Stigma surrounding periods has existed all throughout history, with records of period shaming stretching back to 73 AD. Nowadays, even with growing awareness surrounding menstrual stigma, derogatory comments and actions directed towards the menstrual cycle still exist. Miki Agarwal, the founder and CEO of THINX, a prominent period underwear company, states that many individuals continue to struggle with internalized stigma about their periods, and avoid the subject matter, believing their cycle to be “gross” and “disgusting.” Additionally, she adds that because many people are afraid to touch their period blood, they refrain from using products such as menstrual cups that require them to do so. Stigma around periods acts as a major contributor to the menstrual product industry, particularly for pads and tampons.
However, is calling sanitary products “feminine hygiene products” disrespectful? This question has begun progressively garnering attention in the past few years. These labels can potentially reinforce toxic stereotypes, adding additional pressure to groups that already face discrimination, and contribute to existing stigma around menstrual cycles, making people feel the need to conceal their “unladylike” periods.
The femininity-centered branding of menstrual products can contribute to severe distress caused by gender dysphoria. Possible symptoms of gender dysphoria include a “strong dislike” toward one’s “sexual anatomy,” as well as a “strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match their experienced gender.” The feminine branding around sanitary products can fuel this dislike for one’s sexual anatomy, particularly in transgender men.
Kenny Jones, a transgender model, elaborates on his experiences with this issue, saying that getting his period made him feel “like less of a man,” as he only associated menstruation with cisgender women. He also stated that chest swelling and pain, which often accompanies periods, can serve as a painful reminder of body parts that these menstruators do not identify with. This, along with cramps and other pains, made his period impossible to hide. He reflects on his monthly period pains, saying that “I didn't like having breasts, but they didn't cause me the same discomfort that my period did.”
Sawyer DeVuyst, another transgender model based in Brooklyn, New York, details his experience with menstruation. After coming out as a trans man at 23 and starting to take testosterone at 28, he continued to receive his period for 5 years while identifying as a man. He recalls wearing layers upon layers of underwear under his boxers to prevent bleeding through, and stated that having his period was a risk to him, as someone could hear him opening a menstrual product, exposing him to potential harm or discrimination. DeVuyst adds that as a transgender male who had periods, society’s ignorance to menstruation in men became ingrained in his head. He points out that the reason most people do not realize that men can menstruate is because of “a lack of trans male visibility, and within that visibility, nobody is talking about periods or menstruation because it is a source of shame. It strips away masculinity because it is viewed as a very feminine thing. So, it’s very cyclical in that way that nobody’s talking about it because it is feminine and it stays feminine because nobody’s talking about men getting their periods.”
Jamie Raines also spoke out about being a trans man having to deal with periods, saying that “As a trans guy, I went through about 18 months of my life where I was living full-time as male but I was still having my period, and pretty much everything period-related is aimed at women.” He recalled his experiences with purchasing products and how it “was a really uncomfortable experience having to buy them myself, particularly when I wasn’t always read as male….when I was in the shop, I would often resort to pretending to call my girlfriend as if I was buying one for her.”
Fortunately, some companies have noticed this issue and are starting to change and adapt. Always, one of the largest menstrual product companies in the world, removed the venus symbol from the packaging of their products with the purpose of being more inclusive towards menstruators who are not female or do not identify as female. THINX, a major period underwear company, fights against this characterization of menstrual products as “feminine” by introducing a “boyshort” underwear style, geared specifically towards men, and terminating the use of the term “feminine hygiene products” to describe their assortment of goods. While these revisions are certainly imperfect and additional modifications are absolutely necessary, further improvements are sure to come as we continue our support for the LGBTQ+ community.