From countless new product innovations to a wave of changing policies, your period is getting more attention than ever. But Nadya Okamoto, the founder of the non-profit organization PERIOD, is reminding people that menstrual health products are necessities, not luxuries.

By Macaela Mackenzie
Updated February 21, 2020
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For centuries, women have dreaded the arrival of "that time of the month." But thanks to a new wave of policies and products, the days of hiding out and using euphemisms to talk about a quarter of our adult lives (seriously, enough with all the conversations about shark week already) are long gone. Periods are a thing and it's about time we stopped making them so taboo.

The good news is, thanks to a few pieces of period-related policy, the menstrual cycle has finally made it into the cultural conversation. (We are actually living in an age where women are live-tweeting their periods.)

Down with the Tampon Tax

ICYDK, the "tampon tax" currently adds, on average, a 5 percent "luxury tax" to the sale of all feminine care products. But as anyone with a uterus knows, using a tampon (or other feminine hygiene products) is not a luxury; it's a necessity. This issue first made waves in 2016 when California assemblywoman, Cristina Garcia introduced legislation that would exempt feminine care products from sales tax in her state.

Unfortunately, Garcia's legislation was eventually vetoed by California's then-governor, Jerry Brown. But Garcia's fight against the tampon tax has since inspired other state legislators to do away with the tax. Today, eight states—Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, and Utah—have eliminated sales tax on all feminine care products, and California has a temporary ban on the tampon tax until 2023, according to CNN.

Not all state legislators are down to make feminine care products tax-free, though—even if the tax exemption is temporary. Tennessee Republican lawmakers, for example, are currently pushing back on a proposed bill that would temporarily remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products during the state's annual sales tax holiday, according to CNN. The state's annual holiday, which begins on the last Friday in July and ends the following Sunday night (meaning the holiday only lasts for one weekend), is meant to encourage people to buy "back-to-school" products. Of course, feminine care products are a year-round necessity for those who menstruate, not just another item to put on a "back-to-school" shopping list. But Democratic Senator Sara Kyle of Tennessee, who introduced the bill, believes that passing this legislation would represent an "important step of recognizing these products as a necessity and an essential part of women's health," she said during a hearing for the bill, according to CNN.

So who's pushing back on this very logical bill and why? First, only male lawmakers are resisting the legislation (shocking, right?), according to CNN. Senator Joey Hensley, for instance, said he's worried that making feminine care products tax-free in Tennessee—even for just one weekend, once a year—would lead to a significant loss of tax revenue. "There's really no limit on the number of items somebody can purchase," Hensley said during the bill's hearing, according to The Washington Post. "I don't know how you would limit the number of items someone could purchase," he continued, seemingly suggesting that people might take advantage of the sales tax holiday by hoarding a ton of tax-free feminine care products.

But Senator Henley seems to be missing the larger point behind this proposed legislation: Many people can't afford feminine care products in the first place—tax or no tax. A recent study found that one in five teens in the U.S. has struggled to afford period products, and one in four U.S. teens has missed school due to the lack of access to affordable period products. With that in mind, it's not likely that people will suddenly have enough money to buy period products in bulk, even if they're tax-free, argued Senator Kyle during the bill's hearing, according to The Washington Post. "These people just don't have the funds, and I'm trying to remove this barrier," she said. (Related: Gina Rodriguez Wants You to Know About "Period Poverty"—and What Can Be Done to Help)

Understandably, people are frustrated with Tennessee Republican lawmakers for resisting Senator Kyle's bill—including Nadya Okamoto, founder of PERIOD, a global non-profit organization fighting to end period poverty and period stigma through service, education, and advocacy.

"Period products are NECESSITIES, not luxuries," Okamoto wrote on Instagram, emphasizing the need to keep public pressure on lawmakers faced with these types of bills. "If faces were bleeding, someone would do something," added Okamoto.

On the bright side, plenty of other states are making period products more accessible. New York, California, New Hampshire, and Illinois, for example, have all passed laws requiring schools to provide free feminine care products in restrooms. Similar bills that would provide free feminine hygiene products in school bathrooms are currently awaiting decisions from lawmakers in Alabama, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Periods are becoming more normalized in the workplace, too. Victorian Women's Trust, a women's advocacy organization in Australia, offers paid time off for staff members who have their periods—a move that means way more than getting to stay home with the heating pad when you have a case of killer cramps. Most of us can't imagine waltzing into our boss's office and citing PMS as the reason we'll be needing to take the rest of the week off (#awkward). But policies like this would make that conversation a little more comfortable.

Period Protection Gets a Modern Makeover

Not only are we talking about periods, but a female-focused group of innovators is also changing how we deal with them.

For the majority of our recorded history, women have had a choice of either tampons or pads. That's it. Talk about a lack of innovation for a product required by half of the population! Thankfully, the $20 billion industry is finally (finally!) seeing some evolution—high-tech menstrual cups, period panties, and delivery services that will bring non-toxic tampons right to your door have completely changed the menstrual game.

Menstrual cups, the reusable silicone cups (which sort of look like giant thimbles) inserted up your lady bits to collect blood in lieu of a tampon, have been around for a while—options like the Diva Cup and Lily Cup have an eco-friendly (not to mention hella cheap) advantage over tampons, thanks to their reusable nature. But even these options are getting a makeover under the new Period Regime. High-tech versions like Looncup promise to deliver period data directly to your smartphone through a teeny wireless antenna built into the cup.

Then there's the new crop of panties and leak-proof pants that make the idea of free-bleeding (or, going au naturale by forgoing any sort of tampon, pad, or cup) a little easier to stomach. Dear Kate makes yoga pants with a period-proof lining that will keep you from stressing about leaks in the middle of a booty-baring squat, and THINX goes the full monte by making lacy bits capable of holding a couple of tampons' worth of blood. Cool? (Related: Thinx's First National Ad Campaign Imagines a World Where Everyone Gets Periods—Including Men)

In the midst of all this crazy tech, the business of regular old tampons hasn't exactly been resting on its laurels. Thanks to modern-day upgrades, you can now get tampons delivered right to your door, avoiding that whole awkward encounter with the hot cashier who seems to be working every time you need to stock up.

The on-demand tampon market includes organic tampon delivery services like LOLA and Cora that focus on sustainable development and design. Then there are services like Bonjour Jolie, which delivers your period necessities along with #treatyoself goodies like tea and bath and body products. Stocking up on tampons is not the pain in the ass it used to be.

But Why Are Periods Having a Moment Right Now?

All this innovation begs the question—after decades of the same old pads or tampons, what happened to make us finally make periods a priority?

Jordana Kier and Alexandra Friedman, founders of LOLA, say it's part of a larger trend of informed consumers who make knowing what's in their products and what's going into their bodies a priority. "Like most women, we'd been using the same feminine care products since we were teenagers. It made us wonder: What's in a tampon?" explain Kier and Freidman. "To us, that lack of information was the most pressing issue. We've opened up a dialogue on a topic that has flown under the radar for too many years—especially given that periods have been seen as taboo until very recently."

And we can't ignore how the shifting political landscape is also at play here. Women's issues as a whole—from equal pay to sexual assault—are more a part of our national conversation than ever before, and health is not falling by the wayside. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that women aren't afraid to embrace more modern period products, challenge the fact of those products are taxed as a "luxury," and welcome time off for what can be a serious health issue.

Whatever the driving force behind the period revolution, it's about damn time.

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