Tampon Shortage Highlights Vital Need for Menstrual Fairness Now

More than 34 million Americans use menstrual products and 70% of this population uses tampons. Now, amid ongoing global supply chain issues, the country is facing a late spring tampon shortage that has been largely ignored by the media. A prevailing fear is that with tampons out of stock for an extended period, people will buy alternatives like sanitary napkins and adult diapers, and these items will not only be disappearing from the shelves, but their price. will increase. These products are not a luxury but a necessity, and they are becoming increasingly inaccessible to all Americans, but especially to some of our most vulnerable people. This shortage of tampons only highlights the vital existing need for menstrual fairness.

Although the definition of menstrual fairness is evolving and developing, in its current form it means ensuring affordability, accessibility and safety of menstrual products, as well as reproductive education and care. It is closely linked to reducing period stigma.

The cost of period products

In the average 40 years that a person typically spends menstruating, a person uses over 9,000 tampons: 1 every 6 hours, or 20 for each average 5-day cycle. And those with heavier flows usually need to change their tampons more frequently to prevent leaks. Then there is the financial impact. During their menstrual years, a person can expect to spend nearly $2,000 on tampons, $4,500 on sanitary napkins, and more than $2,000 for each ruined pair of underwear — and the prices are rising. Between the cost and quantity of products and the time needed for a single cycle, the menstrual fairness gap is only widening.

“A shortage of tampons can be terrifying, especially for patients with heavy flow who double up with a tampon and pad,” says Kate White, MD, FACOG, gynecologist at Boston Medical Center. “This [situation] means much more frequent changes, which usually require better access to bathrooms. This makes traveling and commuting difficult and requires more public bathrooms and washrooms, as well as break times that some professions may not allow.”

White adds, comparing menstrual products to another essential home and hygiene product: “It’s like toilet paper, it’s not a luxury at all.”

Access to menstrual products for people experiencing homelessness

The current shortage of tampons highlights an already existing gap in access to menstrual products for people who are homeless or have unstable housing. In addition to prohibitive costs, it is difficult to obtain menstrual products, find the privacy to change these products, and access laundry or cleaning facilities for longer-term, non-disposable alternatives, such as a cup. menstrual cup or menstrual underwear.

This can lead to other problems, such as overusing a single pad or tampon or tinkering with an alternative, which can lead to toxic shock syndrome, yeast infections, or urinary tract infections. , bacterial vaginosis or, especially with DIY tampons, exposure of chemicals to your body. blood.

“Overall, there’s a major impact on dignity,” White says. “For everyone, but this is especially true for homeless people, who have some of the most difficult access to menstrual hygiene products.”

Ingrid Rudie, NP, a nurse practitioner at Healthcare Without Walls who works at the Wellness Center at Rosie’s Place, a full-service women’s shelter in Boston, has first-hand, first-hand experience of the barriers her hosts face. She tells HealthCity that many of her guests come specifically for menstrual supplies and rely on Rosie’s Place as a source for those supplies. In her experience, she says, homeless women mostly request sanitary napkins and adult diapers because reusable products, such as menstrual cups and menstrual underwear, are more complicated and difficult to maintain without one. safe space for cleaning and/or washing.

Periods and homelessness: crossed stigmas

According to the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF), not only is menstrual health education lacking globally, but in places where it exists it is often part of the curriculum after a young person has already had her first period.

“For everyone, everywhere — even in 2022, even here in Massachusetts — there’s no good education about what to expect from menstruation and what’s classified as ‘normal,'” says White . The gynecologist has considered speaking with patients who are “in pain quietly” with very painful and heavy periods, as well as educating patients about vaginal discharge around menstruation after many worries about sexually transmitted infections, for example.

Ideally, no one should have to self-identify as “poor,” “needy,” or “homeless” in order to obtain needed menstrual products.

The IPFF calls this lack of education “a major challenge in tackling period stigma”.

Period poverty, or the inability to access safe menstrual products, has a direct impact on shame and stigma, access to opportunity due to misconceptions that people who menstruate have abilities, reduced health and safety and, in some cultures, exclusion from public life, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Menstruation on a global scale, including even in the most developed centers of the United States, is often considered “dirty”. In just one example, a photo poet Rupi Kaur posted on Instagram in 2015 who showed a menstrual bloodstain on his pants was twice removed from the platform for violating his community guidelines.

For people living in precarious housing, this period of stigma is only amplified when it is intersected with the stigma of homelessness. There is a myriad of research and evidence showing that homeless people live with shame, guilt and fear of seeking help due to discrimination. Rudie hopes Period and Menstrual Fairness will eliminate the added burden of accessing menstrual products for her guests.

“There are good resources to get menstrual products in spaces for those who are menstruating, but it requires people to go to a shelter, out of the way, and ask for them,” Rudie says. “There are many people who do not feel comfortable accessing these resources. Ideally, no one should have to identify themselves as ‘poor’ or ‘needy’ or ‘homeless’ in order to obtain the necessary menstrual products.”

Robert M. Larson