I clearly remember the day I got my first period.
I was in middle school, and it was sometime during lunch break. I was completely unprepared and should have gone home to change, but my teenage brain was far too stunned and ashamed to do so. Instead, I labored through the final class of the day, crossing and uncrossing my legs, yearning for a comfortable position yet trying to act normal while constantly fidgeting at my desk.
By the time I got home and told my mother, I was feeling increasingly distressed while she was as jubilant as ever that her only daughter had finally “become a woman”. I recall her giving me an enormous maxi pad and from that day on I slowly, often agonizingly, became used to wearing pads and eventually tampons.
That’s what it’s always come down to, pads and tampons. The former typically made from scratchy plastic that made me feel like I was wearing a diaper, and the latter prone to leaks and the root cause of the once-a-month fear present at the back of my mind, toxic shock syndrome.
By the time I reached my twenties, I had become well versed in the day-to-day routine of having a period, but it became a completely different experience when I was far away from home.
From the unexpected period (when you’re sitting for long hours on a flight, sandwiched between strangers, and you forgot to pack tampons), to the unwanted period (which always comes right before a beach vacation), to the occasional spotting (that as luck would have it, comes when you’re far from the nearest drugstore), having a period is no easy experience to deal with on the road, and scheduling travel plans around it simply isn’t an option. For me, it remained a metaphorical (and at times literal) thorn in my side.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that a long-time friend of mine told me about her menstrual cup. She assured me that it was leak-proof, comfortable, and environmentally friendly; her experience quickly had me wanting to try one for myself. It sounded like a godsend, yet I was surprised I had never heard of them before.
Early versions of the menstrual cup have been around since the 1930s, but today you’ll find several different companies manufacturing them in varying sizes to accommodate women who have and haven’t given birth. They’re made from medical grade silicone and collect liquid rather than absorb it like a tampon or pad would, and with the proper care they can be used for up to a decade.
With my newly purchased menstrual cup in hand, I waited eagerly to test it out. However, when my period finally came, disappointment and frustration quickly set in. Inserting it took several tries and once it was inside me I couldn’t get the opening and suction mechanism to work properly, resulting in an uncomfortable fit prone to leakage. There was also one extremely stressful time when I was convinced that the cup had gotten lost inside me (which is anatomically impossible), and it took all my willpower to remain calm so that I could focus on removing it.
It took me about five more months of trying to finally get it to work properly. I almost gave up but the wait was well worth it. My attitude toward my period has shifted, thanks in large part to my menstrual cup. It’s now no longer a thing I dread, but rather embrace, and it has made traveling a whole lot easier.
On long bus or plane rides, I no longer have to get up to change my tampon several times because I can safely and comfortably keep my menstrual cup in for up to 12 hours, without the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
When I have a long, busy day of sightseeing planned, I insert my cup in the morning and basically forget that it’s there because, once inserted properly, I can’t feel it at all nor do I need to change it (while I’m not prone to a heavy flow, I’ve spoken with some women who are and they’ve told me that they only need to empty their cup once or twice throughout the day).
Packing is now a breeze, too. I no longer have to guess how many feminine hygiene products I need to stuff into my backpack – my menstrual cup is light, discreet, and uses minimal space.
Plus, at an average price of $40 for a menstrual cup it’s a huge money saver in the long run.
But perhaps my favorite aspect of using a menstrual cup is the environmental impact. Being a frequent traveler, I’m well aware of the effect my actions have on our world. From long-haul flights to cruise ships, some of the methods of transportation I’ve used in the past and most likely will continue to use in the future are far from perfect. By using a menstrual cup, which is both economical and reusable, I feel a little bit better about doing my part as an individual in an effort to keep our planet as beautiful as ever.