I Tried ‘Free Bleeding’ and It Wasn’t a Total Disaster
Not using tampons for a whole cycle completely changed the way I think about my period.
Photo by Jackie Dives
When I first learned about free bleeding, around the time former M.I.A drummer Kiran Gandhi ran a marathon on her period without any menstrual products, I thought it was a cool statement about fighting shame and not letting a little blood get in the way of a long ass run. It made me feel better about the time I accidentally bled through my gym pants when I was 13, which was pretty much the worst thing that could happen at that age.
It also made me think about becoming more vocal about periods. When I meet a guy who is visibly uncomfortable with the idea of menstruation, I’ll usually make a point to talk about bloating or cramps or the weird digestive issues that come with a shedding uterus. As a gay lady, I view it as an important social service to my straight sisters. I’ve never been grossed out by other people’s periods, during sex or otherwise, and I think the world would be a healthier place if more people thought this way.
So conceptually I was totally down with free bleeding as a fuck you to the patriarchy, but I didn’t conceive it as a real long-term lifestyle choice. Were there actually women out there who forego tampons, menstrual cups, pads, period-proof undies, and other blood-catching products altogether? I didn’t think so, until a few months ago when I started dating someone who at that time was a real life free bleeder.
This completely blew my mind.
Since then I’ve met or heard about other people who do it for a number of reasons that go from reducing waste to being more in touch with their own bodies. As someone who sometimes struggles with letting go of control, it seemed like something I should try. I mean, how bad could it be?
Looking back it’s hard to decide what my biggest fear was. I think it was probably a tie between staining my couch and having random people notice I was not packing any lady products. Smell didn’t factor in so much, which is odd considering I have a very developed sense of smell (paired with an unforgiving gag reflex) and also, I had seen first hand how messy (and yes, sometimes smelly) things could get.
Let’s get this out of the way, free bleeding is messy and the first thing you need to do is embrace that. I spent the better half of my first day free bleeding sitting on a towel watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not just any Buffy either, season six Buffy. The saddest, most depressing, and sometimes problematic, Buffy. One huge piece of advice I had received was to drink lots of water. This guarantees more frequent visits to the bathroom, where you can check in on your free bleeding situation. So I drank water constantly and peed roughly once every 30 to 40 minutes.
Incredibly, I did not bleed into my panties even once on the first day. I also experienced much less discomfort. This is probably TMI, but I guess this whole essay is TMI so here goes, I get really bad cramps when I’m on my period. Everything hurts, including my butthole. If I don’t take an extra strength Midol before my cramps start I’m out of commission for most of the day. No joke, I’ve left work because of this.
Weirdly, my cramps were much more manageable while free bleeding. I have no empirical evidence to prove this was because of the free bleeding, but I appreciated not having to take any Midol.
That evening I had plans to meet a friend at a bar for a local event. This would be the first real test of my nerve as I tried not to bleed all over public seating. When I thought about the absolute worst thing that could happen—a stranger pointing out a period stain? who cares!—I felt weirdly reassured that I could handle it. I put on some black shorts and walked over.
Thankfully this place had black leather stools that made me feel safe in case the old drink-a-lot-and-pee-a-lot trick didn’t work. I switched to beer and made sure to break the seal. I had no issues, except for a little bit of spotting on my panties. My friend of course proceeded to tell everyone I was free bleeding, and no one was outwardly grossed out by it. I even got hit on by someone.
Sleeping while free bleeding was a big concern. It’s one thing to wash undies, but it’s a whole different undertaking to wash sheets or possibly bleed into my mattress. I’m not gonna lie, I opted to sleep on a towel in case things got messy. Which, to my surprise, they didn’t. And as an added bonus, I didn’t have to stress about getting up at 5 AM to change my tampon to avoid toxic shock syndrome. Yes, that is a thing I stress about constantly, despite the risk being pretty low.
My second day is usually my heaviest in terms of flow. I made sure to have an action packed day, because what’s the point otherwise? So far most of my free-bleeding time had been very manageable because I had quick access to a bathroom at all times. So I decided to go to a yoga class. Again, I donned black yoga pants and made my way to the studio.
I quickly learned that it’s impossible not to bleed while planking. This was probably one of the most interesting takeaways. Every girl knows sneezing and coughing are usually conducive to bleeding while you’re on your period. But this time I could really tell every single time it was happening.
There was an enlightening feeling that came with knowing exactly when I was and wasn’t bleeding. It really made me feel more in touch with my body, even if I was sure I was bleeding through my yoga pants just before we were asked to get into happy baby pose. As far as I could tell nobody was offended. I didn’t see any marks on the mat when I sprayed it down at the end.
Convinced I was covered in blood, I didn’t even rush home after yoga. I opted instead to savour the moment. I even stopped for a pizza on my way home. Seriously, who even was this person? If you want to feel liberated, try it one day. Not giving a fuck is the best feeling. When I finally got around to checking how much of a massacre was going on in my pants, I found it wasn’t nearly as much as I thought.
That evening I rode my bike to the movie theatre and sat down for almost two hours of the amazing Sorry to Bother You. I changed my undies and my pants before leaving because, well, you also don’t want to be an asshole. Again, I wasn’t about to leave the theatre to pee every 30 minutes, so I just let things be. And it was fine! Sort of, I mean I definitely bled through another pair of undies and lightly stained the inside of my black jeans. (No theatre seats were harmed, I swear.)
That evening I didn’t even sleep on a towel.
All of my newfound period confidence suddenly came crashing down when I realized my period was still there the next morning. It was my first day at a new job and I wanted to wear cute pants and my one pair of black jeans that didn’t have a hole in them were still covered in period blood. I didn’t want to wear a tampon, but honestly, I also didn’t want to bleed all over my light grey dressy pants. So I did the next best thing and wore a pantyliner.
Weirdly enough, my period was almost non-existent on my third day. And I realized I probably could have gotten away with not wearing anything if I stuck to drinking enough water to pee every 30 minutes. I started to think that a lot of my period habits were more micromanaging than necessary and had more to with imagined worst-case-scenarios than the actual amount of blood my body produces.
So here is the thing, would I do this again? Probably not for my entire period, but I definitely won’t be sleeping with a tampon anymore, just a pantyliner. And before you ask why I don’t just use a diva cup, I’ve tried, and I couldn’t do it. It was so painful trying to insert it.
I’ll definitely be wearing a tampon when I plan on being at a bar or sitting in a movie theatre, or at work, or sitting on a friend's couch. But since this experiment I’ve reduced my tampon use by almost two thirds.
While I still wear one during my heavier-flow days, I think if anything this was a good exercise in realizing you don’t need a tampon all the time. And that if accidents happen, honestly, who cares?
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