Menstrual Cups Are Not the Period Dream We've Been Sold

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Menstraul cupsSometimes it sucks being a woman. I'm not going to deny it. Every lady out there is looking for the magic bullet, the promise to make the period less pain in the neck, more minor inconvenience. 

And along came the menstrual cup. Little silicone cups that catch your menstrual blood. No huge diaper-like contraption between your legs. No killing trees and filling landfills with those tampons and their cardboard applicators. Sounds like a dream come true, right? So why haven't we heard of them before?

They've been around for decades, but the beauty of blogging has brought them back out in the last year or two as the be all and end all. The silicone cups you stick up your vag every month are the new "if you're not doing it, you're just not cool." Welcome to peer pressure Internet-style. With all the lovely lady bloggers singing their praises, you just want to jump on that cup bandwagon, right? NOT SO FAST.

I was all gung ho after reading a particularly funny blog by a woman I love to read, who I would say I trust. She was giving her lay opinion, but it sounded good. Then I asked MY mother, who is a nurse practitioner, why she hadn't told me about these. She gave me an emphatic "no," followed by a recommendation that I talk to an OB/GYN.

So I did. The Stir asked New York City-based OB/GYN Deborah Ottenheimer, MD, to dish the dirt on the safety concerns of a menstrual cup. 

Turns out there's a reason your mom didn't tell you about the cup when you were 13 and moaning over a toilet. They're no magic bullet. The biggest concern is infection. If you're an office worker who is going to be taking her cup out to dump it, you need to be able to wash it AND your hands right away -- otherwise your dirty hands on the cup are sending germs back up into your body. But that's just the beginning of what you need to consider.

If you're debating a cup, keep this list from Dr. Ottenheimer in mind:

  • Washing them is super important; otherwise, they are, as you suspect, prime carriers of infections. They also get smelly. Discoloration is unavoidable and doesn't mean that they are dirty.
  • The toxic shock risk is low, as it is for tampons. but, as with tampons, menstrual cups shouldn't be left in place for more than 8 hours.
  • Really only for use during heavier days. Care has to be taken in placing and removing them if you are not bleeding much -- latex on dry skin and dry vaginas can be quite painful. (Ditto for younger women and/or newly sexually active -- just not that much room to have the cup in place comfortably.)
  • Some women will find that the stem of the cup sticks out in a very uncomfortable way. There are several shapes available. It will be sort of trial and error if she is really committed to this idea.
  • Disposal of the blood is a potential problem in public spaces. I'm not sure it's socially acceptable to dump a cup of menstrual blood down the sink in a public bathroom or at work. It can also be rather messy for the beginner ... spillage as you take the cup from the toilet to the sink and the like.

Do you use a cup? What's your take on this list?


Image via Greencolander/Flickr

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