Menstruation Products are a Necessity, Not a Luxury


tampons are arranged on a teal background
Before Dr. Sally Ride’s historic space flight in 1983, NASA engineers had an important question for her about how many tampons she’d need for a one-week flight: “Is 100 the right number?”

She replied, “No. That would not be the right number.”

This is an example of just how little we talk about menstruation as a society. In fact, much about women’s bodies is either not studied sufficiently or not talked about openly and menstruation is no different.

(For the record, periods generally last 3-7 days; tampons should be changed at least every 8 hours and more frequently for heavier flow. This amounts to roughly 20 tampons per cycle for the average person.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re 12 years old and headed to school or 32 and headed to space—you need pads, tampons, or a menstrual cup if you’re on your period. But while period products are a necessity, not a luxury, millions of people are unable to afford them. One doctor explained how she had patients tell her they use wadded up toilet paper or paper towels in lieu of proper period products. Neither FoodShare (food stamps) nor WIC benefits cover menstrual products.

We offer free period products at our East Washington Ave office.

To help cover this gap, our sexual health team has created period bags, which contain enough tampons and pads for a full cycle, as well as other sexual health items, including pregnancy tests, condoms, lube, body wipes and educational materials about pregnancy prevention, STIs, and our clinic services.

In need of supplies? You can stop by our East Washington office (2705 E Washington Ave) Monday through Friday, 8:30-4:30pm and ask the front desk for a period bag.

We’re also working with partners, including Centro Hispano, area community health workers, and Madison Parks, to distribute period bags at events and in community spaces!

Where else can I get period products?  

Tampons and pads are available free in most City of Madison and Dane County governmental building restrooms. Period products are also available free at restrooms in many UW-Madison campus locations, in the Capitol, and in state-owned office buildings.

Where can I learn more?

Madison Public Library is hosting a period party at Meadowridge Library on Saturday, September 2 from 2-4pm. We will have staff on hand to break down some of the most common menstruation myths. There will also be plenty of food including all your favorite period cravings, like chocolate and pizza, and “Make Your Own Period Go Bags” full of supplies and snacks. You can even drop off your anonymous questions in an advice bin. It’s free to attend. Register now!

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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