January 27 2023 | Written by Rheanna Summers (She/Her)
The first time that I had come across free bleeding, my initial reaction was to feel taken aback and dismissive of the concept. You see, I had been taught (for better or for worse) that my period was something that I had to deal with, once a month, for the foreseeable future. And dealing with it meant pads initially, then graduating to tampons and eventually testing out a menstrual cup. Honestly though, as a kid I remember feeling downright petrified at the idea of bleeding through my clothes in a public place. And I’d be lying if I’d say I’m still not terrified to this day of it happening to me. So, the idea of someone actively choosing to bleed freely?? That’s bananas, 13-year-old me would be screaming.
The more I’ve thought about it though, the more I’ve begun to unpack my own internalized views of menstruation. Being taught that it needs to be hidden and dealt with makes menstruation a taboo topic and pushes it further into the shadows. I believe this is why people get so uncomfortable about the topic of free bleeding in the first place. So, for this week’s blog topic, I figured why not shine a light on a potentially uncomfortable conversation for some, because whether by force or by choice, it is a reality for others.
What is Free Bleeding?
Free bleeding is pretty self-explanatory. In essence, it means to not actively stop or collect your period, and to simply just let it flow. However, there does seem to be room for interpretation within this. For example, panty liners, pads and tampons are considered not to be free bleeding because it means altering / adding a physical item to your body to adapt to menstruation. Whereas, in contrast, using period underwear would still be considered free bleeding.
While there are no scientifically proven health benefits to free bleeding, there are some advantages. By not using tampons, your risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) decreases, and some say that free bleeding aids with cramps and general unease during menstruation. That being said, there are also many disadvantages to free bleeding. On the one hand, while some feel that it is empowering and freeing, bleeding freely does mean continuously being aware of your surroundings to make sure that you are a) either sitting on towels, b) using underwear designated for menstruation, and c) possibly needing to run more loads of laundry and deal with an increased number of stains. But free bleeding is potentially a viable option for those who are unable to use menstrual products, whether that be due to health conditions or financial situations.
Truth is, menstrual products can add up in price. For some, these items are considered a necessity, but for others it is a luxury. While I’d love to write a whole other blog on period poverty, in essence it is a very real obstacle that many menstruators face around the world. Free bleeding is the reality when there are no other options because menstruation products are either unaffordable or unattainable. For those who can afford menstruation products but choose to free bleed instead, investing in period underwear may be costly initially but in the long run becomes cheaper than consistently purchasing tampons and pads. Same thing goes for menstruation cups!
The Free Bleed Movement
With roots in the 1970s, some believe that free bleeding gained its momentum from the Menstrual Activism Movement. Others argue that free bleeding has been around for centuries, ever since menstruators many years ago were improvising their menstruation products. From my research, what really sparked the conversation and caused the most momentum for this movement was when Kiran Gandhi chose to free bleed while running the London Marathon in 2015. Here is an in-depth interview with Gandhi, where she goes into detail regarding the actual race and what made her continue running, despite the possibility of embarrassment.
Free bleeding is viewed as being a movement that stems from wanting to spark conversation surrounding a) period shaming b) accessibility of menstrual products and c) environmental awareness / impacts of one-time use products. However, it’s important to note that not all one-time use menstrual products are bad, and some are more sustainable than others. For example, here at Marlow we value sustainability and have taken steps to ensure our product is above the quality of a conventional menstrual product. (And we hope to keep improving it as much as possible over time!) (And we hope to keep improving it as much as possible over time!)
While there is a lot more that can be said on the topic of free bleeding and accessibility to menstruation products (look out for another blog on period poverty), I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about a movement that has good intentions. On the surface, I believe free bleeding can be misconstrued and many would stop short at the image of a menstruator openly bleeding in public. However, instead of recoiling at the idea and judging, perhaps attempting to understand where it is coming from and what other people’s life circumstances are could create more room for compassion in the world instead of essentially period shaming. I am by no means saying free bleeding is for everyone. And in fact, it is important to state that period blood can carry various viruses, the same way blood from a scrape can too. So knowing when and where to free bleed is of the utmost importance. But, something we can all agree on is if there’s some action towards destigmatizing periods and making menstrual products more accessible, we’re here for it.