Credit: AJ Duncan

The writing is on the bathroom stalls: we deserve better period products

By Emily Hay

Where are the good period products in 2020?

Back in September, Pantone made headlines by unveiling a new shade of red inspired by the colour of periods as part of a campaign to try and destigmatize menstruation. Now, I’m all for accurate menstrual representation in the media. This move from Pantone was positively progressive compared to last year when Australian sanitary pad brand Libra came under fire for daring to show blood-red liquid in its advertisements, as opposed to the alien shade of blue most period brands had adopted to appease the delicate sensibilities of primetime (*cough cough* cis-straight-male) television audiences. I love talking about periods, yet all this highlights to me is just how much modern progress in equality is performative more than functional or genuinely helpful. 

I’m not denying that representation matters: these measures do wonders for young people menstruating for the first time who are now learning that they don’t have to hide their periods – or period products – as if they’re something dirty or unnatural. Yet all I want to do is shout from the rooftops about how, whilst the worlds of advertising and marketing may be working more on periods and period products than ever before, science seems to have given up. Because you can’t honestly be telling me that we’ve been presented with the best solutions science has for how to collect our blood every month.

Sanitary pads are the earliest method of period collection for most, and that’s all they’re really fit to be: primitive. They’re just so uncomfortable. The way they dig into your bikini line is positively criminal, especially at the time of the month when you’re feeling most fragile. Then there’s that dance you have to do once you’ve stuck it on and pulled your pants up, only to realise the position it’s in absolutely is not going to work: the wings have pulled the whole thing into the most uncomfortable, unflattering, and unpractical thong you ever did see. In my book, pads are really only a back-up method for the heaviest days, and even then I use them grudgingly. Pads go hand-in-hand with my memories of school: nostalgia-inducing and a necessary evil at the time, but one which has absolutely no place in my life – or underwear – now.

Graduating from pads to tampons is a big step for anyone, and they really are a huge step up. Finally, you can swim and do other physical activities without worrying about your underwear bunching up, and if you put them in correctly, you shouldn’t ever be able to feel them. But when you’re cramping really badly, prodding around to get them in right just adds to the agony; and once you’ve fallen down one internet hole googling toxic shock syndrome you’ll end up constantly checking the clock to make sure you don’t go over the eight-hour mark. There’s nothing quite like the panic of waking up after a night out to realise you’ve got two up there, because you forgot to take the old one out before putting the new one in, and deciding the end is nigh (don’t lie, we’ve all done it.) Plus, for the conscientious 2020 menstruator, there’s the added factor of just how much waste is produced by disposable period products, which is even worse if you have to use applicator ones – and getting non-applicator ones in right every time is easier said than done. 

If reusability and sustainability are your main concerns when it comes to your period, then silicone menstrual cups are probably your preferred option. You can use them for years, which also makes them cheaper than disposable methods in the long run. But it doesn’t seem to matter how many periods pass, they never get any easier to put in. Mine is two years old and I still have to take three attempts at getting it in right every time I use it, which, to put it plainly, gets messy. The same goes for trying to take them out. I, for one, weirdly love to see how much I’ve bled in any one day, but I don’t want to do that by seeing it spattered all over the toilet seat because I’m in a rush and it won’t come out. And as much as I love the reusability factor, the fact that you need access to a sink to rinse it before you put it back in makes them nigh-on impossible to empty in public. I mean, what if there’s a queue? Are you just meant to leave the stall, rinse this little pink cup in full view of everyone and then re-join the queue to put it back in, all the while free bleeding into your underwear?

Of course, that wouldn’t matter if you were wearing a pair of period underwear, the newest product being marketed at menstruators these days. They’re meant to be comfier than pads – they don’t get twisted up in your underwear because they, well, are your underwear – and they’re non-invasive unlike tampons and menstrual cups. In theory, I love the idea of these, who wouldn’t love to just pull on some huge comfy pants and not worry about their period all day? But I just can’t see them taking the brunt of the work on days one to three alone without disaster striking. In short, they seem great as a backing dancer, but they definitely aren’t the Beyonce of the period world. I’m just a girl, standing here, begging the period industry to give me some better options on a monthly basis. This is the real cause we should be campaigning for. You can’t honestly be telling me that in 2020, when labs are developing the quickest vaccines in human history, science hasn’t caught up to a problem that’s plagued half of the population since the dawn of humanity. This just isn’t on anymore; the writing is on the bathroom stalls. If you can’t give those of us with vaginas better contraceptives or pain management, the least you owe us is something decent to bleed into every month. Please. I just want to wear white trousers in peace.


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