Feel free to substitute your fave non-gendered language here too.
If you’re a fan of Orange is the New Black, you’ll probably agree that there are many eye-opening scenes. One that really hit home for us was when Sophia explains to a number of her fellow inmates the location of – and difference between – the vagina and urethra. Dealing in menstrual products means that we often have to make reference to different parts of a person’s anatomy, and do some explaining along the way!
Menstrual Anatomy 101
Starting on the outside, we have the vulva. The vulva is often incorrectly referred to as the vagina, but is actually the genital area that includes the urethral opening and the vaginal opening (as well as the labia and clitoris). The urethral opening is where urine comes out after traveling through the urethra, and the vaginal opening leads to the vagina. A GladRags pad or pantyliner snaps around the crotch panel of underwear, sitting just below both openings, so it can absorb menstrual and non-menstrual fluids alike!
Okay, let’s dive right in to the vagina! It’s the canal that begins with the vaginal opening and connects to the uterus via the cervix. The cervix, if you were to reach inside your vagina to find it, feels like a bump or mound (some say it feels like a nose) with a small dimple in the center. The dimple is actually a pin-sized hole that leads to the uterus. Menstruation is basically the lining of the uterus slowly shedding, exiting via the cervix, flowing through the vagina, and coming out of the vaginal opening where it is greeted with joy! (Okay, maybe not for all of us.)
A menstrual cup walks into a vagina…
If you are familiar with the menstrual cup, you probably know its basic concept: it is inserted into the vagina, where it sits beneath the cervix to catch the menstrual flow. However, there are specific aspects of the vagina and cervix that are good to know – game-changing, even – when a menstrual cup is involved. Here are some of the main facts:
- The cervix changes position over the course of the menstrual cycle. It is typically lower and firmer during menstruation, as well as right before and after, than it is leading up to and during ovulation. This means that if you are taking your cup for a test run while not on your period, or just feeling around for your cervix to learn about its positioning, it’s important to remember that your experience may be different when you are actually menstruating.
- At the end of the vagina is the cervix, but the cervix is not the end of the vagina. That isn’t meant to be a riddle, but it sure sounds like one! Because the cervix protrudes into the vagina rather than being a flat surface, the walls of the vagina do continue around it. This is one of the reasons we recommend that cup users find their cervix if they are experiencing leaking issues – if your menstrual cup is being inserted past your cervix rather than beneath it, it won’t collect your flow.
- You may have noticed that many menstrual cups are offered in different sizes based on age or whether the wearer has given birth. This can lead to a lot of questions, like “What if I had a c-section?” or “I’m 35 but have never given birth, is my age a defining factor?” Here’s the thing: every body is different! Pregnancy can weaken pelvic floor muscles whether the actual delivery is vaginal or by c-section, and is usually a more noticeable change than with aging. With age comes a gradual loss in muscle strength, including the pelvic floor muscles, but this varies from person to person. Two adults who are the same age and have both never given birth might choose different cups based on the heaviness of their flow, their level of physical activity (sports and exercises that engage core muscles can contribute to a strong pelvic floor), etc.
- Vaginal walls are very elastic. They go from being basically closed on themselves to expanding to fit, say, an entire baby! Keep in mind, though, that this does not mean that the size of what can fit has to measure up to the size of what has fit in the past. A person’s sex life can include different forms of vaginal penetration, but they are not necessarily indicators of what menstrual cup size would fit best. On the flip side, someone who has never inserted anything into their vagina shouldn’t assume that a menstrual cup would never fit, or that only the smallest cup would do.
Remember, knowledge is power! Maybe you’re already well-acquainted with your cervix, or maybe we only just taught you what it was. You could be a menstrual cup expert, or someone who has always been curious but has yet to take the plunge. No matter where you’re at, being informed about your body is an important act of self-care.