It took a while for me to realize that the best way to bring a tampon to the bathroom is just to hold it in your hand.
It seems like common sense -- like, why wouldn't you hold a tampon on the way to the bathroom instead of shoving it up your sleeve, sliding it in your back pocket, or bringing your whole purse with you, wallet, cell phone, keys and all?
Most women have their period once a month, and the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Having a period is healthy and highlights that your body is normal and functioning properly.
But if my period comes early and I don't have a tampon on me, why do I feel like I have to whisper when I ask a friend for one? Why is there so much shame? Why do I have to hide the tampon in the first place?
Maybe a better question is, Who am I really hiding the tampon from? Growing up, I remember the embarrassment of having stained underwear and blood leaking down my leg because my tampon was too light. The girls in my class would understand, but the boys would be weirded out. During college and after graduation, my friends and I exchanged embarrassing stories revolving around dating and guys and sex, and how many of the guys we'd dated were turned off by menstruation. It then dawned on me -- I was hiding tampons from men.
In society, women tend to be treated as objects and placed in questionable positions in advertisements. However, as soon as a little bit of blood leaks, everyone flips out, and once that happens, that woman is no longer a woman to be desired. Many men are grossed out by it. I know this from personal experience; one guy I dated a while ago, Max*, agreed to have sex when I was on my period, but looked at the bloodied sheets with disgust when we were done. I stared at the stain, mortified. I kept apologizing, but he barely looked at me and was more irritated than understanding. We haven't spoken since.
Menstruation is a part of life and there should be no shame or embarrassment associated with it -- yet there is. Women deal with their periods regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. Why is a normal and healthy bodily function for women shunned?
If you're told often enough that your period is gross and guys don't like it, you may end up believing it and feeling self-conscious. But if you meet a guy who doesn't care -- it changes things. A guy's opinion on the female body shouldn't matter, but in this warped society where women are constantly sexualized and exist on the big screen mostly for the male gaze, a guy's opinion on the female body unfortunately matters more than it should.
On the subway ride home from Max's apartment, all I could think about was that red stain on his white sheets, and I tried to figure out why my cheeks were burning and why I was so ashamed. Why was I so embarrassed to talk to a guy about my period? Why did I have to apologize for something that most women go through once a month? Why was I apologizing so much? Why was I apologizing for my body?
I was really nervous a few weeks ago about telling a guy I was seeing that I was on my period -- we had chemistry, we had great conversations, and being together just felt right. I said I was on my period and, um, would he mind having sex with me while on my period? He said he didn't care. He's had girlfriends who've been on their period. He brushed it off nonchalantly as a non-issue. Of course it's OK.
That comfort and acceptance helped me be OK with it, too. There's no shame in being a woman and there's definitely no shame in being a woman who has a period. There's also no shame in being a woman who wants to have sex while on her period.
I don't care if you see me holding a tampon anymore. I don't care if you see me pass out a tampon or a pad to one of my friends or acquaintances or to a random woman who needs a tampon because her period came early or because she forgot it at home or because why does the reason matter at all? It should be normal to go to the bathroom and hold a tampon, but it isn't. I'm proud of my body. I'm proud I'm a woman.
So, no, I'm not going to hide my tampon and I'm not going to be embarrassed about my period anymore. And you shouldn't be, either.
*name changed to protect identity