If you're a lover of travel blogs (as we are), you've likely read a blog post or two about the "life changing travel experience" you'll have by using a menstrual cup while traveling, hiking and camping.
We Call B.S.
LIFE WHILE FEMALE
Half of humanity spends about 40 years suffering through a hormonal roller-coaster known as womanhood. This ride begins around age 12, when estrogen buckles you in for the warm water nightmare known as “periods”. The American Association of Gynecologists has recently agreed upon the scientific term “losing the gender lottery”. I submit the ride has a few perks – sexual appeal and appetite, boobs, pleasure, motherhood… But those gems come at heavy costs, payable in monthly installments. Some women are lucky; they have swift periods with little to no discomfort. Those women are lies. The corporate patriarchy made them up so I would buy their shitty makeup and tampons.
All the actual women I know suffer somewhere on the following scale:
The most comfortable of my dearest female friends is at a 2. I’m hovering at 3 to 4 with horrific migraines and cyst problems, along with most of my friends.
Every month I spend 5 days running to the bathroom every 2-4 hours to avoid getting blood everywhere. Add 3-5 days of hormonal rage that occurs prior to the onset of bleeding your pants and women get to claim a solid 2.5 weeks of care-free “normalcy” every month. The rest is bullshit.
I’m convinced we would live better lives if men had to deal with this misery, as solutions would be invented post-haste.
Historically, menstruation is referred to in code, via “red tents”, evil sorcery, uncleanliness, and spiritual cooties. This is because dudes were the only ones allowed to write shit down until 1969 (give or take). If you lost the gender lottery in a developing nation, you might still be in spiritual cootie territory where you are ostracized for a week or more out of every month.
While we don’t know much about menstruation from a historic perspective, we can come to logical conclusions about how women deal with their periods when we listen to actual women. For example, being “on the rag” meant exactly that. In the days before tampons or pads, rags were used to soak up menstrual blood, just like they do in developing nations now.
(You don’t want to hear about what women did in ancient Greece. Or Egypt.)
At any rate, thanks to modern industrial capitalism, we privileged developed-nation ladies have no shortage of options to keep us feeling “fresh” when our monthly friend arrives.
Trying a Menstrual Cup for the First Time – Lessons Learned
One of the newest fads in period-care was no doubt spawned by the legalization of women doing “men-things”, such as working, playing sports, performing in plays, going outside unaccompanied, and obtaining bank loans. The trouble is, having a period while doing those things can really get in the way.
Enter, the Menstrual Cup
The menstrual cup aims to solve nearly all life problems that stem from having a period. Cup manufacturers promise you will have 12 hours of worry-free living, improve your quality of life, save money, AND save the planet!
When I first tried a cup, I was 26, and I was intrigued. The label (and the commercial) swore I would live “almost like you don’t have a period”. As a woman who had recently gone on a 5-day, 40-mile backpacking trip over the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska while on her godforsaken period, (another story…), I figured I should try this product out. So, I bought a box of purple cup-things, went home, and read the directions. The first time you read directions for a cup, it sounds like you’re about to embark on a dangerous adventure. It could be everything you’ve ever dreamed (see promises above). Or, there is also a chance that it could end in disaster (like a trip to the doctor because you can’t get the damn thing out).
My first experience hovered somewhere in between, as I did initially get the hours of freedom. But alas, the piper had to be paid, my friends. Those unclean spiritual cooties were just waiting to be unleashed, and it was an unholy shitstorm when they were. I’m writing about this now to help prepare you, because that pamphlet lies by omission and it will NOT help you.
Here’s how it went down.
It was early in the morning. I read the instructions carefully. I washed my hands, just like the pamphlet told me to. I folded the cup thing as shown, and fumbled with it three or four times before I finally got it up in there, lodged oddly around my cervix. The pamphlet said I shouldn’t feel anything. It was lying. I felt an annoyance, but it was something I could forget after a few minutes. I put a pantyliner in my underwear just in case. A pantyliner would give me no more than 20 seconds to get to a toilet if this cup thing sprung a leak, but 20 seconds is better than none seconds, and I know you ladies feel me on that.
I was in my master’s degree program preparing to be a teacher. I had a full day, and a full schedule. I kept going to the bathroom to check myself, but there was nothing there. I still had the cramps, the boob pain, the back aches, and the required regimen of pain killers, vitamins, and anti-constipation tea, but I didn’t have a flood in my pants and that was one less thing to worry about. After 8 hours, I was home and I decided that had been enough. I needed to see what was going on “in there”. (Cue anxiety-ridden music.)
WARNING: This is about to get intense. If you don’t like hearing about periods and blood, you’d better stop reading now.
Ok. Still with me…? Here we go.
I sat on the toilet. I can still see it when I close my eyes… My bare thighs, a linoleum floor, and a bathtub filled my field of vision. I was so innocent then. I went back to the pamphlet to make sure I did this right. It said to stick a finger in, hook the ring of the cup, and pull gently. It suggested I could “bear down” slightly if needed. I set the pamphlet on the counter to my left. I stuck my right finger in… I found the ring…
I pulled gently.
It was coming out slowly.
Then, without warning, the dark overlord of hell itself burst through the membrane of time and space to create a nightmare that haunts me to this day. The cup sped up and SHOT out of my vajay with a disarming squelching sound. In a matter of just 2 seconds, all the following things happened:
I saw the cup in my hand, held between my first finger and my thumb, hovering above the toilet water between my open-thighs.
I registered, with shock and revulsion, that my right hand was covered, nearly to the wrist, in dripping red blood. (Sudden crescendo of stabby horror-film music.)
As my brain attempted to process the bloody hand, a second thing registered, and that was the contents of the cup itself. A cup full to the brim of viscous blood was sloshing between my legs.
The shock and fear of seeing so much blood made me jump, at which point I yelped in terror as the contents of the blood-cup spilled over my thighs and splashed sickeningly onto the floor.
BOTTOM LINE: I was not prepared for this goddamn horror show.
The clean-up took several minutes. I was shaky after seeing blood everywhere, which I had never seen before (or since). My hands were shaking. I was sitting on the toilet in shock. I grabbed toilet paper, only to get blood soaked into the roll. I wiped my hand, then threw the cup in the trash. I wiped my thighs off. I wiped my vajay off. It was too much. I had to shower to not only wash off the blood but also to calm the fuck down. After I got out of the shower, I saw blood splatters on the toilet and floor and had to clean that up. Then I had to cover the massacre that remained in the trashcan with extra toilet paper so I didn’t upset any housemates or guests. Thus, my 8 hours of freedom were reduced to 6.5, as the resulting clean up and calm down session subtracted a good hour and a half from that freedom bank.
In hindsight, I don’t know what I was thinking would happen with this menstrual cup.
Did I imagine the blood would just politely coat the inside of the cup like a single layer of Sherwin-William’s? I don’t even remember what I expected. I definitely did NOT imagine the obscene amount of blood that would be held in that cup, and I had no idea how to take care of it because, like the patriarchy, the pamphlet was a useless lie that helped no one.
Once I was calm, I made a plan of attack for next time, which I will now share with you, because it worked. Yes, you CAN have hours of freedom. However, be prepared for the volume of blood that is likely to come splashing out when you remove the cup. With the right clean-up tools, you can make it through this.
And now, here are my suggested revisions for all cup product pamphlets:
- Make sure you are in a private bathroom with a private sink. A public restroom will not work.
- Have a wad of toilet paper at the ready BEFORE you remove the cup.
- Is that wad of toilet paper in your non-dominant hand? Get it there. Seriously.
- When you remove the cup with your dominant hand, immediately pour that shit into the fucking toilet without looking at it. Try not to listen.
- Wrap the cup with toilet paper to soak up the extra blood. Don’t look at it.
- If the cup is re-useable, you’ll have to look at it now. Just wipe and throw away the toilet paper that soaked the extra blood, and wash the cup. It’s not so bad once you practice this a few times.
- If the cup is not re-useable, throw away the cup with the wad of TP cradling it. No need to look at it.
- Wash the blood off your hands and fingers, cuz you will have some. We get that with pads and tampons anyway, a little blood is normal and washable. It’s fine.
- You CAN have sexy time while using a cup, however if there is penetration of any kind, there is a possibility your partner will feel and/or dislodge the cup slightly resulting in a mess. Have a towel ready, like most people do anyway.
- Using the cup for a day hike can really help take the worry out of the day. However, using the cup for a camping or backpacking trip is a DEFINITE NO. There is no way to clean the mess.
- If it is your first use, check the cup after 4 or 5 hours, then slowly increase the amount of time you let it “go” before you take it out. Using this method, you’ll know how to deal with the cup in a way that works best for your flow and body.
- If you have a very heavy flow that requires a super tampon every hour, if you have large clots, or if you are not ok with blood, you probably shouldn’t use this product.
- DO NOT underestimate the amount of clean up required for this. You’ll go through this cup process 4 or 5 times before you even start to feel comfortable with it.
Once you get comfortable, you’ll see some benefits. *shrug* Look, it’s the best we can do.
Have You Tried A Menstrual Cup? We Want To Hear From You!
What are your period solutions while traveling? Have you tried the menstrual cup? We want to hear about your experience and travel tips. Leave your thoughts about this blog post, or thoughts about your own experiences in the comments section, below. And, thanks!
A SPECIAL THANKS TO JESSICA, OUR GOOD FRIEND WHO WAS KIND ENOUGH TO SHARE HER EXPERIENCE WITH THE WORLD IN THIS BLOG POST!