When I first saw the Kickstarter campaign for Looncup, “the world’s first SMART menstrual cup” I dismissed it immediately as ridiculous. Who can resist making iBleed jokes?
But it’s one thing for a South Korean man named Ryong Hwang to develop a way to stick an antenna up his girlfriend’s vagina, it’s another when over 3,000 backers pledge almost $150,000 with only ten days to go, a whole slew of mainstream media outlets herald it as the best thing that’s ever happened to menstruation, and Kickstarter itself declares it a Staff Pick. It’s like the world has gone loony!
Loon Lab, Inc., based in San Francisco and Seoul, embedded into the base of a silicone menstrual cup a sensor, a non-rechargeable battery and a Bluetooth antenna that communicates with a mobile app to tell the user how full the cup is, remind her when to refresh, and tracks her menstrual blood volume, color and cycles. Imagine the possibilities of auto-posting #LiveTweetYourPeriod updates!
The main problem with this particular piece of wearable tech is that all this data is non-essential. Loon Lab co-founder Kate Lee tries to spin the potential benefits of this precise (over)analyzing of menstruation by citing more efficient diagnosis of uterine fibroids or premature ovarian failure but OB-GYN Dr. Jen Gunter is not buying it. “It’s a level of detail that isn’t needed. Ever.”
Without being able to satisfy my question of “Why?” I can’t see putting up with the more design-oriented problems with the Looncup.
The antenna is built into the stem at the base of the cup, and instructions state that in order for the antenna to work, it has to remain outside the vagina, a departure from the way “sane” menstrual cups are inserted all the way in. I happen to find my DivaCup very comfortable all the way inside me, and would hate to have a silicone nub sticking out from between my labia. I’m not sure what kind of maneuvers one can do to keep the Looncup from riding deeper in or the gadgetry from being damaged while being folded and squeezed into the vagina, but I’m not backing them to find out.
The battery is non-rechargeable, and is predicted to last about 6 months. Despite suggestions from potential backers to use induction technology with a rechargeable battery, Loon Lab is releasing Looncup 1.0 as is, expecting their backers to be satisfied with a “dumb” cup after the battery runs out in 6 cycles, or hey, buy several! It’s only non-biodegradable and contains parts that make it a toxic disposal to the environment. “Sane” menstrual cups last years with proper care, giving the user a hell of a lot more wear for the environmental and financial cost.
Boiling the Looncup is forbidden, as is wearing it while passing through airport security, obvious limitations presented by the technology built into it.
Loon Lab states “no adverse health effects directly related to signal,” but there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies to back it up. The FDA has recently given the go-ahead for menstrual cups to be marketed without prior notification requirements, but not if it has a substantially different characteristic, like say, an antenna, battery and sensor built into it. Of course, it may only be a matter of time and several million dollars before FDA approves the sale of the Looncup, despite WHO concerns about electromagnetic fields and public health.
What is heartening about this campaign, however, is the way mainstream media has normalized the menstrual cup to the general public. Note that Looncup’s marketing bullet points list advantages that have nothing to do with the gadgetry built into it. All the points apply to all menstrual cups, with a couple more pros for a cup sans tech.
Make wise choices for your body. The smarter menstrual cup is the one you already have. Curious about trying one? Check out the brands already available on the market.