If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, check it out here before you read part 2.
This post is all about women’s issues when traveling. That’s right vacation menstruation. The topic of periods, menstruation, that monthly visitor, being ‘on the rag’ …
NOTE: Some women may find this post too detailed. If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it. If you are curious, then read. If you read all the way to the end, despite it’s brutal honesty, please don’t complain to me about being too honest … after all, you decided to continue reading!
I’m going to travel like a diva … with a cup. What the hell does that mean, you ask?
Back in 2012 when I ran my very first photo tour, as soon as I had the minimum number of participants I was so excited that I started counting down the days! That also meant I started counting the weeks between periods to see if I’d be ‘on the rag’ during my adventure of a lifetime. To my dismay, I would be. So, what was I going to do about that?
Picture this …
I’m sitting at a travel agency picking my agent’s brain about all things Peru. I’m asking about the weather, about flight schedules, about adding on a trip to The Galapagos Islands … the questions are just pouring out in excitement and she’s answering each one of them with as much information as she can to help me out.
There are three agents in the office. It’s fairly small and both of the other agents were busy at the time … one with a client in person, the other on the phone.
I leaned across my agent’s desk and whispered something like ‘I can’t believe I’m asking this … I don’t want anyone to hear … but what is the bathroom situation like on the Peru trip? I mean, I’m going to be on my period. Will I have regular access to washrooms? Will our accommodations have washrooms or will I be going in the woods?’.
After all, this was an adventure travel trip, not a Caribbean resort! And we would be doing homestays for several nights and hotels for the others.
I felt a little silly, but thankfully I’m not easily embarrassed. We tried to quietly and discreetly have a conversation about ‘women’ issues while in the company of a man and a client!
I’m pretty sure our conversation went something like this …
Rose: Well, Shari, do I have the perfect thing for you! Have you ever heard of The Diva Cup?
Shari: The Diva Cup? Um, no. Not sure I want to know what that is … but ok.
Rose (goes to The Diva Cup website): It’s an alternative menstruation product, reusable and environmentally friendly. It will change your periods forever!
OK, from here on, this post gets detailed. Read at your own discretion! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Of course at this point, I was intrigued and disgusted all at the same time. After all, it is a sort of cup that you insert instead of a tampon that catches your blood and then you empty it out. I didn’t even know there were such things as ‘alternative menstruation products’! I thought we had pads and tampons and that’s all there was to it.
We went on to have a detailed discussion and read information on the website about how it was going to change my periods forever! The lovely ladies at the agency spoke so highly about it for traveling women that I decided I’d give it a try for my next period. I wanted a test run with it before taking it to Peru!
So, when my next period came around, I decided to take the plunge (or plug)! At that time, The Diva Cup wasn’t sold at drug stores and pharmacies though. You couldn’t just go in and buy it instead of a box of tampons. You had to buy it at a health or sex store.
On the second day of my period, I went in to Super Natural Foods, found a nice female staff member and asked if they sold the Diva Cup. She pointed me in the right direction and then the adventure began!
First thought … It’s kind of like buying your first box of condoms! You really have no idea what you are doing, but know that you should be getting them, so you are going to do it, but it’s a little uncomfortable!
Second thought … ok, there are two sizes. How do you know what ‘size’ is right for your vagina? HA HA HA Ok, so who am I kidding? I just said vagina in a blog post and I was a little uncomfortable about buying the Diva Cup? Ok, I think I just got more uncomfortable … as did you, but remember, I’m the one writing this for all to see … no one knows you are reading it! And really, we should be de-stigmatizing all of this anyway! Women should not be embarrassed to talk about their periods which are a perfectly natural part of life!
The Diva cup makes the size choice fairly straight forward for you. Either you are over 30 and may or may not have delivered a child vaginally or by c-section. Or you are under 30 and have never had a child.
Simple enough right?
Unless you let your mind wander … In my mind I thought “Well, I’m over 30, but I’ve never given birth … doesn’t that make my vagina smaller?” Ok, in reality I know this isn’t really true, but I’ll admit that this thought went through my head! I bought the recommended size for those of us over 30, got in the car and said to my friend who was waiting for me, ‘but what if I have a small vagina?!’ … fits of laughter ensued.
Later that evening, I came home and decided I was ready to tackle using the cup for the first time. Obviously best to try it at home first where you are most comfortable. I was a good girl and read all of the instructions before doing anything. Mind you, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this malleable silicone cup thing with an opening that looked way to large to ‘fit up there’. So, I guess I had to read the instructions.
As suggested, I washed the cup with warm, non-scented, soapy water.
And then, I gave myself another little pep talk that consisted of ‘Ok, so you’re going to have to touch yourself a little bit to get this to work, but all the ladies who use it say that it is worth it. So, get ready …. go for it!’
The instructions give you two ways of inserting the cup properly. I chose the second way, which is to push down on one side of the cup in to the middle, until it forms a bit of a V. This makes it much smaller to insert. Seems simple enough, right?
Well, maybe … or maybe not! I pushed my thumb down to the middle of the soft cup, held the sides and started to walk myself through the part where I was going to have to (paraphrased) ‘use your other hand to separate your labia’ and then …
The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!
Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’
Ok, I’ve recovered from my embarrassment with myself, I’ve rewashed the cup and I’m ready to try again … Concentrate this time!
I’ve made the cup smaller for insertion, I’m holding things ‘apart’ down there and using my other hand to gently insert the cup … and then …
It works! Phew. Wow was I glad when it was in and couldn’t go flying out of my grasp again.
(and I’ve just realized that this should be part of The Vagina Monologues that tours every year!)
Once the cup is inserted, you reach up and gently turn it 360 degrees to make sure that it fully opens rather than being smaller like the way you inserted it. Yup, you actually reach in there, grab on to the bottom of it and start turning. For me, this was the most awkward part. I originally tried to hold on to the little nubby end (so that it doesn’t go missing in there), but really, what you need to do is grab the bottom of the cup with your fingers, squeeze and turn. If it hasn’t already opened up fully, you’ll feel it when it does, but don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt! When it is open fully it lightly suctions, forming a seal so that it doesn’t leak or move.
So there, the cup is in and I’m good to go … for how long?
Well, you see, two of the really fantastic benefits of using the Diva Cup are:
1. You can leave it in for up to 12 hours
2. because it is made of sillicone, there’s no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, such as with tampons.
Just for ‘fun’, that first night, I left it in for a couple of hours, then tried my first attempt at removing it. The instructions tell you all kinds of tid bits such as (paraphrased), ‘don’t panic if you can’t reach it! This means you may have inserted it a little too far, but eventually the weight of the liquid and gravity will pull it back down.’ What you actually do is squeeze your vaginal muscles which pushes the cup closer to your fingers, then you reach up there … (yup, you have to be comfortable with yourself) … pinch the bottom of the cup and pull. Weird? Yes, it is weird, but it’s not all that bad.
It is a little bit like having a pap test when your doctor sticks his or her fingers inside to make sure everything is ok. It is an odd, uncomfortable sensation, as far from sexy or arousing as possible, but it only lasts for a few seconds, then it’s done. Once the cup is inserted, you really, honestly can’t feel it at all! You notice it even less than a tampon!
I can hear you all saying ‘ewwwwww! Gross! That’s gotta be messy.’
Actually, it isn’t messy. All of your menstrual fluid is captured inside the little cup and you just dump it out in the toilet (or on the ground if you are peeing in the woods!). There is very little blood on the outside of the cup because it has been pressed against your vaginal walls, directing everything inside. So, as gross as you may think it is, you don’t actually get much on your fingers (usually).
Something else I learned is that the average woman, during her entire one week period produces about an ounce of menstrual fluid. An ounce? That’s it? Well, apparently it is! The cup itself is made to hold an ounce. So, technically, that would be a week’s worth of fluid from your period. They recommend that you take it out and wash it 2-3 times per day (which is every 10-12 hours). Isn’t it cool that as long as it is inserted properly, you don’t have to worry about it for 10-12 hours?
I’m so excited! That means not only when I’m traveling and don’t have access to a suitable washroom, but overnight, when I’m on location working and don’t have access to a washroom, I don’t have to worry about overflow! That’s right. Unless something is horribly wrong, I’m not going to ‘overflow’ the cup in those 12 hours.
And I don’t think I mentioned that you can pee, or have a bowel movement with it still in place. You don’t have to take it out every time. Well, I don’t think you have to take a tampon out either, but I always do because it just doesn’t seem right. I always feel like a tampon gets shifted, moved and is uncomfortable if I leave it in while using the washroom. Ok, not to mention the fact that you then have a wet string hanging around with pee on it. EEEEEWWWW! See, THAT is disgusting!
I’ll admit to the world, I am converted. I used the Diva Cup for the last few days of that period and was thrilled with it’s efficiency. When I go to my boyfriend’s house (someday that’ll happen again) I don’t have to pack a bunch of bulky, embarrassing pads and tampons. When I go to a photo shoot, I don’t have to worry about running to the bathroom every couple of hours to remove my tampon, or trying to find a delicate way to get a tampon from my bag to my hand and carry it to the washroom without anyone seeing. I don’t always have to carry my purse everywhere with me with a stash of feminine products because I now have a reusable one!
So, I guess I’d better answer the last few questions that I know most of you have. How’s it going to work when you are in a public washroom or traveling?
Well, here’s the deal … you are supposed to wash the cup off with drinkable water (and non-scented soap) whenever you can. If you are in a one stall public bathroom in Canada or US, that’s no problem. If you are in a bigger washroom, you can’t just take your cup and wash it out in the sink in front of everyone, then run back to the bathroom and insert it. So, you can either wash it off in the stall with bottled water that you are carrying, or you can wipe it off with toilet paper and re-insert it, washing it the next time you have a chance.
They really stress how important it is to wash your hands before using it as well, as you don’t want any unknown bacteria causing problems!
When you are traveling, you aren’t always in suitable bathrooms or don’t always have drinkable water. So, it is just a matter of planning ahead to take good, drinkable bottled water with you, or you can wait until you are at your hotel to wash it off. Remember, you don’t have to remove it every time you go to the washroom, so you don’t have to worry about this all of the time!
Wash it before you insert it in the morning and then you will be good until you get to your hotel or a private washroom later in the day.
Doesn’t this make life so much easier when you travel?
I can’t imagine having to pack my rucksack with enough pads and tampons for a week. Not to mention trying to not squish them, have them become wet from rain or squished from being thrown around in the cargo area on the plane. Nor do I want the hassle of trying to find new pads and tampons in another country where I can’t speak the language! Instead, I just pack my little Diva Cup in a pretty little cotton bag, and I’m on my way!
Oh yeah, and it only costs around $40! With the money you’ll save on pads and tampons, in a few years you’ll have saved enough money for a trip! And you are making a huge impact on saving the environment! What’s not to like about all of this!
So, if you can’t control when you are going to have your period and it just happens to end up in the midst of your travel plans, you should consider the alternative .. Travel like a diva … with a cup!
‘Self, suck it up. Get over it. Be a woman. Get comfortable with yourself and enjoy your travels!’