If you’re a teen — or the parent of a teen — and you’re curious about menstrual cups, we’re glad you’re here! At Pixie Cup, a big part of our mission is empowering women to live free, and we believe menstrual cups help make that happen in so many ways.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: periods are a completely normal part of life, and nothing to be ashamed of. But, we get it — they can be messy and inconvenient. That’s where menstrual cups come in! A menstrual cup can provide 12 hours of leak-free period protection. And, one menstrual cup can last up to 10 years! That means no more messy pads that feel like diapers, no more sitting on the sidelines while your friends are having fun at the pool, and no more starting your period only to discover you’re out of tampons. Our brand-new Pixie Teen Cup was designed in collaboration with teens to give you the perfect fit, so you can own your period now.
If you have questions about menstrual cups, you’ve come to the right place!
Can teens use a menstrual cup?
Teens can absolutely use a menstrual cup! There is no reason anyone who menstruates can’t use a menstrual cup. In fact, learning to use a menstrual cup as soon as your first period can make your period life much easier and a more positive experience.
Is a menstrual cup good for teens?
Menstrual cups are great for teens. Imagine … no worrying about leaks. No rushing to the bathroom between classes to change a pad or tampon. No worrying about how to deal with your period when you’re at the pool or away at summer camp. Plus, using a cup can help you better understand your body and your cycle, and many menstrual cup users report additional benefits, such as shorter periods and less cramping. Who wouldn’t want that?
Can you use a menstrual cup on your first period?
Yes, you can use a menstrual cup on your first period. As long as you are comfortable with the idea of inserting and removing a cup, there is no reason you can’t use one right from the start!
What is the smallest menstrual cup?
We designed our Pixie Teen Cup to be our smallest cup. It holds 18ml of fluid, which is approximately the capacity of two tampons. It’s slightly firmer than our Classic Pixie Cups, which can help make it easier to make your menstrual cup pop open. It’s also great for anyone with a lighter flow or a low cervix, or menstrual cup beginners of any age!
But what about …
We often hear from teens (and parents) who have concerns about using a menstrual cup. Below are some of the questions we hear most often. Don’t see your question listed? Contact us and let us know!
Will a menstrual cup make me lose my virginity?
No, a menstrual cup will not take away your virginity. By definition, a virgin is someone who has never had sex. Internal products like tampons or menstrual cups don’t change that. But this is such a common question, we have an entire blog post on the subject! Visit Can a virgin use a menstrual cup? to learn more.
How do you clean a menstrual cup in a public restroom?
Cleaning a menstrual cup at school or any other place with a public restroom takes a little extra planning, but it can be done! Our Pixie Wipes and Sterilizing Container were made for exactly this purpose.
A lot of girls are hesitant to use tampons because of their association with toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a complication caused by a bacterial infection, and it can actually happen to anyone — not just menstruating girls and women. TSS is often linked to tampons because inserting a tampon can cause minor abrasions in the vagina, which can allow bacteria to enter into the bloodstream.
One of the worst things about managing your period during the summer is figuring out what to do about activities such as swimming and other water sports. A lot of people think that unless you wear tampons, you’re out of luck. But a menstrual cup is the perfect solution! Once you get the hang of inserting your cup, it should not leak, and you can safely wear it in the water. Learn more about swimming with a menstrual cup.
Before you try a menstrual cup …
With that out of the way, let’s talk details. How do you actually use this thing anyway? Here are our top five tips for menstrual cup success!
1. Be patient
The first time you try a menstrual cup, you may find yourself laughing a little in slight panic. You’re supposed to put that there? Don’t worry, we promise it will fit! Be patient with yourself and give your body some time to get used to this new thing you’re trying. It’s totally normal for it to take a few cycles before you’re perfectly comfortable inserting and removing your cup. If it all seems a little weird at first, you are definitely not alone! Although using a cup can take a little practice, it’s definitely worth it, so don’t give up!
Check out Jaleia Christine’s advice for new cup users.
2. Use lubricant
A little lubricant can make all the difference when inserting a menstrual cup. Our Pixie Cup Lube is the only lubricant on the market designed specifically for menstrual cups! It’s a water-based and fragrance-free formula that’s safe for your sensitive skin. Just squeeze a tiny bit onto the rim of your cup for a smooth and hassle-free insertion.
3. Find your favorite fold
There are many different ways to fold a menstrual cup, and everyone has a favorite! The punch-down fold is popular because it creates a small insertion point. Once the cup is folded, the point of insertion is no bigger than a regular tampon. Check out our post on menstrual cup folds, and try a few different methods until you find one that works best for you.
4. Do a practice run
You may find it helpful to practice inserting your cup before you actually need to use it. Pick a time when you can have the bathroom to yourself and you won’t be interrupted. Wash your cup, grab your lube … and relax. If you’re feeling nervous or anxious, it can make your muscles tense up, which will make inserting your cup harder. Practice inserting your cup and checking to see that it’s fully open. There should be no folds when you run your finger around the outside of the cup. When the cup is inserted properly, you shouldn’t even feel it. Practice removing your cup by gently breaking the seal and wiggling it out (don’t just pull on it).
5. Use a backup
It’s totally normal to experience some leaking as you get used to using a menstrual cup, especially during the first few cycles. If you see some leaks, don’t panic! Wear a pantyliner (we like our reusable Pixie Pads) or some period underwear as a backup. After a few months, you may not need to use a backup anymore, or you can continue using one for additional peace of mind, especially if you have a heavy flow.
Advice for parents
If you’re researching options for your teen or preteen daughter, you probably have a lot of questions. Between cups, discs, reusable pads, and period underwear, there are a lot more options for menstrual management than you probably had when you were younger! And while menstrual cups are a perfectly safe option for young girls, we understand not everyone is comfortable using internal menstrual products.
Some tips for helping your daughter start her period life with freedom and confidence:
Make sure she understands her options. Help her research, but let her choose which products she wants to use. Remember it’s her body, and she should be comfortable with whatever products she chooses.
Don’t push her to use internal menstrual products if she isn’t ready. Sometimes girls just need some time to get used to the idea. We’ve seen many girls who gradually came around to the idea of a menstrual cup simply because they were tired of not being able to participate in swimming and other activities while on their period.
Don’t limit your daughter’s access to menstrual hygiene products simply because of her age. It’s not uncommon for girls to get their first period as young as 10. That may seem young to start using a menstrual cup (especially if you remember being hesitant to use tampons as a teen!). But it’s more a question of maturity rather than age. Some young girls may be mature enough to use a cup. If she feels like she’s ready to use a cup, be supportive. Help her learn and understand how to use and care for a cup properly.
Make cups a part of her daily routine. One of the great things about cups is that they can be worn for up to 12 hours. That means unless your daughter’s flow is very heavy, she likely won’t have to worry about changing her cup while at school. Make using her cup part of her morning and evening routine — have her set a timer on her phone so she doesn’t forget to take it out and clean it.
As a mom of teens / tweens, I don’t want my girls using any menstrual products that contain harmful chemicals. I talked to my girls about menstrual cups very early and helped them learn how to use them. They love the freedom that cups provide, and I love that they aren’t using tampons made with pesticide or bleach.
Menstrual cups can be a little intimidating at first, but like anything else, they get easier with practice! Our online store has everything you need to experience period freedom. And as always, we are here to help! If you have additional questions, drop a comment below or contact us.
So you’re looking into hopping on the reusable menstrual pad bandwagon? You’ve come to the right place! We recently released our Organic Cotton Pixie Pads and we’re so excited about this new product!
A lot of thought went into creating our new Pixie Pads. We’ve seriously worked hard to bring you pads that are good for both you and the planet. We are so thrilled to be able to offer another option to manage your period in an eco-friendly way!
Here’s everything you need to know about using and caring for reusable menstrual pads.
What are reusable menstrual pads?
In the late 1800’s, nurses started to fashion disposable pads out of a wood pulp fiber for the ease of throwing them away after use. In January 1921, Kotex published their first advertisement about a disposable menstrual pad product. Up until that point, cloth and rags were the norm for a woman on her cycle every month. As more women began working outside the home, the demand for disposable pads and menstrual products began to rise. Disposable tampons weren’t invented until 1931!
Reusable menstrual pads have become popular again with consumers becoming more conscious of our carbon footprint and looking for ways to reduce waste. With growing concerns over what we put into landfills, many mass consumables such as diapers, pads + tampons, plastic bags, and paper towels have steadily been rivaled by reusable options.
The bathroom in particular is one area that tends to produce a lot of waste. Most bathroom products are single-use items and can be hard to recycle. But sustainable products such as menstrual cups, cloth menstrual pads, bidets (seriously, get yourself a Tushy) and reusable makeup remover pads are rising in popularity!
Thanks to COVID-19, so many of us were faced with the brutal reality that we need to shift to more sustainable options. Toilet paper and paper towels weren’t the only scarcity! Single-use menstrual products were also hard to find during the initial COVID-19 wave that led to a shortage of disposable products around the country (and the world). If you haven’t already made the switch, a menstrual cup is a fantastic way to reduce your use of single-use bathroom products (and you’ll never again have to rush to the drug store after realizing you’re out of tampons!)
How do reusable menstrual pads work?
The concept of a reusable cloth pad is the same as a single-use disposable pad. They are designed to fit in your underwear, snap securely in place, and absorb your menstrual flow.
As with disposable pads, they come in different sizes and absorbency levels. Our Pixie Pads are available in 3 different sizes: pantiliner, day pad, and overnight pad. They consist of three unique layers: soft organic cotton (which is comfortable against the skin), absorbent inner layers of bamboo terry cloth, and a bottom layer of PUL, which is what makes them leak proof! Each size has a different number of bamboo terry cloth layers inside (the pantiliner has 1 layer, the overnight pad has 4 layers).
Are reusable menstrual pads sanitary?
Reusable cloth pads are sanitary when used and cared for properly. With any menstrual hygiene product that sits against the skin, it’s important to use the correct absorbency and change them when they become saturated. If the pad is wet, it can irritate the skin.
“Reusable sanitary pads are just as healthy and safe as disposable ones,” gynecologist Dr. Anne Henderson told Women’s Health. “It is a myth that there is a need to kill bacteria on the pads as sanitary pads are not sterile, regardless of whether they are disposable or reusable. Simple hygienic cleaning is all that is required – nothing more complex than that.
So, how do you wash reusable menstrual pads?
Washing reusable menstrual pads is actually simple!
Rinse and soak
Rinse your pad after removal and toss it into a wet bag (we include one!) until you’re ready to do the laundry. You could also opt to soak your pads in water to help reduce staining until you’re ready to wash them. Try dropping them into a leak-proof trash can or bucket with water, a teaspoon of Castile soap, and some antibacterial essential oils like peppermint or tea tree oil.
We suggest using a simple, eco-friendly detergent that doesn’t contain additives or fragrances. Wash in cold water to prevent staining. If you’ve soaked your pads in water, dump them into the washer and run them through a rinse and spin cycle first. Then you can add towels or anything else you want to wash along with your pads. Never use fabric softener with your reusable menstrual pads; the conditioners in the fabric softener will coat the fibers and reduce absorbency. If you find that your pads are less absorbent over time, you may need to “strip” them of any detergent buildup. This is incredibly popular in the cloth diaper community. (Learn more about that here.)
We strongly recommend hanging to dry to prevent shrinkage. If you’re crunched on time, you can tumble dry them on a low-heat setting.
That’s it! Once dry, your pads are ready to use again.
Do reusable menstrual pads save me money?
Yes, reusable menstrual pads will definitely save you money! The initial upfront purchase (like switching to a period cup) could cause sticker shock to some, but the pads will pay for themselves within a few months, depending on how often you typically purchase single-use pads.
For example, the average box of organic disposable pads runs $22, and one box may last 2 cycles if you’re changing them every few hours. (We aren’t including panty liners or overnight pads in this estimation.)
Depending on how often you wash + dry your Pixie Pads, you may want a few packs in different sizes. That means you could break even in 6-8 months.
It’s estimated that the average menstruating human will dispose of over 16,000 single-use pads and tampons in their life. That’s a lot of money and a lot of waste! Our Pixie Pads can last for years with proper care, save you money, and keep those single-use plastics out of the landfills. We recently talked about how menstrual cups save you money in the long run as well.
How long do reusable menstrual pads last?
The lifespan of a cloth pad can vary, depending on how often they are used and how they are cared for. Generally, you can expect them to last up to 5 years with proper care. Some people say their cloth pads last even longer.
Ready to give cloth pads a try? Our Pixie Pads are available in 3 sizes and are made with high-quality, certified organic cotton, free of dyes, chlorine bleaching, fragrances, and harsh chemicals. Pixie Pads have multiple layers that will give you the leak-free protection you need, day or night and heavy or light!
Do you have concerns about your pelvic floor muscles? If so, you’re not alone. Pelvic floor issues are common among women. The muscles of the pelvic floor serve a number of functions: They help with bladder control, bowel control, and sexual function. They also support the pelvic organs — which include the bladder, uterus, cervix, vagina, and rectum — and help keep everything in the proper place. Strong pelvic floor muscles also help you prepare for and recover from childbirth. So it’s important to keep your pelvic muscles strong no matter what stage of life you’re in!
If the muscles of your pelvic floor become weak, it can lead to problems such as urinary incontinence (leaking urine), bowel dysfunction, reduced vaginal sensation, and difficulty wearing tampons. Severe cases of pelvic floor dysfunction can lead to pelvic organ prolapse, which occurs when the muscles can no longer support the organs in the pelvic region, and the organs become weak or loose. In some cases, the organs can even drop into or outside of the vaginal canal.
Please note: Some people who experience urinary incontinence may have pelvic floor muscles that are too tight and cannot relax. This condition can be made worse by the use of Kegel exercises or vagina weights, which may create more tension or pain. If you are experiencing pelvic floor issues, make an appointment with your doctor or a pelvic floor therapist for an accurate diagnosis.
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles
Fortunately, you can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles with targeted exercises. We wrote a whole blog post about pelvic floor exercises here!
You’ve probably heard of Kegel exercises. Developed by a gynecologist named Arnold Kegel in the 1940s, Kegel exercises involve repeatedly contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urinating midstream. This is the same action you’ll perform to contract during Kegel exercises. Once you’ve identified the action, you can do Kegel exercises anywhere. Try holding the contraction for three seconds, and then relax for three seconds. For best results, aim for three sets of 10-15 reps every day.
To further strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, you can add weights to your Kegel exercises. These weights are known as Kegel weights or Kegel balls.
What are Kegel weights?
Kegel weights, also known as vaginal weights or Kegel balls, are small weights designed to be used inside the vagina. They provide resistance, just like any other strength training routine. Think about it — you can do biceps curls without dumbbells, but you won’t get the same results. In the same way, Kegel weights help you achieve even better results from your Kegel exercises.
How do Kegel weights work?
The idea of inserting a weight into your vagina may sound strange, but stay with us! The weights can actually make doing Kegel exercises easier: they give your muscles something to contract around, and provide resistance that will help you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles faster. Plus, they help you make sure that you’re doing your Kegel exercises correctly, because you’ll be able to feel the weight being squeezed and lifted. Kegel weight sets, like our Pixie Cup Kegel Weights, often come with several different weights so that you can increase the weight as you get stronger.
How to insert Kegel weights
Using Kegel weights for the first time may seem a little intimidating, but they’re easy to get the hang of! Inserting a Kegel weight is similar to inserting a tampon.
If your muscles are tense, it will be more difficult to insert the weight. You may want to rest one foot on the side of the tub or a chair, or even lie down.
Insert the weight
Insert the weight slowly. If you like, you can use a little bit of lubricant to make insertion easier. As you tighten your pelvic floor muscles to support the weight, you may notice that it’s naturally drawn into the vagina and away from your fingers. Some weights have a handle or a cord to make removal easier; this should remain outside the vagina.
Contract your muscles
Contract your muscles, just like you normally would when doing Kegel exercises. To start, try holding the contraction for just two seconds at a time. As you get used to the weights, you can work your way up to longer contractions.
How to remove Kegel weights
When you’re finished with your exercises, lie down in a comfortable position. You can add more lube to the vaginal opening to ease discomfort if desired. Relax your muscles and slowly pull on the handle to remove the weight. After removing, clean your weight thoroughly and allow it to air dry.
Kegel weight tips
To get the most out of your Kegel weights, follow these tips:
1. Find your pelvic floor muscles
Before you try using Kegel weights, you’ll want to make sure that you’re inserting them properly. If the weight is placed too high or too low, you won’t get an effective workout. To determine the proper placement, try inserting a finger into your vagina and then contract your pelvic floor muscles, just like you would when you’re trying to stop the flow of urine. You’ll feel the muscles contracting around your finger. You want to insert the weight so it sits just above this muscle. And don’t worry about the weight getting lost inside you; there’s only so far it can go before it reaches your cervix.
2. Choose a good position
If you’re new to Kegel weights, you may want to try them while lying down. That’s because gravity can make lifting the weights more challenging. As you progress, you’ll be able to use the weights while sitting, standing, or even walking around. Whichever position you choose, make sure you’re comfortable and not distracted, so you can focus on doing your exercises correctly.
3. Start small
When you’re just starting out, use the lightest weight, and try holding the contraction for just two seconds at a time. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to hold the contractions longer and work up to heavier weights.
4. Make it a habit
One of the best ways to stick to a new habit is to add it to a habit you’re already doing — a technique known as habit stacking. Chances are, you’re already spending time every morning brushing your teeth and washing your face. Try adding your Kegel weight exercises to this part of your morning routine a few days a week, and soon it’ll be second nature.
5. Be patient
Like any workout routine, using Kegel weights will take some time to deliver results. To get a clear picture of your progress, keep track of your workouts in a designated notebook or a note on your phone. Write down which weight you used, how long you held the contractions, and how many reps you completed. After a while, you’ll be able to look back and really see how all your effort has paid off.
6. Keep your weights clean
Anything you’re using inside your vagina — whether it’s Kegel weights or a menstrual cup — should be clean and sterilized to prevent any bacteria from passing into the vagina. Wash your weights with a pH-balanced cleanser after each use. Our Pixie Cup Wash is perfect for this! It’s made from 100% all-natural plant-based ingredients and is safe for your weights and anything else that comes into contact with your genital region.
Kegel weight FAQs
Still not sure if Kegel weights are right for you? Take a look at some of these frequently asked questions about Kegel weights.
Do Kegel weights make you tighter?
Kegel weights can help improve your resting pelvic floor tone, which can help decrease urinary leakage and decrease the risk of future pelvic floor prolapse. Kegel weights can also help with improving sexual function, as climax is a maximal pelvic floor contraction.
How far do you insert Kegel weights?
Kegel weights should be inserted so that the “weight” part is no longer visible and it feels comfortable, similar to how far you would insert your menstrual cup.
How long can you leave Kegel weights in?
Kegel weights are intended to be used for roughly 5-10 minutes a day, three days a week. As you get stronger, you can work up to longer sessions and more reps.
Can I leave Kegel weights in all day?
Kegel weights are not designed to be worn all day. Using them for too long can overexert the pelvic floor muscles, potentially leading to injury. Ouch! Don’t try to rush the process. Again, start with shorter contractions and a lighter weight, and work your way up as you get stronger.
How often should you use Kegel weights?
Use your Kegel weights 3-4 time a week for best results. Think of it like you would lifting weights for any other muscle. If you lift too often, your muscles won’t have time to recover! Always wait at least a day or two between uses.
How long does it take to see results?
Your individual results will vary depending on the current state of your pelvic floor muscles, but some people report noticing a difference after just one week of using Kegel weights. When using Kegel weights regularly, most people will notice benefits within a few weeks to a few months.
Who can benefit from Kegel weights?
Kegel weights are often helpful for women who:
• Have had any sort of pelvic surgery, such as fibroid surgery, and need to restrengthen their pelvic floor • Have symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, such as urinary incontinence or a prolapsed uterus • Are pregnant and want to strengthen the pelvic floor to make labor and delivery relatively easier • Have given birth vaginally and want to tighten vaginal muscles that have become loose • Have gone through or are going through menopause, which increases the risk of uterine prolapse • Frequently lift heavy objects, which can strain the pelvic floor muscles
PLEASE NOTE: This product is not intended to treat or cure medical issues. Please consult your doctor prior to use. Anything advised here is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor. You should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to your health and particularly with respect to anything related to pelvic health. If you have any gynecological conditions, please talk to your physician.
Are you looking for the perfect gift for the eco-conscious adventurer who is passionate about reducing waste? Here’s a list of gifts that will fit right inside a stocking and make any adventure — and everyday life — a little bit easier!
If you are an eco-minded individual looking for presents for your friends, these small gifts are a great way to introduce your pals to the zero-waste life! They’re also a perfect Secret-Santa size so you can pick out a no-brainer gift for that friend or coworker who’s impossible to please!
Collapsible Water Bottle
You can find a space-saving collapsible water bottle in virtually any color! It’s perfect for the friend who is a minimalist (collapsible), lives a zero-waste lifestyle (reusable), and stylish (totally cute)! This water bottle is great for trips to the gym or sipping on the go! Shop Que water bottles.
Fair-Trade Reusable Face Masks
Single-use face masks have become one of 2020’s biggest sources of pollution. Get your squad some stylish and sustainably made reusable masks that won’t end up on the ground — or in the ocean. We like these masks from Tonlé, which are made from fabric remnants discarded by larger manufacturers, and use three layers of quilted cotton — the recommended practice for cloth masks. Plus, the masks are made by Cambodian workers, who receive fair wages, free lunch, vacation pay, and other benefits.
It’s astounding how many pads or tampons we can go through over the course of our lives. Fortunately there’s another option: a menstrual cup. Ours comes with a 100% happiness guarantee! The Pixie Cup is the ideal stocking stuffer and is the perfect gift for the adventurer who loves to live in freedom! Our small Pixie Cup is a safe bet for most people, or you can gift your bestie our combo pack, which comes with a small and a large. Feel weird about picking out a menstrual cup for someone else? We got you, boo. You can still give the gift of period freedom with a Pixie Cup gift card.
This little sterilizing container is cute, compact, and multi-functional. You can use it for a quick rinse in a public restroom, or a deep clean boil in the microwave! Bonus: it’s collapsible, so it takes up hardly any space in your purse or backpack. It’s the ideal gift for any Pixie Cup user!
These handy cloths are perfect for the girl who is always headed off on her next adventure! They replace toilet paper (for pee only) and snap onto your backpack, so “Leave No Trace” can be realized fully in the great outdoors! Shop Kula Cloth.
While we’re on the subject of pee… we may as well talk about this fantastic device! It makes “doing your business” while out in the wild a breeze! This is the perfect gift for the girl who is always out adventuring in the great unknown where a bathroom is an unknown luxury! Shop GoGirl.
Is your friend passionate about reducing the number of straws that end up in the ocean? Help her reduce her environmental footprint with this super cute collapsible straw! It comes with a cleaning brush and a sleek carrying case, which makes it the perfect size to keep in a purse… and slip in a stocking on Christmas morning! Shop on Amazon.
Best of luck on your gift-giving excursions this year and we hope you find the perfect item for everyone on your list!
Combating period poverty is a big part of our mission at Pixie Cup. In fact, you could even say it’s why we exist. We believe that no one should have to go without the basic supplies necessary for managing their periods with dignity. Unfortunately, many people all over the world don’t have access to period products, which can negatively impact their development, health, and economic opportunities.
You may have heard the term “period poverty” before, but what does it really mean? Who is affected by period poverty? And how can we work together to stop it?
What does period poverty mean?
Period poverty refers to a lack of access to menstrual supplies and education. This includes menstrual products such as pads and tampons, as well as access to clean water and washing facilities.
Many people who menstruate have to choose every month between buying menstrual supplies or buying other basic necessities, including food. People who can’t afford menstrual products may resort to using rags, toilet paper, socks, or paper towels to collect menstrual fluid.
Why is period poverty important?
Period poverty isn’t just an economic issue; it’s also a health issue. Lack of access to period products can lead to major health consequences. Some people, in an effort to extend the life of their menstrual products, may wear pads and tampons for far longer than recommended, which can be dangerous as well as unsanitary. Wearing tampons for too long, wearing a tampon that’s the wrong size, or using other materials internally — such as toilet paper — can lead to toxic shock syndrome — a serious and sometimes fatal health condition.
When women and girls don’t have access to menstrual hygiene products, they may have to miss work or school. Nearly 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. has had to miss school or leave school early due to a lack of access to menstrual products, and 36 percent of women surveyed said they had missed work because they did not have access to period products.
Nearly 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. has had to miss school or leave school early due to a lack of access to menstrual products.
Missed school means missed opportunities for people who menstruate, and the accompanying emotional toll can cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
“Adequate menstrual hygiene management is not a luxury,” says Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, an associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University. “It’s a need. It affects a woman’s sense of self, her sense of dignity and her ability to participate in life.”
Who is affected by period poverty?
Period poverty affects people all over the world. We often hear of women in developing countries who lack access to menstrual products, but period poverty very much affects people in the U.S. as well.
In the U.S., 1 in 5 women struggle to afford menstrual products every month, according to a 2019 study conducted at St. Louis University. Forty-six percent of low-income women have had to choose between a meal or buying period products.
In the U.S., 1 in 5 women struggle to afford menstrual products every month.
Women in the U.S. are already 38% more likely than men to live in poverty, according to the National Women’s Law Center, and low-income women with children face additional challenges. For moms, kids’ needs take priority. Many women will purchase diapers first, and may not have money remaining for menstrual products.
Period poverty among incarcerated women
Period poverty is also a major issue among incarcerated women. As of August 2017, women in federal prisons have access to free tampons, pads, and pantiliners. But state and local jails — where women are more likely to be sent — have yet to pass similar laws.
Women in state prisons may be allocated a certain number of menstrual products each month, and may be forced to beg or barter if they need more. While menstrual products may be available for purchase at the commissary, many prisoners can’t afford to buy more on a salary that amounts to less than a dollar per hour. To make matters worse, menstrual products provided in state prisons are often of such poor quality that inmates may have to use multiple pads at once, and they may be punished if they bleed on their uniforms.
If inmates are forced to improvise, the results can be life-threatening. One incarcerated woman in Maryland got toxic shock syndrome after using toilet paper as a makeshift tampon, and required an emergency hysterectomy.
Period poverty among women experiencing homelessness
More than 216,000 women experience homelessness on any given night in the U.S., and women and families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. The increased demands on homeless shelters mean that shelters can’t always provide menstrual products to all menstruating residents.
COVID-19 has made period poverty worse
The COVID-19 health crisis has made period poverty even worse. At the height of the pandemic, marginalized populations who were already struggling to afford period products began to face additional challenges as people lost their jobs and store shelves emptied of basic supplies. For many people, the pandemic has created additional hardships such as loss of income, potential homelessness, and a lack of access to basic care, which can make it harder to access menstrual supplies.
Many people who may have had access to menstrual products in schools or public facilities before the pandemic lost that support as schools and other facilities have closed. And social service organizations that rely on volunteers to package and deliver donations to people in need saw their operations come to a halt as volunteers were forced to stay at home.
One in four people between the ages of 13 and 35 reported that it has been harder to manage their periods since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey conducted in May. Fifty-eight percent of participants stated that they had less money to spend on menstrual products due to COVID, and 50% reported that it has been harder to access menstrual products.
The tampon tax
Another issue contributing to period poverty is what’s known as the “tampon tax.” In the United States, individual states have the ability to decide how sales tax is levied. Certain necessities, such as prescription medications, are usually exempt from sales tax. But most states do not consider menstrual products to be necessities, and thus they are subject to sales tax. In some states, menstrual products are taxed at the highest rate.
Sales tax on menstrual products may not seem like a big issue, but for someone already struggling to afford basic necessities, that sales tax is an additional burden. And, it’s a burden that only affects people who menstruate. Also consider that many non-essential items are tax exempt across the U.S. For example, cowboy boots are exempt from sales tax in Texas, and bingo supplies are tax exempt in Missouri.
Period products also aren’t covered by health insurance or Medicaid, and they can’t be purchased with government-assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP.
How can we stop period poverty?
Making sure that everyone has access to menstrual products requires big changes through health and policy initiatives, like global removal of the tampon tax and free menstrual products in schools. Currently only three states — New York, California, and Illinois — provide free menstrual products in schools. Many healthcare providers, organizations, and elected officials are advocating for policy changes related to menstrual hygiene.
While we wait for these legislative changes to make their way through government, there are plenty of things we can do to support people experiencing period poverty in our communities and around the world.
1. End period stigma
A big part of addressing period poverty is ending the stigma that surrounds menstruation. The UN reports that on any given day, 800 million people are menstruating, yet menstrual health remains one of the most taboo topics in the world. The stigma and taboos surrounding menstrual health continue to harm people who menstruate every day.
If people are unable to talk openly about periods and the challenges they face in accessing menstrual products, they are less likely to ask for or receive help.
It’s crucial that we work to normalize conversations about menstruation. Periods are a normal biological function that can tell you a lot about your overall health. Open and honest conversations about menstruation are crucial for arming people with the knowledge they need to manage their periods comfortably, with confidence and dignity.
Language that refers to periods as gross or shameful is very much ingrained in our culture. If you noticed yourself or your friends treating menstruation as if it’s disgusting or something to be ashamed of, challenge yourself to reframe how you look at or talk about periods, and encourage your friends to do the same.
Open and honest conversations about menstruation are crucial for arming people with the knowledge they need to manage their periods comfortably, with confidence and dignity.
2. Join the tampon tax protest
Visit taxfreeperiod.com to learn more about the tampon tax. The Tax Free Period campaign was created by the organization Period Equity, which is calling on all U.S. states to eliminate the tampon tax by Tax Day 2021. When you sign up on their website, they will send a letter to your governor asking for the tampon tax to be abolished in your state if it isn’t already.
5. Buy menstrual products from brands committed to helping women facing period poverty
Many menstrual supply companies, including Pixie Cup, are committed to helping those in need. For every Pixie Cup sold, we donate one to a woman who doesn’t have access to menstrual products. One menstrual cup can last up to 10 years, eliminating the need to buy expensive disposable period products every month. For a woman experiencing period poverty, a menstrual cup can be truly life-changing.
Our Buy One, Give One program recipients
Since we launched our Buy One Give One program in the summer of 2017, we have donated 100,000 menstrual cups to women in need. In 2020, our cups have been distributed to organizations helping women such as:
Days for Girls, who have distributed our cups to various recipients, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Navajo Nation
Portland Parks & Recreation Youth Conservation Crew
Convoy of Hope, who have distributed our cups to girls in need in rural school districts
Pixie Cup founder Amber English also recently traveled to Tanzania with WorldServe International, where she distributed 400 menstrual cups to female leaders and teachers in rural areas. Learn more about our work in Tanzania.
Your Pixie Cup purchase helps a woman in need
We’re on a mission to empower every woman in the world with a life-changing period by putting a Pixie Cup in their hands through our Buy One, Give One program. It’s a big mission, but with your help, we can do it. As of today, we’ve given over 100,000 cups to those in period poverty — and we won’t stop until every single woman or girl in need has the resources to manage her period with dignity. Visit our online store.