Why 2015 was the year of the period—and we don't mean punctuation

Tampon or pad? That's all you get when you stroll through the feminine care aisle of any big supermarket chain.

But times are a changin'.

This year has been epic for menstruation, with news and social media catapulting the once hush-hush topic into the open.

There's the woman who ran the London marathon without using feminine hygiene products, and the #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult hashtag that erupted after presidential candidate Donald Trump referred to GOP debate moderator Megyn Kelly as having had "blood coming out of her wherever."

Researchers say all the hullabaloo may help give women better and eventually more eco-friendly options in menstrual care.

"For people like me who have been studying menstruation for decades, we've never enjoyed this kind of attention before," says Chris Bobel, associate professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and president of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. "I wrote a book on menstrual activism five years ago that got no attention. But now it is."

Is it? Even though Cosmopolitan magazine says it's "the year the period went public," we were skeptical. But social media's been awash with the p-word, and when we checked the number of times the word "menstruation" was mentioned in five national news outlets, it more than tripled from 2010 to 2015, from 47 to 167.

One big moment came in April, when Kiran Gandhi, a Los Angeles-based musician and feminist, ran the London Marathon while on her period, without using any hygiene products. She wanted to let her blood flow freely to encourage women not to feel embarrassed about their periods.

"The fact that we've been able to talk about periods openly is the biggest step in the revolution," says Gandhi, who finished the race with a blot of blood on the crotch of her neon orange leggings. "So many people are weighing in about the problems they currently face with their periods. It makes people empowered to speak about their own bodies."

Then came the hashtag #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult.

"That was a huge watershed moment for me," says Bobel of the online reaction to Trump's comment after the GOP candidates' debate in August. "Women were refusing to take the bait that menstruation is a put-down or a silencer."

Indeed, when we looked on Twitter the other day, we found that women are still toying with Trump with statements like: "It's normal and natural. Let's change the conversation. Let's break the taboo."

So maybe in an odd way this controversial candidate will help improve the options we women have for absorbing our periods.

"In America we have a new iPhone every year, but in the past two centuries there have only been three innovations in menstrual care. It's baffling," says Gandhi.

She's talking about the disposable sanitary pad, which was first marketed in 1888; the tampon, which became commercially available in the 1930s; and the menstrual cup, which has been around for decades but didn't become popular until softer versions were developed in the 1980s. (The adhesive pad was introduced in the 1970s.)

About two-thirds of American women use pads, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while one-third use tampons. Those proportions include women who use both. And while most women use conventional products, entrepreneurs are busy creating new options.

"The interest in alternatives is greater than ever before," says Cynthia Pearson, executive director of the National Women's Health Network. "The number of questions we get about it — it seems like there's a new surge in interest. More folks are questioning whether to use tampons or push for getting more info about what's in them."

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has been trying to find that out for almost 20 years. In April, she reintroduced legislation — for the ninth time since 1997 — that would require manufacturers to label the fabrics, colorants, dyes and preservatives used in pads and tampons. Some women have expressed concern that trace amounts of the toxic chemical dioxin could be in tampons as a byproduct of rayon processing.

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