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
Picture this: you’re scrolling through the “for you” page on TikTok when you suddenly come across a video of a woman shamelessly showing her bloody period pad. What would your initial reaction be? Would you feel shocked? Revolted? Disgusted? Offended? Or perhaps, empowered?
For the last few weeks, most of my TikTok notifications and DMs have been along the lines of the above—and it all started when I playfully used an image of my freshly used pantyliner for a viral TikTok trend.
I’m no stranger to encountering the shock factor when it comes to talking about periods. I’ve been focused on ending period poverty and stigma through my work for the last several years, but my decision to show my menstrual blood as a means to jumpstart the conversation is relatively new. When I embarked on building new period care products with my team at August, my focus shifted from distributing tampons and pads to people in need to improving the individual experience of menstruating. As a brand, we wanted to make sure that we would not perpetuate negative stigmas around period blood by showing blue liquid in ads for absorbency, but really push the boundary on how real we could be about periods.
Most of the content that I or August post that show menstrual blood are taken down for violating community guidelines as “violent and graphic content.” Furthermore, social media platforms are known for filtering out potential “sensitive content” from people’s feeds, which naturally suppresses the accounts of people who want to talk about “sensitive” issues—whether that be around race or, apparently, periods. Since my recent posts were left up, I was able to experience more of the vitriol in comments and found it fascinating. I mean, I would expect that with TikTok having a more Gen Z-centric audience, we’d be more open to being real about periods.
But that hasn’t seemed to be the case. A few of my videos depicting my used pads or tampons have garnered millions of views—with the majority of comments being ones from other menstruators expressing their horror at seeing my period blood and calling it disgusting. Many of the comments are viewers tagging their friends. When their friends respond with puking emojis or the expected “dude wtf why,” the original commenter replies, “if I have to see it, so do you.” Others will comment on the color of my blood, remarking it looks like “fake nail polish” if it’s too red, or accusing me of taking a shit on a menstrual pad if it’s too brown. Some duet my videos and make fun of how “sick” I must be to post them publicly.
I find the response fascinating given that many of the commenters are probably menstruators, and they likely see their own period blood for several days per month. It’s heartbreaking too, because they are directly labeling their own menstrual blood as disgusting and, given that menstruation is a party of their own biology, they’re indirectly calling themselves disgusting. To me, it seems like one of the more obvious examples of internalized misogyny. Periods are powerful, yet society teaches us to feel ashamed and silences us when talking about menstruation. The patriarchal society we live in created and perpetuated this stigma around periods—making them taboo, dirty, and even shameful to talk about. This mentality needs to stop. We need to talk about periods openly and not be silenced or ashamed.
Though I’m often the butt of the joke, I’m excited to see my TikToks gain traction—not because I believe all press is necessarily good press, but because these commenters are only bringing more people into our period talk. By tagging your friends as some sort of punishment that they must participate in feeling uncomfortable as well, you are helping to further show just how widespread and normalized period stigma is. A lot of people, especially cis women from more progressive cities, will tell me they don’t think period stigma exists. But then they see people like me being called gross for caring about it, and they feel galvanized to take up the fight as well.
Social media has allowed us to democratize information and spread it much faster than ever before, and as we’ve seen with the virality of TikTok videos, messages and movements are spreading quickly, providing the perfect opportunity to start more period conversations. I do think that conversations around periods are productive in breaking the stigma, even when they are negative conversations.
Big picture, we not only need to talk about periods to eliminate period shame, but also to open up the conversation to how we can fight period poverty. It’s 2021, and still today, the majority of U.S. states have the “tampon tax” considering tampons and pads non-essential goods. Period products are still not adequately provided to female inmates in prisons and to people in need via shelters and human services. And a national study from last year found that 23% of students have struggled to afford period products. If we can’t talk about periods, we definitely can’t talk about the bigger societal issues around access to period products. And if we can’t talk about or even look at period blood, how are we supposed to communicate the importance of having the resources to maintain menstrual hygiene? In all my work lobbying for legislative change, the hardest barrier was first getting in the room and being able to talk about these issues without the other people in the room trying to desperately change the subject or squirm and make jokes about it. Period poverty is serious, and has real consequences. We need to talk about periods so we can talk about the actions that need to be taken. And if posting period blood helps take a big axe to the stigma and start conversation? I think I’m here for it.
Images: Polina Zimmerman / Pexels
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
Hi! Let’s talk about periods. First, let’s talk about mine. So I threw out a box of Tampax tampons and switched over to menstrual cups back in 2015. Why? Because despite being one of the most frequently used feminine hygiene products, tampons aren’t the safest option available—in fact, they’re actually pretty dangerous for our bodies, our vaginas, and the environment. Now, let’s talk about your period. Here’s a list of reasons why tampons can be bad for you and why you should consider not using them. Like, not to scare you or anything, but I feel like you should just want to know these things.
1. Tampon Ingredients Aren’t Regulated By The FDA
Tampons are categorized as “medical devices” by the government, which means ingredients don’t need to be listed on any product labels or packaging or fully disclosed by the brands that sell them. Now, there are newer brands out there who pledge to disclose their ingredients, but when it comes to the bigger manufacturers, do you think they’re going to tell us, the consumer, information they don’t legally have to? LOL! *nervous laughing*
So we know exactly what fake-ass (delicious) rainbow Twizzlers are made of, but we don’t know what goes into “women’s health” products. How is that possible? How TF is that legal? What about people with allergies?! Who’s in charge here?!?!
2. And The Ingredients That We ARE Aware Of Are Not Safe
Yes, there are organic cotton tampons out there and companies like LOLA who disclose how their products are made—and shout-out to them for existing! But the most popular tampons on store shelves (especially fragranced ones) are composed of chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins that the EPA calls “probable human carcinogens” aka sh*t that’s poss unsafe for the human body. Some of these harmful ingredients include rayon, plastic, chlorine, procymidon, piperonyl butoxide, methylene chloride, carbon disulfide… the list goes on. You get the point. Given how, um, intimate you get with your tampons, this isn’t exactly comforting news.
3. Tampons Increase Your Risk Of Developing A Bacterial Infection
Vaginas are like sponges. Vaginal tissue is lined with mucous membranes and blood vessels that absorb whatever we put in there. So it should not come as a huge surprise to you that if you leave a tampon in for too long, you’ll run the risk of contracting a bacteria-induced infection. You probably won’t get sick and die from Toxic Shock Syndrome by sleeping with a tampon in like your fifth grade health teacher fear-mongered you into believing, but if you use highly absorbent tampons in your highly absorbent vag and bacteria starts breeding and enters your bloodstream, you *might*
die wind up with a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis (BV), TSS, or another type of nasty infection. Ugh.
4. They’re Harmful To The Environment
On top of everything else, our periods have an impact on the environment. Yes, by destroying everything in our path when we’re PMSing, but also from how we dispose of the feminine hygiene products we use while we’re on our period.
Think about this… like, really think about this. 70% of women use tampons. The average woman is blessed with approximately 450 periods during her lifetime. The average woman uses 20 tampons per cycle. That’s about 9,000 tampons per woman (and $1,200, but who’s counting?).
Now, all of these women are using all of these tampons that are made with all of these iffy ingredients… and these tampons aren’t recyclable and don’t quickly biodegrade. Folks, we’ve got ourselves a
bloody mess serious vaginal and environmental pollution issue.
So WTF do we do about this? From personal experience, I’d recommend ditching tampons for a reusable menstrual cup that’s made from medical grade silicone. It’s the healthier, cheaper, and environmentally friendlier option. If you’re going to continue using tampons, at least protect yourself and buy them from transparent, health-conscious companies who willingly disclose their ingredient list and care about their consumers.
Whatever you do, *please* be mindful about what you’re putting inside your vagina. F*ckboys included. #savethevaginas
Images: Shutterstock; Giphy (4)
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.