My boyfriend is brushing his teeth and frowning at me.
I’m not entirely surprised – I’m lying on our bed with my legs in the air, trying to grasp a pink silicone disc that is lodged somewhere in my vagina, just beyond my reach.
"I think maybe you’re being a little…" He spits his toothpaste and searches for the right word. "Rough."
Tonight, we are trying out the Ziggy Cup, the only reusable menstrual cup that can be worn during sex and, as you can tell, things haven’t got off to a great start.
The idea is simple. With its oval shape and flat-fit design, the Ziggy fits just below the cervix – significantly higher than traditional menstrual cups, which means there’s more room for a partner to get up in there too.
I’m lucky in that I don’t have a long period – four days maximum – but like anyone, my first day is very heavy and, rather than doing anything strenuous like sex, I prefer mostly to lie very, very still. Tonight, however, I’m going for it – which my boyfriend was all for, until the aforementioned dead bug impression.
It’s not like I didn’t prepare appropriately. I watched every last second of the YouTube video on how to insert the petal-thin silicone disc. The instructions were simple: sit on the toilet, use the thumb and forefinger to squeeze the sides of the rim together and insert the cup. Sliding it down and back towards your tailbone instead of "up" like a tampon. Once it’s behind your cervix, tuck the side nearest your belly button up behind your pubic bone. Voilà.
I probably should have also watched a video on how to release the Ziggy from its packaging (I later find dedicated videos for unboxing it). We spent five full minutes trying to open the case, my boyfriend muttering "impossible" with growing frustration. Eventually he just smashed the box, which, while effective, caused a mess that did little to help the rapidly de-escalating sexual tension in the room.
Back in the bathroom, I crouch down and retrieve the cup by hooking the front of the lip with my finger. I’m genuinely relieved to have found it. I take a deep breath and reinsert it. The cup feels much more "in place" this time and, encouraged, I walk back into the bedroom and proclaim the insertion a success. Finally, we can have sex. Mess-free period sex.
We start cautiously and with lots of eye contact – not the good sort of eye contact, rather the "is everything okay?" stare.
I instruct him to go slowly.
"If I go any slower I’ll stop," he replies.
He’s got a point.
I flip over and we try from behind but he questions whether he is hitting the cup. Is he? I’m not sure and so I flip back over to missionary but I’m now struggling to forget that two things are inside me. My mind drifts. "When was the last time I had two things inside me?" I wonder, remembering my last smear test.
Such distracting thoughts are to be expected, I am assured (later) by Kathryn Byberg, global brand partnership manager for Intimina, which created the cup. She explains that hundreds of prototypes offering different shapes, textures and sizes were created during the design process and that the Ziggy Cup is the result of many, many exhaustive tests. "At first, you might feel a bit conscious that the cup is in there but once you get over the initial idea, you cannot feel it at all," she says.
Which is good because sex on your period has many physiological benefits. Orgasms prompt the release of oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins, which can help relieve period-related pains. Even better: "Sex on your period can also shorten the length of your period," says Byberg. "With each orgasm your uterus contracts and expels the blood and uterine lining at a faster rate than it naturally would. It will also help flush out the compounds in the uterus that cause period pain in the first place."
Back in the bedroom however, my boyfriend is not feeling my distracted musings. In missionary, we can't feel the Ziggy Cup at all but I simply cannot focus on the task at hand with it in. We make the unanimous decision to take it out and go with the tried-and-tested period sex tradition: doing it on a towel.
Most grown-ass men (the ones worth having sex with anyway) couldn’t give two hoots whether their sexual partner is on their period – in fact, some prefer it. "I like the wetness," a male friend once told me, deadly serious.
But for women, period sex can still elicit a mental barrier. "It’s always going to be hard to reach your full sexual potential and level of enjoyment – and essentially, climax – if you can’t get the notion out of your head that somehow what you’re doing is disgusting to someone else," says Byberg. Of course, after years of being told by a male-led world that our periods are to be kept hidden, it’s understandable that many women may feel shame or discomfort during something as intimate as sex when they’re on their period. My libido definitely peaks when I ovulate and later I ponder that my bloated stomach, swollen, sensitive breasts and general tiredness didn’t help the matter any.
But my Ziggy Cup and I aren’t over yet. I’m in a long-distance relationship and travel frequently for work, meaning that my boyfriend and I often only get a few days together each month. This means that our together time frequently falls during my period and, let’s face it, messy period sex in a nice hotel bed is far from ideal.
What’s more, sanitary pads, tampons and applicators generate 200,000 tonnes of waste per year in the UK and microplastics in tampons are ingested by marine life at sea. Looking for more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions for dealing with our periods is incredibly important.
That night I wear my Ziggy when I sleep, and it makes a delightful alternative to bulky sanitary pads. I am pleased to report I wake up with no leaks thanks to its 12-hour guarantee. Now I’ve got 28 days to prepare for Ziggy round two – and this time I’m going to nail it.