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LOONCUP the “Smart” menstrual cup is a Kickstarter Staff Pick. A GYN says it’s all wrong.

Every few weeks someone e-mails me the latest vaginocentric Kickstarter campaign to review. I was first alerted to this week’s contestant, LOONCUP, by Morgan Shanahan from BuzzFeed. She asked my opinion and I will confess, I laughed out loud watching the video. Then I showed it to two more
OB/GYNs who shared my mix of WTF? Why? and Is this a Saturday Night Live commercial? And then we all felt sad, because people gave money for this.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 10.02.18 AM

Everything about the Loon Cup is wrong. Here’s why.

First, the idea that a woman needs to track the color of her menstrual blood or whether she had clots or know precisely her menstrual volume is incorrect. Some women get hung up on the color of the blood or whether there are clots (possibly because of this exact kind of misinformation), but they don’t signify anything medically. Knowing the precise amount of menstrual blood is also unnecessary and is a bit like missing the forest for not even the trees but grains of sand on the ground. It’s a level of detail that isn’t needed. Ever. If a woman is bleeding heavily she will tell her doctor she is soaking though her menstrual pad every hour for several hours or needs to wear a pad and a tampon to get through a movie. If you don’t have a low blood count (anemia) and you can go 2-3 hours between changing a menstrual product (not because it’s gross, but because it’s soaked) then your period isn’t too heavy medically.

Women can tell the color of their menstrual blood and if they have clots by looking at their pad/underwear/looking in the toilet/looking at the floor as they go between the toilet and the shower/standing in the shower. Thinking blue tooth technology will augment vision makes me wonder if anyone on the project has actually had a period or seen blood and if any women work at Kickstarter.

The cup can only communicate with your smart phone if the antenna is “just outside your body.” How far out? Just outside the vaginal opening at the vestibule or outside the labia? I can’t imagine that a flexible (I hope) antenna rubbing on the vestibule or labia will be anything but irritating or even painful (lots of nerve endings here!). I have a hard time imagining myself “Killing it at work” (LOONCUP’s words, not mine) all the while getting poked by a vaginal antenna, never mind swimming or sitting on an bike. I mean really. Also, given the rendering and prototype it looks like the cup will have to sit very low in the vagina for the antenna to stick out and this will also be uncomfortable. Will this be affected by body size as women who are overweight often have larger labia majora?

DivaCup insertion technique

DivaCup insertion technique

I am concerned about the design. I see they have a video that shows insertion and removal technique, but the prototype looks like a modified version of a cup already on the market. Real world insertion isn’t always a slick fold ‘n pop, so what if you crunch the antenna? Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 11.04.21 AM
How can they claim it is safe when it hasn’t been tested? What if the antenna gets exposed or the battery?

The battery lasts 6 months so if you want to keep tracking this unnecessary information you will need to buy one twice a year. Take good care of your regular menstrual cup and you might get 2-3 years (or even more).

The big bonus of menstrual cups is that they reduce the landfill of pads and tampons, but the LOONCUP will add to the environmental footprint of a menstrual cup not only by the number needed (4-6 for each DivaCup), but the added antenna and battery discarded with each cup.

As L.V. Anderson from Slate points out menstrual cups are FDA regulated as Class II medical devices. To get approved for sale in the United States the makers will have to prove it is equivalent to what’s on the market, but it isn’t so it will require approval. Approval requires a lot more money than what they have raised so far on Kickstarter. I doubt any US backers who pledged $30 or more will actually get the cup they were promised before they reach menopause for this reason.

Not being able to boil it for cleaning isn’t a big deal. We tell women to clean pessaries and vibrators with soap and water, but I’m not sure how a blue tooth antenna will hold up to twice a day soap and water for 6 days or so each month. Little nicks in the tip where the antenna will supposedly sit are bound to happen.

The only potential application might be research, but they would likely have to pay women to wear it given the protruding antenna. Currently when we study menstrual blood loss we weigh pads before and after and that works pretty well. Could this cup be better? Who knows.

I’m all for people funding whatever they want for whatever reason, but by selecting LOONCUP as a “staff pick” Kickstarter have shown they have little concern about whether a product can even go to market (never mind be safe or work). Perhaps they are more concerned about their 5% or PR because when you mix vagina and tech it seems like the perfect recipe for attention.

My opinion is the LOONCUP is an answer to a question no one is asking (or needs to ask) and has some potential comfort and safety concerns and the chance it will come to market is very slim.

Backer beware.

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion

17 thoughts on “LOONCUP the “Smart” menstrual cup is a Kickstarter Staff Pick. A GYN says it’s all wrong.

  1. I’ve been writing about this as well, but from a point of PHI.

    I’ve spent over a decade in medical IT now, and I can’t even fathom that this data would *not* be considered protected health information. The response I received from the makers was a pretty generic “Security is important to us. We will never sell your data to 3rd parties”.

    Hahahaaaaaa. Dr. Jen, want to tell the good folks here what happens when any PHI is lost? Through data breaches of a sort that are inevitable with a product like this?

    Posted by ruggerducky | October 10, 2015, 12:17 pm
    • OK then explain to me how the device maker would be a covered entity under HIPAA?

      Posted by Tim | October 10, 2015, 10:26 pm
      • Tim, they would be a covered entity because they are linking names and other identifiers with personal health data.

        Depending on what the Fed says, they would either be a “Health Care Clearing House” as “This includes entities that process nonstandard health information they receive from another entity into a standard (i.e., standard electronic format or data content), or vice versa.”:

        Or they are a “Health Care Provider” since they claim to be providing a medical device to track your data with suggestions about medical use of the data. Covered under “if they transmit any information in an electronic form in connection with a transaction for which HHS has adopted a standard.”

        Posted by ruggerducky | October 13, 2015, 8:22 am
  2. Can I just say though, the one pad per hour thing, I wish it would die. Or become more nuanced. I had an iud complication where there was excessive blood loss and it had to be removed. And then the removal also caused excessive bleeding. Both times the on call nurse was so obsessed with the one pad an hour thing, even though I told her I’d gone through a diva cup (which I tried to implore surely is equivalent) in an hour, she told me to go buy some heavy pads (I only had light ones). *Before* they’d see me. And I passed out from blood loss at the grocery store parking lot preparing to buy these stupid pads. Anyway. I quit that practice after that appointment.

    Posted by Laura | October 10, 2015, 3:18 pm
  3. This is plain dangerous, worse than the IUD and potentially as dangerous as Essure, made by Bayer. Never put anything in your vagina that you can’t easily remove by yourself. Infection is practically guaranteed.

    Posted by Gail Moore | October 10, 2015, 4:18 pm
  4. No no no, not ever

    >

    Posted by petalsf | October 10, 2015, 4:23 pm
  5. I switched to a menstrual cup last year, and it has been fantastic. I’m not sure I need one with an antenna, but most of your arguments about position/insertion/etc. seem just anti-cup in general. I switched after years of heavy periods that necessitated maxi tampons/pads worn together. Never got good follow up. When I started being able to measure amount, like “30 cc in an hour and a half” my doctor was suddenly more interested. Just heavy bleeding, even with anemia, was blown off. Regardless, the cups hold more and don’t leak like tampons, so what’s not to like?

    Posted by RevMommy | October 10, 2015, 5:20 pm
    • No I’m not anti cup at all. I have several posts on menstrual cups and none are negative.

      Many women have issues getting a cup in. Some have issues with tampons. Others hate pads. But this post isn’t anti cup, it’s anti untested tech that could cause issues, will likely be uncomfortable if it even works, and is unlikely to get a pass from the FDA so people (women I assume) in the U.S. who backed it are unlikely to see product. That IMO means product is poorly researched and ill conceived.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | October 10, 2015, 5:55 pm
  6. Y’all know the looncup is satire, right?

    Posted by Carley Scott | October 11, 2015, 5:20 pm
  7. As if I need patients to tell me about their periods in even more detail than they already do… Now they’re going to bring in spreadsheets about their flow and color.

    Posted by K.S. | October 13, 2015, 12:32 am
  8. No doctor has ever, ever asked me how heavy my period is. (The only time I’ve heard the one pad an hour thing is when I was heavily bleeding right before my son was born and didn’t get taken seriously in part because of the fogginess of the pad an hour measurement. I’m not at all sure I didn’t have a mild abruption, and my hematocrit dropped by almost half between when I presented in labor and the next day. I found that out three years later, when I ordered my hospital records. Great OB care, huh?) I’m interested to hear at what point that is of medical interest, if you want to write about it at some point.

    I agree this device is seriously loony.

    Posted by bionicbrooklynite | October 13, 2015, 7:48 am
  9. Jen – Now WebMD (article reviewed by a Dr. BrunildaNazario) is joining in the discussion. The article ends up suggesting “Or you can buy handmade, washable cotton menstrual pads from one of thousands of sellers on Etsy, better-known for crafts and vintage items. Sellers promote them as being better for both the body and the planet.”

    Interesting —- I remember my mother discussing menstrual pads. When she was growing up, she lived in a house of women. (My uncle and grandfather had both died.) There were 7 women in the house — all between the ages of 14 and 55 – and all menstruating. They washed a LOT of pads.
    From her description, I’m not sure I’d want to go back to that.

    http://www.webmd.com/women/news/20151102/tampons-sanitary-pads-safety?ecd=wnl_nal_110315&ctr=wnl-nal-110315_nsl-ld-stry&mb=cuLjf5cBCOMLxw20Mu1jLOHnVev1imbCkywSTCPsl8E%3d

    Posted by Melissa Barthold | November 4, 2015, 12:24 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: It’s not a “smart” menstrual cup. It’s loony! | On My Period - October 19, 2015

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