Wanderful bloggers have been writing about menstrual cups for as long as Wanderful has existed. Because they’re portable, environmentally friendly, and reusable, they’re generally seen as perfect for travel. But if you’re fat or queer like me, you might have some questions about using them that no amount of Googling has been able to answer.
Let’s change that.
Because even though the reusable nature of menstrual cups makes them more economical than other products in the long run, no one should spend $30 to $50 USD on something that they ultimately can’t use.
First, a little about me.
I’m a 25-year-old cisgender (or cis) queer woman. I received my very first reusable silicon menstrual cup in March of 2015. I have since had three cycles and used a combination of this cup and pads/liners.
I am fat (about a U.S. size 24/26) and have sex with people of multiple genders.
Next, a little about my writing and research process.
Before writing, I reached out to fat and queer friends and acquaintances and interviewed them about their experiences using menstrual cups. Respondents were asked 10 questions ranging from basics about age, gender identity, and sexual orientation to, “Do you think that the size of your body has affected how you use your cup?” and, “Do you think that the sex (or kind of sex) you have affects how you use (or don’t use) your cup, or the kind/size of cup that you use?”
Respondents were told that they could answer or not answer any question and that they could answer anonymously. Respondents vary in age, size, gender, and sexual orientation. All respondents are fat, unless otherwise noted, and all are based in the U.S.
Important note: Cis women are not the only people who cyclically bleed, nor are we the only people who use menstrual cups. Yes, it is true that some female-assigned trans and gender-nonconforming people eventually stop bleeding, but this is not universally true. For that reason, my goal is to keep all language here as gender-neutral as possible.
Here’s what I needed to know before trying a menstrual cup:
- Was I too fat to insert or remove my cup?
- Even if no to the above, how would travel affect using my cup?
- Would being fat affect what size cup I needed?
- Would the kind of sex I participate in affect what size cup I needed?
First Things First: No, your menstrual cup will not get lost inside of you.
Nor will it be unable to insert, which is not to say that every insertion or removal will be entirely perfect every time.
My biggest fear before I ever even tried a menstrual cup was that I wouldn’t be able to reach it once inserted, that there’d be too much of me in the way, especially because I carry a lot of weight in my belly and have thighs that could crush planets.
I have never had this happen. Nor have any one of my 10 interview subjects.
If you can comfortably reach your fingers inside yourself, you can reach your menstrual cup.
The most important piece of advice I can give anyone considering a menstrual cup is to be patient. It took me three cycles before I could comfortably insert and remove it mostly without leaks or discomfort, but even during my third cycle (when I felt I’d finally “got it”), there were a few instances when I nearly gave up trying to insert it because I couldn’t get it situated properly. If this happens to you, take it out and try again.
On comparative weight experiences:
SJ, a 30-year-old femme, says: “I first started using a cup in 2004, when I was around a size 14. At the time, I was not concerned about the size of my body interfering with using the cup. Over the last 10+ years, the size of my body has grown. I am a size 22 now, and I carry most of my weight in my belly. That said, the size of my body has not affected my ability to use the cup.”
Lauren, a 28-year-old cis female, says: “I used [a menstrual cup] at my highest weight, […] a point where I had to lift my belly to even see my vulva, and at my lowest weight, and noticed no difference. I never felt that it was uncomfortable or difficult to get the cup in and out.”
M, a 27-year-old genderqueer person, says: “I’ve known a lot of queer and fat folks who’ve used [menstrual cups] – so I’ve never really had the idea that body size determines menstrual cup usage. With that said, though, I’ve known people with limited mobility who’ve struggled with menstrual cup usage, but their limited mobility wasn’t/isn’t related to their weight.”
Jennifer, a 41-year-old cis female, says: “When my thighs are in the legs of my underwear/pants, I have to do a bit of work to get at my vagina. I’ve also found it hard to seat it properly and make sure it’s open; I feel like that’s because I’ve just got more me in there to work around.”
Sarah, a 31-year-old cis female, says: “It is sometimes a little harder [to] maneuver as I’ve gotten older and fatter, but since I usually take it out and put it in while I am at home and not in any cramped bathroom stalls, I am able to get in there just fine.”
Next Things Next: Yes, fat people may need more room to insert or remove a cup than would be needed if changing a pad/tampon.
As can be guessed by Sarah’s comment above, this means that for travelers, bus, train, plane, or even public restrooms can be tricky.
Jennifer also admits to having had these concerns before trying out a cup: “I figured it would be fine at home, but in a toilet stall in public?”
And our worries were not entirely for naught. Last week I had my first experience attempting to empty and reinsert my cup in a cramped bathroom stall. It ultimately turned out fine, but I could definitely have used more room. I eventually walked out of that stall with a very messy hand and was glad I had a pad with me as a backup (although miraculously I didn’t end up leaking even after reinserting).
Additionally, because cups are designed to suction to your body, they can make a distinctly audible squelching noise when inserted or removed. This can be an interesting experience if you’re in a stall in a quiet public restroom with other occupants.
Does this mean cups are bad for travel if you’re fat? Not necessarily. They may just require some more planning.
Many claim that using a cup saves packing space in addition to money because one does not need to purchase and pack tampons or pads, but I have almost always used a pad or liner while wearing mine. These turned out to be unnecessary for most of my last cycle, but there admittedly was one day when I couldn’t get my cup situated without it leaking. So, for me, the amount of packing space (and money) saved is negligible, because even if I’m not leaking, I generally use a pad or liner, just in case.
Now, the “Big” Questions: The size of your body will not affect what size menstrual cup you need. The kind of sex you have will also not affect what size menstrual cup you need.
A claim that I have heard countless times (usually from cis men) is that fat cis women have loose or looser vaginas. This possibility made me worry that I might select a cup at one size only to find that it was too small for me. The converse is also a stereotype, says SJ: “I’ve also heard that folks that fetishize fat women […] are into them because their vaginas are tighter.”
There are a few factors that can affect the cup size you need. Different manufacturers suggest different sizing for age, flow, bone structure, muscle tone, cervix location, or experience with pregnancy or birth. For good reason, weight and sex life are generally left off these lists.
The one exception to the above is if you have not been or cannot be penetrated. Most manufacturers here recommend a smaller cup size. However, many mistakenly refer to this as virginity, which they shouldn’t for many reasons, but especially because people can (and do) have non-penetrative sex all the time. So really, if you cannot be comfortably penetrated, regardless of whether or not you have ever had sex, a menstrual cup may not be for you.
As a queer person who does have penetrative sex that usually involves my partners’ hand(s), I also worried that my sex life could affect what size cup I needed. Though I know that vaginas are elastic, and “tightness” has little to do with sexual activity, we are relentlessly taught that cis women who regularly have sex also have loose vaginas, and it’s hard not to internalize that. I needed to know if frequently participating in certain sexual acts, like fisting, could make someone too “loose” for their otherwise recommended cup size.
Short answer: No.
Ultimately, I went with the smaller cup that I was recommended, and it works almost perfectly for me.
Keep in mind: There is no hard-and-fast rule here, and sometimes the size that is suggested won’t actually work for you, whatever the reason.
Erica, a 28-year-old cis woman who recently had a child, says: “[The manufacturers expect] that getting pregnant, regardless of delivery style, means I have to move up a size (and my vagina has always seemed narrow to me, no matter what stretching I’d done with it sexually). I haven’t gotten rid of my smaller cup, but the new one looks absolutely enormous.”
And 41-year-old Jennifer says of her experience: “According to the cup makers, I’m supposed to use [a] larger size because of my age, but I find it is [too] large.”
However, my roommate V, a 24-year-old thin, heterosexual, cis woman, requires a larger cup simply because she has a heavier flow.
In the end, every body is different.
As M eloquently put it: “I think menstrual cup usage is deeply personal and individualistic – every body, literally speaking, will respond differently to menstrual cups.”
What is true for one fat traveler – let alone person – may not be for another. My anecdotal research suggests relatively similar experiences among menstrual cup users, but we are all always learning, and every experience is worth sharing.