Period poverty is lacking access to menstrual products, education, and hygiene resources needed when having a period. Let’s talk about it.
When Aunt Flo comes around each month, you’ll probably reach for a pad, tampon, or menstrual tray and go about your day as usual.
But for menstrually poor people, lack of access to these products can undermine their health, education and even their ability to work.
Menstrual poverty is not just a problem for developing countries. Globally, an estimated 500 million menstruating people lack access to menstrual products and related health resources.
According to a small 2021 U survey by Kotex, more than 40% of menstruating U.S. adults surveyed have difficulty accessing menstrual products at some point. That number increased and affected more blacks and Hispanics than a similar survey in 2018. Likely due to the impact of the pandemic.
What is period poverty?
Menstrual poverty refers to an individual’s “inability to access menstrual products, as well as sanitation and other hygiene resources [related to menstruation], such as functioning toilets, laundry facilities, and clean water,” explains Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, board-certified obstetrics and gynecology.
About 16.9 million menstruating voyeurs live in poverty in the United States. Like poverty in general, menstrual poverty stems from income disparities and a lack of access to much-needed resources. Not to mention, periods get expensive.
A survey backed by INTIMINA found that, on average, menstruating men spend $13.25 a month on menstrual products, which equates to $6,360 over their lifetime. Many states still tax menstrual products at rates ranging from 4.7% to 9.9%.
Another 2021 Statista survey found that 16% of teens said. They had to choose between buying period products and food or clothing.
How does period poverty impact health?
Period poverty goes beyond financial concerns and can have a huge impact on physical and mental health.
Higher risk of infection
When products such as pads, cups or tampons are not available, people often try alternative materials — like wipes, folded tissues, or even newspapers.
“When using products that aren’t designed to absorb menstrual blood, blood doesn’t drain from the skin,” says Lincoln. “This can lead to vulvar skin infections and skin irritation and breakouts.”
People who can afford some menstrual products during their cycle are also likely to use products for longer than the recommended duration. (51% of teens surveyed admitted to doing so). It could also lead to infection, Lincoln noted.
A 2018 study of Indian women also linked poor menstrual hygiene to increased prevalence of yeast infections, urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis and trichomoniasis. Although rare, leaving a tampon in for too long can also lead to toxic shock syndrome.
Mental Health Decline
People facing period poverty often report feeling ashamed, embarrassed and even guilty. It’s also common for people to feel restless and uncomfortable when they can’t manage their periods.
These feelings also relate to the existing stigma surrounding “dirty” periods. Even for those who do have access to menstrual care.
A 2021 study of college women found that 68.1 percent of menstrually poor women showed symptoms of moderate to severe depression. It’s also worth noting that people who generally face poverty also have higher rates of depression.
Restrictions on social life, work and education
“Imagine not being able to go to school during your period because you don’t have the money to buy sanitary pads,” Lincoln noted.
Outside of the classroom, 45% of menstruating patients in an INTIMINA survey said they canceled appointments. Or left work early because they didn’t have the right supplies.