Free the Tampons—From Sales Tax and Shame


Hello there! My name is Molly and I have a uterus. It sheds a layer every month, causing blood to flow through a small opening in the cervix and passing through the vagina and out of the body three or four days. This string of scientific facts—otherwise known as a “period”—is biology taking its course through a series of natural occurrences and there’s nothing I can do about it. Just another thing that comes with the beautiful and complex package of being a cis woman.

Thus, twelve times a year, I make a few important purchases: a box of tampons, a package of pads, and maybe a container of Aleve. I’ll probably throw a Snickers bar in there because I’m feeling a little sorry for myself. All pretty normal, routine stuff. Where it gets complicated is where the money is: In 40 of 50 states in America, tampons will be charged an additional, higher sales tax, classifying the item as a “luxury.” And in 15 of those 40 states, that same tax does not apply to the Snickers I’m buying, grouping candy in with the “grocery” category—a category of necessity.

So, in short: women spend a considerable sum of money for something that comes biologically with our bodies, something we didn’t ask for and don’t control (see fellow Lady’s piece for a cost-benefit analysis of periods). Then, we’re being additionally charged because the only devices that make this time of month somewhat bearable aren’t deemed necessary?

Now, there are certainly varying definitions of what is and is not a luxury. Ferrari, Chanel, “jordan almonds”, the word “boudoir” are all things I’d place under that classification. But I think it’s safe to assume that people of all genders, young and old, reptile and mammal can agree that shoving a wad of cotton on a string up a vagina is not comparable to a day at the spa. British organization Luxuriously Taxable has created a parody commercial to prove just how ridiculous this luxury contradiction is:

While there are many places in the world without access to these types of sanitary devices, there is nowhere in the world where having a period is luxurious. The phrase “on the rag” originated from Medieval Times, where the only option during one’s period was to literally bleed into a rag. If having a period was a choice, there is not a soul that would raise their hand to sign up for 3-5 days of involuntary bleeding, bloating, and sore boobs.

Because of this unfair categorization of a luxury, it can make it especially difficult for women with low incomes to get the products they need. Tampons are not included in welfare packages yet remain among the top items requested by homeless women. Read Jennifer Weiss-Wolf’s “Blood in the Streets”, chronicling how several homeless women deal with their periods here. Margo Lang and Annie Lascoe have launched an IndieGoGo campaign called Conscious Period, using a one-for-one model to send a box of sanitary products to women in need across the globe for every item purchased.

The United States has a state-by-state mandated rules on sales taxes, so eradicating the “tampon tax” entirely means it would have to be a federal law. Although that takes time, it’s certainly a conversation (and a twitter trend) that is becoming louder. And a subject that’s important to shed some light on, as periods aren’t normally a topic of dinner table discussion.

I have always found it frustrating that there seems to be an unspoken expectation that women are supposed to hide this discomforting time of month. We whisper quietly to a select coworker: “You don’t happen to have a tampon, do you?” We tuck tampons up our sleeves when walking to the bathroom. We scan the checkout aisles for lady clerks when purchasing pads.

I’m not saying I want to discuss Diva Cup horror stories with my bus driver or boss. Just as periods are not an insult, periods aren’t an excuse either. And I must say, my general aesthetic during that time of month is less fierce femme fatale and more greasy dragon. I’m just tired of being concerned about making other people feel comfortable for the sake of being polite. And maybe that’s something I need to work on—my period confidence.

My first ever period took place on a two week school trip to Hawaii where I studied marine biology with fellow seventh graders for two weeks. Periods, I would later learn, often take years to regulate themselves and this particular instance wasn’t the standard 72 hours—it lasted the entirety of the trip. Day after day, I’d have my friends alert me if my “chain was hanging low”—a clever code we invented for a tampon string sticking out of my bikini. It was maddening. I spent approximately two thirds of my time in beautiful Hawaii worrying if sharks could smell if you were on your period.

Freshman year of high school, I got a new pair of light gray jeans with a pre-worn, washed out look. This was something totally new and edgy for me to take on in my gangly fifteen-year-old state so I was already feeling painfully self-aware. I got through two classes before being blindsided by an obvious bloodstain during Spanish and having to leave school immediately to change.

Another month, I was driving with my mom through a middle-of-nowhere mountain town when I felt the familiar signs and had to stop at the nearest gas station. We found the tampons next to the Corn Nuts and were mortified to hear all about the owner’s fourteen-year-old daughter who had also recently “come into her own.”

Time after time, month after month, my period has inundated me with various kinds of awful that I just cannot seem to escape. Periods inevitably present awkward and embarrassing situations. But that’s just it—they are inevitable.

I don’t want to be charged extra for something that is so biologically normal. I don’t want to feel the discomfort radiating off the male checkout clerk as he quickly whisks my Tampax into a bag. On the contrary, I want to be able to put my supersize box of lady cotton on the conveyor belt and have party horns buzz as the barcode scans, a confetti cannon erupting in the background. I want to be congratulated for my normal, functioning uterus—not charged. And not shamed.

Tampons are not taboo. Menstruating is as normal as the ebb and flow of the tide (a metaphor I’m just now realizing has more realistic similarities than intended). So this is my case to free the tampons—from sales tax and shame. Because science. Because freedom. Because who run the world? Girls.

Dedicated savory brunch fan and lover of all things French and film. Her only regrets are that she never knows the lyrics to songs and will always remain a Muggle. A true grandma at heart.
Dedicated savory brunch fan and lover of all things French and film. Her only regrets are that she never knows the lyrics to songs and will always remain a Muggle. A true grandma at heart.