What My Menstrual Cup Taught Me About Fear
By Abby Lee Hood
I can spot an enemy a mile away. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of trauma, cat calls and generally existing as someone with a vagina, I know how to spot danger immediately. I’m intimately familiar with the hairs standing up on the back of my neck, of outward-facing palms and soft voices to de-escalate.
So I knew instinctively when I held the soft pink cup in my hand I had met my match. I recognized the fear in my belly and prepared myself for battle. I’d recently bought my first menstrual cup and was going to insert it for the first time.
As I’ve written about previously for Funky Feminst, I have vaginismus, which means penetration and insertion of basically anything is usually excruciatingly painful. No matter the size, method or lubricants, it’s really difficult for me to enjoy sex and caring for my menstrual cycle can be difficult as well.
Vaginismus is a physiological condition and can happen for many reasons, including abuse, infection, cancer, childbirth and other natural or traumatic events. It can be overcome over time through therapy, medication and physical therapy, although some with vaginismus may deal with the condition to some extent for years, or even the rest of their life. Painful sex and menstrual care can be a daily reality for that group of people, which includes me.
Because of this condition, inserting a menstrual cup seemed like a nearly insurmountable challenge. But I care very deeply about the environment and had read so many reviews about cleanliness, comfort and a dozen other reasons to make the switch to the cup, so finally, I picked up a saalt cup on a trip to my local Target for about $35. The cup is a bit of an investment, but you really only need the one. After a couple cycles using tampons, you quickly make the cost back in savings.
The first night I tried to insert the cup, I cried. I ended up on the bathroom floor, sweating and in tears. I just couldn’t push it inside no matter how hard I tried, and I felt defeated. I wanted to feel like I was making a conscious choice, and I wanted to join the community of people with periods who swear by the cup.
I crouched, I lunged, I laid down, I stood up, I propped up a leg.... And finally, in the shower and soothed by warm water, I found victory over my nemesis. It was in!
I had won the battle, but the war was just beginning, because twelve hours later it would need to be rinsed. I don’t remember the time of day I changed it for the first time, but I do know it was in the shower. I gave myself the weekend to try the cup out for the first time before attempting to use it during the work week. I wanted some time to troubleshoot, test for leaks and how comfortable it would be.
Surprisingly, wearing it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. The cup generally sits lower than a tampon. Tampons fit higher up and closer to the cervix, so you can’t feel them while wearing, but the cup sits lower down. In fact, I can usually feel the little tail of the saalt cup just inside my labia. However, I didn’t find it distracting or painful. Taking it out the first time was a different story.
Once again, I wanted to cry. How could I be expected to get a finger or two positioned in such a way I could get this bright pink intruder out of my body? I relied on the shower again and found I remembered a vital bodily function I had forgotten: pushing. Crouched under running water, I remembered I could use my muscles to help aid the process and I did, pushing so that I could pinch the bottom of the cup with a finger and thumb. The intruder was out, and I had again achieved victory in battle.
If this all sounds a little masochistic and more than a little painful, you’re not wrong. I would not describe my first experience with the cup as fun or peaceful. But something miraculous began to happen, something I could not understand at first. I wasn’t sure I would be able to insert the cup again a second time, or if I even wanted to. But when the time came during that shower to re-insert, I noticed I felt about 1 percent less afraid. A tiny bit less terrified of my own body and how it would react to this new product. I got it in a second time, and back out, and in a third time, and back out, and before I knew it my cycle was over. The cup was washed and rinsed and dried and placed in its bag, and I could let my body rest after fighting it so hard.
Each time I used the cup, I became a tiny bit less afraid. I began to know for sure I could insert, take out, rinse and re-insert it. I was confident in my ability to relax, to rely on my body and my instincts. I could breathe through the process, and I could pay attention to what I was feeling, using my observations to achieve success over and over again.
My surrender to vulnerability paid off. For the first time in years, I was able to enjoy penetrative masturbation pain-free. My sex drive increased overall and after that experience I felt over the moon, triumphant. I joined a Facebook group for cup owners and had conversations, asked questions. I felt like I was part of a community, and I felt in touch with myself, my femininity, my body.
I’m on my third cycle now and I haven’t looked back. I haven’t worn a tampon since buying my cup. I don’t miss the gross pee-strings and the constant changing. I don’t miss feeling like my underwear are gross. I love knowing I’m creating far less waste.
But above all, I have learned something very important from the cup that I would like to share with you. My enemy, my foe, my antagonist, was never a soft little pink silicone cup. It was never a menstrual product at all.
My enemy was fear.
Fear of pain, fear of my body, fear of never being able to overcome the condition I live with. I was afraid I didn’t know myself well enough to be in control. I was afraid I didn’t know my body well enough to use a cup.
I was afraid of being rejected, pushed out, by my own vagina.
But after much negotiation, shower time, breathing and yes, emotions, I found I did not reject myself. I did not push myself out or away. In fact, I embraced myself. I accepted myself. I was no longer afraid.
Now let me clarify: I’m not suggesting you force yourself to do anything. Never feel obligated to do something you don’t think is beneficial, or if you’re absolutely terrified. But I am suggesting that if you want something, no matter the reason, you deserve to give yourself the chance. Nobody ever learned anything, grew as a person or gained new experience because they existed only in their comfort zone.
What I’m suggesting is that sometimes, your body knows the way before even you do. I didn’t know if I could use the cup, but there was a tiny little voice inside saying: “Do it, give it a try.” I’m so glad I did.
In the end, a menstrual cup may not be the solution to any of your problems. It wasn’t truly a solution to my problems either. But overcoming fear by communing with myself, listening deeply and remembering to breathe? I would say that’s a good start to tackling just about anything.