Periods, and Why the Physical Pain Isn’t the Worst of It

Ava Ford, Staff Writer

Note: The author of this article elected to use the term ‘people with uteruses’ or ‘people who menstruate’ when applicable, in order to encompass those who experience a period but do not identify as female. 

Everyone has their own name for it: the curse, that time of the month, or a visit from Aunt Flow. Regardless, anyone with a uterus experiences menstruation, and it always comes with its problems. The first thing that comes to mind is the pain, but there’s also the cost. The average box of anywhere from 20 to 30 tampons costs 7 dollars. At face value, that’s not too bad, but it adds up over time, to the point where anyone who menstruates will spend somewhere around $2,000 on period products in their lifetime. Factoring in birth control, new underwear, pain medication, and other period products, that lifetime cost skyrockets to $18,000

So how did one little box of tampons turn into a crippling investment? 

Enter gender-based price discrimination, an economic phenomena which essentially means that products which have the same or similar function between men and women are more expensive for one group than the other. The majority of the time, women are the victims of this. This price increase is quite prevalent in personal care items, such as razors, hair products, and services such as health or vehicle insurance. And while there is no direct equivalent of period products for men, period products are taxed because they are marked as ‘not medically necessary, despite periods being essentially unavoidable for many. This tax is often referred to as the pink tax, and though the US does not specifically target period products for taxation, menstruators still struggle because they are not regarded as medically necessary. This is a severe oversight, and menstruators pay the price. 

Period products are medically necessary, just as necessary as, for instance, condoms. Well, why aren’t condoms taxed like tampons? Male condoms are a very common and effective form of birth control, emphasis on the male, and are considered medically necessary. The real reason that tampons are generally taxed more than condoms is because tampons are used by women*, which is reflective of the way sexism affects Americans today. The effects of sexism-based taxation of period products can lead to what is known as period poverty.

Period poverty, as defined by Medical News Today is “a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.” It affects 500 million people worldwide, and around ½ of the menstruating population in the US are frequently forced (by financial situation) to choose between period products and other necessities. Luckily for menstruators in Maine, period products were recently exempt from any sales tax, as of this past October. However, this is far from the truth in every state in the US, or the world in general. The classification of period products as medically unnecessary and the rampant gender-based price discrimination has led to an increase in period poverty. So, the pain brought along by that time of the month is amplified by the sexist policies of the taxation of period products in the US.