In case you never learned this, menstruation, or having your period, is when the lining of the uterus flows out through your vagina. Usually, menstruation occurs each month, lasting from 3 to 7 days. Essentially, it is the body’s monthly notification that you’re not pregnant. We teamed up with Aunt Flow, one of our favorite brands in the period space, to give you the 411 on all things period.
Do only women get periods?
Every word you use matters. This is especially true when talking about a taboo topic like menstruation. Most of the time we find ourselves using anything but the actual words “period” or “menstruation” to talk about a period. A study found there are over 5000 slang words for a period. Seems pretty silly when we have perfectly good, descriptive words to describe a normal and healthy bodily process.
Language and euphemisms are one of the greatest tools used to silence us, and to shame us. That shame inhibits half of the population from being comfortable in their own bodies, it can affect school and work attendance and participation, it keeps people from talking about it - and when we don’t talk about it, we don’t know that people are living without access to these basic products, we don’t know that there has been minimal research on various aspects of menstruation, and there has been little period innovation since the pad and tampon were invented. Fun fact? Tampons were invented by a man. I’m guessing he probably didn’t know the best way to handle them.
Let’s even look past names like “Aunt Flow” and “shark week,” What is the actual name for tampons and pads and other products we see used in the industry, the actual name we see on packaging and hanging above that forbidden aisle in the grocery store? Feminine hygiene products. Sounds pretty evasive to us. Women use a lot of products to remain hygienic. It’s pretty unclear. (See problems with this outlined above.) But further than that? It’s not inclusive. Those that identify as “feminine” and females aren’t the only people who menstruate. Trans men and those that do not identify as either gender also menstruate. Check out Aunt Flow’s interview with some menstruators that identify across the gender spectrum. Menstruation can already trigger feelings of dysphoria in these humans. The least we can do is change our language to ensure they are recognized and welcome in the world of menstruation. Now how about hygiene? Hygiene implies dirty. Dirty things cause shame. Menstruation can be messy, but it’s not dirty. So let’s ditch that word, too.
Is this all a bit confusing? Check out another one of our basics on gender.
So quit shoving your tampon up your sleeve on the way to the bathroom. If someone can’t handle the sight of a wrapped tampon. They have some changing to do, not you.
(We recognize our name is actually one of the most popular euphemisms. This was a conscious decision. We’re a menstrual product company, but more importantly, we’re a movement to end the taboo around menstruation. One of the most successful ways we’ve found to do this is through humor. We live for period puns. Men and women alike respond well when we ask, “Have you ever heard of Aunt Flow?” and they slowly become open to talking about the real thing. It’s an appropriation of sorts, to take away the silencing power of a euphemism.)
What period products is best for me?
Given that the average menstruator spends over 6.25 years having a period, let’s explore the different types of products out there to use during these times.
Pads are one of the oldest forms of menstrual products still widely used today. They come in various lengths and absorbency levels, which make them ideal on light-flow days or for spotting between periods (pantyliners are also great for this!). For extra protection, some menstruators even combine a tampon with a pad, or prefer to use heavy-flow or overnight pads. Unfortunately, some people find that pads aren’t suitable for certain types of physical activity, like swimming.
Like sanitary pads, tampons also come in different sizes and levels of absorbency. It’s important to change tampons at least every four to eight hours in order to prevent toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Menstruators often turn to tampons for greater physical freedom during menstruation.
Menstrual cups are not as prevalent in the United States. There are two types of menstrual cups: a disposable cup that looks like a diaphragm, and a bell-shaped cup that can be reused after cleaning. Both kinds of menstrual cups are made to collect menstrual fluid—instead of absorbing it—for disposal later. Some people prefer menstrual cups because they can be safely worn up to 12 hours and don't contain any chemicals that might cause sensitivity.
There are some new products on the market you might want to try, such as period-resistant underwear (check out Thinx and Dear Kate). Flex is another new product on the market that provides up to 12 hours of period protection, and can be used comfortably during sex! Score.
Does everyone have access to menstrual products?
Have you ever been caught without a tampon or pad? Have you ever had to whisper quietly under the stall for a fellow menstruator to help you out? Have you ever been frustrated with the clunky dispensers in public restrooms, or had to shove toilet paper “up there” when they were empty or you didn’t have the ancient artifact called a “quarter” on you? It sucks. Let’s fix it. But you were probably able to run to the grocery story, or least know you would be able to get your hands on one when you got home later that night.
You’ve probably thought about the fact that many of the 16 million menstruators living in poverty in the United States often don’t have access to things like shelter or food, but have you ever thought about the fact that they don’t have access to menstrual products? Probably not. (See shame and silence.) Menstrual products are not covered by food stamps or WIC, and in the majority of states are taxed as a luxury item. Often, people are forced to use dirty socks or plastic bags to stop the flow, leaving them open to infection and humiliation. The solution? Talk about it! Let’s move forward in the movement for menstrual equality.
Food for thought: Why aren’t menstrual products considered as essential as toilet paper in public bathrooms?
Is it normal to have an unbearably painful or irregular period?
If you suffer from a period that is extremely irregular, painful, or heavy, check out our period problems basic to learn more and take action!
Periods are a fact of life, so there is no need to feel shame or embarrassment! Find the product that is right for you, and #ownit!
Aunt Flow is a buy-one, give-one subscription box for 100% cotton tampons and pads. Menstruators can go to auntflow.org, customize a box of 18 pieces and have it delivered to their door each month. For every box you purchase, we donate one to people without access to menstrual products in the US. Aunt Flow was started by 19 year old, college dropout Claire Coder. They are a gender-neutral company promoting period positivity and menstrual equality regardless of socioeconomic status, gender identity, or location. People helping people. Period.