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On the first morning of my most recent period, I woke up with a slight sense of dread. Not because my period was here — my period ranges from a very slight inconvenience to a reason to take Ibuprofen for the first time all month, nothing worse — but because it was time for my "free bleeding" experiment. I would go without menstrual products all day in favor of simply bleeding freely. "Why did I volunteer for this?" I wondered, not for the first time in my life.
The answer, of course, was "to write about it." Free bleeding isn't an idea that holds a lot of personal appeal for me, but it does spark my curiosity. Proponents of free bleeding claim that it builds a healthier relationship with your period by de-stigmatizing the sight of blood and removing the pressure to constantly "manage" this inherently messy bodily function. With no foreign objects stemming the flow, free bleeding allows you to really feel what's happening in your loins, ya know? Also, a lot of menstrual products aren't actually that good for your genitals.
Kiran Gandhi, who ran the London Marathon with blood dripping down her legs, popularized free bleeding in 2015, shortly after an online hoax brought the term into common use. Gandhi said her choice to free bleed was meant, in part, to represent "sisters who don't have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn't exist."
Indeed, more than a way to get righteous about my personal period, I am interested in free bleeding as a shared experience, as a method that countless women — throughout history and in the present day — have used out of necessity.
Most people who choose to free bleed aren't as extreme as Kiran Gandhi; they're not bleeding all over themselves in public, just in the privacy of their own home. They usually use some other method to handle the output of blood. I figured that was totally doable. But, on the other hand, I'm a religious tampon user. I've never let my body bleed without a barrier of some kind, and I had no real idea how much visible blood would be produced over the course of a day. Would it interrupt my day a little, or a lot?
Turns out, a lot!
When I first woke up, I was wearing sweatpants with no underwear, because that is how I sleep. My period is usually pretty light at the beginning, so I figured I could dash downstairs and make something to eat before things got all Carrie-esque. I was wrong. As I waited for my oats to finish cooking, I felt the dams break loose. I sneakily waddled past my roommate back to my room, acutely aware of the blood on my left knee.
Still, there was barely any blood, really; it was simply the fact that there was blood at all that was disturbing, and I suppose that's the whole point of free bleeding: It's just blood. It's OK.
Safely in my room, I cleaned up and switched to a pair of black underwear and stretchy black running shorts, with black leggings on top. It should be noted that many modern free bleeders use a pair of super-absorbent underwear specially designed for the purpose, like Thinx, but I say they are pansies. Do it like the ancestors! Bleed onto an ankle-length dress! Stuff your undergarments with old rags! Or just buy Thinx. Yeah, I definitely should have just bought some Thinx.
I sat down to work, and the next few hours passed by without much incident. My underwear-shorts-leggings combo was holding up perfectly. Because my flow was still light, I didn't feel wet at all. I mostly bled when I stood up to go to the bathroom, which leads me to conclude that GRAVITY is the real problem here. Next month I'll try lying down for my entire period and see what happens.
By the end of the day, though, things took a turn for the worse.
After I finished work, I went to the store to get some wine (as one does) and I stuffed some towels in my underwear because, even with 3 layers of clothing, I was afraid of visibly bleeding in public due to GRAVITY. The towel method worked well — definitely a runner-up alternative to Thinx, and it's what many people use. I would call my flow "medium" at this point.
When I was back at home and stocked with wine, I removed the towels, then continued my experiment. That proved to be A HUGE MISTAKE. If you don't have Thinx, use towels. Duh. Did I think I was Kiran Gandhi? What's wrong with me?
I'm not even sure what happened next. Maybe a couple hours passed? What went on in my nether region during that time, I may never know, but the next time I went to the bathroom, my situation looked like the floor of a butcher shop. Surprisingly, the blood didn't soak all the way through — my leggings remained dry, hence my confusion — but my underwear and shorts were sopping wet. Like, dripping.
I'm not sure how things escalated so quickly, but I gave up on the experiment at that exact moment. I definitely could have gone back to using towels and continued, but like, why? I wasn't enjoying myself, the day was mostly over, and I got the idea already.
I grabbed a tampon and a clean pair of underwear, cleaned myself up, and rinsed my clothes in the sink. That's when things really sunk in — the amount of blood that I wrung out from my undergarments was truly astounding. It took me forever to get it all out. And this was just day one. My light day.
Some people have said that free bleeding brings them a sense of peace and relief. It's a stark contrast to constantly stressing about hiding your period from the rest of society; the burden of dealing with a period while also making it invisible is a heavy one. As Gandhi said, "Women’s bodies are supposed to constantly be ready for public consumption." To have a completely non-discreet period is a way to rebel against that expectation.
For me, though, free bleeding was more stressful than my period usually is. I'm the type of person who shaves even when I'm not planning on having sex, so perhaps my aversion to bodily materials is not representative of the masses; but also I can't imagine I'm the only woman who would rather just... not deal with a bunch of blood for hours or days at a time? I hate doing laundry!
There are two things, though, that my experiment made me realize.
Firstly, I bleed more than I thought. This is not what I expected to discover, but nonetheless it is true.
Second, tampons are not a given. Life without tampons goes on. With a light flow, regular old underwear is pretty chill. With a medium flow, towels work well, if you're not an idiot who thinks they don't need them. And because most tampons do have all kinds of weird sh*t in them that I don't necessarily want to be putting up my vag, I've decided to go with a less-messy, less-chemical-laden alternative: The menstrual cup.
Wish me luck.