Is This High-Tech Menstrual Cup The Future Of Period Protection?

While visions of the future include flying cars, sustainable life in outer space, and lots of metallic fashion, very few are talking about the really important stuff — period technology. Thankfully, the future is here and now, and many companies are finally realizing that they can be successful by catering to a huge percentage of the population that bleeds once a month. Said population, it turns out, is also more than ready for the impending revolution.

For many years, folks who bled monthly had to make do with either tampons or pads, the products that continue to rule the market when it comes to menstruation hygiene. But while these products can be great for some people, others are demanding more from a world that invented driver-less cars.

For many, the deviation from disposable pads and tampons is actually a throwback to the time before plastic applicators and pads with wings — reusable pads. Companies like Lunapads and GladRags offer reusable, washable, cloth pads that many women seem to prefer over disposables. But even these tried-and-true methods are changing with the times. Lunapads now offers Lunapanties, which are underwear with absorbent cores that allow you to go tampon- or pad-free during lighter days. They also offer extra protection while using a tampon or menstrual cup.

Another new company, THINX, also offers technology-infused underwear for people with periods, and they are getting a big boost from their viral, diverse (and occasionally controversial) marketing campaigns.

Curious to see what all the fuss was about, writer Carrie Murphy gave it a whirl:

“They are amazing quality and don’t feel at all like wearing a pad — they hold way more flow than you think they do and they look totally like normal underwear. They are crazy absorbent so you don’t even really see or feel the blood during your period. You honestly barely even see it when you wash them, either. I use THINX for the first few light days of my period, then switch to a menstrual cup, wash the THINX, and then go back to THINX for the last few days of light flow and spotting. So, I have basically eliminated all disposable menstrual products from my life. I feel so free!”

Many echo Murphy’s praise of the underwear. In fact, it’s on the radar for those who specialize in reproduction. Dr. Jacqueline Kates, an obstetrician/gynecologist from western Massachusetts, recommends products like THINX and Lunapanties to patients, as she finds that they’re great in a variety of situations. “For those who leak through, or have concerns about leaking through, this will catch the overflow and avoid staining clothing,” she says. They’re also great for “ . . . some of my patients who have more difficulty with hygiene (developmental or physical disability, etc.). And they are useful for women with small amounts of urinary incontinence, as well.” Dr. Kates notes that since the underwear are cotton, they’re much less irritating on the skin than pantyliners. And, these underwear can be worn while using another, newer(ish) method of period blood collection: the cup.

The menstrual cup was one of the first products to deviate from the norm in containing the monthly flow. The flexible, silicone cup has actually been circulating in use in varying forms since the 1930s, but it’s seen a resurgence since the late ’80s, when The Keeper made its first appearance. Since then, there have been a few more iterations, including the ever-popular DivaCup, which seems to have a particularly dedicated fanbase. “You can wear it all damn day without having any leaks,” gushes DivaCup devotee Amelia McDonell-Parry. “I ruined so many pairs of underwear while using tampons, but the DivaCup safely stays up there all day and never leaks. The cup is convenient, especially for me, as I never seem to have tampons in my bathroom when I need them, but I always have the DivaCup.” McDonell-Parry sums up the benefits that many cup users have shared.

diva cup
The one and only DivaCup (Credit: flickr/menstruationstasse.net)

Dr. Kates feels that the cup is great for many reasons, and while not for everyone, she notes that the women who are willing to try them are typically very satisfied. In addition to the benefits that McDonell-Parry shared, Dr. Kates says that the cup is often much better for “ . . . women more prone to yeast or bacterial infections. Since it collects and doesn’t absorb, it doesn’t alter the vaginal pH in the same way.”

Yet all these options, though revolutionary in their own way, lack an element that may truly usher in a new era for menstrual products: technology.

Using Technology To Reimagine Periods

What about a menstrual cup that has all the benefits of the one you love, but is also connected to an app so you’ll know when it’s close to being full, how much you’ve shed, and more? Is that the period protection of the future we were never promised? Enter LOONCUP. Billing itself as “the world’s first smart (bluetooth connected) menstrual cup, and funded via an overwhelming successful Kickstarter, LOONCUP’s goal is to give women the tools and analytics they need to better understand and monitor their bodies, using metrics from menstruation as a key indicator.

Like The Keeper or DivaCup, LOONCUP is a medical-grade silicone cup, but it has some technological modifications that set it apart from the rest. A bluetooth device is embedded in the cup, which transmits data to an app you can download on your smartphone. It can alert you to how much menstrual fluid you’re producing and whether or not the cup is close to being full.

On the cutting-edge of technology? Sure. But will people buy into it? DivaCup fan McDonell-Parry is on the fence.

“I don’t think it would be useful to me, as I have a super regular, chill period and I’m not, like, looking to get pregnant or anything,” she says. However, the allure of the technology might just sway her.

“One of the things that I dig about the cup in general is that it kind of demystifies certain things about menstruation — for example, tampons and how little they actually absorb make it seem like a woman bleeds more than she probably actually does, because they have to be changed so often. But the cup literally lets you see how much you’re bleeding each day. I don’t know, I think it’s cool! So if the LOONCUP could tell me more little factoids about my period, I think I would find that fun and interesting.”

While the information could be interesting to the person bleeding, it’s not something that will be necessarily groundbreaking for doctors. “I personally don’t think this would be tremendously useful to me as a physician,” Dr. Kates tells The Establishment. “Typically, as long as women keep good bleeding diaries, I can utilize that in conjunction with blood counts to determine how much blood is actually being lost.” She also notes that the stem of the cup cannot be cut (due to the location of the technology), which can be disconcerting to the majority of women who prefer to cut the stems of regular menstrual cups for comfort. Another downside is the battery life. As of now, it only lasts six months long and is not replaceable, requiring you to purchase another cup to make the app part useful. But, like many things related to new technology, it will be interesting to see how the LOONCUP evolves, and equally importantly, how it impacts other new products in the coming years.

The LOONCUP began its shipment process this month. While we wait to see how it plays out in the marketplace, we can continue dreaming up all sorts of technological innovations that might one day make our periods easier, and ideally, less expensive to deal with.

After all, if mankind can invent the Internet, why can’t it assist half the world’s population instead of inconveniencing them with bullshit taxes on a bodily function?

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