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Free Periods

Free bleeding is the practice of intentionally menstruating in public, without blocking or collecting the period flow. Now you might be thinking, “But what about all that laundry?”

Well, free bleeding is more than just a period practice; free bleeding is a movement.

How did this movement originate? Let’s go down a brief timeline.

2004: Blogging about blood stains

The earliest online discussion of free bleeding seems to be a 2004 blog post by Sarah on All About My Vagina, where the author discusses her epiphany about blood stains and how she decided to sometimes abstain from using menstrual products.

2012: Period stain portraits spark debate

VICE published a photo series by Emma Arvida Bystrom called “There Will Be Blood,” in 2012, (a cheeky reference to the Oscar winning Paul Thomas Anderson film) featuring portraits of people with period stains on their clothing. There was no accompanying text, but the images sparked a big debate.

2014: Sexist free bleeding hoax backfires

An anti-feminist prank called Operation Freebleeding was launched via the 4chan website in 2014. The misogynistic stunt was quickly outed as a hoax, but ironically it introduced the idea of free bleeding to a larger community.

2015: Kiran Gandhi free bleeds at London Marathon, raises awareness about period products’ environmental effects

In 2015, drummer Kiran Gandhi decided to run the London Marathon without using a tampon or pad. Photos of her bloodstained leggings went viral, and her run was covered in the New York Times.

2015: Free bleeding activists protest tampon tax

After the British government declined to repeal a tax on menstrual health items in 2015, two feminist activists responded with blood. Charlie Edge organized a protest outside Parliament, writing on Facebook: “Today, I am foregoing tampons and pads outside the houses of parliament to show how “luxury” tampons really are.” She and fellow protester Ruth Howarth publicly bled through their white pants to show what it looks like when tampons and pads are out of reach.

Free bleeding is often about revolting against the need for specific menstrual products.

Why are more and more people following this trend?

People are drawn to free bleeding for a number of reasons. Some of these — like the fact that people enjoy their natural state and feel more comfortable without menstrual products — are simple. But many are more complex.

By refusing to hide their periods, some free bleeders are on an intentional mission to normalize menstruation. They may also be protesting the “tampon tax.” It’s a common practice in which traditional menstrual products are priced as luxury items. Others may free-bleed to raise awareness of period poverty and the fact that some people don’t have access to products or sufficient menstrual education.

Another common reason is that disposable menstrual products result in a huge amount of waste. Around 20 billion pads and tampons are thought to end up in North American landfills every year.

Does Free Bleeding have any health benefits?

Experts note that free bleeding has no proven health benefits. There are several anecdotal ones, though. People have experienced reduced menstrual cramping and tend to feel less discomfort. If you switch from tampons to free bleeding, there’s also a reduced risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

Buying period-proof clothing may cost more at first, but you’re likely to save more money in the long run. If you prefer to wear your usual underwear, you may not spend a thing!

Is it safe?

Period panties and similar items of protective clothing tend to incorporate antimicrobial technology designed to keep germs at bay. But, when exposed to air, menstrual blood can give off an intense smell. It also has the ability to carry bloodborne viruses.

Hepatitis C can live outside of the body for up to three weeks, while hepatitis B can remain viable for at least seven days. However, the risk of transmitting either of these conditions to another person is low without through-the-skin exposure.

Are there any risks to consider?

The one true risk that free breeding poses? The potential mess that it entails.

If you choose not to wear period-proof clothing, the heaviest bleeding days of your cycle could see blood soaking through your underwear and clothes. This tends to be during the first couple of days. Blood may also leak on any surface you sit on. While this may not be much of a problem at home, there could be some issues when out in public.

How do you go about it?

* Make important decisions such as: What do you want to bleed on? When do you want to do it? Where? Once you have all the answers, you’ll be in the best position to try it out.

* Start in a safe environment: for most people, that’s at home, but it can be anywhere that you feel comfortable. This will allow you to get to know how your period works and what to expect from your flow.

* Use a towel when sitting down: some people only choose to free-bleed at home, ensuring they sit on a towel to prevent blood soaking through to furniture. When you’re first starting out, this is a good strategy to abide by. It’s also helpful to place a towel on your bed at night.

Ultimately, free bleeding is all about you. You decide how you want to go about it, how often you want to do it, and everything else that comes with it.

Even if it doesn’t sound right for you, just talking about alternatives to traditional menstrual practices is an important step in ending the stigma around periods!

Written by: Niyati Arun

Graphics by: Shreya Krishnamurthy


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