28 Apr 2018

Period poverty: could menstrual cups be the answer?

From This Way Up, 12:15 pm on 28 April 2018

Menstruation can be a tricky topic to discuss. 

For a start the language we use can be confusing and potentially harmful – 'sanitary products' imply the whole thing is dirty and needs to be cleaned up when in reality it's a natural process that many of us experience. 

Olie Body from Wā Collective is trying to change the way we talk about periods. 

She's worked with women in India trying to improve their access to menstrual products, and now wants to tackle period poverty in New Zealand using the menstrual cup, a simple device patented nearly 100 years ago which has never really taken off. 


New research about menstrual cups, and, in particular, the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) was released after we conducted this interview. 

A French study published in the journal 'Applied and Environmental Biology' suggests that the risk of TSS could actually be greater when you use a menstrual cup rather than a tampon.

That's because if it's not properly sterilised between uses, the harmful bacteria implicated in toxic shock seems to be better able to grow around and also adhere to a menstrual cup.

A few things to note about this new study: these tests were conducted in the lab under artificial conditions designed to replicate the human body, TSS can be deadly but is thankfully very rare and the risk is low, and nobody is saying that menstrual cups are inherently unsafe and you need to stop using them altogether.

But the study recommends sterilising a menstrual cup in boiling water between uses, and not just rinsing it between uses and sterilising it between periods. So to do this you are going to need to own two cups. 

We asked Olie Body for her comments.

She replied "....We are aware of the study and have issued a reminder to our clients about proper hygiene and care for their menstrual cups. Our cups are made to the highest standard from medical grade silicone in the USA. There have only been two recorded cases of TSS associated with menstrual cup use globally, ever, and these were with people who did not follow recommended use.  All intravaginal menstrual products come with a risk of TSS and this study is a reminder of how important hygiene is. It's really integral that studies like these are done so that consumers are kept safe. We look forward to further research in this space to provide more clarity."