moments, I look at it, debating whether or not I want to try it again. Maybe this month will be better than the last. But then, I remember how much my vagina hurt from using it, how frustrated it made me feel.
I’m always open to trying new things, but I realize that perhaps the menstrual cup just isn’t for me.
That day, I go with old faithful – the tampon. There are no leaks, no worries, and I don’t feel a thing.