Popular Science

Menstrual cups were invented in 1867. What took them so long to gain popularity?

Today, people with periods can choose between dozens of menstrual cups—bell-shaped silicon containers, meant to capture blood during menses, available for purchase online or in-stores.
Menstrual cups were one of the first technologies proposed as a solution to dealing with monthly periods. So why are they only catching on now?
Menstrual cups were one of the first technologies proposed as a solution to dealing with monthly periods. So why are they only catching on now? (Wikimedia Commons/)

Are you a Dutchess, a Diva, or a Pixie? Do you Blossom like a flower, or are you more of a Saalt of the earth kind of gal? Perhaps ‘Lunette’ better captures your dreamy, moonlike bodily fluctuations.

Today, people with periods can choose between dozens of menstrual cups—bell-shaped silicon containers, meant to capture blood during menses, available for purchase online or in-stores.

The product has arguably never been more popular. The global market for menstrual cups has been estimated at between $46 million and at $1.4 billion by 2023. Scientists also recently tested the cup's benefits: In a July review of 43 studies, researchers concluded the cups are safe, effective, and more environmentally-friendly than disposable menstrual products like tampons and pads. Online, customer reviews exalt, "FREE AT LAST!" and "Why is it a secret? Why aren't we telling EVERYONE?"

Advocates for menstrual cups say the product is the future of period care—but few realize that the innovation is no secret at all. It's actually as old as the notion of menstrual hygiene itself. The first cups were invented in 1867, predating the first pads by a decade and the first modern commercial tampons by more than a half century. Some 150 years later, cups may be more mainstream, but certainly not widespread (studies suggest only between 11 and 33 percent of women surveyed are aware of menstrual cups).

“Because menstruation is so shrouded in shame and secrecy, we don’t socialize people to be curious about it as a bodily process. It’s presented as a problem to solve,” says Chris Bobel, an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Menstrual cups were one of the first technologies proposed as

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