We fiddled around with the numbers and discovered that periods aren't cheap (big surprise!). The average person will spend thousands of dollars to manage menstruation. But cost doesn't just entail money. Having a period can cost in other ways: mental, physiological, societal, environmental...
Let's dive into what a period really costs.
Not having access to menstrual products can put people at a disadvantage and create inequalities. With every Ruby Cup purchase you also donate a cup to someone without healthy menstrual solutions and help them experience more dignified periods. Shop Ruby Cup now.
Monetary period costs
Managing a period is no cheap feat, especially as it's not something someone chooses. A study done on 860 postmenopausal Dutch participants found that they averaged 451 periods in their lifetime - that's about 37.5 years of periods!
Buying supplies for 30+ years of menstruation adds up. People have to spend on:
- Period products such as pads, tampons, and panty liners (or more financially sound reusable products such as the menstrual cup)
- Analgesics to deal with painful physical symptoms
- Replacing ruined underwear (and sometimes even clothes)
- Natural or prescription medications to manage intense pain or mood swings
With the continuous cycle of periods, you can imagine just how much people spend over a lifetime. We got into the nitty gritty of product vs period cost if you'd like to read more.
The pink tax and tampon tax
Have you ever noticed that products marketed towards women cost more than similar products designed for men? This is often referred to as the pink - or gender - tax, and it's totally unfair. Considering that women are generally paid less and perform more unpaid work than men, an increase on identical products breeds further inequality.
Even more concerning is taxing an essential product. Until recently, period products were taxed and some countries are recognizing their error - they're now deciding to remove this tax and acknowledging menstrual products as necessary. Period Equity is on a legal campaign to eliminate the tampon tax in all US states. And rightly so. How can we tax an essential product that half of the population uses?
Scotland was the first country to make period products free of charge to anyone who needs them and is a great example of what can be done to remove the stress and monetary obligation from those who simply cannot afford access to menstrual products.
Psychological cost of periods
Whether in school, the workforce, or simply in mixed gender groups, the costs of periods on the emotional state of the one experiencing them can be taxing. Even worse is the stress that comes from not being able to afford the proper products or deal with menstruation safely.
The emotional cost of period poverty
A study commissioned by US period underwear brand Thinx and PERIOD found that lack of access to menstrual products includes risks of anxiety, logistical challenges and even infection. According to the study, 1 in 5 teens have struggled to afford period products or couldn't afford them at all. 84% of students either missed class or knew someone who missed class because they didn't have access to period products.
An anonymous student said that worrying about the toilet paper stuffed in their underwear "caused me so much more stress in my everyday life". It is evident that the inability to afford menstrual products affects peoples' mental well-being negatively.
Lack of confidence in managing periods
When young people begin menstruating in school, they often receive little education preparing them for the occasion. In the same Thinx study, 79% of students felt they needed more in-depth education around menstrual health. In other countries where the topic of menstruation is still quite taboo, these young people receive almost no information. Imagine the sudden shock of beginning your period and not understanding what was going on.
The cost of period stigma and shame
Unfortunately, period shame and period stigma continue to exist around the world. A study done in the US found that 70% of students were especially self-conscious of periods in the school environment, while 83% hid period products on the way to the bathroom. In the Thinx study, an astounding 80% of respondents said they felt there was a negative association with periods, that they were unsanitary or "gross".
There are also countries where the education around periods is minimal and stigma surrounding bodily function runs deep. In countries like Bangladesh or India, women are forbidden from cooking, touching food, or even entering the kitchen for fear that they may contaminate the food.
Carrying the burden of period stigma and being unable to afford or manage periods safely can cause great emotional stress. It's important to educate people around the world about menstruation as a natural phenomenon and not something to fear or be ashamed of.
The period costs on societies
Period poverty can have an adverse effect on whole societies and how they function. Without proper access to menstrual products, young people can miss out on school, endanger themselves, and propagate a cycle that keeps them living in poverty.
This report by Plan UK saw that in India, 20% of girls leave school after their first period. A US study found that 67% of students miss out on school because they don't have the right period products. It doesn't matter where in the world this happens, when a young person or their family is unable to afford menstrual products and has to miss school because of it, there is something wrong. By making products available to those who need them, we're ensuring that everyone has a right to a dignified life and can hopefully escape from the cycle of poverty.
Then there are the incredibly sad stories of young people selling their bodies just to manage their periods. In Western Kenya, a study found that girls 15 years of age and younger engaged in sex in exchange for menstrual pads. This is extremely dangerous and could increase the risk for STDs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies.
Physiological cost of having a period
Having a period can be hard. Bleeding from your uterus for 3-8 days of the month can be painful and interfere with daily activities. The symptoms that come pre-period or even throughout this 28-day cycle can have a cost on physiological well being.
Physiological symptoms of a period and throughout the cycle can include:
- oily skin and greasy hair
- headaches and backaches
- tender, achy, swollen, or sensitive breasts
- mood swings
- feelings of sensitivity
People who experience periods function on a monthly or 28 (on average) day cycle. This is wildly different from the cycles that people without periods experience. Those without periods work on a 24-hour cycle, where they’re most active in the morning and afternoon, and then taper off in the evening, only to start again the next day.
For people with periods, the cycle goes on over a much longer period, which sometimes makes it difficult for them to perform in the same way as their counterparts.
The menstrual cycle and its phases
A person with periods goes through 4 different cycles throughout the course of 21-36 days, repeating consistently throughout their lives from the time of their first period around 12 years of age to menopause usually around the age of 55.
The menstrual cycle is divided into 4 phases, where hormones play an important role in each one:
1: Menstrual phase
The first day of your period is day 1 of the menstrual cycle. A drop in the hormone progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to shed (this happens because the body didn't become impregnated). What we know as period "blood" is a combination of the uterine lining, blood and mucus. During menstruation, many people experience cramps, discomfort, and low energy. It's the best time to rest, but it's not always possible for everyone. Some people experience very severe symptoms and often have to miss work or school. This is where a period can cost much more than the products that come with managing it.
Symptoms: tiredness, low energy, painful contractions
2: Follicular phase
Just after the menstrual phase is when the follicular phase starts. A hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is released from the pituitary gland. This hormone stimulates your ovary's follicles to mature and eventually develop into eggs. Meanwhile, the hormone estrogen is responsible for preparing the walls of the uterus for a potential fertilized egg. A rise in estrogen and testosterone can give people a boost of energy and improve their mood.
Symptoms: boost of energy, improved mood
3: Ovulatory phase
Next comes ovulation. After all the preparation for the potential embryo, an egg is released from the follicle in the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. It will survive from 12 to 24 hours. The hormones estrogen and testosterone will be at their peak during this phase.
Symptoms: high energy, feelings of confidence, high sex drive
4: Luteal phase
Once the estrogen and testosterone come down from their peak in the last phase, the body will start producing progesterone. The hormone progesterone is responsible for getting the uterus ready for pregnancy. The first half of this phase can feel quite good, but the second phase can be tricky for a lot of people who experience periods. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms are common and can wreak havoc on a monthly basis.
Symptoms: breast tenderness, cravings, irritability, moodiness, bloating, anxiety
If there is no fertilized egg, progesterone drops, leading to menstruation, which has us back at phase 1.
Imagine going through this rollercoaster ride of hormones every month for (an average of) 40 years. That's what people with periods have to go through!
The constant up and down isn't the only issue to deal with. There are other common menstrual problems like PMS (as mentioned above), dysmenorrhoea (periods that are more painful than normal), menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding), and amenorrhoea which is the absence of periods altogether.
Simply having a uterus, vagina, cervix and ovaries offer more chances for issues. Conditions such as polyps, fibroids, uterine prolapse or malformation, pelvic inflammatory disease, and endometriosis, can also cause uncomfortable and even debilitating problems. Some of the most common symptoms for many of these conditions are the same - pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, or vaginal discharge. Many people suffer through these symptoms for a long time without discovering the condition causing the symptoms.
This again contributes to the cost of having a period. There is the psychological and emotional strain of having to deal with these symptoms or not receiving a proper diagnosis quickly, as well as the monetary costs associated with tests and visits to the doctor.
Environmental cost of periods
When menstrual products were invented with plastic, their creators hadn’t considered the environmental effect they would have. There was something new and useful on the market that revolutionized the system. We swapped out reusable and opted for disposable without ever thinking about the environmental costs.
Most disposable period products contain plastic. It's horrible to wrap your head around, isn't it? Each single-use disposable period product will end up in a landfill somewhere. If not disposed of properly, perhaps in the ocean or forest.
If the average person uses 25 disposable products per cycle, that's 300 pieces of plastic trash per year. In 10 years, that's 3,000. And a lifetime of using disposable pads and tampons? The number is overwhelming.
If you want to know what your options are (sustainable, eco-friendly and reusable) to deal with your period, check out the best period products for a more carefree period.
Then there are the microplastics. What scientists have discovered is that microplastics are everywhere. Many disposable period products still contain layers of absorbent plastic that allow the collection of even more menstrual blood. There are also, of course, plastic wrappers that envelop these disposable products as well as plastic applicators. When these products are sent to landfills or disposed of improperly they end up in the Earth's sensitive ecosystem. Plastic doesn't degrade, but simply breaks down into smaller pieces called microplastics.
We still don't know what damage it could have, but do you feel comfortable knowing that we could be ingesting a credit card's worth of plastic every week? We must make a positive change in the way we consume products today before it's too late.
Related post: Can plastic-free periods help us pay back climate debt?
Ruby Cup can help cut period costs and fight period poverty
Ruby Cup was founded on the base of contributing to the elimination of period poverty and making periods safer and products more accessible for people who struggle to deal with their periods around the world. The number of disposable products was also a cause for concern - we wanted to lessen the period cost on the environment too.
The Ruby Cup is a menstrual cup. It's made of medical-grade silicone that doesn't interfere with a vagina's often sensitive pH balance. It fits comfortably inside the vagina, similarly to a tampon. Instead of absorbing menstrual fluid like tampons or pads, it collects it inside the vagina and can be emptied out in the toilet, rinsed in the sink or with water from a bottle, and inserted again immediately for the next use. The fact that it collects blood within the vagina means there is less probability of smells and it can be worn longer than a pad. Even better: a Ruby Cup can last up to 10 years!
With every Ruby Cup purchase, you donate a cup to someone who needs it. We designed our donation program with a lot of care so that those receiving a menstrual cup would also be educated on their bodies and how to use their cup safely.
So yeah, we put a price on periods. They cost a lot. By educating people and speaking more openly about periods, we're slowly working towards a society that's open to embracing and accepting periods as they are.