Vaginas are beautiful, sensuous, vulnerable, mysterious and sensitive. For so long, talking about sex, our periods, our anatomy, our intimate desires was stigmatized. It’s conversation that was better kept between your most trusted confidents. It’s been so refreshing to see sex, vaginal health, periods, women’s pleasure come into mainstream conversation. In these modern times, we need to equip ourselves with as much information as we can so that we can better care for our minds and our bodies. This happens through having conversations, reading, listening, experiencing and any other ways we can learn to take knowledge and use it to empower us to make better decisions, to stand up for our needs and desires and ultimately care for ourselves more deeply. In the spirit of open communication, I want to share my own experience with taking care of my vagina and with making the switch to sustainable period products.
I’ve partnered with Sustain on this blog post. Sustain makes everything from condoms and lube to organic cotton tampons and washable period underwear to their newly launched period cup. They’ve developed all of their products to be vagina AND earth friendly. They also donate 10% of profits to women’s healthcare organizations. Sustain is offering you 20% off your first order with code: WU20
Over the years, I’ve suffered from countless UTIs, bacterial vaginosis, painful sex and periods. Most of the time quietly. Consulting the help of my regularly changing healthcare provider. Taking antibiotics at first and then as I got into herbal medicine, learning to help myself with natural remedies. Of course, there’s tons you can do to take care of your vagina. Eat well. Exercise. Use natural soaps and beauty products. Take herbs and vaginal probiotics. Pee after sex. Tell your partner to stop when sex is painful (which unsurprisingly is very hard for many women – listen to this podcast episode). Sleep underwear-less. But unfortunately sometimes doing all of those things isn’t enough.
There are many factors that effect the bacteria and pH levels down there. I have a hunch that the way our body chemistry reacts to our partners can also play a part. Since I’ve been with my husband, stopped taking hormonal birth control and took antibiotics for the last time (hopefully ever), which were ALL right around the same time in my life, I haven’t had any cases of BV or UTI, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had any odor/itchiness down there, which were all minor and went away in a day. Painful sex still happens sometimes, but I feel confident and comfortable enough to speak up and say “stop” when it does.
I finally made the switch from organic tampons to the Sustain period cup and underwear. I don’t know why I waited so long to make the switch. I honestly was just telling myself a story that I made up in my head about how it wouldn’t work for me and how I thought it would be difficult and messy. After going through a few successful periods using both the period cup and underwear, I can now say, that while there is a bit of a learning curve, they both are relatively easy to use, and I really don’t see myself switching back to tampons ever again.
Learning to use the period cup has brought me closer to my body. I’ve learned more about my cervix and how its position changes through my cycle than I ever knew in my life. I’ve become more intimate with my blood and how much blood I’m producing on different days through my cycle. At first it felt intense, but after a couple days I felt empowered and more curious about my female anatomy than ever before.
Inserting the period cup can be tricky at first, but with practice you’ll be a pro. Sustain has lots of info to get you started, but leave it to me to not read any info before I tried mine for the first time. I simply looked at the drawings in the pamphlet included in the box and went for it. TBH, I didn’t realize how far it was supposed to go up. Unlike a tampon, there’s no string that hangs down. The cup actually sits all the way up inside your vagina. Anyways for the first day, I wasn’t inserting it all the way (which would normally cause leakage), but I was working from home, so I just kept incessantly checking it and didn’t have any leaks.
The third day of my period I had to head out to an appointment and then to film a video with my friend Kait. I brought a tampon to use for the video shoot, just to be 100% sure I wouldn’t leak on set since I wasn’t that comfortable using the cup yet. I wore the period cup to my prior appointment though. When I got to the house where we were shooting the video, I went to the bathroom to change my clothes and switch from the cup to the tampon. I reached down to pull on the little silicon piece that hangs down from the cup, and it wasn’t there. I started panicking right away. I was in the honest-to-God smallest bathroom ever, and now my period cup was stuck up inside my vagina, AND everyone was waiting for me to come upstairs so we could start filming. Luckily, I did remember reading that if you can’t get it out, don’t panic. Remember to breathe. So there were several moments of vacillating between panic and “you got this!” Relaxing and getting my hands on some part of the cup, but then it would slip away, and I would be sent into a fit of panic again. Finally I sat down on the toilet, and released the grip of my vaginal muscles (akin to what it feels like to pee, you gotta push!) and slowly felt the cup drop to where I could actually grab onto it. PHEW! I wasn’t going to have to cancel the photoshoot and go to the emergency room.
After that experience, I had all these realizations about the cup and how you were actually supposed to use it. I came home and of course did all sorts of Googling and reading. I honestly haven’t had any issues removing it since. Like I said, it just takes practice and getting used to your own body.
A couple general tips that have helped me:
+ Shorter finger nails are better with the period cup. Honestly I had a couple moments where it felt like I gouged my vagina with my nails. Not a good feeling.
+ Use a wet wipe or wet paper towel for public bathroom use. Before going into the stall, I always wash my hands (which you should do anytime you insert or remove your cup) and grab a wetted paper towel just in case anything gets messy when I’m removing or reinserting. Just pour the blood from your cup into the toilet and use the wet paper towel if you need to clean your vagina, hands and/or the cup.
I’ve been using the period underwear on days when my flow is super light or super heavy. On heavy days, I sometimes use both the cup and the underwear. Sometimes it’s nice to have the reassurance of the underwear when my flow is super heavy on days 2 and 3. The cup is super reliant and won’t leak once you get the hang of it, but the underwear’s got your back if not. And on the first or last day, when I’m barely bleeding, I’ll just wear the underwear on its own. Feels great to not have to wear a tampon when you’re barely bleeding. Caring for the underwear is super easy. I usually just rinse it in the sink with cold water before I pop it in the washing machine with my other laundry. I have 2 pairs of the underwear, so I don’t have to be constantly washing one pair.
There’s tons of great info over on the Sustain blog. And as always, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have or share my experience with something if I forgot to include it here. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.
What intimate soap do you use?
Great article, Alison! So much honesty and openness. I have been teetering on the edge and this really helped me to have more of a comfort level with delving deeper into non-traditional and sustainable feminine care. We need more of that in the female health space. But also, we need an overview of your work-out routine… you look fantastic, get it girl !! #expander 🙂
Hey Alison! I love this! Thank you for sharing. I use Sustain condoms and been a dedicated user of the cup for years, until I went on hormonal birth controls l a little while ago and lost my period. Now I’m planning to go off it, and am wondering what others use for birth control that is non-hormonal. I’ve already tried the copper IUD and don’t want to go back to it. Could you share what you do for birth control?
Thank you so much for talking about your experience. I’ve always been so embarrassed about regularly getting BV, and I honestly had no idea this was a common thing. I’m 27!! Vaginal health is so stigmatized, but the ones stigmatizing it don’t understand how tricky it is to keep it feeling perfect all time. Thank you!
Congratulations on making the switch! I’ve used a cup for about three years now and can not recommend it enough to all my girl friends!
OMG the exact thing happened to me the first time I used my period cup and wanted to remove it. Total panic! I’m on my 3rd period cup now – happily been using it and singing its praises for over 10 years! Thanks for sharing and being open about your vagina and sex! Yaaaaas queen! xoxo
I really enjoyed reading this post and the post about going off hormonal birth control- I guess you could say I’m in the early phases of trying to connect some dots about my phsyical, mental, and sexual health. I’m curious about this line: “Tell your partner to stop when sex is painful (which unsurprisingly is very hard for many women – listen to this podcast episode).” I definitely plan to listen to this podcast, but I’m kind of intrigued to know that its common for women to experience pain during sex for various reasons. I’d love to read more about this!! More vagina blogs!!
Thanks for all this great content 🙂
Just placed my Sustain order!
Thanks for broaching a subject I hope we all start talking more about.
2019 the year of the happy vagina!
Thanks for sharing this Alison. You’re openness is deeply appreciated.
What sort of herbal medicines have you used to combat BV?