Menstrual Cups: An OB/GYN's Take

Dr. Molly Joseph OB/GYN

Dr. Molly Joseph OB/GYN

Menstrual cups are all the rage right now but are they healthy and safe for your vagina?

It seems to be the talk of social media when comes to period management. Maybe you’ve seen your favorite influencer giving one a try or perhaps someone you know uses them. If you’re like me, the topic may have piqued your interest and made you cringe a little at the same time.

OB/GYN and mother of two, Dr. Molly Joseph, is the lead physician at Lowcountry OB/GYN in Charleston, South Carolina. She is an excellent and highly respected doctor as well as a great resource when it comes to women’s health. She graciously took some time to talk to The Mom Report about the health and safety of this trending topic.

What is your professional opinion on menstrual cups?

Menstrual cups are a great option for patients. Not only for those that don't do well with tampon use or don't like to wear pads but for patients that want to try something new.

The feedback from patients that do use a menstrual cup is all positive. Those with really heavy menses don't have to worry about bleeding through the tampons or the large pads. The cups come in several sizes and the larger cups seem to work well for patients with heavy periods. Some patients find them more convenient because they can leave them in longer throughout the day. They also like not having to worry about always having extra tampons with them, and some say they find them more comfortable than tampons.

Are you seeing an increase in patients using them and what do you think is behind the recent popularity?

I only see a random use of the menstrual cup at this point although I do have patients inquire about them more. With social media, they see more marketing and comments about their use.   For patients that have changes in vaginal discharge and odor after tampon use often inquire about the cup because they are latex free, BPA free, dye free. They are a medical grade non-absorbent silicone so it does not affect the vagina's natural protective pH, microbiome and lubrication.

Menstrual cups were originally designed over 80  years ago actually, but I think the idea of a reusable internal feminine product was not popular. Also, the previous versions were made of rubber and that posed a problem for latex allergies.

Some patients choose them because they are more cost effective in the long run. Also, I think we are in an age where patients are more curious about innovative ideas and are more likely to look past the standard way of how things have always been. There is more education and awareness these days of menses and menstrual hygiene  - so much so that the topic earned an Oscar this past year. Female patients are learning to be more empowered about their bodies.

What are some things women need to think about before giving it a try?

Women need to be comfortable with knowing their female anatomy and inserting and removing the cup. There is a small maneuvering component to using this reusable product. There are videos online of different product models and folding techniques. Patients should definitely watch a few videos to see these techniques first and decide if they are comfortable with it.

The cups typically have to be emptied at least twice a day for a normal menstrual flow so patients need to have the ability to do that during their day.

Patients don't seem comfortable with the insertion and removal of the cup and are concerned regarding spillage if it is full. They are also concerned if they are in a public restroom and they would have to clean it and then reinsert it.

It seems you have to really "get up in there" to use them, is that sanitary?

Inserting the menstrual cup is similar to inserting the NuvaRing vaginal contraceptive ring, which is a contraceptive diaphragm or pessary device that is used for pelvic support. They are all easy to insert after a little practice and use. There are techniques in inserting and removing the cup so there is no spillage of the menstrual blood. The online videos demonstrate them well.  The cup actually sits lower in the vagina than a tampon and is not pressed against the cervix. When the cup is positioned correctly, there is a small suction that has formed.

Patients do need to know that there is still a small risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome even with the menstrual cups. The collection of menstrual blood can theoretically create a place for the Staph Aureus bacteria to build upon the cup so patients need to be diligent about cleaning their cups as the manufacturer recommends. Most cups can be used up to 5 years if properly taken care of.

They also seem hard to place and remove. Is there a risk of damaging your vagina in any way?

You cannot damage your vagina but you do need to take proper care and cleaning of the cup per the manufacturer guidelines.

Are they any better or worse for our vaginas than a tampon?

The menstrual cups might be better for those patients who like to wear tampons but are bothered by recurrent bacterial vaginosis or vaginal discharge with tampon use. Occasionally we do see patients that may have a retained tampon and it is not likely you would ever retain menstrual cup!

Overall, do you think they are a good option for women?

Yes! Menstrual cups are a great option for women that want an alternative to our current tampon and pad products.

So there you have it, ladies. If you have ever been curious about the menstrual cup, I hope this answers any of the questions you might have.

A huge thank you to Dr. Joseph for taking the time out of her extraordinarily busy schedule to educate us on menstrual cups. Make sure you check her out on Twitter!