Tampons on campus: acknowledging the taboo and necessity of menstruation

A tampon dispensary sits empty in one of the bathrooms on Westminster College’s campus. None of the nine out of 64 women’s or gender-neutral bathrooms that included dispensaries for feminine hygiene products were actually stocked with feminine hygiene products. Photo by Scott Salter.

A tampon dispensary sits empty in one of the bathrooms on Westminster College’s campus. None of the nine out of 64 women’s or gender-neutral bathrooms that included dispensaries for feminine hygiene products were actually stocked with feminine hygiene products. Photo by Scott Salter.

Of the 64 women’s or gender-neutral bathrooms across Westminster College’s campus, only nine included dispensaries for feminine hygiene products, according to a survey conducted by students in a professional writing class at the college. Of those nine, none of the dispensaries were actually stocked with feminine hygiene products and two of the dispensaries required payment.

Accessing tampons and feminine hygiene products is a necessity for many students, faculty and staff on campus, and Westminster public health professor Han Kim said he believes the lack of accessibility is an example of female-bodied health issues going unnoticed.

“The gender disparities in health care are staggering,” Kim said. “This is something most—almost all—women go through on a monthly basis. So yes, absolutely. This is something that we need to provide free of charge for all women—students and faculty and staff.”

According to Kim, a lack of comprehensive sex education creates a culture where individuals who don’t menstruate lack a comprehensive understanding of menstrual cycles.

Accessing tampons and feminine hygiene products is a necessity for many students, faculty and staff on Westminster College’s campus. However, some members of the Westminster community believe the college has a responsibility to provide menstrual products on campus while others do not. Photo by Scott Salter.

Accessing tampons and feminine hygiene products is a necessity for many students, faculty and staff on Westminster College’s campus. However, some members of the Westminster community believe the college has a responsibility to provide menstrual products on campus while others do not. Photo by Scott Salter.

“Growing up in Utah, the only place I personally received formal information about women's health was through the Utah public school system,” said ASW.Clubs president Warren Cook. “Thanks to the system's draconian views about anything related to sex education, it's safe to say I learned nothing. Thankfully, at Westminster I have been fortunate enough to take classes that challenge dominant perceptions of women's health and sexuality”

According to philosophy and gender studies professor Kara Barnette, not providing access to menstrual products on campus is detrimental to students’ educational rights.

“We [as a culture] have shamed female bodies around issues of menstruation,” Barnette said. “When a female-bodied individual’s well being is limited or altered because of lack of access, they aren't given a space to reflect on that. They are told to hide and leave class, and if you show blood then that’s supposedly harmful. To recognize the shame arround menstruation is harmful to people and is tied with our inability to recognize sex and gender as a binary. Any time you chip away at the gender binary, you are going to make life better for anyone who finds themselves in that binary. The problem is not as simple as a box of Tampax; the problem is an entire way of which we view other human beings.”

On campus, students can only purchase tampons in the bookstore―accessibility some see as limited compared to the ease of acquiring condoms, which can be found for free in the Student Health Services office. Though Student Health Services also provides female-bodied condoms, Kim said the disparity in accessibility for a generally male-bodied item over female-bodied menstrual products points to the advantages and privileges men have in healthcare.

“You can get condoms, which is male, but you can’t get tampons,” Kim said. “One could say condoms are a strictly voluntary device that you need if you’re having sex, but women don’t have a choice [about whether to have a period].”

According to Stephanie Nagata, Westminster’s director of Student Health Services, supplying tampons is a cost issue.

“We don’t provide tampons as that’s not part of our procedure,” Nagata said. “It’s never been an issue that has been brought to my attention, and I would think that most people take care of their own personal needs. The condoms we provide because the college age population is sexually active, and when we can get free condoms through Planned Parenthood we can make them widely available. We don’t actually have budget to be able to keep buying things for people to have for free. We charge for our services.”

Nagata also countered the idea that condoms are exclusively male-bodied.

“It really is a personal responsibility for your own health and well being,” she said. “I think it’s a little discriminatory to put it only on one gender. The need for a condom requires a female partner. When available, we also have female condoms people can take. Preventing pregnancy is a dual gendered issue.”

It’s worth noting that condoms can be used with a partner of any gender and that the need for a condom extends beyond the prevention of pregnancy and can help stop the spread of sexually transmitted infections. However, it’s clear that people have differing opinions about the college’s responsibility to provide menstrual products to students across campus.

Some students believe the college has a duty to make menstrual products available in the need of an emergency. Sabi Lowder, a sophomore custom major and president of the Feminist Club, said she believes menstruation shouldn’t be thought of as taboo but rather as a normal part of life.

“This school should be a place where we’re acknowledging that feminine hygiene products are necessities,” Lowder said. “I think that pretty much every institution should take that into consideration. It’s the [feminine] body parts that produce the human population, and we shouldn't have to pay to have a period.”

Lowder said the menstrual cycle should be considered a beautiful part of the life process.

“Literally periods produce life,” Lowder said. “Periods should be something we can talk about. Tampons should be available; pads should be available. My uterine wall sheds once a month, and that just happens. There is nothing I can do about it. I don’t understand the taboo. It’s what produces life, and people should cherish the people who menstruate. As we bleed for five days, we just keep going.”