What is Free Bleeding?

Maybe you’ve never heard of the term free bleeding or perhaps all you know about it is how Kiran Gandhi ran the 2015 London Marathon while free bleeding.  

For those unaccustomed, free bleeding is the act of forgoing sanitary products while menstruating. That means instead of using a pad, tampon, or menstrual cup to block or collect their flow, some menstruators choose to, well, bleed freely. Even though free bleeding has just begun to garner mainstream attention from the media, the practice has been around for centuries. Which makes sense, since menstruators rarely, if ever, had access to tampons or pads three hundred years ago. Of course, there was a primitive version of the pad, reserved strictly for wealthy women: torn up rags. Sadly, though progress has been made and more hygienic alternatives are now available, this form of sanitary protection is still used among underprivileged communities across the world. Free bleeding was the reality for many women in the 17th century – and it still is today for those who cannot afford expensive, one-use-only sanitary products.

However, the concept of free bleeding as a political or social message is a fairly new idea. Many menstrual activists believe that the attention and shock from free bleeding highlight the taboo around menstruation and break the silence. Because free bleeding puts you in the trousers of menstruators who experience their periods differently to those with access to sanitary products, it forces you to confront the reality of menstruation rather than hiding it behind the veil of black plastic bags.

The environmental aspect of free bleeding is also a considerable benefit. Women who can afford to use disposable sanitary products dispose of about seven pounds of menstrual hygiene products a year. In a lifetime, that value can pollute entire landfills.

Whether someone’s reason is the comfort, the environment, or social justice, free bleeding is a choice; nobody should be forced to free bleed if they don’t want to. Everyone deserves access to sanitary products if that’s what they prefer.

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