I was late to the game when it came to using tampons. I’m the eldest of three girls, so I didn’t have an older sister to show me the ropes, and my mother never really had ~that talk~ with me — so tampons always felt elusive and, well, terrifying. As much as I would have hated those discussions at the time, I do wish my mom had spent more time explaining my body to me. I wasn’t really prepared to have a period at all, so it shocked me when, one day in gym glass, I was gushing blood. (Okay, I wasn’t really gushing, but when you’re 13, every crisis is magnified.) I was too embarrassed to tell a teacher or friend, so I just stuffed some balled-up toilet paper in my pants and proceeded to play kickball.
For the first few years of my period, I just stuck to wearing pads until my best friend and her mother finally showed me how to insert a tampon — using a shot glass.
We were all in their kitchen as I took detailed mental notes of every word that came out of their mouths. With the opening of the glass pointing downward, they demonstrated how to unwrap, insert, and take out this thing I never thought I’d use in my life. After the tutorial, they instructed me to go into the bathroom and try it myself. I was immediately lost — what I had going on down there looked nothing like a shot glass. After wasting about half a box of tampons, I was in tears.
After several more practice runs at home, I eventually got the hang of it.
Now, after nearly 20 years of tampon use, I’m switching things up again. Enter: the menstrual cup.
I decided to make the switch to the cup for a number of reasons. From what I had read, it was more cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, and better for my body. I took a leap of faith, jumped on Amazon, and placed my order.
When I opened the box, I immediately flashed back to the shot glass debacle.
There’s no way this thing is going to fit inside me, I thought. (Note that I purchased the “pre-childbirth” size to ensure a better fit — keep that in mind if you decide to get one for yourself.) The cup is rubbery and quite squishable, but in my imagination, it seemed physically impossible that a) it would fit, and b) it would be even remotely comfortable if it did fit.
I read the instructions for inserting the cup, and then I watched a couple YouTube videos. When my education was complete, I decided to do a dry run as practice; I wasn’t on my period at the time, which I thought would take some of the pressure off.
I was wrong.
In the online videos, the guide neatly folded the cup into a U-shape to make it easier to put in. I tried that first, and it was pretty easy to fold — but when it came to actually inserting it, my cup popped open like a Jack-in-the-Box and shot across the bathroom floor. I channeled my inner-yogi and bent my body in all kinds of ways to aid easy insertion, but to no avail.
It wasn’t until I employed the classic “one leg on the edge of the toilet” maneuver that I was finally able to get the cup inside my body — but when I walked away, it felt like I had a grapefruit between my legs. The cup’s sides should rest against your vaginal wall, forming a kind of suction to prevent leaks. The instructions said the cup should open up, which I pictured to happen like how a flower blooms, each petal unfolding itself to reveal pure beauty. My cup did not bloom.
Then I remembered a trick from one of the videos: I was supposed to rotate the cup while it was inside of me.
I turned it clockwise and voila: I felt it open and snap into place. I stood up straight, did a little spin, and realized I had finally done it: I had properly inserted my menstrual cup.
The best part was that I truly couldn’t feel a thing; unlike tampons, the cup is virtually undetectable. A whole new world was opened up to me, and the price of entry was just $24.99.
When it was time to take the cup out, I went into the process pretty confidently — which turned out to be hubris because removing the cup by its short “stem” was a whole new challenge. It sounded easy enough, but I couldn’t reach the stem. I started to panic that my cup had migrated too far up my body, and I’d have to go to the hospital to have the jaws of life pry it from my body.
Then I remembered what my friend’s mom had told me all those years ago: “Take a break, and just keep practicing.”
I took a couple deep breaths and sat down on the closed lid of the toilet. After a few more tries and a good amount of soul searching, I reached the stem and pushed the sides of the cup together. I suddenly felt that sweet release and gently slid it out, all in one piece. I was physically and mentally spent, but at least I felt accomplished.
Since my first trial, I have grown to love my cup.
The process has gotten easier as I’ve come to understand how the cup works with my body, and it has undoubtedly saved countless pairs of cute undies from becoming the dreaded “period underwear.” It’s easy to clean (just some warm water and oil-free soap), and mine even came with a cute little travel bag that I can keep in my purse.
Through my journey with my period, I’ve learned a lot about my body and myself as a woman.
It’s easy to be scared of things we don’t understand, but we need to give our bodies more credit; they’re remarkably adaptable and resilient. They can handle a couple trial-and-error sessions with a rubber cup. I went from being a skeptic, to a believer and a promoter. I tell anyone who will listen that they’ve got to make the switch. When they ask, “But is it hard to put in?” I just grin and say, “You’ll get the hang of it.”