Menstrual cups have grown popular over the past few years, mainly because they’re kinder to the environment than pads and tampons. But in a relatively new trend, women who are trying to conceive are turning to menstrual cups to help them get pregnant. Although there’s no research to support the theory that menstrual cups aid fertility, some couples say the practice was effective for them — and even certain doctors have suggested giving this method a try. Others, however, are raising safety concerns about this DIY fertility device.
First things first: Why and how would a menstrual cup aid fertility? Dr. Hodon Mohamed, a board certified OB-GYN, explains that a crucial meeting between the sperm and the egg triggers “the dance of fertilization to take place,” and this is how pregnancy occurs. “It takes just one sperm to do this; however, the path to get there is not easy,” Mohamed tells SheKnows. After ejaculation into a vagina, there can be millions of sperm swimming to the target of the egg — but this requires swimming in the right direction and over “rough terrain.”
“The menstrual cups can help to be near the cervix, which is the doorway into the uterus, instead of having the sperm be all around,” Mohamed says. “Some place the menstrual cup right after ejaculation within the vagina and others place the sperm sample into the vagina near the cervix.” She emphasizes that the menstrual cup method isn’t a “fix” for infertility, and it’s best to consult with your OB-GYN before trying it.
While doctors like Mohamed recommend exercising caution, others say the practice can be potentially dangerous and advise against trying it at all. Dr. Felice Gersh, an OB-GYN and founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, tells SheKnows that articles touting this method are full of testimonials from couples, but science is conspicuously absent. Gersh says articles like these should prompt real scientific studies — but until then, she considers the method ineffective at best and harmful at worst.
Although it’s true that sperm typically live five days in a woman, allowing for conception to occur a few days after intercourse, Gersh says it’s not true that sperm can live and thrive in a menstrual cup for that period of time. “In fact, having sperm and semen sit in a menstrual cups for days would certainly add risk for overgrowth of toxic bacteria and promote bacterial vaginitis,” she explains.
After ejaculation into a vagina, Gersh says the sperm rapidly travel into the uterus and then into the fallopian tubes. “It’s within the tubes that the sperm likely are alive and are awaiting the arrival of the egg. Certainly they are not in the vagina waiting,” she explains. “In fact, we know that by six hours, all vaginally located sperm are dead.”
Gersh explains that she’s seen claims that once sperm and semen are together in the cup, they somehow align their movement to swim directly into the uterus. “The menstrual cup does not cause them to swim in the right direction,” she says, emphasizing that there is no data to back up this claim.
Ultimately, Gersh says that “standard-issue sex is the order of the day to conceive,” and couples experiencing infertility issues should consult with an OB-GYN and/or a reproductive endocrinologist. “Don’t think that menstrual cups are harmless,” she advises. “They can result in an infection when used for fertility purposes and science simply does not support their use.”
Gersh says she’s certainly open to modifying her views and recommendations if future studies show that menstrual cups can indeed aid fertility. In the meantime, her advice is “safety above all” — and the research currently available indicates that this could potentially be a harmful practice that results in infections and doesn’t get you any closer to your goal of conceiving.