Updated: May 22
Menstruation is an important and sometimes essential bodily function for people with uteruses. Our hormones are affected by our cycle, it is vital for those trying to conceive, and around 65% of women are taking some kind of contraceptive that regulates the menstruation cycle.
Despite the fact that 26% of the global population have periods, it is still heavily stigmatized and the tampon tax causes many people in poverty to go without essential sanitary products. Contraceptive options are also mostly catered to women, putting the responsibility fully on them to protect themselves. Informing the public and pressuring our lawmakers to make uterine and reproductive health a priority is more important now than ever before. This is especially true with laws being passed in states like Texas limiting women’s options for their own family planning and health.
People with a menstrual cycle will have their period for 2-7 days every month from around age 13 to somewhere in their 50-60’s. This means if you menstruate, you will have an average of 564 periods throughout your lifetime. Despite its frequency, we pay top dollar for products such as pads, tampons, liners, and medicine that can ease the cramping pains that many people experience. These products are also not available on programs such as SNAP or other welfare programs assisting people in poverty. “Period products are subject to a state sales tax in 30/50 US states despite efforts to ban the tax country-wide," (Rodriguez, Leah).
Of course, overpaying for essential sanitary products is not the only problem people who menstruate face, especially those in poverty.
Educating the public about the tampon tax and advocating for groups that work to end these taxes is the first step. There are a number of organizations fighting the tampon tax and providing information on where it isn’t being enforced. We can also communicate to our local, state, and larger governments that clean water and sanitation facilities are a need in every community. These things may seem obvious to us that they should be provided for free or prioritized by city planning, but this is most often not the case. Being an advocate for all people who menstruate will help communicate to the decision-makers around us that these things matter. In other countries such as the UK, protesting and citizen engagement has ended tampon taxes, so it is possible for us to affect change as well.
According to the CDC, 64.9% of women or people with uteruses use some form of contraceptives. Their availability and effectiveness can sometimes force the hand of families trying to plan their futures, and depending on the contraceptive method they choose, can have huge effects on the overall physical and mental health of the people taking them. Generally, there are five types of contraceptives: barrier methods (ie. condoms, diaphragms, etc), short-acting hormonal methods (ie. Nuvaring), long-acting hormonal methods (many “birth control pills”), sterilization (which can be done by any gender), and fertility awareness methods such as tracking cycles and ovulation.
Of these, condoms are the only form of contraception protecting users from sexually transmitted diseases. It’s important to consider every factor when choosing a contraceptive and discuss these options with your partner, but some of them provide benefits other than stopping pregnancies such as “more predictable, lighter menstrual cycles, a decreased risk of sexually transmitted infections or a reduction in the risk of some cancers," (Mayo Clinic Staff). Unfortunately for some, side effects may be more negative like unanticipated weight gain or loss, cramping, acne, or hormonal mood swings. Knowing what works for you allows for a healthier and happier cycle, and can help you educate your friends on how to choose what’s best for them and their family as well.
Oftentimes, just talking casually about menstruation will cause any cisgendered male in the room to recoil in disgust or beg for a change of subject. This cannot continue. The men in our lives must be willing to not only talk about what people who menstruate go through, but learn how they can support them as well. Everyone can also work on changing the way they discuss menstruation, such as avoiding language that excludes people who are transgender, nonbinary, or intersex. There is still plenty of shame associated with periods and talking more openly about what we go through and what we need will help those around us to better support our needs. Sometimes all someone needs is a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.
We can also actively support non-profits such as Helping Women Period or Period Kits--they provide sanitary products, support for people in domestic abuse relationships, and actively work to protect POC communities. Many trans people experience gender dysphoria during their period, but there are ways to support them as well. Some companies have begun offering gender neutral products like boxer brief period underwear. All-gender bathrooms provide a place for anyone to ditch their tampon. These accommodations help anyone who has a period still feel at home in their body (Bell, Jen).
Having conversations with each other about these products, facilities, and resources we can use help empower us all to live more comfortably with our period.
Our menstruation is a natural part of life. We deserve to have the things we need to go about it without overpaying for products, uncomfortable side effects, disgust from our peers, and shame surrounding our hygiene or emotions. We have to stop perpetuating the myth that periods are a gross thing. It’s time to begin empowering people with uteruses to stand up for what they need.
1 Rodriguez, Leah. “The Tampon Tax: Everything You Need to Know.” Global Citizen, June 28, 2021. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/tampon-tax-explained-definition-facts-statistics/.
2 “Products - Data Briefs - Number 327 - December 2018.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 14, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db327.htm.
3 Mayo Clinic Staff. “Birth Control Options: Things to Consider.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, February 6, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/birth-control/in-depth/birth-control-options/art-20045571.
4 Bell, Jen. “How to Support Your Trans Friend during Their Period.” How to support transgender people during their periods. Clue, April 14, 2021. https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/how-to-support-trans-people-during-their-periods.