Period Care Companies: Take notes.
by Jessica Toscano July 2, 2021
It’s time we ditch the long-lived “feminine hygiene” label ~ and similar titles ~ to describe the pads, tampons, cups, and period underwear that often accompany menstrual cycles, and refer to them as what they are: menstrual wellness products. For decades, period care companies have genderized these necessities and reinforced discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community with terms that suggest only cis women have periods; biologically, any person with a uterus is capable of menstruation.
“Nonbinary people may have a monthly cycle [and] transmasculine people may have a monthly cycle — especially someone who’s not taking gender-affirming hormones like testosterone,” Carolina Salas-Humara, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist and the medical director of the Transgender Youth Health Program at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone Health, tells Intrigue.
Still, many period care brands reaffirm that their target audience is cis women with marketing descriptions like “feminine hygiene products” and “feminine pads for women.” Other companies, who have strayed from gender-specific language, reinforce femininity in their packaging with pastel pinks and frilly flowers. Then there are businesses who painstakingly encourage gender-affirming hashtags like Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, which is meant to champion "girls’ and women’s confidence" and drive "societal change.'' At best, these exclusive marketing efforts promote a sense of unease. At worst, this lack of inclusion poses safety concerns in public locker rooms and restrooms for those who identify as queer and are menstruating. “If a transmasculine or nonbinary person uses a male bathroom and they’re using products for their monthly cycle, there can be safety concerns there,” says Dr. Salas-Humara.
Gender reaffirmation via period care products can also induce dysphoria, a traumatic reminder that one’s sex at birth doesn’t match the gender in which they identify, which can lead to crisis, and in more severe cases, suicidal thoughts, she says. According to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey, which polled nearly 28,000 transgender individuals in the US ages 18 and over, those who identify as trans are nine times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetimes.
These brands are paving the way.
Not all period care companies are reluctant to adopt inclusive practices. Alison Ferrell, the founder of period wellness company RED MOON, created organic and eco-friendly Relief Pads with the intent of changing the way society views, discusses, and treats menstrual cycles. From design to functionality, the brand ensures neutral hues, inclusive language, and protection in a thin yet layered pad infused with 10 mg CBD for relief from menstrual cramps and pains associated with endometriosis. “We recognize that it’s not just women who have periods,” reads their website. “RED MOON stands with & in support of the non-binary & transgender community.”
The sexual wellness arena is following the same structure, Neil Mehta, founder and CEO of sexual hygiene and body care company Royal, tells Intrigue. “The future of sexual wellness products is inclusive and far less binary,” he says. “It won’t follow a ‘one-size-fits-most’ approach like it has for centuries, and it will certainly be more transparent.”
Royal, whose products range from body wash and body wipes to lube and condoms, recently relaunched their all-natural and vegan line in “stress-free packaging”— clean, white casing with black, yellow, blue, and green text — and gender-neutral language. Their body wipes, sold individually wrapped and in a resealable pouch, are unscented, sustainably sourced, and great for, as the brand describes, “period care.”
“The brands, particularly those in the sexual health space, that do not understand that their clientele expands beyond cisgender people will be left behind,” says Mehta.
How can period care companies become inclusive?
First and foremost, gendered language should be dropped, says Searah Deysach, sex educator and owner of Early to Bed, Chicago's first woman-owned sex shop that promotes LGBTQ+ equality and reproductive justice. “When you say anything about periods, people know who you’re talking about,” she says. “Nobody who has a penis is going to accidentally buy a maxi pad because it doesn’t have the word ‘women’ on it.” The same goes for gender-affirming colors. Pink, for example, has long been associated with femininity.
If a period care brand is really passionate about supporting the queer community, incorporating LGBTQ+ representatives in decision-making initiatives could be extremely helpful, suggests Dr. Salas-Humara, who asks her patients what language they prefer when discussing gender identity and menstrual cycles. Anyone outside of the queer community can use their best judgment, but it still might not be what’s most inclusive. If a company is looking to enact change and make their customers feel safe, it takes patience and it involves listening to those who have first-hand knowledge or experience.
“When companies embrace queer identities, and they do it genuinely — not just put up some rainbows during Pride month — what they are showing is that they are supporting this community year-round, they are supporting this community genuinely, and they are an organization or business that is going to have your back to some degree,” says Deysach. Alternatively, when companies ignore or reject the views and feelings of their customers, they’re not only lowering their customer base; they’re contributing to exclusion, which is the bigger issue here, she explains.
“It’s a small thing when you think about it — to have period protection that supports your gender identity,” she says, “but to some people, it’s life-changing, and in some cases...it can be life-saving.”