It’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite topic: periods!
People with periods often deal with upwards of 4 decades of monthly maintenance, and that costs a lot of money over a lifetime. Whether you’re restocking your tampons, shelling out $50 for a menstrual cup, or buying bottle after bottle of (natural!) stain remover to salvage your destroyed clothing, the “pink tax” levied upon dubiously-named “feminine hygiene products” is yet another injustice that many women and trans folks face, on top of an existing pay gap.
But it goes deeper than that. Just as organic, wholesome groceries can be prohibitively expensive for many underprivileged communities, so can safe, organic period care. Conventional tampons and pads contain fragrances and chemicals that are terrible for vaginas, but its a risk we’ve all taken at one point or another, out of necessity or ignorance. I grew up terrified of toxic shock syndrome, convinced that I was going to die simply from taking a necessary precaution to avoid shedding endometrial lining all over the place. And beyond this horror, I haven’t even mentioned the impact single-use products have on our environment as they sit in landfills and leach toxins into the planet.
Of course, you can choose not to get a period. There are many birth controls that lessen or eliminate periods altogether. But this speaks, again, to inequality of access. Many people, because of economic status, religious reasons, or geographical location, can’t just go to a Planned Parenthood and get an IUD. And some people, like me, are fortunate enough to have that luxury, but can’t use hormonal birth control for mental/physical health reasons*.
There’s a lot of shame that comes with periods, too. They’re messy, kind of gross, and deeply stigmatized. They can trigger dysphoria. They can make a person feel helpless, at odds with their body. They’re painful. I read a tweet from a gynecologist that likened the pain of severe period cramps to the pain of a heart attack. Some of us experience the pain of a heart attack twelve times a year! But when you tell
cis men people that you have cramps or PMS, they rarely take your concerns seriously. You don’t get sick time from work for severe period symptoms. Many people don’t have the option to stay home at all, and have to work in excruciating pain so that they don’t “waste” a sick day that they could use to, for instance, care for their children. Endometriosis, a debilitating uterine disorder, usually goes undiagnosed because we’re taught from a young age to “toughen up” and ignore our pain.
So, in addition to the globs of blood, pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, expense, and environmental impact, you get to wrestle with social and economic injustice every time you see that hormonal pimple start to form on your jawline or forehead. It’s fucking exhausting. So, obviously, capitalism tried to exploit that.
There are a slew of companies working to destigmatize and “hack” periods—panties that absorb 3 tampons worth of blood, discs and cups to collect shotglasses worth of the stuff, CBD pain creams. Reusable products incur a huge up-front cost, but promise to pay for themselves in sustainability and longevity. But as a consumer, “optimizing” your period is a full-time job.
As you may know, Thinx is cancelled. They’ve been embroiled in scandal ever since sexual harassment allegations came out about their “She-EO,” Miki Agrawal. And even beyond her atrocious, toxic behavior, “Girl Boss Feminism” is a cloyingly patronizing tool of capitalism and patriarchy, and we cannot stan. Even though Thinx has done some important work for trans visibility in their advertising, companies that tout themselves as ethical or intersectional really need to walk the walk. It’s hard to sift through torrents of information online to figure out exactly which businesses you can support—ultimately a fruitless task, since nothing truly ethical can exist under capitalism.
All of which is to say that I decided to undertake this small investigative journalism assignment (i.e. online window shopping) to figure out where I can feel good about purchasing period products. I posted a piece about this a few years ago, but things have changed, and so has our collective consciousness about business practices and single-use plastics. I want to have a 100% waste free period by the end of 2020, and donate all of my remaining conventional menstrual products. If you’re interested in doing so too, keep reading.
Sustain is a sexual health company that was just acquired by Grove Collaborative. I’d been using their condoms for a while, but I only recently discovered that they’d branched out into period care. I just bought their period underwear and I’m really happy with the purchase. It’s a little shocking paying $30 for a single pair of panties, but being able to go cup-free on light days with no concerns about stains was actually really liberating. They offer a menstrual cup, and their single-use products boast organic and plant-based ingredients.
I did a little bit of research, and apparently Sustain was founded by Jeff Hollander (of Seventh Generation) and his daughter, Meika, in effort to make a woman-focused sexual health brand. Would recommend! Just a tip though, if you’ve got a booty, size up in the underwear. According to the chart, I’m a medium, but I got a large and they fit perfectly. Size inclusivity is, so far, is my only gripe with this company, but hopefully as their brand grows through Grove, they’ll expand their sizing!
Knix is a Canadian brand that doesn’t have the same size inclusivity problem that Sustain has. Plus, they have a bunch of different cuts and styles of leakproof panties, for a very reasonable cost! They’re only $23, and you save 25% if you buy three pairs *furiously adds to cart*. Their advertising features women of all shapes, races, and ages which one could see as pandering, but I found it refreshing that, for once, none of the women on a website looked like me. The panties also come with a lingerie wash bag, which is a very smart move to attract cleaning freaks like me. I bought 6 pairs to take advantage of the “Buy 3” and free shipping, and one of my browser extensions found a $15 off coupon (SOCIAL15). So, for the price of 3 pairs of Thinx, I got an entire week’s worth of period protection. The best part of these is that you can wear them to the gym to absorb sweat too!
They did come under fire for a tone-deaf ad, but they apparently resolved it and apologized immediately (although the only places I could find info about this were the Daily Mail and Fox News, which, as we know, is not a credible news source, but a tool of fascism). I saw the ad, and while it is never my intention to defend a brand, it does seem like it was just a miscommunication that would have benefitted from a more critical eye and better copy.
TomboyX is one of those brands that you always hear about in podcast ads. They’re a gender-inclusive underwear company that makes eco-friendly, ethical underwear in tons of cuts, prints, and sizes (XS-$X). They just launched a leakproof line! They’re definitely on the pricey side, but they do offer discounts on multipacks. I’ve never bought anything from this company, but I’ve only heard great things, and they really seem to care about transparency and inclusivity, which rules. And also, ROYGBIV undies? That’s extremely tailored to my interests.
Modibodi is an Australian company that gets consistently great reviews, and they appear to have a strong charitable focus. Their period panties range in size from 3XS-6XL, and for extra bonus points, they do period swimwear! They also have leakproof & sweatwicking undies for dudes, as well as a vegan line.
Joyja, a branch of Adore Me, period underwear are probably the cutest ones I’ve seen so far, and have a great size range (XS to 4X). They’re really cost-effective ($20, with bundle discounts) and they, like Modibodi, have a buy one, give one model, like the Toms of period underwear (but hopefully less easily debunked, thanks Adam Ruins Everything).
Dear Kate is another brand (XS-3X) with consistently great reviews that are manufactured in New York City! They’re a bit pricier than the others on this list, but they have activewear and dancewear that lets you “Go Commando.” In 2014, they had an ad campaign featuring women tech executives modeling their products (they often use nontraditional models) which got…mixed reviews. Whether you look at it as undermining women CEOs or making a bold comment on how women in business are objectified, either way, it started a conversation about sexism in the workplace.
I recently tried out the nixit cup and I have to say I love it! nixit is a Canadian company that sells a menstrual disc that, in my opinion, is easier to insert, place, and remove than traditional menstrual cups, since it doesn’t use suction to stay in place. Also, apparently you can have sex while wearing a nixit, but I’ll let someone else be the judge of that. They’re made of medical-grade silicone (like proper sex toys!), so you can keep these for years, unlike traditional menstrual cups, which you should replace every three years or so. At $49, it’s an investment, but I think it’s very worth it. Intimina, which makes the Lily Cup, also has a disc, called the Ziggy Cup, which is a little bit cheaper and, apparently, available at CVS!
If you’re stuck on tampons (trust me, I get it), there’s a reusable applicator on the market! Yes, you heard that correctly! No more shoving the little cotton bullets up yourself with a finger! I wish this had been around ten years ago, it would have been such a lifesaver! This product doesn’t entire fix the waste issue, but if you buy organic, biodegradable tampons to use with it, it’s definitely a step in the right direction! It’s $22, which is not bad, but you still have to buy tampons for it, so it’s definitely not the most economical product on the list.
Saalt cups are available at Target, and I’ve never had a problem with mine! My only gripe was that the plastic was rather rigid, but they’ve introduced a soft cup. Saalt products are eligible for FSA/HSA reimbursement (win!) and they have a cup wash which takes the guesswork out of daily cleanings during your cycle. They’re $30, which is a little less of a sting than Lunette cups, which are $10 more for essentially the same product. Cora and DivaCup are also available at Target, for $30 and $37, respectively.
So this is not a brand, but there are plenty of places to get reusable pads and liners online. Peace with the Wild has really cute options, and you can always support makers on Etsy! I made the switch to reusable cotton rounds for my makeup, and I’ll never go back…I think it’s time to do the same for liners! I have one reusable liner from Hesta Organic, which I like, but they definitely stain, so they’re not the most aesthetic. Hesta also makes really cost-effective period panties, so if you’re hesitant to try them because of the cost, this might be a good route!
There are a lot of organizations that provide menstrual products to people in need. Bustle put out a list in 2017; a quick Google search will yield tons of ways that you can donate to help people in your community. I just sent a box of bras to Support the Girls, which also accepts menstrual products. My work provides free tampons and pads to students, which makes me very proud (every school/business should do this). No one with a period should ever have to feel shame or desperation. Those of us who can afford the luxuries listed above need to do our part, now more than ever, to make sustainable choices.
*The Pill was, imo, a more revolutionary invention than the wheel or sliced bread, but it can also absolutely wreck your life if you’re one of the unlucky few with severe side effects. Also, tricking your body into thinking it’s pregnant seems…bad? Or if not bad, definitely a weird medical flex, bro. But I have friends whose birth control prescriptions literally save their lives, so how about we EXALT birth control and give it out to every person that needs it for free, eh?