We’ve all been there: dancing with friends at a party, hitting the books before a final exam, crawling into bed after a long day, when suddenly…yep, that’s definitely period blood, and, of course, you forgot to go buy tampons during your last Duane Reade run.
While this can be a frustrating situation to be in, if you want to look at the bright side of being stuck without a tampon (which, admittedly is pretty damn difficult), you can always declare the period of time (ha!) between getting your monthly gift from Mother Nature and your trip to the drug store as an experimentation in free bleeding.
Free bleeding is a seemingly radical concept that, when traced back in time, isn’t really all that radical. Its definition is exactly what it sounds like–going through your period without using sanitary products–and people with uteri have been free bleeding for ages; in the past, often only the wealthy had access to clean cloth to use as sanitary pads, leaving many others to use whatever scraps of cloth they could get their hands on or just to bleed without any leakage protection. Despite the widespread availability of period products now, scores people who experience the crimson scourge still choose to do so.
Some free bleeders do so out of sheer comfort: when you Google search “free bleeding”, you’ll come across a huge number of blog posts and guest columnists explaining that using a tampon or pad feels foreign and strange, a.k.a the last emotions you want to be experiencing when you’re in the midst of cramps and strong cravings for chocolate. This reasoning has become less taboo recently with the popularization of period underwear like Thinx, which absorbs menstrual blood and can be washed and re-used. Other free bleeders do to cut down on environmental waste; after all, the average American uses seven pounds of menstrual products each year, meaning that hundreds of millions of pounds of waste are being produced.
However, the justification for free bleeding that has gained the most attention recently was championed by Kiran Gandhi, who famously ran a marathon while free bleeding. After her story went viral, she decided to share her message: yes, she ran the marathon sans tampon because of comfort, but also to bring awareness to the millions of people around the world who don’t have access to sanitary products, giving them no choice but to free bleed during their periods. It’s one thing to forgo using menstrual products because of discomfort; it’s another to have no choice in the matter, especially when having a lack of sanitary products might keep a child from going to school or having other essential opportunities.
Free bleeding isn’t disgusting: it’s a normal reaction to the menstrual cycle, one that has occurred ever since the invention of ovaries. As long as you’re keeping yourself clean, there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about the free bleeding process. If you choose to free bleed, however, maybe consider to buy a box of tampons for your local homeless shelter: one person’s not-used tampon is another’s treasure.