When you walk into your local drugstore and enter the aisle for period products, the words “feminine care” can be found everywhere — on the aisle signs, product labels, and packaging. This is incorrect and harmful because women aren’t the only ones who menstruate; nonbinary and transgender individuals can experience periods too. Yet over the last few years, as I’ve tried to use more terms like “menstruators” in my work — through my advocacy in the six years I spent leading PERIOD the nonprofit, in my book, PERIOD POWER, and now with the work we do at August — I often face backlash from cis women who are offended by the term, thinking it minimizes their worth to just being able to reproduce.
In 2017, activist and author Cass (@theperiodprince) posted a free-bleeding photo with a period stain on their pants, holding a sign that says “Periods are not just for women #bleedingwhiletrans.” In a Teen Vogue article, Cass shares, “I want cisgender people to understand that being trans while having your period can be absolutely terrifying. Aside from experiencing gender dysphoria and anxiety around the way my body changes during my cycle, I have to worry about which bathroom to use, whether or not me carrying a tampon or leaking could out me in an unsafe place, or being constantly misgendered because I couldn’t wear my tight binder that week.”
Kenny Ethan Jones is another trans activist who menstruates and was the first trans man to be the face of a period campaign. “Having a period already causes me a lot of dysphoria, but this dysphoria becomes heightened when I have to shop for a product that is labeled as ‘women’s health’ and in most cases, is pretty and pink,” Jones explained in an NBC article.
Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray on Instagram), a DEI Educator and Consultant, Author, Speaker, and an Advisor to August, shared with me that, “‘feminine’ should not be used to refer to menstrual care not only because it is inaccurate but also because it reinforces harmful and limiting stereotypes about menstruation.”
He adds, “menstrual care should not only be associated with women — menstrual care is just care. Additionally, not all women are feminine and not all those who are feminine are women, and thus referring to anything that has to do with menstruation as feminine (e.g. feminine products) incorrectly genders menstruation.”
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of learning that needs to happen for this understanding to become more mainstream. In the comment section of my TikToks talking about this, cis women have remarked that it would detract from their “sense of femininity” if the labels on period products were changed.
These responses are a reoccurring theme that I’ve heard from cis women for years, being upset and saying “I’m more than just my period, don’t minimize or simplify me.” Some cis women even find it dehumanizing, as written in numerous twitter threads saying things like, “it is dehumanising and epoliticising. As a menstruator, cervix-haver etc.” By calling for more inclusive wording instead of “feminine care,” some cis women think that the term is objectifying them and devaluing their other qualities and personality. I’ve heard from people that they feel it is like being called a “terminator,” like their period is a weapon — but that’s not the intention at all.
And of course, transphobia has existed at bigger, more mainstream levels — a prime example being JK Rowling. And this is just one example out of all the insensitive and hurtful comments that trans and non-binary folks face daily.
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
I don’t blame people that I meet who don’t know that not all menstruators are women, because I was also taught and grew up with this mentality. Since we were young, society has always told us that we magically “become a woman” when we start our periods. In fact, throughout history, there’s a repeated pattern amongst most societies that equates menstruation with women, gendered roles, fertilization, and giving birth.
“Due to the patriarchy, I think that the period industry has largely been used to exploit women, as most women-centric products unfortunately have,” Schuyler says. “It seems that the industry is slowly shifting to be made for women BY women – and there is great power in this; however, this can often exclude those who menstruate who are not women.”
Thankfully, that mentality is something we as a society are slowly realizing and progressing through. I believe that it’s vital that once someone is aware of this, they should seek the tools to be more inclusive in their language. Inclusivity is creating space for everyone and their diverse experiences — it isn’t minimizing any community.
From one cis woman menstruating to another: creating space for inclusivity does not take away from the period experience! In fact, I think by contextualizing this more to our sex than to be a “woman,” it’s empowering. We are connecting it more to our actual bodies, and what is happening in our bodies, than to the gender binary and gender norms that society has imposed on us.
We have so much more work to do to make the period talk more inclusive. It’s on us as cis menstruators to seek out and actively learn from educators who have given time, effort, and space to talk about their experiences.
Schuyler says, “periods must be degendered because, put as simply as possible, they are not gendered. Biology does not have a gender…Degendering periods is not only scientifically accurate but also freeing of harmful exclusionary stereotypes that hurt trans and nonbinary people who menstruate.”
In a world in which menstruation is already so stigmatized, we must collectively do our own research to educate ourselves about inclusivity in the periods space. We must do our research, and start with a lot of listening, and acknowledging that uplifting trans and nonbinary folks do not take away from our personal experience. If anything, it empowers us to connect more with our bodies and build empathy for other communities.
Image: Thais Varela / Stocksy
You might have read my last article about why you should reconsider using traditional tampons as your go-to period product. If you did, thanks for those page views. If you bought a menstrual cup or a box of organic tampons after, please DM me on Instagram so I can tell you how proud I am. Anyway, allow me to better introduce myself. Hi! My name is Morgan, and I use menstrual cups when I get my period. I want to share my personal story with you as to why I swapped out tampons and pads for cups and how that’s changed my life ever since. (And, yeah, I might try to convince you to switch too, since that’s kind of what menstrual cup users do, but ultimately it’s your call.)
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PSA TO ALL MY FRIENDS WHO USE TAMPONS *please* take 3 mins out of your day today to go to betches.com & read this full post of why you should stop using these toxic feminine hygiene products (hint: you’ll save your body, the environment, and $$$) ??? and to the men who are still reading this, DM this to your sister, girlfriend, side chick, and/or the girl who’s friend-zoning you rn. Thanks!
That was a very PG-13 intro. Hope you enjoyed it, now buckle up, because we’re about to get super intimate. Let’s deep dive into what it’s like to use menstrual cups on your period, the pros and cons, and all the other messy stuff you’ll want to know if you’re considering making the switch too.
P.S. I wrote this entire post on the train next to a man who definitely screen-creeped and ended up switching seats with the woman behind him because of it, so don’t say I never did anything for you.
Why Did I Switch?
I’ve always been decently aware of the quality of what goes into my body (food, drinks, meds, and guys included). But, like most people with periods, I never really thought twice about the type of products I was using while I was on it.
One day I was hanging out with a friend in a coffee shop who casually dropped a bomb about how tampons are unhealthy and she started using a cup instead. Like most tend to react, I was like “WTF? Ew, no” but she insisted that I watch a video (which I really tried to find for you all, but alas, couldn’t) that changed her mind after we stopped hanging out. So I went home, watched the video, then fell into a dark hole scouring the internet to uncover the ugly truth about tampons… and it turns out they really aren’t that good for you… but nobody wants you to know that.
I found a ton of disheartening articles that backed up the claims in the video, but apparently the FDA says there isn’t enough scientific evidence available about the potential dangers of these “women’s health” products… which sounds like a f*cking problem, no? I didn’t understand why popular companies lining convenience store shelves were LEGALLY allowed to put dangerous pesticides into our feminine hygiene products. I was also confused how this EXTREMELY IMPORTANT information wasn’t common knowledge or at least being openly disclosed to consumers, especially the 70% of women in the US who use tampons every month. Don’t get me started. I’m getting angry again. Go read my other post if you want to learn more.
Needless to say, I ran to the bathroom, threw out whatever was left of my box of tampons, and went to CVS to buy a Diva Cup. That was back in 2015, and I’ve never looked back or used another pad or tampon to this day.
Sidenote: I got my period when I was 12 years old and used pads for the first few years because I was literally terrified of putting a tampon in my vagina. Something deep down inside of me must have known. FORESHADOWING.
What’s It Like Using A Menstrual Cup?
DISCLAIMER: This section is not for the faint of heart. If it was a movie, I’d rate it an R for gore. JK. Just prepare for personal and bloody details. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Application Process
When you get your period, you basically just take your menstrual cup out of the cute flowery pouch it came in, rinse it under warm water, fold it into a U-shape, and insert it while squatting or sitting on the toilet. You’ll insert it far enough so the little stem at the end sticks out (similar to a tampon string) then twist it around until you feel it fully secure via suction. Once you feel the U-shape unfold into an O, you’re good to go.
See this helpful GIF for reference below:
You have to make sure your vag is relaxed when you do this. If you’re stressed or creeped out while trying to insert it, you’ll probably have a hard time getting it in because your vaginal muscles are going to tighten and contract. Take a deep breath, chill out, and sliiiiiide it in. If it’s not in right, you’ll know right away because it’ll feel really weird and uncomfortable. But once the cup is in right, you won’t even feel it in there throughout the day… just like a tampon!
Oh yeah, and you can’t put it too far up, otherwise the blood will find its way out. Trust me, you DON’T want the blood to escape, because it will, and it will ruin your underwear, pants, and day.
The Maintenance Process
The maintenance/disposal process is super easy, but it’s probably where I’ll lose a lot of you. PLEASE HEAR ME OUT.
Every 12 hours (or, if you’re like me, every 24 hours/every morning after I wake up), you go to the bathroom and manually remove your cup and dump the contents into the toilet. You’ll flush the blood, and it’ll be gone.
Now, make sure you’re in a private bathroom and in close proximity to a sink, because you’re going to need to rinse the cup before you put it back in. You’re obviously also going to need to wash your hands because you’re 100% going to have blood on them. So, yeah, like, you definitely don’t want to do this in a public bathroom where people can see you doing it.
When your period is finally over, clean your cup and put it back in the pouch until next month. Dassss it!
Here are just a few of the perks of using cups that I’ve found over the last four years:
- No bad chemicals
- Environmentally friendly
- Available in different sizes
- Can handle a light or heavy flow
- Made from medical grade silicone
- Can keep them in up to 12+ hours at a time
- Reduce your risk of contracting a bacterial infection
- Don’t have to fear for your life over Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
- Can still receive oral sex while on your period and not worry about tampon strings or pads getting in your partner’s way (YAY, PERIOD SEX!)
- No need to worry about hiding a used feminine product in the garbage can of your f*ckboy’s bathroom by wrapping it in 1,000,000 layers of toilet paper ever again!
And here are some of the potential drawbacks or disadvantages:
- Risk leaking if you don’t insert it correctly
- Need close proximity to a sink when changing it
- Need to clean blood off of everything you touch every time you change it
- Can’t empty it in a public bathroom with multiple stalls or people walking around
- Need to have it on you when you’re expecting your period in case you’re out and about
- Can’t just ask someone if they have a spare cup when you unexpectedly get your period because no one is going to have a spare cup and you wouldn’t want to use it anyway. Gross.
Is A Menstrual Cup Right For You?
For those of you who are really considering hopping on the cup train (YAY), there are some important things to consider before you take the leap. If you can confidently agree with all or most of the points on the list below, then you should be able to make your final decision!
- You have $15-40 to buy your first cup.
- You’re cool with handling your own blood.
- You’re open-minded and down for a change.
- You’re prepared to save lots of money each year.
- You want to reduce your impact on the environment.
- You’re sick of changing tampons and pads every few hours and want a more convenient option.
- You’re ready to rave about the benefits of cups to everyone who uses tampons and didn’t ask for your opinion once you fall in love with using them. (Kidding, but also, not really.)
If you’re still reading this, 1) thank you and 2) I totally believe in your ability to switch from tampons and pads to menstrual cups. I promise it’s really easy and worthwhile! Let’s save the world together one vagina at a time.
Oh, and if you ever have questions about using cups that I didn’t answer here, you can always slide into my IG DMs and ask. I want the best for you, your V, and the world. Help me help you help us all.
Images: Pexels, Instagram: @morganmandriota, Twitter: @betchesluvthis, Giphy (2)