Recently I have been thinking about how to engage people who don’t menstruate — namely cis men — into reducing period poverty and the taboos existing around menstruation. I have successfully detached my male friends from the “periods are gross” trope, but I realise that many non-menstruating people have no idea about the experience of period poverty or menstruation itself.
This is partly because cis men are not engaged in the topic of menstruation — either at school or in the real world — and partly because people who menstruate are taught to suppress their pain and discomfort, and avoid talking about periods to cis men at all costs.
As a result of this lack of education, there are a lot of myths surrounding period poverty that even people who menstruate hold up to be true. So, in the name of education, I’m here to do some mythbusting for you today.
“Sanitary products cost less than 1p per pad!”
Whilst it is true that supermarkets do sell own brand pads which come in at around £0.02 per pad, as any menstruator who has used these value pads will know, they do not always do the job properly. The adhesive if often not sticky enough; and the towels are usually thick but not absorbent, leaving even those with light lows with leakage. For people who suffer from conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, and others which produce heavier periods, these products simply don’t make the cut.
Of course, many people don’t have the option to buy more expensive brands and do opt for these value packs. But, since own-brand sanitary products are often not fit for purpose, menstrual blood often leaks, staining underwear and introducing another extra cost into the mix.
On top this, because society shames and stigmatises menstrual blood, people are left feeling humiliated after leaking; their self-confidence in tatters. To combat this, people who can’t afford more expensive sanitary products may end up staying home next time they’re on their period, for fear of being humiliated or left feeling uncomfortable in public.
This is what period poverty is. Period poverty is being unable to work, go to school or carry out day-to-day life because you don’t have adequate sanitary products. Period poverty is society asking people to use below-standard products for an item as essential to their health and hygiene as a sanitary pad.
“You can just get sanitary products from food banks”
Many people who experience period poverty of course experience other forms of poverty, and must contend with a lack of access to food, water, and adequate housing. But whilst some systems are in place to help people access food and housing, accessing santiary products remains difficult.
This is largely because menstruation is still a taboo subject in society. People in need may feel too embarrassed and ashamed to ask for help asking for sanitary products — and that’s if organisations even exist to provide them in the first place. As a result, many people are left to make a choice between food and shelter, or sanitary products.
This is what period poverty is. Period poverty is social welfare not offering you the appropriate support when you need it. Period poverty is making a choice between your dignity and feeding yourself.
“Most period expenses are unnecessary”
When arguing that period poverty doesn’t exist, many naysayers argue that people who menstruate buy too many unnecessary luxuries under the guise of their period, and that’s why they’re in poverty. They argue that if people spent less money on chocolate during their time of the month, there’d be no need for free sanitary products.
But what these people forget is that menstruation is more than just the act of your uterus shedding its lining. There are psychological and physiological symptoms that come with, including pain, sadness, discomfort, and the 100+ other symptoms of PMS which come before you even begin to bleed.
For people who experience period poverty, that discomfort, pain, and psychological distress is compounded by financial stress. Menstruation becomes a burden, and they have no other option but to ride out their period and hope that next month they’ll be able to tend to their basic hygiene.
Period poverty is more than just the cost of sanitary products. Period poverty is being unable to afford hot water to wash yourself after menstruating all day. Period poverty is being unable to buy ibuprofen when your cramps are leaving you in agony.
“Sanitary products aren’t essential”
Many people who don’t menstruate think that sanitary products simply top you bleeding all over your clothes, and that shoving a bit of tissue in your underwear would do the trick just as well.
But sanitary products can be considered medicine. Without access to such products, people run the risk of all kinds of gynaecological issues. When you don’t have enough money to purchase adequate sanitary products, you may keep your tampon in for longer than you should to avoid having to use an extra product. You may use other materials like toilet roll or socks to absorb your blood. You may use nothing at all.
The results of these practices? Well they range quite substantially, but can include UTIs, thrush, and Toxic Shock Syndrome — which can be fatal.
Period poverty is putting your health in danger because you cannot access the products you need to stay healthy.
So next time someone tries to dismiss period poverty as a made-up scenario, or downplay the importance of accessible sanitary products, paint them this picture of the bleak reality of period poverty, and remind them that dignity shouldn’t have a price tag.