Wanna skip over all the very detailed period talk and get straight to the point? Scroll past the gif!
I’ve been shedding my uterine lining approx once every 28 days for the past 25 years (minus the 18 months I spent making other people) and boy are my arms tired! My periods were some version of ‘normal’ all the way up until after I gave birth to my last child, then things got ugly. Cramping that used to be sharply uncomfortable at most, now felt like slow-motion labor pains, but without the baby at the end (I gave birth to a million blood clots instead). I would instinctively get through them by rocking back and forth on all fours and using lamaze breathing techniques, which is a wild-as-fuck way to manage monthly menstrual pain! I was lucky to work at home then — and I still work at home — because there’s no way I could leave my house on someone else’s schedule during my period. My flow was too heavy and the pain was too much.
Of course I immediately went to a doctor to find out why this was happening to me JK I DID NOT. I toughed it out every single month for over a decade because it truly didn’t occur to me that the pain I was experiencing was out of the ordinary at all! Tampons quickly became impossible to use — they hurt (like I’d rammed a miniature tree trunk into my vagina!) and I was bleeding faster and heavier than that cylinder of cotton could ever hope to keep up with. After a few years of using disposable pads I was like, “Oh hm shall I try a menstrual cup, mayhaps?,” which opened up a whole world of Wait What The Hell Is Going On Here.
Specifically, how was I supposed to know which size and shape and make and model would fit me best? It’s not like there are sample cups you can just try on in the store. And until you’ve held one in your hands (and admittedly even a little bit after that), it can be difficult to wrap your head around how you’re even supposed to get it in there and then what to expect once it’s there. And then! Pray tell! How does one get it out?!
Being exhausted with disposable pads (and the uncomfortable mess that accompanies them when you’re a Niagara Falls Bleeder) had me desperate to try anything new, so I bought a Diva cup, model 2. Then a Lunette cup, also model 2. Model 2 is what cup manufacturers recommend if you have a heavy flow and/or you’ve given birth vaginally, both of which are ME. But! My vagina had other plans.
It was impossible for me to wear these cups. Aside from them being stiff and having pronounced rims, I couldn’t get them to create a reliable suction, which was maybe a good thing since eventually and without fail, both cups would start making their way out of my vagina (mhm! even when it was correctly suctioned to my cervix! wow!). It was like, Bye, I can’t be in this vagina anymore. And there I’d be, calmly making a sandwich with half of a menstrual cup sitting impatiently on the outside of my body.
GladRags came out with the original XO Flo in early 2017 and I was THRILLED to try it. The rim was on the inside! It was more flexible than other cups I’d tried! The stem was thinner and not as noticeable! It had a neat XO design to help it pop open! Our Managing Editor, Rachel, LOVES HERS. But y’all, even that cup wouldn’t stay in or create a reliable seal.
WHYYY. My favorite lesbian gynecologist, Dr. Lizz Rubin, suggested I might be sporting a low cervix. My not-lesbian gynecologist who had actually seen my cervix suggested I try kegels. She couldn’t say for sure, but maybe that would help, somehow. (It did not.)
It was like I was failing at cups. My vagina just could not and would not be cupped, and it infuriated me. I mean, I started out just sad about it, but by the time I’d gone through three cups, I was livid at my own vagina. I wanted it to stop hurting. I wanted to stop feeling betrayed by it. I wanted to go back to those halcyon days of being able to put things into it whenever I pleased! I didn’t want to sit on disposable or reusable pads while they filled up every half hour, and what was a period underwear like Thinx supposed to do with all those clots? I JUST WANTED TO FEEL NORMAL.
Enter: XO Flo Mini.
You know how people talk about love? Like, you just know it when it happens, and then you understand all the songs and poems, and you believe in happiness again, etc? Ok that’s what wearing this cup is like for me.
It’s smaller than the original by about 18%, and does feel a little more flexible. It doesn’t hurt AT ALL — I can’t even really feel it inside me — and best of all this little angel STAYS IN MY VAGINA. The XO Flo Mini is my new best menstrual friend.
Want some more personal details and tips? COOL.
+ If you’re getting a cup for the first time, it’s a good idea to try to get the hang of insertion/extraction before you start your period, maybe even during ovulation so it’s nice and slippery in there. When I insert it, I get almost two knuckles in before I let go of the cup so it can expand (I sometimes end up with the full length of my fingers inside so I can position it where I want it). I always have to rotate mine to get it to pop open, and then I use my studly vaginal muscles to sort of pull it all the way up where I want it to be, because my hands can only go so far up inside me while I’m still sober and the sun’s out, you know? You know.
+ To get it out, just find the stem and follow it up until you get to the base of the cup, then kind of pinch it a little to release the seal and, again, get those vaginal muscles involved in helping you push it out if you need to (it’s like pushing out a baby! just like it!). I also rotate the cup as I remove it because it’s just more comfortable that way.
+ Because I’m a prolific bleeder, I’ve been emptying the mini every 1.5-2 hours on the heavy day(s), and then obviously less frequently on the lighter days, around 4-6 hours. You’ll empty it at least every 12 hours regardless, so you don’t die! I’ve also used liners with my cup during the day and then an enormous reusable overnight pad when I sleep, because I just bought the most delicate pale pink sheets you’ve ever seen and I’m not ready to Rorschach them just yet.
+ When you’re cleaning your cup before reinserting it, make sure to get everything out of the teeny tiny holes up at the top. Sometimes some menstrual confetti will get stuck in a hole and you’ll have to use an old toothbrush or a toothpick to free it. It’s cool we’re all friends here.
+ You can boil the cup between uses or wash it with a mild soap, then store it in a cloth bag so it can breathe.
+ Is it worth noting that you can clearly hear a suctioning sound when mine pops into place inside me? Maybe! Maybe you wanted to know that.
+ You can have sex while you wear a cup! Maybe not penetrative vaginal sex (or, listen, I don’t know your life, maybe you can!), but definitely all the other types of sex. Orgasms might move your cup closer to your cervix or they might send your cup flying across the room. Who’s to say? Life is an adventure.
I know a lesbian talking about menstrual cups on the internet is about as unsurprising as seeing a turkey at Thanksgiving, so I tried to dig a little deeper. I asked people who were interested in using cups but still had some misgivings or concerns to tell me what they wanted to know, and they did! So you already know about the environmental pros and the money you’ll save in the long run over disposable products, and hopefully you know that most cup users report having less intense cramps, and you definitely know that there is no right or wrong way to deal with your menstrual blood. We’re just some people talking about cups over here and no one’s shaming anyone else for using disposable ANYTHING. Ok let’s go!
I’m scared that it won’t fit? Even tampons that go anywhere above normal/medium flow are too big, so I haven’t dared to try the cups even though I would love to swap!
A very valid concern! The cup is obviously wider than an unused tampon when it’s popped open, but it’s soft and squishes up against your body, whereas a tampon is rigid and tight and hard. When you fold a cup for insertion, the top part does end up being slightly wider than a normal/medium flow tampon, but because it isn’t a dry cotton tube or a hard plastic plunger, it’s still a much gentler experience — at least it is for me! When a tampon fills up, it expands to a rectangular shape with a flat top and bottom (unless it’s an o.b.! bless an o.b.), and it still isn’t what you’d consider soft or squishy. The cup will fill but not expand at all (it already expanded when you inserted it) and will easily smush together and say super soft on the way out.
I can’t speak to using a cup with more serious issues with tightness and discomfort, like vaginismus for example, so hopefully if someone reading this has some experience, they can share in the comments!
How do people feel about wearing them during physical activity? I’ve got one friend who says it’s great but two who say no thanks. I play a lot of sports so that’s my number one concern.
For me, my comfort/experience will depend more on how heavy my flow is during the physical activity than just the cup itself. I think if your cup is the right fit for your body and it’s inserted properly, you probably shouldn’t have any issues with it while you’re playing sports. I asked some staff members to help me answer these questions and here’s what they said!
Eli, Technical Intern: “As a swimmer it works really well for me! The only situations where it doesn’t work for me are due to hygiene, not physical activity.”
Reneice, Staff Writer: “The only exercise I’ve found the cup doesn’t work for me with is yoga, which is pretty frustrating. Something about all the lifting and twisting ends up breaking the seal and I’ve had to run out of classes to avoid dripping blood on my mat so…that’s no good. Also when I’ve been camping/at music festivals/generally unclean places, I always bring a little spray bottle for cleaning both my hands and the cup. I do not recommend menstrual cup maintenance in a port-a-potty at Coachella though. I’m allergic to tampons, and pads make me want to cry, so I HAD to deal with the cup in those instances, but if I had the option I would gladly have chosen something else.”
Vanessa, Community Editor: “I prefer the cup for long hikes and long days because I don’t have to change it. I thought it would be ideal for backpacking bc no waste etc, BUT my hands were never clean enough that I felt super great taking the cup in/out while backpacking, so on the PCT and in other backcountry adventures I’ve used tampons with an applicator instead. AND I will say when the cup doesn’t work, which for me is like 10% of the time — it doesn’t seal, I don’t get it in right, idk — I freebleed everywhere and that’s not ideal. One day I’ll invest in a pair of those period panties and then I’ll probably do the cup + those always.”
I’m concerned that as a fat person, I don’t have the maneuverability to properly insert or remove the cup without pain, mess, and swearing.
More from the staff!
Heather Davidson, Contributor: “I use a menstrual cup, and I just had a chat with my girlfriend who is a fat person who also uses a menstrual cup – I can insert and remove sitting down, but she needs to raise one of her legs to get the maneuverability to get it in and out. Apart from that, we have the same experience, love them and would never go back.”
Vanessa: “As a fat person who uses a menstrual cup, I will say that I have to squat and kind of move my thighs out of the way to really get in there, and I def do not feel able to do so gracefully in public restroom stalls. It’s totally doable but absolutely I like to deal with my cup at home or in places where I know it’s a single user bathroom, if that makes sense?”
Reneice: “Yeah, I get into a little squat just like hovering over the toilet to pee.”
Eli: “As a non-fat person I also have to put one of my legs up to get my diva cup in properly, something about the angle works better, definitely not possible in a public stall.”
Adding my two cents, I also do an acrobatic maneuver involving me bending over entirely, with my legs spread apart as far as possible, and then kind of holding my labia apart from behind with one hand while I insert the cup with the other. It’s just easier for me that way! I do one leg up in the shower though, because if I bent over that way in there I’d probably drown.
How does the risk of toxic shock syndrome compare to tampons? I stopped using tampons because I’d have a TSS-related panic attack about once a period.
You’re going to want to empty your cup at least once every 12 hours, and I’m not a medical professional but I understand that to mean that the risk of TSS is very nearly zero!
Ok let’s talk! I’d love to answer your questions if possible, and I’d super love for you to let us know how menstrual cups have worked for you. Or sponges! Or reusable pads! Or freebleeding on bed of moss!
🎉 There’s a coupon in today’s Autostraddle Weekly for $5 off anything in the menstrual cup category at GladRags through September! You can even use it on multiple orders! Sign up for the newsletter here or, if you’re reading this past 11am on the west coast, you’ll be able to click these words here to view the newsletter online. I do highly recommend signing up for the AS Weekly though, because I write it and we have a good time in there! 🎉
GladRags provided this XO Flo Mini to me in exchange for an honest review, and wow this is a very, very honest review!