By Angeliz Venter
Editor: Marcelle Jordaan
Until a few years ago, buying pads or tampons from a store was very embarrassing for me and I hated every minute of it. I remember when I was younger, I made my mom carry my products and as I got older, I would put these products at the bottom or the basket, with a mountain of other unnecessary products on top, so no one would see. How bizarre is that? We live in a world where we many of us are too ashamed to even buy the products, let alone have the actual conversations.
A woman’s monthly cycle, feminine hygiene and sanitary products are all very taboo topics for conversations in many countries, cultures and households, and South Africa is no different. Although a lot of people (women especially) are speaking up about these topics, it is mostly still a very uncomfortable conversation- but it should never be! Having your period means your body is preparing for recreation every month and if you sit down and think about it, it is a magical occurrence that should always be celebrated and never be shamed. Back in the day, women were considered sick when on their periods and would stay in bed for that time of the month. We are so fortunate to have progressed to a point where women can go about their normal lives while they are on their periods- so let’s discuss some of the sanitary products that makes this so much easier.
About a year ago I made the switch from pads and tampons to the famous menstrual cup! And what a ride it has been. I will be honest and admit I did not switch over purely because I wanted to be more sustainable, but because buying sanitary products every month is VERY expensive! Especially if you have a heavy flow like I do. It started to really annoy me that I had to spend this amount of money on something that is unpleasant for me, hurts my body, leaks most of the time AND that I only wear it for an hour or two before it gets discarded it to wastelands. I also noticed that every time I used a tampon, I would feel physically sick, it would hurt, and I could feel it in my body. I later found out this could be attributed to the fact that the human body can absorb toxic components (like bleach) that are found in all these products. Recent studies have found that menstrual products may contain pesticide residue, parabens and phthalates (endocrine disruptors) and antibacterial chemicals that are not healthy for your body to absorb. On the other hand, conflicting studies did not find significant associations between tampon use and levels of mercury and inflammation biomarkers in the body. Therefore, effects may differ depending on the type and brand of product you are using and this definitely means that we need to look deeper into the effects of our product choices on our health.
As I was working at a well-known pharmacy group at the time and they started bringing in their first menstrual cups into selected stores, I was intrigued, but I was still too wary to make the switch. Then came the dreaded pandemic. During the first month of lockdown, my best friend sent me a WhatsApp, asking if I know about these things and what my opinion was on this. Very embarrassed, I told her I work with a product like this, but have never used it and that I was too ashamed to even do research on it. We then decided we will try it at the same time, during lockdown and let each other know what is happening. So, I went out and brought my first menstrual cup. I must mention that I struggled to find one! Only a year later and although it is much more accessible now, as awareness around menstrual cups are growing, we still have a lot of work to do!
Before I start recounting my in-detail experience with this foreign object, let’s recap exactly what it is, as I know most readers don’t know. A menstrual cup is a reusable sanitary product. It is a round funnel like shape, which can be bent into multiple shapes to be inserted into your vagina, to capture menstrual fluids. It works by creating suction through little holes around the brim. It is mostly made of silicone and can be used for 5 years or more (with proper sanitization of the product). Depending on your monthly flow, you can wear a cup for up to 12 hours at a time without worrying about toxic shock syndrome or leakage.
Back to my first encounter with a menstrual cup. I found very limited content on this topic before I tried it, but all of it made this experience seem so easy, so I gave it a go… And I could not get it in. Like not at all. I messaged my friend and she suggested that I use different folding methods, so I tried them all and eventually found that the U-shaped method works best, and I got it inside. It didn’t just POP open like all the videos said it would, it just stayed in that U shape. Bear in mind, now I am stressed, late for my first virtual meeting of the morning and my vagina is clammed up due to this and I can’t even get it out again! None of the content I watched and read, gave a slight indication that it would take some time to get it right and that trying it for the first time 10 minutes before work is probably not a great idea. No one told me that it was okay to struggle and that stress will cause my vaginal walls to close up and make the situation much worse. I was also not prepared for how in depth you will get to know your own body by using a cup, therefor it felt weird to me that I had to try and get this thing out of me by feeling around down there! Forward 30 minutes, it is still not out, it is so high up now I can barely feel the little extension by which you pull it out, my hand is cramping and all that my irrational brain is telling me, is that this little silicone devil is lost inside of me and I need to go to the emergency room in hard lockdown during Covid to get it out.
After coming to the realization that the latter is not an option, I calmed myself down, sat on the toilet seat for a few minutes until I could feel myself relax, got it out after a few tries, rinsed it and reverted back to a tampon. I felt so stupid for struggling that much when all the content said it’s so easy. I went into full on Google mode that day, absorbing as much information as I could to get this thing right. I think the most important aspect of this whole journey is to realize from the beginning that you will get to know your body in a way you never did before. For example – you firstly have to figure out where your cervix is so you know exactly how high you must insert your cup (I will not go into detail on this, but Google is your best friend).
That evening I tried again in the shower. I was way more relaxed under the hot water and I got it right! The best way for me in the beginning was to squat a little bit and when I knew it was in the right place, gently trace my finger around the brim of the cup, to make sure it is fully opened and give it a light pull from the extension to make sure it is sucking into place. I also realized it works to urinate after the shower and then do a few squats, as this motion opens the vaginal walls and the cup sucks into place if it didn’t before. I was too scared to sleep that night, in case it leaked or overflowed, and it did. For the next few days, I kept trying and got frustrated when I got stressed and it did not work, but one thing I did realize was that my period pains were minimal to none, where I usually struggled to walk due to pain for the first few days of my period. This fact alone made me want to try again and get it right.
Over the next few months, with each cycle, it got better! Yay! I realized the cup I currently used was too soft and short for my heavy flow and as the specific brand only had one size, I switched to a different brand with a longer length and sturdier silicone, and it was miles and miles better. I could do yoga comfortably or go running while wearing the cup for a full day with no leakage. All it takes is a quick wash between uses then you can reinsert it in the mornings and evenings in the shower. I recently switched my cup for the third time to the Seeds of Kindness menstrual cup in their medium size. One of the best aspects of this cup is the fact that it is black. My previous cups were transparent, and, in a few months, discoloration kicked in and turned it into a slightly red / yellow tinted cup. In the beginning it is so astounding to see exactly where your flow is in the cup during different times of your period, but I know for some people this can also be a very off putting and shocking aspect of using a menstrual cup, therefor the black color is a deciding factor when changing or using your first cup.
So, let’s breakdown the benefits of using Seeds of Kindness’s KIND CUP:
– It’s leak free (when inserted correctly), hypoallergenic and safe to use.
– Eliminates dryness and irritation, ensuring the natural PH balance is kept intact. What most people don’t know and what amazed me the first time, is that the cup will only capture your menstrual fluid and not the other vaginal fluids, this means you won’t dry up like you do when using tampons (we all know the irritations and even infections that come with tampons)
– Reusable for up to 5 years (less than R10 per cycle over 5 years).
– Dark in colour to disguise discoloration
– Easy to clean and care for.
– Sustainable and cost effective, saving you money.
– Kinder on our bodies with no harmful chemicals.
– Available in 3 sizes for a comfortable fit. Small for women and girls with a lighter flow, medium for a heavier flow and large mostly for women who have given birth. I find that it is beneficial to have two cups during your period. A bigger one for the first few days when your period is at its heaviest and a smaller cup for the end of your period. It also feels more hygienic for me, to boil and sanitize the cups in between uses.
– Softer on our ecosystems and planet.
– Firm, yet soft for a gentle and comfortable experience.
How to clean your menstrual cup
-For your first use and every month after your period, boil the cup for 3-5min and then let it dry and cool down completely before inserting. If you don’t have a silicone case to boil it in, I suggest using a container that can withstand the heat and not reusing that container for anything else except your cup. (Do not microwave it!)
-As I mentioned, I usually insert and take out my cup in the shower under the hot water and wash it with my intimate wash every time to make it smell better and ensure it is clean.
-Luckily for me, I work from home, so I never have to empty my cup in public toilets on heavy days, but I know women empty it in the toilet and if a basin is not close, use intimate wipes to clean it. Be careful to not use wipes with too much fragrance, as this can cause irritation. You can also keep a bottle of water in your handbag and rinse it over the toilet if needed.
-When your period is finished, boil it again before drying it and make sure it is 100% dry before you store it, to prevent infections and mold.
Tips for first time users
-Don’t stress when you insert it the first time and don’t get it right. It is NORMAL- I am yet to meet someone who got it right the first time. If you are reading this and you are one of the lucky ones who got it right the first time, please send me your experience so we can all learn from it!
-Due to stress, you will most probably feel very tight and dry, but it helps to relax or use a comfort gel or lubricant around the brim of the cup for easy insertion.
-Insert it when you have A LOT of time and won’t be rushed or interrupted. Preferably in the shower with hot water on you to relax.
-Practice the different folds before hand so that you are comfortable.
-Get down in a squat position or bend your legs into a semi squat.
-Do not feel ashamed or scared to feel around once inserted, to get familiar with your body and how the cup should be positioned.
-Use the toilet when you are done in the shower and give a few squats to ensure it is sealed (a few extra squats for summer never hurt).
-Wear a panty liner or pad in the beginning as it can sometime leak if inserted incorrectly and I can almost guarantee you it will happen at least once in the beginning. I still wear a panty liner during the day and a pad at night for incase, but I know most girls don’t.
-When taking the cup out, do it in the shower as it can be very messy in the beginning when you do not know what you are doing. If you struggle to reach the stem, relax, and contract your vaginal muscles to push it down and pinch the base of the cup, to release the suction. DO NOT pull on the stem as this will hurt you if the suction is not released.
-If there is a little bit of pink or brown discharge, do not panic, it is not leaking, it is probably old menstrual fluid that was below your cup. This mostly happens to me in the first 2 days of my period, as my flow is very heavy then and I wish someone told me this, so that I did not remove it every time thinking it’s leaking. This is also the reason I still wear panty liners.
The most important tip that I can give you is to do your own research. Knowledge is power and, in this case, it will go a long way to helping you relax. It is so easy to panic during this whole experience, and even though it will still be trial and error even though you are relaxed, you might avoid all those irrational thoughts that are even more likely to come up when you are uninformed.
This was a very personal blog post, but I knew it needed to be shared, firstly to break the stereotype that periods are shameful and secondly to ensure women know that in most cases, you will not get it right the first time. It might take hours, days, or months, but when you do get it right, it is truly life changing. I am excited for my period every month, as I don’t have excruciating pains anymore, I don’t have to change tampons and pads every hour or smuggle them in my shirt to a public bathroom, I am saving myself from the bleach and chemicals in these products, I keep a massive amount of sanitary products out of landfills and I AM ACTIVELY SAVING MYSELF MONEY. I am still on this journey and learning more with every cycle, but I can honestly say I will never go back to only using tampons and pads. I hope this blog helped you on your journey and motivated you to try a menstrual cup if you haven’t yet or to retry if you stopped. Most of us are working predominantly from home and this is the perfect time for trial and error in the comfort of your own home.
Use KINDCUPTWENTY for 20% discount online at https://seeds-of-kindness.com/collections/kind-cup