In the depths of my bathroom cupboard you will find a dainty, drawstring cloth bag containing a menstrual cup. I was given the cup a few months back after approaching a charity, which provided free menstrual cups in exchange for its users spreading awareness of its benefits. Whilst I was excited about the prospect of using a sanitary product, which I could keep in my body for up to 12 hours (not having to bother with the faff of disposing of pads regularly), my cup hasn’t been used since I got it.
Conversations around menstruation tend to be shrouded in negativity due to the negative connotations of blood leaving the vagina – namely notions of dirt and impurity. However, the stigma attached to the physical act of inserting certain sanitary products, is not as frequently highlighted. It’s still a problematic issue faced by South Asian womxn.
“Only those married are really suitable for them,” said my mum as I attempted to test the murky waters of sanitary shame by mentioning menstrual cups during a fleeting conversation.
I saw immediately how a product designed to make women feel more at ease with their menses is associated with the concept of marriage which in turn, highlights the deeply embedded and problematic nature of another one: virginity.
Amongst certain members of the South Asian community, the insertion of something into the vagina other than a married person’s penis is wholly inappropriate. This is because of the supposed breakage of the hymen – the thin piece of tissue surrounding the vagina opening – heavily associated with your virginity status. This belief in virginity is intricately woven into slut shaming because of the huge sense of purity and femininity attached to the maintenance of the hymen. When the hymen is regarded as affected before marriage, the perception of a womxn’s purity becomes damaged too. Listening to general snippets of (negative) menstrual discourse that has been raised as I grew up, I also gathered the impression that there exists the false belief of menstrual cups consequently changing the shape of the vagina which again, pertains to beliefs relating to impurity and slut shaming.
Negative attitudes toward menstrual products and the issues that underpin them, are deeply patriarchal, stemming from a notion of womxn presenting themselves as ‘unblemished’ for their future partners. Virginity is seen as something that is bestowed upon a cis man and therefore a reason to protect the hymen. The stigma of menstruation cups is particularly problematic because it’s multi-layered. Alongside issues surrounding virginity, menstruation as a whole is connected with areas of the body that are seen as taboo and which therefore aren’t commonly discussed within South Asian households. The nature of menstrual cups having to be directly inserted, into what is commonly referred to as ‘private parts’, adds another layer of stigmas which womxn discuss and control their periods.
It’s clear that I am scrutinising certain attitudes that exists surrounding menstruation and the use of cups. However, is important to note that sometimes, no amount of criticism and acknowledgment of myths, can override the process of internalising negative attitudes. I don’t use menstrual cups out of fear of being caught (for example by presenting myself as being in discomfort), as well as avoiding them because I know it’s such a frowned upon act. Using a cup would instil a sense of guilt within me because I’ve been cultural conditioned to believe that that’s it’s weird and wrong to do so. Just simply keeping a menstrual cup in my cupboard, gives me the impression that I’m flirting with the notion of crossing a taboo territory. Despite knowing that what underpins it are myths surrounding virginity and slut shaming, which of course have zero validity.
It’s true that the attitudes I’ve been exposed to since I was a child have become deeply buried in my consciousness, thus acting as a barrier to controlling my period as I wish.
As someone of the British South Asian diaspora who understands the poor reasoning behind negative attitudes so deeply held toward the way in which we control our period, I believe there needs to be more emphasis on highlighting how damaging menstrual myths can be - particularly for the sake of young girls who are yet to deal with experiencing periods.