I’m not going to apologize.
In this regard, both men and women need to get the fuck over themselves. Menstrual blood is the stuff of our lives, quite literally. It’s the medium of our conception and the scarlet downbeat of one of nature’s great rhythms.
Yet, I have met women – grown-up lesbian women – who are so culturally ingrained with shame about their bodies that they can’t say “tampon” out loud. I sure they’ll think there’s an “ick factor” to this post. One woman I knew considered words like “uterus” or “vagina” grounds for a relationship dissolution. (Seriously, if you can’t love your parts, how can I expect you to love mine?)
I’m old enough now that I can say I’ve been bleeding monthly for at least three-quarters of my life. I’ve used a good portion of the 16,800 tampons it’s estimated I’ll use in my lifetime. My period’s not a trauma, it’s just a fact. I buy a box of tampons, take some Advil, and get on with my life.
When O.B. tampons stopped distributing some of the brand’s higher absorbency tampons, I had a little panic attack. For years I relied on them for their reliability, portability, and eco-conscious lack of applicator. So, like a dog looking for a lost tennis ball, I kept checking one drug store after another for my favorite ones with the purple label, to no avail.
My search for an alternative led me to the DivaCup, a soft silicone cup that collects, rather than absorbs, menstrual flow. My biggest concern was that the cup would leak, a nuisance high-absorbency tampons had helped protect me from since my teens. I read the company’s website, and learned that I fit the profile for size #2: I’m over 30 and I’ve had a child. (This is when I started to think the cup’s developers might know what they’re doing. I’ve been around long enough to know women really do come in different sizes.)
One of my friends found the name hysterically funny and kept telling me things like, “You can’t just buy a DivaCup. First you have to win the local competition, and then the regionals, then the state pageant, until finally you work your way up to winning the cup.” The drag queen name not withstanding, I decided to give the DivaCup a try.
I bought my cup at Whole Foods and put in on the shelf in the bathroom. It came with a little flowered bag and inexplicably, a “Diva” lapel pin. We joked that it was a “labial pin,” in case I liked the cup so much I was willing to get a labia piercing to flaunt it. I admit I felt a little excited, like I did as an adolescent girl with an unopened box of Kotex – each pad the size of a pound of butter – under the bathroom sink in preparation for My Big Day. I was waiting… waiting. (Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret.)
Finally, one day late according to my iPeriod app, I started. The cup was a cinch to fold and insert. I quickly figured out that what works well for me is to insert it part way, rotate it 360 degrees so it is fully unfurled and feels round to the touch, and then to insert it the rest of the way. The first day I wore a pad, just in case it leaked. It didn’t. It never did, even overnight. And thanks to the ounce markings on the side of the cup, I learned that I am a fairly heavy bleeder. (Over the course of a period, averaging somewhere between 3-7 days for most women, the average flow is 1/3 to 2 ounces, in total. (It’s amazing how such a tiny amount can sometimes feel like a flood!)
The cup only has to be emptied and rinsed every 12 hours. I admit, I emptied it more often than that, mostly because I was completely fascinated by the process. This happened less often as my period progressed. I couldn’t feel it. In fact, I often forgot it was there.
There was one unexpected side-effect of the DivaCup. Wearing it, I felt deliciously subversive in an “I’ve got a secret” sort of way. I don’t want to mislead you when I say using it feels erotic, but it sort of does, in the way that wearing naughty underwear under proper clothes feels erotic. I think this is because there’s eroticism in empowerment. And that was something the DivaCup gave me – a sense of being really in charge of my own menstrual cycle for the first time in my life.
Variations of menstrual cups have been on and off the U.S. market since the 1970s, including disposable ones and ones made of natural rubber. There are choices besides the DivaCup, including The Moon Cup and The Keeper, the disposable Instead Softcup, and others. Menstrual cups, in one form or another, have existed for at least 75 years, according to the Museum of Menstruation.
Menstrual cups are a money-saving and green solution. It’s estimated, that in the U.S. and Canada, more than 12 billion pads and tampons are thrown away or flushed down toilets annually. A menstrual cup will last at least a year. But beyond personal finance and good ecology, they may offer more global health solutions.
As it turns out, menstrual blood contains embryonic stem cell markers, which have the potential to differentiate into at least nine different types of cells. Stem cell research is offering hope for a cure to a multitude of injuries and disease, from spinal cord and brain injuries, to heart disease and stroke, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and depression. Several companies have developed systems for collecting menstrual blood (basically menstrual cups), like the Mademoicell, a colorful “silicone tampon”. A company called Cryo-Cell is offering a service called Célle, a collection kit and personal cryo-banking account for your menstrual blood, the idea being that your stem cells can be stored for your use when/if the technology becomes available.
In the past decade, there has been much discussion in the media about potential sources for embryonic stem cells. More and more pregnant women are making arrangements to bank their babies’ umbilical cord blood as a safeguard against future health concerns. Conservative politicians have opposed stem cell research, equating all new cell sources with abortion. And yet, the U.S. has 73 million women of menstruating age, all sloughing off, and throwing out, a rich source of stem cells every month. (Menstrual stem cells are even more powerful than those collected from bone marrow.)
Forward-thinking scientists realize that what the world needs is not expensive personal stem cell accounts, but rather global banking. Treating genetic diseases requires a stem cell match from a donor who doesn’t have the genetic code for that disease. In other words, genetic diseases can’t be treated with self-banked cells. The good news: Public stem cell banking is already happening in some countries.
So, it seems that the future of global health care may be in our collective menstrual flow. And, if that’s not enough to get everyone over the “ick factor,” I don’t know what is.
If you’re new to Geek Porn Girl, you might want to check out other stories in the “Body” category. I’ve written posts about gender, sexual lubrication, the iPeriod app, and the connection between chocolate and masturbation, among other things...