At Red Tent Sisters, we often refer to the menstrual cycle as the Fifth Vital Sign. We believe your cycle acts as a barometer for your overall health. If your period is heavy or painful, it can be your body’s way of indicating something is out of balance – a sign of endometriosis, an iron deficiency, or a thyroid condition. However, it’s easy to ignore these warnings, especially if they’ve become your ‘normal.’ In fact, studies have found that it can take up to ten years to diagnose endometriosis because, as a society, we’ve internalized the idea that period pain is par for the course. As a result, it’s common for someone to learn to just ‘deal with it’ rather than seek help. That’s why we are passionate about educating folks on how to ‘read’ their body so they can enjoy optimal health, naturally.
In our experience, one of the most powerful tools for improving ‘body literacy’ is making the switch to a menstrual cup. Here's 4 ways to LENA can help you learn to read your body:
Kim Sedgwick of The Red Tent Sisters
Know Your Flow
The first time I used a cup it dawned on me how little I knew about my reproductive health. I had a sense my flow was on the lighter side - especially in comparison to my sister who had to change her pad hourly - but if you had asked me to estimate how much I bled each month, I would have looked at you with a blank stare. I had been a tampon user for years (as a dancer, bulky pads didn’t really jive with my leotard), which made my flow seem deceptively heavy. Tampons can absorb other fluids in your body in addition to menstrual blood, plus there’s the bulk of the fabric. Combine those factors together and it’s really tricky to get an accurate reading of how much you’re bleeding.
In contrast, cups collect rather than absorb so you’re only getting the menstrual blood. Plus, the cup format offers a natural measuring tool (so convenient!) This made it easy for me to see that I fall within the healthy range of 10-35 ml per cycle.
On the flip side, we had a customer share that her doctor didn’t believe her when she said she was bleeding too much. She “proved it” by bringing in her cup and explaining that she changed it several times a day for ten days. She knew that was more than 10-35 ml per cycle, which enabled her to advocate for further testing and eventually revealed an underlying hormonal imbalance.
Get On Track To Holistic
Taking a holistic approach to menstrual health is often a process – there’s no instant relief the way there is with a painkiller and it can be challenging to stay motivated when you don’t know if your efforts are paying off. However, it’s a lot easier to give up caffeine or dairy if you know you’ll be rewarded with pain-free or lighter periods. That said, the improvements may be so small and incremental you don’t notice at first glace. Again, this is where menstrual cups come in handy – they can provide tangible confirmation that you’re on the right track. To make it even easier to track your progress we suggest using a charting app, like Justisse or Kindara. These apps allow you to note all kinds of period-related symptoms and lifestyle changes, including mood, diet, exercise, sleep patterns and menstrual flow. This practice can highlight the interplay between all the seemingly separate aspects of your health and allow you to make more powerful, lasting changes.
Feel More in Touch
While fertility awareness is often associated with contraception or fertility, we believe all menstruators can benefit from a deeper understanding of their cycle. In addition to monitoring the health conditions mentioned above, tracking your cycle can empower you in other ways as well. Many people find that there are different energy and mood changes that accompany each phase of the menstrual cycle. Typically we only hear about the negative associations (like pre-menstrual irritability) but that’s only part of the story! Learning to identify and plan for the different stages – when you’re most likely to feel social, peak mental focus, etc. – can improve your relationships, your performance at work, and your overall happiness.
Love Your Whole Body
As someone who’s passionate about sexual health and pleasure, I value the role of menstrual cups in promoting body positivity and providing some much needed education. I have clients who are completely disconnected from their vulvas because they’ve only ever used tampons or pads, and have never had any other opportunity to look closely at their anatomy. In contrast, menstrual cups facilitate a more intimate relationship. You really need to look at what you’re doing! Furthermore, cups like Lena offer empowering messages that celebrate the body as opposed to mainstream products that focus on how to be “discreet”. Switching to a menstrual cup was pivotal in developing a new relationship with my body – one filled with profound respect and focused on pleasure. It is my hope that others have a similarly transformative experience and we, as a culture, create a new narrative about what it means to menstruate.