FEMTECH FOCUS: Can social media increase menstrual cup acceptance and usage?

FEMTECH FOCUS: Can social media increase menstrual cup acceptance and usage?

About Rachael

Rachael is studying psychology at the University of Adelaide. She brings a unique problem solving and creativity focus to her research, derived from her background in design-thinking – and is passionate about research with real-world application and the potential for positive change.


FEMTECH FOCUS: Can social media increase menstrual cup acceptance and usage?

Menstrual cups have been available since the 1930s - just as long as tampons; and offer superior economic, social and environmental benefits. So why are awareness and usage levels so low? 

Recent studies have identified a knowledge gap around menstrual health, and an even greater knowledge gap around menstrual cups. According to psychological learning and behaviour change theory, it’s not just what we learn, but how we learn that is important. My research draws on social cognitive theory, amplified by social media, to create a compelling femtech intervention seeking to increase acceptance and usage of menstrual cups in adolescent Australians.


Menstrual cups may just be the silver-bullet of menstrual hygiene products.
The economic and environmental benefits of menstrual cups are staggering. Lasting as long as ten years, one study found that menstrual cups constitute as little as 5% of the purchase price and 0.4% of the plastic waste of non-organic, disposable pads and tampons over a ten-year period. In a world where period poverty translates to loss of schooling and employment globally; and plastics account for 3.8% of greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycle – this is a game-changer for current and future generations.

And if we consider the superior convenience of menstrual cups, needing to be changed only once every 8 hours on average – you might think that switching to menstrual cups is a no-brainer.

Yet awareness of menstrual cups in high-income countries is low - including Australia.  
Recent research has found that only 11-33% of women in high-income countries were aware of menstrual cups, and only 30% of puberty and menstrual education websites contained information on menstrual cups. These trends extend to Australian young people aged 7-22 years, with findings from a 2021 study indicating that Australian school education focuses on why we have a period, and available period products - but not how to use them. Unsurprisingly, this group is most likely to use, or consider using, period products they know most about, being disposable products – pads (94%), liners (77%), and tampons (66%). Only 4% currently use menstrual cups, and nearly 1 in 3 are unwilling to ever use one. So, the knowledge gap is a key barrier to menstrual cup use.

Focusing on how we learn is the key to behaviour change – and may unlock greater acceptance and use of menstrual cups.  
Tennis legend and sports anti-sexism activist, Billie Jean King, made famous the phrase “You have to see it to be it”. Just as King used these powerful words to convey the importance of female role models to motivate further female participation in sport, learning from role models can predict behaviour change in a range of areas - known as vicarious reinforcement in psychological learning and behaviour change theory. The theory is very simple – we learn from observing role models in action, and the likelihood of imitating their behaviour is increased when we witness it being rewarded or reinforced.

Femtech: A social media intervention to support adolescent transition to menstrual cups.
My research draws on a new approach to menstrual cup education, using specified social media content that covers the what, why and how of menstrual cups. It leverages the powerful effect of social media influencers and personalities as role models to adolescent females, their popularity viewed as a reward for the actions and attitudes they promote - a desired commodity amongst adolescents. Social media is a compelling platform for this intervention, with high adolescent usage rates, and preferred for accessing sensitive, personal, health information due to presumed privacy and anonymity.

In practice, this intervention may be likened to having a trusted friend privately coach you through the transition to menstrual cups – realising benefits on an individual-level now, and on a societal level for generations to come.

Contact the author to access the full research paper.


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