‘Woke Free Tampons’ and ‘Period Poverty’ in the United States

On April 5 2023, a Reddit user shared a link about “woke free tampons” and “period poverty” to the subreddit r/politics:

It linked to an April 5 2023 Today.com article, with a headline identical to the post’s title. The article briefly mentioned a March 2023 legislative debate over menstrual hygiene products before referencing research on the multiple effects of “period poverty”:

Fact Check

Claim: An Idaho politician labeled a measure to provide menstrual hygiene products in schools as “woke,” but research repeatedly demonstrated that “period poverty” keeps girls out of schools.

Description: A claim has been made that girls in the United States abstain from or miss schools due to ‘period poverty,’% which is defined as the inability to afford or hangouts to menstrual hygiene products. According to research studies referenced in the claim, 1 in 5 teens and 1 in 4 U.S. teens have difficulty in accessing or can’t afford to buy menstrual hygiene products, leading to significant absence from schools.


Rating Explanation: Research studies, including a 2021 national study and a study commissioned by ‘period panties’ manufacturer Thinx, were cited in support of the claim. The studies have found significant figures of U.S. teens who don’t have access to menstrual hygiene products and resultant absences from school due to the same.

According to a 2021 national study, 1 in 5 teens say they can’t afford or don’t have access to period products.

The same study found that two-thirds of teens say they’ve “felt stress” because they lack access to period products, and 51% say they “feel like their school does not care about them” when period products aren’t provided.


“Period poverty is defined as the inability to afford or access period products to manage your menstruation,” Bedard says.

“A lot of people think this happens on the other side of the globe,” [Michela Bedard, executive director of advocacy group PERIOD] adds. “That is just not true.”

A reported 1 in 4 U.S. teens say they’ve missed time at school because they don’t have access to period products.

“Students who don’t have access to period products when they need them miss out,” Bedard says. “They miss out on class time. They miss out on attendance. More importantly, they miss out on their own dignity and their ability to be their full selves.”

At the beginning of the article, Today.com linked to an article in the Idaho Statesman (“Idaho Republicans reject ‘liberal’ policy for free menstrual products in public schools”), which reported that a proposed bill to provide menstrual hygiene supplies in schools was deemed “woke” by right-wing Idaho legislators:

Idaho House Republicans [in March 2023] rejected a bill that would have funded free menstrual products in public school girls bathrooms. GOP House members said the proposal was “liberal,” and they objected to “woke” terms describing inaccessibility to tampons and pads … Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, objected to the phrases “period poverty” and “menstrual equity” that were used to describe inaccessibility to menstrual products.

“These are woke terms,” Ehardt said.

Today.com’s “one in four” statistic originated with a study commissioned by “period panties” manufacturer Thinx [PDF], repeatedly linked throughout the piece. Its abstract read:

The results of this study show that students in the United States face considerable barriers in accessing menstrual hygiene products. The data, drawn by Harris Insights & Analytics from 1,000 teens ages 13 to 19, suggests that while economic barriers are significant, cultural and structural obstacles are also largely to blame. Lack of access is evident across various demographic groups, with effects that include risk of infection, emotional anxiety, and logistical challenges that present significant short and long-term repercussions. Thinx, together with PERIOD, proposes a multi-pronged effort to address these issues, calling for more comprehensive studies on period poverty in young people; medically accurate sexual education in schools; and legislation to make period products as available as toilet paper in school and public bathrooms.

A section titled “Survey Findings” contained statistics about respondents’ experience with access to menstrual products, as well as period-related class absences:

The vast majority of students who responded to the State of the Period survey have experienced the stress of inaccessible period products. 1 in 5 teens have struggled to afford period products or were not able to purchase them at all. The results of this survey suggest that the practical consequences are clear. More than 4 in 5 teens have either missed class time or know a classmate who missed class time because they did not have access to period products. These physical, emotional, and educational consequences are clear to students, who are increasingly aware of the growing discourse around menstrual equity. The students surveyed expressed the need for stronger advocates who can help ensure that period products are available in their schools alongside basic necessities like toilet paper and soap.

Although Thinx’s research made headlines in 2023, it was bolstered by research published ten years before in PLoS One (“A Systematic Review of the Health and Social Effects of Menstrual Hygiene Management”), which identified “menstrual hygiene management (MHM)” and called for further research about its effects on lower-income people:

The management of menstruation presents significant challenges for women in lower income settings; the effect of poor MHM however remains unclear. It is plausible that MHM can affect the reproductive tract but the specific infections, the strength of effect, and the route of transmission, remain unclear. There is a gap in the evidence for high quality randomised intervention studies which combine hardware and software interventions, in particular for better understanding the nuanced effect improving MHM may have on girls’ attendance at school.

Similar research published in 2020 focused on a specific urban area in St. Louis, Missouri. In its abstract, the authors noted 48.3 percent of school age respondents “needed period products at least once last school year but did not have money to buy them”:

To assess the menstrual hygiene needs and related school absences among female students in an urban St. Louis, MO district. Methods Students (n = 58) completed a self-administered survey during registration and orientation before the 2019–2020 school year. Results Nearly half (48.3%) needed period products at least once last school year but did not have money to buy them. The majority (62.1%) accessed period products at school last year. Seventeen percent missed at least one day at school because of an inadequate supply of period products, including significantly more ninth graders than 10th–12th graders (33.3% vs. 6.1%, respectively, p < .01). Conclusions Students reported a substantial need for menstrual hygiene products but also frequent utilization of school resources to access products. Given that incoming ninth graders reported more absences related to an inadequate supply of products, the district may need to focus more attention on this issue in the junior high school and younger grades.

A popular April 5 2023 post to Reddit’s r/politics referenced “woke” free tampons, Idaho, and “period poverty.” A linked Today.com article referenced research commissioned by menstrual garment manufacturer Thinx, with respect to the prevalence of students and young adults who lack consistent access to menstrual hygiene products. Ongoing research repeatedly identified “period poverty” and its relationship to school absences as an issue in the United States and elsewhere.