Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of discussion of the “tampon tax”—that is, the fact that many states put a tax on tampons while other essentials and medical products are sold tax-free. Critics of this tax point out that it creates an unfair burden on menstruating people, slapping extra fees on a product that’s hard to go without. And happily, that criticism has pushed many states to ax the tax.
But additional taxes aren’t the only way that periods can be expensive. Even when tampons are tax-free, they still cost money, and decades of menstruation means all those $7 boxes of tampons add up over time. A Jezebel analysis estimates that menstruators spend about $60 per year on tampons, which HuffPost calculates to almost $1,800 over the course of a lifetime (and that’s assuming the price of tampons stays fixed).
And that’s just paying for the privilege of not bleeding all over your clothes. As that HuffPost piece on lifetime period costs notes, menstruation comes with some ancillary lifetime costs, like heating pads ($40), Midol ($1,229.83), and new underwear to replace the pairs ruined by out of control bleeding and leaks ($2,280).
If your period’s particularly bad, those costs ramp up even higher. One study calculates that people with endometriosis—a disorder that results in extremely painful, particularly heavy periods—spend $2,801 per year on medical care. This expense becomes even more painful when you consider endo can also cost those with the condition $1,023 per year in lost productivity and wages.
All of which is to say: Periods are serious business. And given how much they can cost, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that many people would prefer to do without them. A 2005 survey conducted by Association of Reproductive Health Professionals estimated that 55% of menstruators would be interested in getting rid of their periods—though many were afraid that doing so might have negative effects in the long term.
But even if you don’t get rid of your period completely, there are ways to make it more tolerable (and less expensive). Hormones can certainly help: A Swedish study suggests that going on birth control makes periods much more manageable. According to the researchers, teenagers who were on the pill experienced shorter, lighter, and more predictable periods; took fewer painkillers; and missed less school and work. All that added up to a cost savings of $1 per month on sanitary products—and, the researchers noted, the savings would likely have been even greater if they’d added in the costs of replacing ruined sheets and underwear and missing work due to period pain.
Refusing to be ashamed of our periods—and talking openly about all the ways they impact our lives, for better and for worse—makes it easier to pinpoint the many other ways we can fight to make periods less painful to both our bodies and our wallets.
Want to kick off that conversation? Tune in to this week’s episode of Sex.Right.Now.!