If you are a creature of the Internet, it is almost certain that you have come across menstrual or period cups and their many celebrated benefits.
Not only are they an environmentally-friendly, economical and healthier way to manage periods (yes! They are THAT good!), menstrual cups are also playing a part in challenging taboos and stigma surrounding the female body and periods.
But how does the use of a soft, flexible, bell-shaped device that is placed in the vaginal canal to catch (not absorb!) period blood help women break centuries-old myths about female bodies and periods? Well, we take it a step at a time.
STEP 1 : JUST CALL IT BY ITS NAME !
Did you grow up calling your period Aunt Flo or That Time Of The Month? Or referring to your vagina as Lady Bits or just Down There? Have you ever thought about why you did not just call them by their names?
Many people refuse to use words like vagina or periods because society considers it a vulgar or dirty word, preferring to use euphemisms or to just ignore an issue involving vaginas and periods completely! The reluctance to engage with science-based materials that utilise such terms often cause cultural beliefs and practices to persist, resulting in unhygienic and unhealthy period management.
One way to remedy this is by normalising the use of the correct name of female body parts, something that menstrual cup companies excel at!Due to its unusual method of use, an interested user must engage with educational materials – these run the gamut from simple verbal or written tutorials to full step-by-step videos (including visuals of real menstrual blood!). And since menstrual cup companies are mostly strong and vocal proponents of breaking period taboos, she will have to read and hear the words vagina, uterus, cervix etc. A LOT! And she will start referring to them by name too!
Therefore, this instructional process becomes a chance for the user to unlearn the cultural disgust associated with the names of the female reproductive system. Once she understands that it is all just biology, reading an article written by a medical expert (science! yeay!) will no longer feel embarrassing or frightening – just educational and enlightening!
STEP 2 : INSERT IT INTO YOUR VAGINA !
It’s not ‘dirty’, it’s just biology. Now that you can say vagina without cringing, you will need to know what it looks like and to touch it so that you can insert the menstrual cup properly. Easy! Or is it?
For many women, the method of use for the menstrual cup is its biggest turn-off. Why? Because looking at your own genitalia, touching it and inserting something into it is considered uncompromisingly sexual and therefore taboo. This is a big reason why pads, which are just attached to underwear, remain the most popular period care product in traditional or religiously conservative societies. The idea of inserting something into the vagina, especially for unmarried women, is simply unthinkable.
However, a menstrual cup helps a motivated user re-process this idea; why is the way I choose to manage my period, which is a natural biological process, something to be ashamed or afraid of? Why is inserting a device into my vagina to catch period blood ‘wrong’, but sticking a pad onto my underwear to absorb it not ‘wrong’?
Once the user is able to come to the conclusion that managing periods is not a sexual or ‘dirty’ act, she will then have to get hands-on, literally!
In order to use the menstrual cup correctly, a user will have to find the vagina and insert the cup. This requires education – she will need to ask questions, look at diagrams and explore her own genitalia. She will need to get over the shame, squeamishness or fear of her vagina in order to achieve what has been hailed as ‘period nirvana’ when using the menstrual cup. If she is able to realise that touching her vagina does not have to be an illicit sexual act, the vagina is no longer thought of in terms of only it’s sexual function but also as an organ through which her period blood flows.
This in itself is taboo-breaking – to think of and see the female body in terms of its biology instead of its myth is liberating. It makes the decision to use the menstrual cup a matter of technology helping biology, nothing more.
STEP 3 : REALISE PERIOD BLOOD IS NATURAL – AND INTERESTING !
There is a general squeamishness associated with blood – it is a visceral experience that conjures images of destruction, death and decay.
This is also one of the reasons why period blood is often thought of as ‘dirty’ and, by extension, the women/girls who are having their periods as ‘impure’. Many menstrual hygiene practices in folk culture focus on expediently eliminating evidence of the blood, and even to the extent of removing a woman/girl on her period from social view altogether through isolation. These customs perpetuate not only period shame but also unhygienic menstrual practices that can eventually harm female health.
With the menstrual cup, the user will be in direct contact with the blood both during insertion and removal. She will need to see and touch the blood, and slowly learn that fresh period blood that has not been in contact with the external environment does not smell bad and is actually quite interesting in texture! She may find herself thinking oh, so this is what my uterus lining looks like – this is what my body is made of! It is not disgusting, it is just biology and it is amazing.
Once she learns what is considered a normal period for her, she will be able to keep track of signs of illness and seek medical attention when needed – and this, at the end of the day, is the most practical reason for normalising period blood and periods. After all, informed women make better health decisions and healthy women make for a healthy and productive society.
The 4th Step : MENSTRUAL CUP USERS ARE THE BEST AT AMPLIFYING TABOO-BREAKING MESSAGES !
The menstrual cup truly is a device of wonder – the superlative comfort, convenience and economic and environmental benefits that a user enjoys during her period can turn even the quietest woman into a vocal supporter. They always want more women to have better period experiences and are always trying to get more women to switch to menstrual cups.
These spirited women who may have experienced a paradigm shift during their menstrual cup journeys can be described as a grassroots movement in the breaking of taboos around the female body and periods. They are instrumental in amplifying the voices of activists and medical experts on social media and in real life, providing real and authentic accounts of why and how they switched as well as tips and tricks. The camaraderie, warmth and humour of the menstrual cup community helps more women feel comfortable discussing their own bodies.
And so, step by surreptitious step, this is how a soft, flexible, bell-shaped silicone device can help women realize how natural it is to choose the best way to manage her periods herself, NOT as what is dictated by society and its dizzying array of taboos. It is tiny but mighty – get yourself a menstrual cup today and see if you feel changed too!
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