Period poverty and stigma remain critical issues in the United States, with teens of color and lower-income students more likely to be impacted as found by a recent survey commissioned by Thinx and PERIOD.; a majority of Black (70%) and Hispanic (64%) teens reported that too many people have to miss valuable school time because of lack of access to period products. Moreover, over a quarter of Black (33%) and Hispanic (28%) teens struggle to access period products, higher than the national average (23%).
To help close the gap and make period products accessible to everyone, Thinx teamed up with the non-profit group PERIOD to report on insights and changes in period poverty and stigma in our annual survey. The State of the Period continues to be the only publicly available study tracking the impact of period poverty — the inability to access menstrual hygiene products — among American teenage students. Together, Thinx and PERIOD. are working to raise awareness of period poverty and improve menstrual equity through this survey and our joint United for Access campaign. We are fighting to address these issues and seek a multi-pronged approach. They are calling for legislation to eliminate taxes on menstrual hygiene products, improve access to period products in school and public bathrooms, more comprehensive studies on period poverty in young people, and medically accurate sexual education in schools. Overall, they’ve found that while there has been improvement in many of the underlying stressors tied to period poverty since 2021,* almost a quarter (23%) of teens still struggle to afford period products. However, conversation and advocacy are increasing. Teens report more comfort discussing menstruation at home, and support for menstrual advocacy and education across the board is up from 2021.
This year’s survey was conducted online by SKDK between September 5th through September 10th, 2023. It surveyed 1,020 teenagers who menstruate, all between the ages of 13-19, and an additional 1,050 adults who menstruate between the ages of 20-50. Results were weighted for age, region, race/ethnicity, and education where necessary to align with actual proportions in the population.
The third State of the Period (SOTP) poll shows teens are still aware of the barriers, period stigma, and lack of access to period products present. The majority of teens agree there is a negative association with periods and that society reinforces that stigma. Teens report improvement around period stigma since 2021; however, 45% of teens have been affected by the negative associations surrounding periods. While teens (ages 13-19) are expressing more optimism around period stigma, adults (ages 20-50) are more likely to express shame and experience stigma around periods.
Almost a quarter of teens (one-third of adults) have struggled to access period products, unchanged from 2021. However, teens report that some underlying stresses around lack of product access have been improving as COVID restrictions have been lifted. Fewer teens report wearing products for longer than recommended, and teens report better access to period products in public spaces and more accessible products in school bathrooms.
Communication around periods, particularly in homes, is also improving for teens. They are more comfortable discussing their periods with both parents (though fathers are still low on their list), and fewer teens say their family feels uncomfortable talking about periods. However, adults are less likely to feel comfortable communicating about periods. Black and lower-income teens are more likely to be uncomfortable talking about their periods.
Teens are much more likely to experience stress and discomfort around managing their period at school than at home, and they are keenly aware of how this stress, discomfort, and stigma can impact someone’s education. While schools are becoming more supportive, not enough is being done to support teens in managing their periods throughout their education. This is felt more acutely by lower-income and Hispanic teens.
Teens note that open discussion with their friends and family improves their negative associations surrounding periods, and as a result, teens want to see more action on confronting period stigma. The desire for advocacy has grown since 2021, particularly in schools. Teens want to see more in-depth education in schools with everyone (not just people who menstruate), more open and honest communication around periods (particularly in schools), and more vocal advocates discussing menstruation publicly.
Access to Period Products
Similar to 2021, a quarter of teens and a third of adults struggle to afford period products. While many of the underlying stresses appear to be improving, there is still a significant number of teens who need more access to period products. Teens of color and lower-income students are more likely to be impacted by issues of access.
- 23% of teens have struggled to afford period products.
- 40% of teens and 52% of adults have worn period products for longer than recommended.
- 58% of teens have asked a friend or classmate for a period product because they didn’t have one, and 18% have asked a stranger.
- 25% of teens cannot do schoolwork because of a lack of access to products, and 60% due to symptoms.
- A plurality (44%) of teens report stress and embarrassment due to a lack of access to period products.
The Need for Open Communication
More than three-quarters (76%) of teens have questions about their periods and want to have more open communication about their menstrual cycle. While they have seen improvement in the open communication they have at home with their families about their periods, there is still a lack of discussion of periods at school. This lack of communication leaves many teens and adults confused and unprepared for their first period.
A Call for Action
According to Thinx, teens’ desire for advocacy around menstrual equity is growing. Across the board, support for additional advocacy and education is up from 2021. There is a strong desire for menstrual health to be normalized in schools and workplaces, and teens expect education to be part of the core curriculum for everyone.
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