Menstrual cups are devices that collect menstrual blood internally. Unlike tampons, they do not absorb blood but collect it in a silicone or soft plastic cup. With proper use, they are safe to use.
However, similar to tampons, menstrual cups do have some potential risks, particularly if a person does not use them correctly.
This article looks at some of the potential dangers of using menstrual cups.
Things to Consider
Menstrual cups are generally regarded as safe within the medical community.
Although there are some risks, they’re considered minimal and unlikely to occur when the cup is used as recommended. It’s also important to consider that all menstrual products carry some degree of risk.
It ultimately comes down to finding the product and method that you’re most comfortable with.
Here’s what you need to know about using menstrual cups.
What Are the Potential Risks?
You’re more likely to experience minor irritation from wearing the wrong cup size than you are to develop a severe complication like toxic shock syndrome (TSS).
Understanding how and why these complications occur can help you reduce your overall risk of adverse effects.
Irritation can happen for a number of reasons, and, for the most part, they’re all preventable.
For example, inserting the cup without proper lubrication can cause discomfort.
In many cases, applying a small amount of water-based lube to the outside of the cup can help prevent this. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations on the product packaging for further clarification.
Irritation can also occur if the cup isn’t the right size or if it isn’t cleaned properly between uses. We’ll discuss cup selection and care later in this article.
Infection is a rare complication of menstrual cup use.
If an infection does occur, it’s more likely from the transfer of bacteria on hands to the cup than from the cup itself.
For example, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can develop if bacteria in the vagina — and subsequently vaginal pH — becomes imbalanced.
You can reduce your risk by washing your hands thoroughly with warm water and antibacterial soap before handling the cup.
You should also wash your cup with warm water and a mild, fragrance-free, water-based soap before and after use.
One over-the-counter soap to try is Neutrogena Liquid Soap. Scent-free, oil-free cleansers made for infants are also good alternatives, such as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser or Dermeze Soap-Free Wash.
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare but serious complication that can result from certain bacterial infections.
It occurs when Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria — which naturally exist on your skin, nose, or mouth — are pushed deeper into the body.
TSS is typically associated with leaving a tampon inserted for longer than recommended or wearing a tampon with a higher-than-needed absorbency.
TSS as a result of tampon use is rare. It’s even rarer when using menstrual cups.
Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks?
The general medical consensus is that menstrual cups are safe to use.
As long as you use the cup as directed, your overall risk for adverse side effects is minimal. Some people like them because they’re reusable and don’t have to be changed as often as other products.
If you’ve experienced recurrent vaginal infections and are concerned about increasing your risk, talk to a doctor or other healthcare professional before use.
They can answer any questions you have and may be able to recommend a specific cup or other menstrual product.
Is There Anyone Who Shouldn’t Use a Menstrual Cup?
Although there aren’t any official guidelines around this — most manufacturers recommend cups for all ages and sizes — cups may not be an option for everyone.
You may find it helpful to talk to a healthcare professional before use if you have:
- vaginismus, which can make vaginal insertion or penetration painful
- uterine fibroids, which can cause heavy periods and pelvic pain
- endometriosis, which can result in painful menstruation and penetration
- variations in uterine position, which can affect cup placement
- Having one or more of these conditions doesn’t automatically mean that you can’t use a menstrual cup. It just means that you may experience more discomfort during use.
Your provider can discuss your individual benefits and risks and may be able to guide you on product selection.