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I don't agree with the cultural consensus that period blood is inherently more gross than any other bodily fluid. That said, all body fluids are hella fucking gross.

Blood Money: Surviving Your Period While Poor

Trigger warning: I use the word “panties” like, so, SO much in this post.

Some women have really figured out how to lean in to the concept of their menstruation. They describe it as a period of heightened sensitivity and awareness. They talk about how in-touch it makes them feel with their power, their humanity, and the changing seasons of their body.

I’m so happy for those women. I wish I could count myself among them. But I do not go gently into that dark night.

I HATE my period. No, I really fucking HATE it. It does not make me feel powerful or mindful; its arrival fills me with a fresh sense of mortal outrage. Sixteen years of menses has not dulled my sense of shock and dismay when I go to wipe myself and the tissue comes back red. Every month, I am fucking appalled.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN "EVERY MONTH?!"
It’s not that I think period blood is something shameful or dirty. It’s just so fucking unfair. There are so many cultural parts of being a woman that fucking suck. We work more, get paid less, are constantly judged by random strangers, get legislated bodily by old white men, and carry the psychological and physical burden of sexual violence. There are biological aspects to being a woman that also suck, but most of them are at least an opt-in situation. (I can work on my upper body strength, it’s my choice to play video games instead.) But menstruation is just a thing that happens to you, and you’ve got to deal with it.

Worst of all, it’s expensive. Disposable menstrual products are a fixed monthly cost that’s surprisingly high—and they are inexplicably taxed as luxury items! (Don’t bother trying to repeal the tax, ladies! Your dashing white knight of a male governor will do it for you! Oh wait, no he won’t, he’s going to FUCKING VETO IT.) Reusable products have a startlingly high initial cost, and aren’t always convenient or appropriate for all people and situations.

With this in mind, Piggy and I have mined our own experiences and those of our vast network of Vagenda operatives to bring you clear-eyed reviews of each of these products through a financial lens.

Menstrual Cups: Your Cup Runneth Over

What are they?

Menstrual cups are soft medical-grade silicone cups made to be inserted into the vagina. They physically catch the menstrual blood, rather than absorb it. They are meant to be washed and reused. Popular brands include the DivaCup and Lunette. I’ve rarely seen them for sale in stores, but they are very easily found online.

How much do they cost?

About $45 a year, or $1,710 over the course of an average lifetime.

Theoretically, it could be much smaller than this. Cups range from $30-$60 apiece, and their suggested product lifespan ranges from one to ten years. So enthusiasts like to brag about figures as low as $90 over your lifetime.

But I think it’s realistic to assume you’ll need a new one every year. Even if the product can last longer, I read some humorous accounts of them being eaten by period-blood-loving dogs, carried away by toilets with auto-flush mechanisms, and becoming permanently smelly or otherwise unusable. You may also need to change sizes or brands as you age and your body changes. Marketers are also trying to squeeze additional money out of consumers by offering special cleaners, storage cases, and other such bullshit.

One more consideration: the menstrual cup has the highest learning curve of all the products we’re going to talk about. Consider factoring in the cost of replacing sheets, panties, clothing, or chairs damaged by unexpected leaks.

What are the benefits?

The central benefit of menstrual cups are their reusability. This makes them environmentally friendly—the consumer produces less waste and fewer chemicals work their way into places they shouldn’t be (like rivers… and vaginas). They are also potentially the cheapest of your options.

The cups don’t have to be changed as frequently as other products, and can hold quite a bit of blood. Eight to twelve hours seems to be an average experience—just make sure your seal is tight.

If you tend to be dry, or find yourself chafing from other products, menstrual cups may be less irritating.

What are the drawbacks?

Menstrual cups have a high learning curve. Even enthusiasts admit that it requires a lot of practice to get right. If your seal isn’t perfect, you may leak—and leak a lot more than you would from a disposable product.

Cleanup requires time, practice, and total privacy. (No one in a public restroom has consented to look at your bodily fluids, much less possibly fill their water bottle in the same sink that just had blood in it. No no no, please don’t ever do this. You MUST be the primary caretaker of any sink into which you put your blood.)

You may have to invest in more than one cup before you find one that fits you comfortably. Trying three or four could be very expensive. And if you have a tilted cervix, a long birth canal, fibroids, or a dropped uterus, you may never find one that fits well enough to use. In that instance, you could’ve wasted $150 or more dollars for a product you cannot use.

Some people aren’t comfortable with digging around inside themselves. You can scratch or pinch yourself with your nails and damage sensitive vaginal tissues. And if you’re prone to bacterial infections or imbalances, maybe don’t put your bacteria-farm hands into yourself.

You may have heard that there’s no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome, but this is untrue.

Some people say that menstrual cramps lessen with use of the cup, but I found others who described them worsening. Some people also report feeling the cup uncomfortably throughout usage. If your cramps already suck, or you know you have a sensitive birth canal, this may not be for you.

Finally, if you have an IUD or a NuvaRing, you should check with your gynecologist before trying a menstrual cup, as it may interfere with them.

Try them if…

  • You hike, camp, or travel to areas with poor sanitation or low access to disposable menstrual products.
  • You care a lot about the environment, and are willing to put up with some mess or discomfort to create substantially less waste.
  • You work from home, or have a workplace with a completely private restroom.
  • You have a heavy flow and run through disposable products too quickly.
  • You’re not afraid to try something new and you’re willing to be patient.

Don’t use them if…

  • You’re sensitive to the idea or sensation of putting things inside your body.
  • You’re prone to bacterial imbalances or infections.
  • You work or live in an environment without much bathroom privacy.
  • You know you have a physical trait that might make cup usage complicated.
  • You already have (or are thinking of getting) either an IUD or NuvaRing.

How can you make them cheaper?

Do extensive research before you buy a menstrual cup. Each one costs as much as a 10-12 month supply of tampons, so choose wisely. Read lots of reviews, browse comparative sites, and ask your gynecologist in your next annual exam if they have any insights into which brands might be best for your physiology.

Period Panties: Locked and Loaded

What are they?

Period panties are a recent innovation. They’re a hybrid of regular ‘ole panties and menstrual pads, brought together by some serious space-age technology into one reuseable package. Thinx are the biggest game in town, and the only one our contacts within the Vagenda have experience with, so we’re going to be talking exclusively about Thinx from here on out.

How much do they cost?

About $30 a pair, or $2,280 over your lifetime. (That’s assuming you get ten pairs up-front and replace them every five years.)

Their most popular model, the hiphugger, is $34—though other options range in price from $24-$39. But the most cost-effective way to use them is as a supplement to another product, like tampons.

What are the benefits?

Like pads, they are an external solution. Because you aren’t putting anything inside of your body, you’re at no risk of damaging the sensitive tissues or the delicate bacterial balance of your poon. They work fine for any kind of anatomy. There is no risk of Toxic Shock.

Unlike pads, these panties are reusable. Their lifespan is as long as an average pair of panties. Actually, probably longer; you’re wearing them less frequently, and these are better made. Plus they won’t need to be thrown away in case of period staining, which is the main reason that women throw underwear away.

Amazingly, they really do not feel like diapers. Frankly, exactly where the blood goes is very mysterious to me. My partner cannot tell the difference between my Thinx and any other pair of underwear by sight or touch. They look as sleek and fashionable as normal panties, and are nowhere near as uncomfortable as pads.

The panties are very well made. The stitching is strong. The fit is snug enough to prevent unwanted leaks. It’s actually the only menstrual product on this list that has NEVER leaked on me—not once. Thinx are the only choice for a white-pant day. You can feel a bit of moisture right on your vulva, but I don’t find it to be any moister than a regular day with non-menstrual fluids. (Aren’t you glad you know that now? Aren’t you glad I used the word “moist?”)

Thinx is also one of those neat hippie-dippie companies that donates a portion of its proceeds to programs that help keep girls in school. (It’s common in some parts of the world for girls to skip class during menstruation due to a lack of practical, hygienic solutions.) So that’s neat!

What are the drawbacks?

If you haven’t used pads in a long time, the sensation of bleeding into your undies is WEIRD! But you get over it pretty quickly.

You have to do a two-step washing process. To prevent blood from staining the rest of your laundry, you do a hand rinse of your panties before putting them in with the rest of your laundry. (I washed them alone at first, out of an abundance of precaution, but it wasn’t necessary—after a rinse, they are ready to join the rest of your undies.)

They are not a complete solution for everyone. The maximum amount of blood they hold is equal to about two tampons, so if your flow is very heavy, they’re better used as backups or supplements to other tools. They are awesome for light-day usage. They’re a great way to lessen your consumption of disposable products, but you probably won’t eliminate them altogether.

Compared to normal panties, they’re not cheap. I only own two pairs—I wash the Monday pair and let it dry while I wear my Tuesday pair. (They don’t actually have days-of-the-week editions. Very sad.)

Finally, the fit can become confining. I found I could wear them throughout the day, or overnight, but not both. Too many hours started to make the snug fit feel hot and downright Spanxish. If you’re someone whose weight fluctuates a lot, I would not make the Thinx investment, as a perfect fit is key to comfort.

Try this if…

  • You want to help the environment, but a menstrual cup is not practical for your life.
  • You want a completely leak-proof period experience.
  • You have a light flow or a long period.
  • You hate ruining panties with period stains and want a dedicated fleet of high-class blood rags.
  • You’re okay with a high initial investment that will pay off over time.

Don’t use it if…

  • You have a consistently heavy flow.
  • You’re turned off by a hybrid solution to menstrual blood.
  • The thought of even a slight sensation of moisture freaks you out.
  • You have to go to a laundromat for all your washing.
  • Your weight fluctuates too much to justify investing in undies that are meant to be tight.

How can you make them cheaper?

There’s a $10 discount for friend referrals, so pursue the shit out of that! Bulk discounts are also a thing, so arrange a group order with your buddies. This can bring the total cost down by 30-50% per panty. The total cost of the technology will likely come down as it becomes more widespread and more competitors with different price points are introduced into the market.

Pads: On the Rag

What are they?

“Sanitary napkins,” more commonly known as pads, are disposable, absorbent liners that go between your body and your panties. The classic pad has an adhesive back that harmlessly attaches to your panty fabric. You can get them in the feminine hygiene aisle at any convenience store.

There is also a newer breed of reusable pads made of washable fabric. These are so easy to construct that there are hundreds of merchants offering them, from big-box vendors to individual craftspeople on Etsy. This also means they vary widely in efficacy and cost. If this is something that interests you, skip to the section on period panties.

How much do they cost?

About $80 a year, or $3,040 over the course of an average lifetime.

It depends on your biology and your preferences: how much you bleed and how often you change them. Instructions on the box indicate a change every four hours, which more-or-less tracks with our anecdotal evidence, meaning the average user will go through four every day. A box of thirty from a well-reviewed, average-price brand costs about $10, including your LUXURY TAX LOOOOOL.

What are the benefits?

Pads are completely external, which means if you have extenuating pussy circumstances of any kind, pads will accommodate you. No risk of messing up a good thing with your internal flora, and no risk of Toxic Shock. And there’s no pain or discomfort from insertion.

Pads are also the easiest to use. Pads are what most parents hand to their sweet blossoming flowers, because they’re painless and difficult to fuck up. (I knew someone in sixth grade who got her period and responded by putting a tampon up her butt. So. Don’t underestimate how little we understand our own bodies at that tender age.)

What are the drawbacks?

Ooooh, child, settle in. This is going to be a long list!

Walk into a flock of adult women and ask them how they feel about pads. Before they say a word, you will see screwed-up faces of agony and disgust. That’s probably because they are blood diapers: thick, damp, crinkly, smelly, humiliating blood diapers.

I don’t agree with the cultural consensus that period blood is inherently more gross than any of our other bodily fluids. That said, all bodily fluids are hella fucking gross. I don’t want to feel my period blood lingering upon my pussy any more than I want to feel poop lingering on my butthole, or snot lingering on my nose. Our bodies deploy their disgust mechanism against bodily fluids for a clear evolutionary reason: they are not generally hygienic. They can make us sick if we ingest them. So sitting on top of them all day is an exercise in self-hatred. It is a crying shame that this is the way most girls are introduced to menstruation. It’s pretty vile.

Smells accumulate and escape easily. And although leaks don’t usually get through to your clothes, they can easily stain your panties. They don’t work on all kinds of underwear, and can tear up delicate underthings over time.

Many people swear by them for overnight usage, but I had so many memories of blood creeping up my buttcrack and escaping to soil my sheets and clothing. They do not have perfect seals, and work best with gravity to help guide the blood into the pad. And using a pad while exercising is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions.

Pads are also probably the worst for the environment. They contain biomedical waste, so they are non-recyclable. Most are not biodegradable. They are the largest of all menstrual products, and thus take up the most landfill space. They are also the grossest product to clean up, as they stick to the sides of trash cans, blood-side out.

Try them if…

  • Some extraordinary set of circumstances makes every other option impossible.
  • You hate yourself.

Don’t use them if…

  • You are disgusted by constant physical contact with your own period blood.
  • You care about the amount of consumer waste you produce.
  • You are concerned about smells.
  • You want something that’s hygienic and body-positive.
  • You want to do anything more active than sitting, including exercising, sleeping, and swimming.

How can you make them cheaper?

Definitely consider switching to reusable cloth-based pads. For a small amount of extra laundry work, you will save yourself a lot of money and a lot of waste (and self-loathing).

When my period is over...

Tampons: Riding the Cotton Pony

What are they?

Tampons are small plugs made of cotton, or some other soft, highly absorbent materials. They are about the length of an egg, but slimmer, shaped like a bullet. Eggs and bullets: the two perfect metaphors for the menstrual cycle.

How much do they cost?

About $63 a year, or $2,394 over the course of an average lifetime.

Again, this depends on your biology and your preferences. As with pads, we’re assuming a change every four hours over an average five day period. Tampax Pearls are a popular average-price brand, and a box of these runs $9 for a pack of thirty-six (with luxury taxes, even though you have to encrust it with rubies your damn self).

What are the benefits?

Tampons are the choice of 70% of American women, so although they’re not perfect, they’re the clear winner for obvious reasons.

Most women find tampons very comfortable. Inserting them is a little challenging when you’re very young, but it ain’t no thing once you get a little practice, and once they’re in you likely won’t feel them. They stay in place through almost anything, including swimming and vigorous exercise. (Though I can and have pushed them out while straining to poop, so poop first, insert after! And eat your whole grains!)

They’re clean and tidy to use. They’re discrete and small, and easy to slip into your bra or pass to a friend. Because the blood isn’t being exposed to the air, the smell is minimal.They’re the most hygienic option, because you’re not putting your fingers inside yourself, but you’re also not basting in your own juices. When you’re done with them, wrap them in a small length of toilet paper and chuck them in the trash—no blood on your hands.

Tampons are also easy to hide. You can wear them with any underwear and any clothing. And because they come in many absorbency levels, you can tailor usage to your needs.

What are the drawbacks?

Don’t you fucking flush these. Don’t you DARE fucking flush these. Do you know what my plumber calls tampons? “Cotton gold,” because they clog so many pipes they’re putting his kids through college. People who flush tampons have never had to poop in a bucket while waiting for an emergency plumber to come save them from their own bad choices.

You can’t tell when they’re full, so small leaks or underwear staining is possible, especially if your flow is unpredictable. Pairing with black or old panties is recommended.

Toxic Shock Syndrome is rare, but real. And any long-term tampon user has probably had the experience of accidentally inserting a second. Retrieving “lost” tampons are a ho-hum experience for gynecological nurses. Count on maybe needing to do that at least once in your lifetime.

Finally, they are not good for the environment. They’re not as bad as pads, but they still create a large amount of waste over your lifetime.

Try them if…

  • You want something portable and convenient.
  • You’re not afraid of inserting something into your body.
  • You don’t have the money to drop right away on reusable solutions.
  • You need something that will prevent significant leaks or smells.
  • You can tolerate the risk of panty stains.

Don’t use them if…

  • You’re not comfortable with an insertable solution.
  • You’re not willing to accept a small risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
  • You want to have a minimal environmental impact.
  • You have very long periods—they’re not made for more than a few days of use at a time.
  • You are very absentminded and might forget to change them or take them out.

How can you make them cheaper?

STEAL THEM. Both of my previous workplaces offered free tampons on tap. Each month at the new moon, I crammed them into my purse by the fistfuls. Don’t be ashamed! They’re there for your use.

Also, don’t try to save money by buying the cheapest kind. Their applicators suck, and I regularly lose one because I’m struggling to dislodge the tampon from the applicator. I swear to god, some of them make better Chinese finger traps than tampons. They’re not as absorbent, and much scratchier (which translates to a higher chance of injuring or irritating yourself).

Finally, you can save money and make Captain Planet proud by trying applicator-free tampons. You need to be comfortable with digital manipulation and more mess, but it produces a great deal less trash and they’re cheaper.

The Ultimate Period Hack: No Periods at All

The cheapest way to bring down the price of menstruating is to STOP MENSTRUATING. This fascinating tale comes directly from Piggy herself.

What’s better than menstruating as frugally and efficiently as possible? Not menstruating at all, bitches. Which is exactly what I’ve chosen to do.

I have been on hormonal birth control (“the pill”) for a dozen years now. The pill works thusly: you get a monthly pack with three weeks of contraceptive pills that prevent you from having a baby and one week of placebo pills that don’t do shit. Doctors will tell you it’s more complicated than that (and it is) but for our purposes, let’s stick with the simple explanation.

When you’re on the pill, you have your period during the placebo week. If you don’t take the placebo pills, and instead go straight to the next month’s worth of contraceptive pills, then you will not have a period. This is known as the “continuous” method of pill usage. Essentially, you can plan when, or even if, you have a period, which is really great for planning your life around the monthly moaning bloodbath that is the miracle of fertility.

A few years ago, with the advice and consent of my doctor, I started taking the placebo pills every four months instead of monthly. This meant I only had three periods a year. Neat, right? Except that those periods were (at first) The Worst Periods. They were Son of Menses Monster on steroids. It was awful.

But eventually… it got better. My triannual periods got lighter and lighter and I started spacing them further and further apart until eventually they dried up like a watering hole on the savannah. That’s right bitches: I no longer get my period even if I try.

No more tampons. No more cramps. No more overmedicating with ice cream, Ibuprofin, and bourbon. And according to my doctor, this is perfectly normal and healthy: some of us who use the continuous method of birth control simply stop having periods altogether. My period will return like the Jedi if I ever stop taking the pill (and much like the real Return of the Jedi, it will be mostly disappointing and uncomfortable, but not the end of the world).

And the best part? My birth control is covered 100% through my insurance, so there’s absolutely no cost involved with containing a uterus in my body. THANKS OBAMA.

Fascinating! Odds that I will start trying this immediately, without consulting my doctor or doing further research of any kind hover at 98%!

The universal solution

Some people sit all day in an air-conditioned office, and some people live in places without running water. Some people are comfortable with having stuff inside themselves, and some aren’t. Some people have fibroids, or tilted cervixes, or no laundry in their building, or no privacy in the bathroom. The one thing we all have in common is that we all have to pay extra for our automatic biological functions. There’s no perfect solution for all women.

… Except for voting more women into office! They might do cool stuff like repeal the tampon tax or fund programs that help study menstruation! Hands-down, the best thing you can do to lower the cost of menstruation is to vote for more women. The closer we get to full gender parity, the less likely it is that a human-equivilent-to-a-bloody-pad-stuck-blood-side-out-to-the-side-of-a-trash-can like Jerry Brown can force women to pay more for the privilege of a normal life.

Even if men don’t have evil intentions, many of them just don’t understand how women’s bodies work. So they have absolutely no business legislating decisions regarding them.

When Sally Ride was preparing for her trip into outer space, NASA engineers asked her if 100 tampons would suffice for her seven day journey. I read this fact several times, processed for a moment, then whipped my head around toward my husband—my beautiful, loving, deeply feminist husband.

“How many tampons do you think I need to get through a single cycle?”

“Five?!” he blurted in the panicked tone of a man standing in front of a firing squad, trying to guess a number between zero and one thousand in order to save his life.

The answer is twenty. Twenty tampons.

Ten dollars?

But you know what makes it okay? If he’s voting in a local election and doesn’t know every candidate’s platform, he just picks the names that sound female and/or non-white. Because he knows those people are probably the ones who are willing to get a little blood on their hands.

The trials and tribulations of womynhood can cost us money in all kinds of ways. Read on to be depressed!

 

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13 thoughts to “Blood Money: Surviving Your Period While Poor”

  1. To weigh in on cups, I think the info on the cons was a bit heavy handed and the boons not given proper weight. I fully agree it takes a little practice to fully nail the technique in using. But, it only takes a couple cycles and some online forum reading to get it. The biggie for me is that you don’t need a private bathroom to change. A quick wipe with dry TP and you’re good to go, optional even if you’re camping and want to LNT the shit out of that. I’ve emptied cups tonsa times in public bathrooms. And the other big mislead to me is the cost – I think replacing once a year is highly unnecessary. I’m on cup #2 in over ten years. They’re not really the kind of thing you misplace, if you know what I mean. And as for issues with Nuva ring or IUD, I’ve never heard that before but will look into it. For the ring at least when I had it, I took it out for my cycle and had minimal overlap of the two devices. I think it is helpful for women to know the cup is a little tricky to get used to, and there’s no real way to know until you give it a good college try if it’s going to work for you. But if it does… the investment long term saves you major moolah. Plus you feel like a badass eco warrior every month. So there’s that. But all said, great article laying out the nitty gritty of the many options for dealing with an unpleasant and unfair onus on female kind!

  2. Family Planning (like our equivalent of your PP I think)where I get my pill now actually recommend that we regularly skip periods by skipping the placebo pills. Which I had been doing anyway but interesting that they take that stance!

  3. I don’t think you’re giving pads a fair run down, possibly because of personal experience. I have a fairly heavy flow, and have used pads for as long as I’ve had this lovely gift. I compete in many sports and have never had an issue with leakage. As for the buttcrack drip during sleep, they make overnight pads, which I use consistently until the last two days of week long period, and have yet to have an issue. I have had problems with chaffing but that was user error. Most pads should feel fairly dry, if you’re wearing the correct absorbancy. And many of them should not be visible, again if you’re wearing the right size and style for your body shape. Because it’s an outer product, and a disposable one, there is quite the amount of user error.

    1. You know what? I haven’t tried pads since I was in junior high. And I want to be fair: that was like ’99! It’s totally possible that pad technology has gotten better since then. If it works for you, let the haters hate!

    2. yeah I have consistently used pads my whole menstrual life and in the past ten years or so, don’t think I have had leakage with them once. Most pads are so much better than they were 15 years ago, and you can get a ton of sizes. I get storebrand ones which are cheaper and less fancy smancy aswell, and like I say, no probs!

  4. I started using a diva cup last year because Rebel Kate (https://rebelkate.com/products/your-free-menstrual-cup) often offers a promotion for 2 free cups. You just have to pay the $10 shipping. So basically 2 cups for $10 which is awesome and I totally recommend it. I absolutely loved using the diva cup!

    …..until I was drunk on my period and accidentally pulled out my IUD with my cup….. Didn’t actually cause any problems other than a mild panic attack and an embarrassing doctor visit a year-and-a-half early, but still. So that’s the downside.

  5. Speaking of IUDs…the Mirena can stop your period. Best side effect of a super effective form of birth control. Some insurances cover the full cost of a Mirena, so almost no money going out on birth control or period. Almost as easy as being a man (but not quite because there’s still a gyno visit involving a cold speculum, a breath-sucking moment of inner twinging and a day or two of cramping). IUDs are now being recommended even for adolescent ladies by, of all things, the American Academy of Pediatrics. So, Mirena can work for any female who isn’t trying to get pregnant.

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