Riding the Cotton Pony is So Last Century

By Amanda Lopez

Illustration by Deron Cohen

I truly believe that woman’s penance for fruit-sampling in the Garden of Eden is the curse of menstruation. I loathed my monthly reminder of possessing two X chromosomes pre-SCI, and it’s even more complicated as a T8 para.

Subscribing to the school of silver lining, I very much enjoyed the four months post-injury of menses-free spinal shock. For that, life’s little joke on me is my sole remaining sensation of hard-core cramps. Since legalization of marijuana for treatment of PMS is unlikely, I get by with a product I’ve found that makes managing my period easier-the Instead Softcup.

The Softcup resembles a diaphragm, is made of nontoxic and nonlatex materials, and can hold twice as much flow as a pad or tampon-allowing you to wear it twice as long. Even on medium to heavy flow days, it can be worn up to 12 hours. Ah, bliss!

When first introduced to the Softcup, I found the idea of collecting menstrual flow for 12 hours a little disgusting and thought someone with a complete SCI-no voluntary movement or sensation below injury level-could not use it. Then, my two sisters loved it, a woman with MS who is a friend of one of my sisters loved it, and a friend of mine who is a rehab nurse extraordinaire literally can’t get enough of it. So, I had to give it a try.

On day one of “Operation Panty Shield,” in a rush to get ready for work, I hurriedly opened the small purple package, guessed which way was up and slid it in. Easy! Everything was jake until I began to feel queasy-a little like menstrual cramps-about an hour later. Felt like ovaries in overdrive. After three hours of discomfort, I retreated to the bathroom to take out the Softcup. As soon as it was removed (just hook your finger and pull) I felt relief, and guessed it hadn’t been inserted properly.

I had guessed correctly. Wouldn’t you know, in my second attempt the next morning, I discovered detailed, graphic and easy-to-read instructions for insertion, use and removal on the box that I had hastily discarded the previous morning. Live and learn. This time, I scrupulously followed the instructions-positioning my body and the Softcup like the picture-and voila! Success.

Throughout the day, I loved not having when do I need to change my tampon and do I have back ups and am I leaking on the brain. It was wonderful to no longer worry about bladder splatters caused by an over-absorbed or improperly placed tampon pushing on the opening of my urethra-my own theory, but in speaking with other gimp girl goddesses, I absolutely believe it. The Softcup was awesome! To work and focus entirely on life-and not my period-was freedom. It sounds petty, but other women will understand.

I didn’t think about my period again until just before bedtime. Removal took three tries and I did become a little anxious when it didn’t come out on the first try. The instructions suggest bearing down/pushing if this happens. With my injury level, I can barely push, but by attempting to and leaning forward, chest to knees, I pulled it out shortly. Insertion and removal while sitting on the toilet is instructed; however, this can be modified to accommodate your own ability and style of using tampons. Also, I’m a move-undies-to-the-side-rather-than-remove kind of gal for cathing and tampon-changing, but with the Softcup I suggest dropping all trou to avoid spillage on clothes.

One benefit of the Softcup is the “freedom from the hassle of strings and wings.” I’ve never considered intermittent self-cathing problematic, but it was nice to shave off a few seconds of cath time by not having to deal with string interference or tampons that have slipped due to flaccid vaginal muscles. The Softcup’s soft, pink plastic ring will curve to your own body shape, so no matter the method you use to let your bladder flow, if you can use tampons, you can use Instead. Insert the Softcup as you get ready in the morning and remove/change upon returning home or going to bed, depending on your schedule. It can be worn for up to, but never to exceed, 12 hours, and eliminates the risk of toxic shock syndrome since it collects rather than absorbs flow.

Since SCI, I have gravely feared inserting a tampon without realizing one is already in. And I don’t particularly enjoy finger sweeps to detect if one is in or in properly (well, I do a little.) Instead makes this obsolete due to the twice-a-day schedule.

Everything during menstruation seems easier and more efficient with the Softcup. You can bathe while wearing it-better than bathing with a tampon, cleaner than bathing without-and practice any type of hygiene or body maintenance cleaner and easier than with pads or tampons. You can also save in comparison to tampons, which will cost the average person $650 over 10 years, while Softcup would run about $400 – The New York Times calculated this in a 2003 article about menstrual cups.

I understand some disabilities and situations make using this product impossible, but to all women who regularly use tampons or even pads, I enthusiastically recommend the Softcup. To those who find tampons an unrealistic or inconvenient option due to frequent changes (more transfers) or an uncomfortable fit, with information, awareness and care, the Softcup can make your life easier, too. The Softcup is available in bulk online at www.softcup.com and nationwide at CVS, Longs, Safeway, Walgreen’s, Drugstore.com, Raley’s, Save Mart, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer, Ralph’s, Supervalu, Wincom, Kroger, Rite Aid, and Target.

Any questions, comments or suggestions can be directed to 800/INSTEAD, or you can get answers on the Web site, where you can also download instructions, watch an instructional and informational video and request samples. You can order a starter kit, with three Instead Softcups and the video, at the site as well.

I’ve got to end with the real kicker-this product is bathing suit and sexy panties friendly, and it frees your nether regions for what they call “clean sex.” While it’s not a birth control device and doesn’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases, the Softcup does allow you to have sex at the peak of your monthly moon cycle, making it the cleanest dirty sex you’ve ever had.

So saddle up, cowgirls. We’re riding off into the sunset, and we don’t need no stinkin’ tampons. Riding the cotton pony is so last century. We’ve got the Softcup, instead.

Amanda Lopez may write like an experienced ad copywriter, but in reality she’s just one clued-in gimp girl-always on the lookout for things that make life on wheels easier, more enjoyable.

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