Today, we’re starting a multi-part feature here on Dinner Party to talk about a quintessentially female experience: your period. First up, we have an essay by Marci Weber, which was originally written in 2014 for a live performance and subsequently adapted for publication on this site.

I’m a huge fan of tampons. The commercials are a stretch (do any women actually frolick around in white dresses while on their periods?), but in my opinion, their influence on women’s rights is extremely underrated; I simply wouldn’t play sports or exercise at all without them. However, when the exercise of interest is hiking in the backcountry, tampons have their limitations. Any woman who has gone backpacking on her period could tell you it’s no fun to tote a Ziploc bag of blood-soaked cotton through bear country.

Awhile back, I was complaining about this as I prepared for a long backpacking trip. A friend suggested I try using a Diva Cup, which is silicone receptacle that collects blood instead of soaking up. It’s reusable, and you only have to change it once every twelve hours. This sounded like a perfect solution, so I decided to try it out for myself.

The Diva Cup was nowhere to be found at the local pharmacy, so I bought one online. The website had some information on how to use it, which seemed pretty straightforward. My own silicone shot glass came in time for my next period, and I popped it in with no trouble at all.

Twelve hours later, things weren’t looking so peachy. I tried to get it out, but to no avail. No matter how I stood or how I grasped the little stem of the cup, it just would not budge. Upon consulting my trusty friend Google, I discovered that I’m not the only woman to get mine stuck. The easiest suggestion I read was simply to wait until it filled up more, so I put the silly cup out of my mind and went to sleep.

The next afternoon, I tried again, but my Diva Cup would not budge. I tried the other methods that had turned up in my Google search. I tried “relaxing my muscles.” I tried “squatting and standing at different angles.” I tried “doing kegels to scoot it down.” But nothing I tried seemed to work.

At this point, the Diva Cup had been stuck inside me for about 36 hours, and I was starting to panic. There was still one method I had yet to try. Several women had said, “if he’s willing, get your boyfriend to pull it out.”  One woman had actually written, “my husband used a pair of pliers,” but I hoped it wouldn’t come to such torture. Also, I was single. So, I sheepishly approached my twin sister instead.

I would have frozen in terror if she asked me to pull something out of her vagina, especially something that was sure to bear a pungent stench. But my sister is fearless, and plans to be a doctor one day, so her response was very nonchalant: “Yeah, of course. It’ll be like delivering a baby!”  At that point, the image of a baby down there was still less frightening than pliers.

I busied myself moving the rugs out of the bathroom, envisioning the red river about to gush forth. Then the procedure began. First, I tried the various squats and angles I’d assumed when trying to remove the Diva Cup all on my own. Twice, my sister was almost victorious, but ultimately the cup did not emerge. At this point, I panicked, just imagining what might happen. I could go to the emergency room and utterly humiliate myself, which would also mean explaining the hospital bill to my parents. Or I could just let it sit in there forever, because pliers absolutely were not an option.

My sister remained calm, and suggested a simpler alternative. “Just get in the bathtub and sit as if you’re trying to give birth.” I’ve never seen a live delivery, and I don’t think my sister has, either. But we’ve seen enough movies that I just hopped in and lay face up with my knees bent. She reached down and deftly grasped the base of the cup with two hands.

All of a sudden, with a small pop, it was out. We both stared in fascination. The red river I had pictured turned out to be more of a congealed avalanche that just kept toppling out of my body and into the tub. The Diva Cup is supposed to hold about an ounce of blood—as in, one shot glass. But this was less like a shot and more like a monster margarita (although perhaps a Bloody Mary would be a more fitting beverage comparison). That bathtub looked like the scene of a murder, and we went to town bleaching it like we would a crime scene. Yes, that sounds dramatic, but I would thoroughly clean the filthiest of bathrooms in exchange for the relief my sister brought me.

Despite my mishaps, I do not doubt that Diva Cups and tampons are milestones for empowering women. But on that day, the greatest example of women’s empowerment was my brave and badass sister, who did boldly go where no man has gone before.