My first time using a menstrual cup, in my case the Diva Cup, was an unmitigated disaster. So much so that I gave up for over a year. Then I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a video from Plus Size Model (and creator of #FatAndFree) Saucye West that inspired me to try again.
To be honest, tampons had worked fine for most of my life, but when I took on the challenge of training for an IRONMAN triathlon, things changed. Running for hours on a heavy flow day is no joke, and changing a tampon in a beach bathroom (complete with open stalls) was not any kind of fun for me. And until I had biked for hours with a tampon in, I wasn’t aware that I could chaffe the inside of my vagina. A method that can work for 12 hours, doesn’t chaffe, and doesn’t have me completely exposed to anyone who wanders in off the beach sounded great to me. And with Saucye’s inspiration I did more research and tried a different cup (the Lunette) which ended up working like a charm.
As I told other fat folks about this, I heard from lots of them that they assumed (or had been told) that the menstrual cup didn’t work for fat people, which isn’t exactly a surprise. As Jennifer said in her interview “all of the internet culture and marketing around the cup was thin, white, hippie-styled women, basically a giant flashing "FAT GIRLS NEED NOT APPLY" sign.” You know I couldn’t let that go unchallenged, so I interviewed a bunch of plus size people to get some firsthand info. You’re welcome!
Before I get too far into this, I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that everyone with a period can, or should, use a menstrual cup. I think that too often those who preach the gospel of the menstrual cup don’t consider its limitations. It requires the ability to reach up inside oneself which may be precluded by everything from stomach size to arm length, to flexibility of shoulders and back, various disabilities, etc.
Also, not everyone is comfortable reaching inside themselves, and not everyone’s lifestyle allows them to change the cup as necessary (this can be a significant issue for fat folks since many public restrooms don’t have enough space for us to pee, let alone change a menstrual cup. That goes double for transfolks with periods who may be denied access to public restrooms).
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It can also be cost-prohibitive. Though it may save money in the long run, it requires a greater cash outlay up front and even if someone can afford one, trying several options before finding one that works is a distinct possibility, and that can make the initial expense very significant. So, my goal here is to make sure that plus size people know their options and aren’t being limited by fatphobia, not to tell anyone who has a period how to deal with it.
The most common advice, including from Saucye, was to be prepared for a learning curve and to find ways to work with your body. Lizzie, who uses a mooncup and is a UK size 22, and 253 pounds said, “There was definitely a learning curve. I've become better at peeing on it to rinse it which is invaluable when you're somewhere without clean water, or indeed any water, I've got better at breaking the seal and taking it out without blood going everywhere, I've got better at holding it when I've folded it so it doesn't ping out of my hand and I've got better at setting it in, just making sure it's in the most comfortable place having put it in.”
Perhaps consequently, the second most common advice was to practice, including when you’re not on you’re period. Jeannie, who is 5’3 and 275lbs and uses the Diva Cup mentioned said “Be patient, take a deep breath, try again. Experiment with folds.” For the uninitiated, the “fold” is the way that you collapse the cup for insertion.
In terms of tips and tricks for using the cup as a fat person:
CC, a UK size 22 who uses the Moon cup said, “I do have to put my leg up on something to get it in, and I kind of have to bring my shoulder forward as far as it can go. Getting it out is probably more acrobatic, because I reach up and grab the cup itself, having cut off the stalk for comfort.”
RZ, a US size 28 who uses the Lunette and weight 290lbs, said, “I thought it couldn’t work for me and had given up, then I took a plus size yoga class where we were instructed to sweep our tummy to the side. It was a revelation! I went home and dusted off (boiled, actually) my cup. I sat down on the toilet, used my left hand to sweep my belly to the side and my right hand to insert the cup. It worked! Now it’s been 8 years and I don’t use anything else!”
Getting the cup back out can require more flexibility/space than getting it in. The most common advice was to relax and not panic. RL, who weighs 380lbs and is 5’6 said, “If I’m having trouble reaching the stem I just bear down a bit to push it lower, grab the stem, and then pull gently. Once I have a grip I break the seal and remove the cup.” It’s important to remember that no matter what happens the cup won’t get “lost” and in the worst case scenario, a medical professional can remove it (though of course that presupposes access to affordable medical care.)
For me, I hate to be cliché but the cup has been absolutely life-changing for me. All my research and, I’m sure, no small amount of luck resulted in my learning curve being short and it “took” on the first cycle. Which is lucky because I was traveling to a speaking gig and delays meant I didn’t have time for dealing with my period. Instead of worrying about how I might change my tampon as a fat person in an airplane bathroom stall (an act that would require Cirque Du Soleil flexibility,) or having to stop to change my tampon before running for the rental car, I was able to get through the day without any period drama. And my workouts have gone incredibly smoothly – no tampon changing in a beach restroom, no weird chaffing on the bike, and no wondering whether swimming in the ocean with a tampon in will attract sharks (according to scientists it won’t but I’ve seen Jaws so...)
So there are plenty of reasons why you might try the cup, and plenty of reasons that you might not. There are fat people using the cup successfully, but every body is different so the only way to know if it will work for you is to try!