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Period Poverty Exists Even When Tampon Supply is Flowing

By July 12, 2022February 15th, 2024Women's Rights

‘Period poverty’ is not the same as poverty, period, but, either way, the words are relevant in view of recent tampon shortages on grocery and drug store shelves. Inevitably, homeless and low-income women are affected with more intensity, though the data is incomplete because the problem is still relatively new.

Less fortunate women are reportedly substituting socks and rags for sterile feminine products as a result of inflation and consequential lack of access and funds.

The issue grabbed the public’s attention when TIME Magazine published an article in June titled, “The Great Tampon Shortage of 2022: The Supply Chain Problem No One’s Talking About.” First, it was baby formula and now feminine hygiene products. Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but women are feeling annoyed at best. It’s not as though inventory projections are less than predictable.

One explanation theorizes that the recent shortage 1/ began with the pandemic’s advent in early 2020, which kicked off mounting supply chain evils – further exacerbated by the recent Covid lockdown in China.

Also: 2/ acquiring raw materials –  cotton, rayon and plastic to make menstrual hygiene products –  is purportedly more expensive today. 3/ Inflation has increased the cost of tampons 10 percent over last year. 4/ Manufacturers say increased demand for organic feminine products is making inventory quotas even harder to fill. And, 5/ factory staffing shortages contribute to transportation bottlenecks.

Leading manufacturers like Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark are encouraging “people who menstruate” (cringe) that factories are working overtime to accelerate increased supply. This is in keeping with increased demand – also spurred by expanding government initiatives that aim to spread awareness of the importance of feminine hygiene for women’s health.

CVS, Target and Walgreens said in statements to NPR that they were aware of a limited tampon supply at some stores. Walgreens said its shortages “may only be in specific brands while we navigate the supply disruption,” but that it is routinely updating its website with the latest store-level inventories.

Meanwhile, in the same sense that parents were urged not to dilute baby formula during the baby formula shortage, women having their period are strongly advised not to wear a tampon longer than usual and never more than one tampon at a time, in order to avoid toxic shock syndrome, a rare, life-threatening condition caused by certain types of bacterial infections.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) gets worse very quickly and can be fatal if not treated properly, but, if diagnosed and treated early, most people make a full recovery. TSS doesn’t just affect young women, but older women, children and even men.


Until the situation is resolved, perhaps through importing FDA-approved feminine products from Europe, as was the case with baby formula, the more likely that low-income women will feel the pinch more severely. Homeless women and impoverished women rely on receiving donations from charitable organizations such as Women Strong and Women Forward, whose supplies have been duly diminished in the turmoil.

“It’s become a strange fascination of mine, to see the large gap on the shelf, like a missing front tooth, where tampons are supposed to be.”

– Alana Semuels, TIME

Supply shortages that impact something as central as a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle don’t seem fair. No offense, but men get generic Viagra for free (or practically free) under most health insurance policies, but surveys say men do not wish to take birth control pills because of their possible side effects.

What if men needed tampons to keep blood off their trousers for one week out of every month?

The tampon market, in fact, is projected to reach U.S. $8.5 billion by 2032 as a result of the growing demand for eco-friendly feminine hygiene products, according to Future Market Insights, Inc. (June 21, 2022). There will be more sizes for tampons and pads – more comfortable, non-applicator, all-cotton designs (no rayon), online-accessible, U.S.-manufactured, organic and more compatible to an active woman’s lifestyle.

Where is all that inventory now?

Some alternatives, in the meantime:

  • Unscented menstrual pads (no risk of TSS and last 4-8 hours)
  • Reusable menstrual underwear (pricey but eco-conscious)
  • Menstrual cups (can be worn up to 12 hours and last up to two years, though not the best choice for women with fibroids)

Women, as vessels (contrary to men, as spears), are disproportionately burdened with hormones and their mood-swinging, cramp-perpetuating, ever-swinging impact from day to day –  throughout every 28-day cycle. The inimitable Bette Midler is famous for her line about keeping the scenario fair between the two sexes:

“Time to ban Viagra because if pregnancy is God’s will then so is limp dick.”

Bette Midler