Menstrual Justice in a Post-Dobbs World

When did you first learn about periods? Was it also in a crowded, old classroom in the fourth grade with the school gym teachers (one man, one woman), after being separated from the boys in your class who got to go outside and have extra kickball time? Was it with your mom, grandmother, sister, or another trusted adult who kept it vague and only briefly covered the important details of menstruation? If so, you’re in good company with most of the country. 

Following the Dobbs case, which overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion, menstrual health has never been more important. Yet education on menstruation varies significantly across the country. A study from 2021 found that many girls have received no guidance, or unrelatable guidance, before their first period, even though the age of first menstruation continues to skew younger (data indicates a decrease from 12.1 years old in 1995 to 11.9 in 2017).

A lack of relatable and accurate education has significant negative impacts on young people: In a Columbia University study of adolescent girls across 25 states in the U.S. regarding first period experiences, many girls recounted feeling shame and a lack of confidence in discussing their first period with a trusted adult. Moreover, without relatable and accurate education about periods, how can young people be expected to understand the significance of a missed period?

So where do we go from here?

In many areas of the U.S. period justice or menstrual justice movements are making strides in education and policy. Washington, DC is the first area of the country to require coed menstrual health classes. As of this past summer, DC public and private schools will have classes focusing on how the menstrual cycle works, where to find sanitary products, and how to break period stigma. This new law also requires free pads and tampons in all women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms. If there are no gender-neutral bathrooms, then products will also be available in men’s restrooms. Similarly, last year California passed a law requiring all public colleges and universities to provide free menstrual products to students, making strides towards menstrual equity.

And while this progress is promising, many bathrooms across our own campus remain period product free. Similarly, other campuses across the state are also failing to provide state-mandated period products. 

Looking Ahead

While education and health policy are working to plug the gaps in our current education and infrastructure, research and tech are just beginning to tap into the unique attributes of the menstrual cycle. The Wallace Center has been following innovative ways to utilize menstrual health information, looking at the latest data on cycle syncing, new ways of using menstrual blood for health, and ways to use menstrual health data from apps and technology:

  • To start, research is just beginning to show that decades of period products have been tested and marketed without using actual menstrual fluid, dramatically changing our understanding of what constitutes "typical" or "heavy" flows. Because period flow is itself an oft-used diagnostic marker,  this has likely led to missed diagnoses in many people.  

  • Menstrual fluid can also be used as a diagnostic tool to conduct non-invasive research on conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, preeclampsia, preterm birth, and perimenopause. 

MedCity News: FemTech is at the forefront of providing effective solutions to menstrual challenges, and the efforts to normalize and destigmatize menstruation are paving the way for the democratization of women’s healthcare. Access the full article here

Bustle: NextGen Jane is analyzing used tampons to develop new diagnostic tools and treatments for diseases like endometriosis, looking towards a future of noninvasive testing. Read the full article here

The Conversation: Stigma around menstruation is deeply entrenched in society. But there are numerous small actions each of us can take, which collectively can make a significant difference. First of all, we can all embrace open conversations about menstruation. Access the full article here.

It’s Only Blood: Shattering the Taboo of Menstruation: In It's Only Blood, Anna Dahlqvist tells the shocking but always moving stories of why and how people from around the world are fighting back against the shame.

Period. End of Sentence: A New Chapter in the Fight for Menstrual JusticeFrom beloved New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Anita Diamant comes a timely collection of essays to help inspire period positive activism around the globe.

Period: The Real Story of Menstruation: Offering a revelatory new perspective on one of the most captivating biological processes in the human body, Period will change the way you think about the past, present, and future of periods.