Although menstrual health today is far from perfect, we should also be proud of how much we've moved forward over the recent years. We've seen so many women come to the forefront to fight period taboo, provide better healthcare for menstruating individuals of all demographics, and raise awareness about how little education is being offered to young girls about their reproductive health. It's an inspiring time to be a woman, especially for those of us who grew up merely thinking periods were a gross bodily function.
Similar to how we imagine what smartphones will look like in ten years, it can be useful to have a vision in our minds of what period health will be like in 2027. We fantasize about what could change in order to make our lives easier (for starters, maybe free tampons available to us in public bathrooms?!). We dream about how women in all corners of the world will have access to the same effective menstrual healthcare, and how 30 percent of girls in Afghanistan and 21 percent of girls in Sierra Leone won't have to miss multiple days of school simply because they don't have access to fundamental menstrual hygiene products. In summary, we're wishing for a world where women's bodies and their menstrual cycles are truly cared for in thoughtful ways.
Bustle spoke with Alyssa Dweck, M.D., gynecologist in New York, assistant clinical professor OBGYN at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and author of V is for Vagina, who expects (and hopes) that the future of menstrual health will, quite simply, "make our lives a little bit easier." We could go on for days and days about what falls under that umbrella, but let's start with the basics for now.
Here are seven ways we hope menstrual health will look different in the future.
1. Young Girls Will Grow Up With A Better Understanding Of Their Bodies
According to a study published by the British Medical Journal, half of the girls in India don't even know what a period is until they get surprised with their very first. While the same isn't true for most tweens in the U.S., we still don't talk to our youth enough about menstrual health, leaving many of us without a full understanding of how our reproductive system works. (For example, I didn't even really understand what it means to ovulate until I was in college, after I already started having sex, and I've heard similar accounts from many of my friends.)
2. We Won't Be Embarrassed To Talk About Our Periods Openly
In a survey conducted by the period tracking app Clue, 86 percent of women felt completely comfortable talking about their periods in front of other women, while only 34 percent felt the same way with men. Not only do many of us feel awkward saying anything about our periods in front of dudes, but we also endure crude remarks, like calling us a "bloody mess" or saying things like, "Never trust anything that bleeds for five days straight and is still alive."This is as unfair as it is detrimental to our health. As time goes on, more and more people will realize that there's nothing gross at all about periods, and there are actually women out there who suffer from period stigma in real, tangible ways. Girls in developing countries develop infections and diseases from the lack of menstrual hygiene products and homeless individuals all over the U.S. are left to freebleed, even if they don't want to — in large part because people are too scared to speak honestly about what periods are and what women need when they're on their periods. In the future, we will also continue to recognize and raise awareness around the fact that some trans men get periods too — and work to meet their needs.
3. Many Of Us Might Get Rid Of Our Periods Altogether
"We're already on the cusp of periods in the future, which may be no periods," Dr. Dweck tells Bustle. Most of us have grown up thinking that our periods were a part of life that we had to endure to be healthy. But many doctors now argue that there's no scientific reason out there that says we need to menstruate. In fact, there are a lot of women out there whose lives are tremendously affected by painful, debilitating periods, so getting rid of menstruation can actually improve their well being.
Dr. Dweck says there's nothing wrong with adjusting what each woman's menstrual cycle looks like in order to best suit her needs (although some menstrual activists do argue that there are drawbacks to eliminating your period altogether). As our healthcare system becomes more advanced, it's not so far-fetched to imagine a world where periods are obsolete and women have more control over their menstrual cycle.
4. We'll Look At Our Periods As Valuable Sources Of Information
We're all starting to realize that the details of our periods — the heaviness of our flow, the length of our cycle, the scent of our menstrual blood, etc. — are representative of what's going on in the rest of our body. "We're starting to consider periods as a vital sign and a window into our general health," Dr. Dweck tells Bustle.
Fast forward several years, and hopefully more and more women will be talking about their periods with their doctors. That way, they can figure out if they're dealing with any other issues, such as thyroid problems, STIs, or, in rare cases, cancer or a tumor. Our periods can even clue us into the state of our stress levels and mental health, so the more we learn, the more likely it is we'll value the information it has to give us.
5. More Menstrual Products Will Be Organic And Sustainable
Women are becoming increasingly conscious of the period-related products they're putting on or in their body. Hence the rise in organic, hypoallergenic tampons, such as Kali and Cora. "We've already seen a huge change in women using more organic products or getting away from fragrant items," Dr. Dweck confirms.
Now that we know what ingredients to look for, and what to stay away from (dioxins, chemical synthetics, and plastic additives), women are taking charge to change what kind of tampons and pads are available to us. They're patenting new products, opening their own businesses, and offering women everywhere a safe, worry-free way to look after their periods.
6. Most Period-Related Products Will Be Made By Women
We're already moving rapidly in this direction. Think of THINX underwear, a revolutionary pair of period panties that allow you to free bleed without a care in the world. Then there are the tampon subscription services that send you a box of organic tampons and luxury items every month like clockwork.
Why haven't we had access to these wildly innovative items before? Well, because men were the ones mostly creating and selling most period hygiene products. It's no wonder that most of the fresh ideas we see today in the menstrual health world are being pumped out by women, and I wouldn't be surprised if this continues to be the case in the future.
7. Tampons And Pads Will No Longer Be Considered Luxury Items
I can't believe we're still having this conversation, but here we are. As ridiculous of a notion as it is, 40 states still consider menstrual hygiene products to be luxury items. Almost every single American woman gets slammed with a tampon tax (somewhere between 2.9 and 7.5 percent), while erectile disfunction drugs in Wisconsin are exempt from sales tax. Right, because that makes sense.
Thankfully, some people out there are doing everything they can to fight for this to change. Representative Melissa Sargent, a Democrat from Madison, has recently sponsored a bill that strips the state sales tax from any and all feminine hygiene products. The New York state assembly and the Chicago city council have voted unanimously to drop the tampon sales tax in their respective areas as well, proving that there is a nationwide movement of people who find it downright outrageous that women are forced to dish out more money on necessities that are related to their natural bodily functions. If we keep the momentum going, I have a sneaky feeling that it won't be long before we abolish the tampon tax entirely, like Canada just did with their No Tax on Tampons campaign.
In the meantime, we can let our imaginations run wild, because although menstrual health has looked bleak in the past, we know there's plenty to look forward to.Images: Bustle; CrashCourse/YouTube; kaliboxes/Instagram; Giphy