When you walk into your local drugstore and enter the aisle for period products, the words “feminine care” can be found everywhere — on the aisle signs, product labels, and packaging. This is incorrect and harmful because women aren’t the only ones who menstruate; nonbinary and transgender individuals can experience periods too. Yet over the last few years, as I’ve tried to use more terms like “menstruators” in my work — through my advocacy in the six years I spent leading PERIOD the nonprofit, in my book, PERIOD POWER, and now with the work we do at August — I often face backlash from cis women who are offended by the term, thinking it minimizes their worth to just being able to reproduce.
In 2017, activist and author Cass (@theperiodprince) posted a free-bleeding photo with a period stain on their pants, holding a sign that says “Periods are not just for women #bleedingwhiletrans.” In a Teen Vogue article, Cass shares, “I want cisgender people to understand that being trans while having your period can be absolutely terrifying. Aside from experiencing gender dysphoria and anxiety around the way my body changes during my cycle, I have to worry about which bathroom to use, whether or not me carrying a tampon or leaking could out me in an unsafe place, or being constantly misgendered because I couldn’t wear my tight binder that week.”
Kenny Ethan Jones is another trans activist who menstruates and was the first trans man to be the face of a period campaign. “Having a period already causes me a lot of dysphoria, but this dysphoria becomes heightened when I have to shop for a product that is labeled as ‘women’s health’ and in most cases, is pretty and pink,” Jones explained in an NBC article.
Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray on Instagram), a DEI Educator and Consultant, Author, Speaker, and an Advisor to August, shared with me that, “‘feminine’ should not be used to refer to menstrual care not only because it is inaccurate but also because it reinforces harmful and limiting stereotypes about menstruation.”
He adds, “menstrual care should not only be associated with women — menstrual care is just care. Additionally, not all women are feminine and not all those who are feminine are women, and thus referring to anything that has to do with menstruation as feminine (e.g. feminine products) incorrectly genders menstruation.”
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of learning that needs to happen for this understanding to become more mainstream. In the comment section of my TikToks talking about this, cis women have remarked that it would detract from their “sense of femininity” if the labels on period products were changed.
These responses are a reoccurring theme that I’ve heard from cis women for years, being upset and saying “I’m more than just my period, don’t minimize or simplify me.” Some cis women even find it dehumanizing, as written in numerous twitter threads saying things like, “it is dehumanising and epoliticising. As a menstruator, cervix-haver etc.” By calling for more inclusive wording instead of “feminine care,” some cis women think that the term is objectifying them and devaluing their other qualities and personality. I’ve heard from people that they feel it is like being called a “terminator,” like their period is a weapon — but that’s not the intention at all.
And of course, transphobia has existed at bigger, more mainstream levels — a prime example being JK Rowling. And this is just one example out of all the insensitive and hurtful comments that trans and non-binary folks face daily.
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
I don’t blame people that I meet who don’t know that not all menstruators are women, because I was also taught and grew up with this mentality. Since we were young, society has always told us that we magically “become a woman” when we start our periods. In fact, throughout history, there’s a repeated pattern amongst most societies that equates menstruation with women, gendered roles, fertilization, and giving birth.
“Due to the patriarchy, I think that the period industry has largely been used to exploit women, as most women-centric products unfortunately have,” Schuyler says. “It seems that the industry is slowly shifting to be made for women BY women – and there is great power in this; however, this can often exclude those who menstruate who are not women.”
Thankfully, that mentality is something we as a society are slowly realizing and progressing through. I believe that it’s vital that once someone is aware of this, they should seek the tools to be more inclusive in their language. Inclusivity is creating space for everyone and their diverse experiences — it isn’t minimizing any community.
From one cis woman menstruating to another: creating space for inclusivity does not take away from the period experience! In fact, I think by contextualizing this more to our sex than to be a “woman,” it’s empowering. We are connecting it more to our actual bodies, and what is happening in our bodies, than to the gender binary and gender norms that society has imposed on us.
We have so much more work to do to make the period talk more inclusive. It’s on us as cis menstruators to seek out and actively learn from educators who have given time, effort, and space to talk about their experiences.
Schuyler says, “periods must be degendered because, put as simply as possible, they are not gendered. Biology does not have a gender…Degendering periods is not only scientifically accurate but also freeing of harmful exclusionary stereotypes that hurt trans and nonbinary people who menstruate.”
In a world in which menstruation is already so stigmatized, we must collectively do our own research to educate ourselves about inclusivity in the periods space. We must do our research, and start with a lot of listening, and acknowledging that uplifting trans and nonbinary folks do not take away from our personal experience. If anything, it empowers us to connect more with our bodies and build empathy for other communities.
Image: Thais Varela / Stocksy
October 19th is National Period Day, which aims to bring awareness to the issue of period poverty (meaning, lack of access to hygiene products because of financial constraints) and make period products more affordable for people who menstruate everywhere. One main way we’re trying to do that is by ending the Tampon Tax—a sales tax placed on hygiene products like pads and tampons, that other items, like Viagra, do not have. We tapped Nadya Okamoto, the founder of PERIOD, to tell her story on how she found out about period poverty, why she’s so passionate to end it, and what we can all do to help.
It’s 2019. People have been menstruating since the beginning of humankind. Periods make human life possible. And yet, still today, 34 states have a sales tax on period products, basically considering them luxury items. WTF?
When I was 16-years-old, I discovered an unaddressed natural need I’d never thought about before: periods. At the time, my own family was living without a home of our own, and I was facing a two-hour commute to school on public transportation. I became friendly with homeless women who I saw at my bus stop every day. In asking them, “what do you find most challenging about your living situation?” I collected an accidental anthology of women using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, and even cardboard to take care of their periods. I distinctly remember one woman showing me how she would take a small piece of cardboard, rip off the outer layer from each side, and then rub the middle section in between her hands to make it a more flexible homemade version of a pad.
Privilege check: Even when my family was experiencing housing instability, I always had access to menstrual products, and had never even thought about using trash to take care of my period. In fact, I had never even thought about what it would be like to menstruate without access to period products. Hearing these first-hand stories of period poverty ignited anger and curiosity within me. I kept thinking: How is it that menstruation makes human life possible and we haven’t figured out a solution for all people to have period products?! While simultaneously wondering, how far does the issue go? Who else can’t afford access to period products?
So naturally, I took my questions to Google. In my free time, I would search keywords about menstruation, poverty, and different geographical regions, just trying to learn more.
Through my research, I learned that periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries, and often times a girl’s first period is the single event that leads to her dropping out of school, getting married early, or undergoing female genital mutilation or social isolation. It was actually easier to find information about period poverty in other countries than it was about the United States. I learned that at the time, in 2014, 40 states in the US had a sales tax on period products, considering them “non-essential goods”—so, basically luxury items.
Meanwhile, products like Rogaine and Viagra were considered essential and didn’t have this tax. I remember reading this and refreshing the page a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly before thinking: Are you f*cking kidding me?! Old man hair growth and erections are considered more of a necessity than over half of our population feeling clean, confident, and capable 100 percent of the time, regardless of something so natural like a period? What?!
These exact thoughts and emotions have not left my mind since I discovered the “tampon tax,” the term used to describe the taxation of menstrual hygiene products.
Since 2014, when I started my activism in the #MenstrualMovement, we’ve seen incredible progress: countries like India and Australia have nationally axed their tampon tax, the UK has repurposed the revenue from their version of the tax to directly provide period products to girls in secondary schools, and the US is down to 34 states (still an overwhelming majority) that still have the tampon tax.
Eliminating the tampon tax is not going to be a blanket solution to period poverty—I mean, realistically, the tax is not impacting the menstruators who have the least access to tampons. It’s affecting the people who are already purchasing the product, making the cost a burden for primarily low-income consumers. That being said, the reason period poverty persists is because menstrual hygiene is not treated like a right, it’s treated as a privilege.
Here’s an example: Just earlier this year, a GOP Representative in Maine voted against a bill to make period products accessible in prisons, saying that “the jail system and the correctional system was never meant to be a country club.” As if we can opt out of periods like they’re a Netflix subscription.
The #tampontax frames menstrual hygiene as a LUXURY—an inaccurate assumption we need to deconstruct once in for all in the movement against period poverty. At the end of the day, this fight isn’t just about periods, this is about the fundamental human right to be able to discover and reach one’s full potential regardless of a natural need. And what could be more natural than menstruation?
Join us this Saturday for the first-ever National Period Day. On October 19, my organization PERIOD will be mobilizing rallies in all 50 states and major cities, demanding action and an end to the #tampontax. Join us at one of our rallies in-person, or share why you’re joining the #menstrualmovement on social media by using #nationalperiodday and tagging @periodmovement. There are so many ways to get involved both nationally and statewide—check out Utah’s legislative campaign and help us keep putting pressure on Ohio lawmakers to end their “pink tax”! I truly believe that if we unite and we refuse to shut up about periods, we can take down the tampon tax in the new few years. Just 34 more states to go.
Let’s do this.
Image: Noah Shaub
There are a few facts in this life that we can count on. Men lie. People who say “I’ll pay you back” will never pay you back. Your period will arrive like clockwork every 28 or so days. And before you come at me for that first assertion being untrue, I have enough text message receipts to fill the Old Testament to prove it. The bigger issue is that a new study led by UCL and Natural Cycles, a contraceptive app, found that a basic assumption we take for granted about menstrual cycles is not actually a given. And by that I mean, this “rule” that your period comes every 28 days? You know, the premise that a lot of hormonal birth control packs are based off of? Yeah, it doesn’t even apply to a vast majority of women. Cool cool cool cool cool. Good thing we don’t base a whole slew of other science on this premis—oh wait.
The study, published in Nature Digital Medicine earlier this week, examined over 600,000 menstrual cycles of 124,648 women who used the Natural Cycles app. These women were from the United States, Sweden, and the UK. Researchers set out to look at how menstrual cycles were influenced by factors like age, BMI, and body temperature, in order to try to understand when women are more or less likely to get pregnant. Now, to be clear, the sample size of this study is not a complete accurate representation of the general population. For one, the sample only consists of app users. For another, only 8% of the app users in the study are obese while 15% of women in the general population are obese. Finally, the study excluded those with a pre-existing condition that would impact fertility, like PCOS, hypothyroidism, or endometriosis, as well as women who were experiencing menopausal symptoms. This makes sense considering the study was specifically concerned with pregnancy, but it does mean its findings are not applicable to everyone.
i can always tell when i’m going to start my period by how close i get to cutting my own bangs at 3am
— gabbie hanna (@GabbieHanna) November 6, 2017
Now that we’ve gotten all the disclaimers out of the way (shouts-out to the AP Psych class I took senior year of high school), let’s get into what the study found, because it’s actually very interesting. Researchers collected data from women ages 18 to 45, with BMIs between 15 and 50, who were using Natural Cycles from September 2016 to February 19. The women had not been using hormonal birth control within 12 months from registering for the app. So, remember how I said that it’s basically taken as gospel that menstrual cycles last 28 days? Yeah. Guess how many of the cycles actually lasted that long.
Just 13%. Thirteen percent of women in the study had 28-day menstrual cycles, and yet that timeframe is the basis for a lot of birth control methods and, equally importantly, fertility windows. If you literally Google “when does ovulation occur”, the top answer will tell you that ovulation typically occurs about 14 days before your period starts, if your average menstrual cycle is 28 days. The problem with this model is that, according to this study, very few women do have a 28-day cycle, and in fact, researchers actually found the average cycle lasts 29.3 days. And, furthermore, 65% of women had cycles that lasted between 25-30 days—but that means 35% of people (or over a third) do not. That is a good chunk of people who do not even fall into this window that we take for granted as “standard”.
I love period dramas, I have one every month
— Karen Chee (@karencheee) August 11, 2019
So why does this matter? Researchers’ big takeaway was that this has significant implications for people trying to get pregnant. As Professor Joyce Harper, one of the researchers of the study, put it: “ovulation does not occur consistently on day 14 and therefore it is important that women who wish to plan a pregnancy are having intercourse on their fertile days.” More specifically, these results are important for people who are trying to conceive and are using apps or cycle dates to predict fertility days. “An individualized approach to identify the fertile window should be adopted,” said Dr. Simon Rowland, Head of Medical Affairs at Natural Cycles. “Apps giving predictions of fertile days based solely on cycle dates could completely miss the fertile window and it is therefore unsurprising that several studies have shown that calendar apps are not accurate in identifying the fertile window.” Harper added, “In order to identify the fertile period it is important to track other measures such as basal body temperature as cycle dates alone are not informative.”
On the surface, it’s not a particularly shocking conclusion that all reproductive systems are not identical, or that in general, biological functions and processes are complex and unique to the individual and cannot be generalized to a neat window or category that fits every single person. But then again, this is done all the time—whether we are talking about menstrual cycle lengths, body mass index, diets, or anything else. Am I surprised we are only now just being confronted with data that confronts the standard 28-day menstrual cycle, given that understanding of the female anatomy seems to be so low on the priority list that the clitoris was not even fully discovered until 1998? No, I am not surprised. But this study is giving me, and the researchers, hope that more studies will be done on the menstrual cycle, particularly, clinical trials done in controlled settings. “These initial results only scratch the surface of what can be achieved,” said Professor Harper. “We hope to stimulate greater interest in this field of research for the benefit of public health.” She added that with increased interest in and dedication to doing empirical studies, “there is enormous potential to uncover new scientific discoveries.”
Images: karencheee, GabbieHanna / Twitter
You know what sucks? Getting your period. Being cramped, smelly, and bloated is no way for any woman to live her life. But you know what sucks even more? Being hornier than usual due to period-related hormones but not being able to do anything about it because bae has a pathological fear of washing his sheets. Lucky for us 21st century betches, we have the internet and Lena Dunham to teach us that, despite what your Bible study teacher might say, period sex is totally a thing. Also, why are you talking to your Bible study teacher about period sex? Even if The Red Wedding is only something you talk about with your BFF after two bottles of wine, there is no reason you couldn’t begin to incorporate it into your life to make your period a little more bearable.
Unfortunately, here are a shitload bunch of taboos surrounding your monthly shark week that stand in the way of you and having sex whenever you please (thanks patriarchy!) and people who haven’t tried it usually assume period sex is either out of the question or super gross. In reality, it’s pretty normal, if a little messy. But like, all sex is kind of messy if you’re doing it right. Turns out, horny people will find ways to have sex, whether there is a little blood involved or not. Some people even like that shit. CC: Christian Grey. Plus, orgasms help fix your cramps. I repeat: Orgasms will get rid of your cramps.
If that’s not reason enough to convince your BF to dip his toes into the red tide, there are a bunch of other reasons you can bring up. Obviously, respect his boundaries and don’t go making anyone do stuff they aren’t comfortable with—you’re a betch, not a sociopath—but if you aren’t sure how to bring it up, here’s how to approach period sex with your BF.
1. Be Chill
Is there anything more anxiety-inducing than talking to someone who’s clearly nervous? When you introduce the topic, don’t make it out to be a bigger deal than it actually is—being awkward about your period just makes other people awkward too. Remember that menstruation isn’t actually disgusting; it’s just some blood. Trust me, dudes are so gross as a species that most of them get used to period blood fairly quickly once they’re given the chance. Feel free to bring up the time you found his masturbation sock under the bed, if he needs any reminders that his body is also disgusting.
2. Know Your Audience
There’s a difference between getting grossed out by blood in general and getting grossed out by blood because it comes from your hoo-ha. If your BF is the type to faint when he gets blood drawn, that’s probably exactly what would happen during period sex, especially during the first few days when it’s like a menstrual tidal wave down there. Basically, if someone is legitimately terrified of blood, you might want to just get used to getting yourself off when Aunt Flo visits (good thing we just did a roundup of affordable vibrators!). Just Venmo request him for half the price of a Hitatchi Magic Wand and call it a compromise.
On the other hand, if he’s perfectly chill with horror movies and Law & Order: SVU, period blood ought to be no biggie. If your BF is weird about your period, ask him to think about the reasons why. Menstrual taboos don’t go away overnight, but it’s a start. Plus, he might wind up more woke thanks to your sex life.
3. Know Thyself
Some ladies have super intense cramps during the first few days of their period, so they might prefer curling up in the fetal position and eating an entire pizza to having sex. Some people prefer that when they’re not on their period, TBH. As boring as it is to plan things, don’t offer to try out period sex with your BF if you know you’d rather be catching up on This Is Us. In my experience, the middle or end of your period is the best time to get it on, because you’re horny without feeling like your uterus is being liquefied and sucked out through a straw.
4. Stock Up On Towels
One of the problems people have with period sex is that it seems messy, and they’re not wrong, although I’d like to point out that sex generally involves a lot of bodily fluids anyway. That’s why towels exist. Put one down and you’re good to go. Also, maybe go for a darker shade.
5. Hit The Shower
If you and/or your BF are way too type A to have sex on a towel (or you hate doing that much laundry, we can empathize), there’s another solution: Use your period as an excuse for shower sex. However, while period sex totally is a thing, I’m still not totally convinced that shower sex is. Like, I’m supposed to put my leg up where? What if I get soap in my eyes? What if we slip and break our necks? I don’t want my roommate to find our corpses like that. Shower sex is more trouble than it’s worth, TBH, but if that’s what it takes to get you and your bf comfortable with a little blood then you have my blessing. Just be sure to text a neighbor and tell them to call an ambulance if they hear anything that sounds like two people slipping to death mid-coitus.
6. Bring Up The Orgasms
Seriously, I cannot reiterate this enough. Orgasms. Fix. Cramps. Science says so. Therefore, the orgasm-giver can feel good about themselves and their magical healing sex powers. So yeah, like all things in life, if all else fails just find a way to make the man think he’s good at sex and he’ll do whatever tf you want.
If your SO is still unconvinced, you’ve done what you can. Just do yourself a favor and stock up on vibrators for some solo period sex, where nobody can judge.