Menstrual cups may be daunting to some, but a new study suggests they are just as safe as tampons.
According to the first scientific review on the topic published in The Lancet Public Health journal earlier this week, authors found about 70 per cent of women continued to use menstrual cups once they figured out how to use them.
“Despite the fact that 1.9 billion women globally are of menstruating age — spending on average 65 days a year dealing with menstrual blood flow, few good quality studies exist that compare sanitary products,” senior author professor Penelope Phillips-Howard of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, U.K. said in a statement.
The research looked at 43 studies and data from 3,300 women and girls, and found in some cases, menstrual cups had similar or even lower leakage rates compared to pads and tampons.
What are they?
Menstrual cups are sanitary products that collect blood flow instead of absorbing it like a pad or tampon. Like tampons, they are inserted into the vagina and should be emptied every four to 12 hours. The cups themselves can last up to 10 years.
Dr. Yolanda Kirkham, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Women’s College Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, told Global News menstrual cups are also economical and environmentally friendly compared to other products. She also added they have been around for decades — the versions today just look and feel different.
“They are bell-shaped and they can come in different sizes,” she continued. “It’s usually made with medical-grade silicone.”
There are currently two types in the market: a vaginal cup which is generally bell-shaped, and a cervical cup which is placed around the cervix high in the vagina. Vaginal cups are more popular.
“There’s less risk for toxic shock syndrome that’s seen with the high-absorbent tampons,” she explained.
But for many, there is still an underlying “gross” factor. Kirkham said this is the case for any type of sanitary product — people who use pads may be “grossed” out by tampons and vice versa.
Kirkham said the cups can also be intimidating because of their size. “It does take a little bit of practice to get the right positioning,” she continued. “There also is a little bit of a learning curve in removing the cup.”
For removal, it is advised to pull out the cup using the stem attached to the bottom and pouring the blood into the toilet before inserting it back in.
“It’s quite discreet,” she explained. “Especially places where sanitation is poor or for people who can’t afford tampons or pads… this cup can be $35 and used for up to 10 years.”
You can buy menstrual cups at most major retailers in Canada or online. The DivaCup, one of the most popular brands, is Canadian-made, and other brands include Tampax Cup, EvaCup, Lena and more.
Awareness is key
The report found although there are 199 brands of menstrual cups available in 99 countries, people are still unaware of how to use them or what they are in general.
“Globally, menstruation can affect girls’ schooling and women’s experience of work, increase their disposition to urogenital infections if they use poor quality sanitary products, and even make both women and girls a target of sexual violence or coercion when they don’t have the funds to buy them,” the authors noted.
“There are an increasing number of initiatives in both high- and low-income countries to combat ‘period poverty’, so it is essential that policymakers know which sanitary products to include in menstrual health programs and puberty education materials.”
Kirkham added it all comes down to personal preference and if you have questions, always speak with your doctor.
“Always see a physician if your bleeding is heavy or overflowing,” she said.
There are also resources online including Put A Cup In It PACII, that offers resources and information for anyone interested in using the cup. PACII offers everything from a FAQ to a comparison round-up of popular brands.
Another concern (and a chunk of the report) was focused around health concerns. Kirkham said there have been several studies done around this topic, and there has been no scientific evidence to suggest menstrual cups can cause health issues.
The Lancet report added there was no increased risk of infection with using a cup for European, North American, and African women and girls.
“There were five reported cases of toxic shock syndrome following their use, but the overall number of menstrual cup users is unknown, so it is not possible to make comparisons of the risk of toxic shock syndrome between menstrual cups and other products,” the report added.
“In four studies involving a total of 507 women, use of the menstrual cup showed no adverse effects on vaginal flora. In studies that examined the vagina and cervix during follow-up, no tissue damage was identified from use of a menstrual cup.”
Again, Kirkham added it comes down to the user being comfortable. Menstrual cups can be especially uncomfortable and maybe even painful for women who did not use tampons, haven’t masturbated or are virgins, she added.
“It may take some practice, there may be some difficulty… I recommend people to try it when they don’t have a period at home.”