There is an effective, eco-friendly option for menstruating people, and not many people know it, research shows.
They’ve been around since the 1930s, and yet, many menstruating people aren’t familiar with the alternative to pads and tampons: the menstrual cup.
They are safe and efficient, and can save money and reduce waste and water use, according to a study published Tuesday in the medical journal The Lancet Public Health, but they are not well known to women.
“In any impoverished set of circumstances whether in Liverpool, London or anywhere else in low- and middle-income countries, people really struggle – women and girls really struggle to be able to manage their periods, ”and menstrual cups may be part of the solution, said Penelope Phillips-Howard, lead author of the study, who analyzed 43 international articles.
Menstrual cups “are incredibly, you know, good and useful and a product that has been under-recognized and undervalued,” Phillips-Howard, professor of public health epidemiology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, told CNN. “But beyond that, there’s the bigger picture which is menstrual health, or menstrual hygiene – it’s been so neglected internationally.”
Menstruation is a part of the lives of 1.9 billion girls and women around the world. When women cannot afford adequate menstrual products, this is called period of poverty, they suffer serious consequences, such as missing school.
If women resort to poor-quality sanitation products, it can increase their risk of infections, the study says. Girls in low- and middle-income countries report using materials such as rags, cotton, tissue paper or disposable towels to manage their period, according to the study.
How menstrual cups stack up
Menstrual cups are inserted into the vagina when a woman has her period, but the fluid is collected in a cup rather than absorbed. Cups typically need to be emptied every six hours, but can last longer, Phillips-Howard said.
When it comes to leaks, the report found that menstrual cups are just as effective as more commonly used products, such as sanitary napkins and tampons. Specifically, four studies including 293 participants determined that leakage was similar among these three products, with one of the studies reporting significantly less leakage in menstrual cup users than in tampon users.
European, North American and African women and girls did not experience an increased risk of infection from menstrual cup use, according to the analysis of adult chat site.
However, women said they needed multiple menstrual cycles to become familiar with the menstrual cup, according to the study.
The analysis also revealed that in 13 cases, taking a menstrual cup was linked to intrauterine device dislodge. The authors say more research is needed to use an IUD with a menstrual cup.
Due to the limited number of reports of menstrual cup use, other potential issues could have been missed, according to the authors.
The paper, partially funded by the UK government, includes the results of 43 international studies, which cover more than 3,300 participants from low-, middle- and high-income countries. However, some of the studies included in the review were classified as low quality and some had not been peer reviewed.
The authors found that awareness of optional menstrual cups is low. Three studies in high-income countries showed that between 11% and 33% of women were familiar with the product. The study found that less than half – 30% – of 69 international websites with educational material on puberty mentioned the menstrual cup.
“For consumers who buy menstrual products, the results show that menstrual cups are a safe and cost-effective option,” wrote Julie Hennegan, associate researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a commentary published alongside the research. .
“Crucially,” wrote Hennegan, who was not involved in the study, “their findings indicate that menstrual education resources do not provide a comprehensive overview of products to support informed choices.”
An economical alternative that respects the environment
Researchers found 199 brands of menstrual cups available in 99 countries, with prices ranging from under $ 1 to over $ 46, according to the study.
Menstrual cups can last up to a decade because they are made of medical grade silicone, rubber or latex.
If prices remained constant over 10 years, women who used a $ 23 menstrual cup would save 95% of what they would likely spend on sanitary napkins and about 93% of what they would likely spend on tampons during that time, according to the researchers’ calculations. .
Women can also reduce plastic waste by using a menstrual cup. One cup produces about 0.4% of the plastic waste that single-use tampons accumulate, or 6% of that created by tampons in 10 years, according to the journal’s calculations. The researchers noted that their estimates had some limitations and did not take production costs into account.
Water can also be saved. A menstrual cup “hardly needs water, so it’s very good in arid areas,” said Camilla Wirseen, CEO of the nonprofit. The Cup Foundation, which provides menstrual cups and education for girls in parts of Africa.
Since its inception in 2015, the California-based nonprofit has reached around 15,000 girls aged 11 and 16 in Kenya, according to its website.
While working on another project in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2012, Wirseen told CNN she learned about girls having sex to access towels. She said the experience inspired her to create the Cup Foundation.
A 2015 study conducted in rural western Kenya by Phillips-Howard found that one in 10 girls aged 15 and under engaged in sex for money to buy sanitary napkins. That figure is likely an underestimate, said Phillips-Howard, who has served on the Board of Directors of the Cup Foundation since 2017.
For Wirseen, that meant the girls needed a solution – an immediate and lasting solution. The menstrual cup “saves money, it’s good for the environment, there is no waste.” Women can also run and swim when using one, Wirseen said.
“It’s a fantastic solution,” said Wirseen.
But not one without challenges. “It’s a little scary to start using it, it requires a change in behavior,” she explained.
In countries where cloths or sanitary napkins are typically used during menstruation, insertion – which tampon users are familiar with – “is not a common thing,” Wirseen said. That’s why her group spends time educating girls and their communities about the safety and use of menstrual cups. Lessons also focus on sexual health and human rights, and misconceptions about women’s bodies and gender.
“The only way to break a taboo is to talk about it, and the menstrual cup is actually a really good way to start this discussion,” Wirseen said.