A public uproar erupted after civic groups discovered that numerous brands of sanitary pads contain more than 200 types of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including chemicals known to cause cancer-causing such as benzene and stylene. For the past few months, many women reported health problems they have experienced after using the toxic products, such as changes in their menstrual cycle, decreased menstrual flow, and greater menstrual pain.
In fear of such side effects, consumers are shifting to alternative methods such as tampons, organic pads, and menstrual cups. Many are especially interested in purchasing menstrual cups, a hygiene product made of flexible silicone. Similar to a tampon, a menstrual cup is worn inside the vagina during menstruation to catch menstrual fluid. Users are very satisfied with using their cups on their period.
“Though you might have difficulty inserting the cup at first, you get used to it very quickly,” said Lee Ji-eun (alias), a junior studying in Ewha. “A cup can be used up to 10 years, so buying one saves more money than using disposable products. I highly recommend using a menstrual cup during your period.”
However, menstrual cups are banned for manufacture and import in Korea. Recognized as a relatively new product, they are categorized as quasi-drugs and their safety and efficacy are not verified yet. The only way to purchase one is to buy it directly from overseas sellers.
Though menstrual cups are not allowed to be sold yet in Korea, the government may approve them for official import and sales soon. It was announced recently that the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will carry out safety checks on menstrual cups. The menstrual cup currently being tested has now been approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, and it is said there is a high chance that the product will be Korea’s first menstrual cup approved for sale. Though previous media reports said that it will be available for purchase around August, the company that applied for its testing revealed that they expect the menstrual cup to be released around October, as they are still undergoing thorough examination.
More women now are considering menstrual cups for their menstrual products. However, products that have to be inserted in vagina are still considered a taboo in Korean society. In a recent advisory conference held by the Ministry of Food and Drug Administration, a major discussion was about whether a warning that inserting a cup may rupture the hymen should be included in the instruction manual for minors. Misconceptions about menstrual cups also circulate on social media.
“What annoys me the most is when people leave absurd comments on Facebook or online news articles about how they think that using menstrual cups will stretch one's vagina permanently,” Lee said. “It may be because menstrual cups are not yet familiar items in Korea, but such misconception need to be dispelled or more people will believe them, which might also discourage young women from using cups.”
Fortunately, there are endeavors for correcting such misconceptions. In the 19th Seoul Women’s Film Festival, For Vagina’s Sake, a documentary about menstruation, introduced and dealt with menstrual cups. Many also believe that implementing and improving sex education is needed most to provide a better understanding for not only women but the rest of the population as well.
“Before buying my cup, I watched a video about menstrual cups on Facebook, which helped me learn more about it and my body,” Lee said. “Though our school curriculum includes sex education, I believe developing educational contents related to menstrual cups and spreading them via social media will have a greater impact on the public.”