A First-Timers Guide To Free-Bleeding

free-bleeding-barbie

Menstruation Barbie aka “Crampy Carla” by Kristin Krein

In the most recent issue of The Monthly I briefly wrote about my experience with free-bleeding. The idea of free-bleeding was not something I was familiar with as a teen, it wasn’t until I was 30 that I actually tried it out. If you are not familiar, free-bleeding is just what it sounds like: allowing your menstrual blood to flow naturally without trying to capture it.

Now, this may sound like a ridiculous idea, especially considering we are socially conditioned to be repulsed by menstrual blood. And many women spend a good amount of energy throughout each period trying to avoid bleeding into their pants, so why would anyone want to do it on purpose?

Well, I will tell you, from my personal experiences with free-bleeding, it is quite peaceful. Ritualistic, actually. I choose to free-bleed in the privacy of my own home onto a dedicated towel while I enjoy a good book or my favorite movie. Some women bleed into a specific pair of underwear while others have a collection of comfortable leggings they use. No matter how you choose to free-bleed, the intention is the same: to let your body do its thing.

Have you ever thought about how much time and energy you dedicate to catching your menstrual flow each time you’re on you period? How about avoiding certain activities or wearing your favorite pair of skinny jeans during your period in case you “leak”? Chances are, you probably aren’t aware of the amount of mental and emotional strain managing your period can have on you. Not until we remove the desire to control something do we actually see it as a stressor.

How often have you had your blood pressure rise when you feel that “gush” during your period? It happens to me all the time. Then I spend the next however many minutes trying not to freak out as I look for a bathroom and hope I haven’t bled all over myself.

Stressful.

Free-bleeding helps to diminish that feeling.

With that being said, if you have never free-bled before, but want to give it a try, here are my tips on getting started:

Decide what you want to free-bleed onto.

As mentioned above, you can sit bare-assed on a towel, bleed into underwear, leggings or sweatpants, or just let it flow.

Decide how you want to free-bleed.

I like to stay seated and bleed onto a towel, some women choose to free-bleed only in the bath or shower, and some will throw on a dress and go about their business.

Decide where you want to free-bleed.

Again, I like to free-bleed in the privacy of my own home, but if you want to go to work or run errands while free-bleeding I recommend using Thinx. Or, if you are a real bad-ass, use nothing. It’s up to you.

Decide when you want to free-bleed.

If you are new to this, I always recommend trying it for the first time on your light days. It can be awkward when you first start free-bleeding because we have been conditioned to be reactive to the sensation of a leak. Just remember, what you are doing is not gross, disgusting or unsanitary, it is completely natural. So relax.

Decide who you want to involve.

Is free-bleeding something you want to do alone? While snuggled up on the couch watching a movie with your partner? Or maybe you want to do it among a group of fellow menstruators? You are starting a new period-positive ritual for yourself, do what feels most comfortable, but don’t dismiss the power of menstruating among friends.

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Free-bleeding gives you a chance to relinquish control over your body, to let it be in its most natural state, and to let yourself NGAF about making a mess, even if just for a few minutes. If you think about it, modern menstrual care products have only been around for a hundred years or so. What do you think women did before the age of Tampax? Many of them free bled*.

In some cultures, the smell and sight of menstrual blood was considered an aphrodisiac because it was symbolic of a woman’s fertility. And while modern society has eroded any sense of joy or excitement of the menstrual period, choosing to free-bleed can be incredibly empowering.

Consider incorporating free-bleeding into your menstrual care routine. Free-bleeding can make you more comfortable with your menstruating body and your menstrual blood. It may be the most comforting thing you can do for yourself during your period. If you’re a free-bleeding first-timer we would love to hear about your experience. Email us your story and it may be featured in our next edition of The Monthly.

*It is important to note that while many upper class women free-bled by choice, this was not the case for everyone. Many poor women did not have access to rags or old clothing items to cut up for catching their flow. They free-bled because they had to. It is also important to note that modern free-bleeding is a privileged choice for many in the U.S. Not having access to menstrual care products is a huge concern for women here and all around the world—this reality is not lost on me, or Cycledork.

Amy is a period-positive advocate, educator and writer. She prefers tackling topics like reproductive health, fertility, sexuality, feminism, social justice issues and all those tricky subjects you avoid talking about at family gatherings. Amy holds a Master’s Degree in Women’s Health as well as a Graduate Certificate in Holistic Health Studies. Read her full bio here

Read more articles by Amy Sutherland

9 Comments

  1. You should put credit on that picture. You can find her on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/kilgore.k.trout

  2. How are you incapable of realizing that blood is a biohazard?!
    No one in their right mind cares about menstrual blood because it’s menstrual blood. We care about menstrual blood because it’s BLOOD.
    Blood can carry diseases. I don’t know who is or isn’t carrying safe blood, and neither does anybody else.
    Controlling the flow of menstruation is not about oppressing women or controlling their bodies. It’s about stopping a known biohazard be exposed to the public.
    If you want to free bleed at home, go for it. It’s probably a good idea, as it will use less waste and, as the article points out, probably help you relax.
    But don’t think that it’s acceptable to go around bleeding in public spaces. It’s not. And it has NOTHING to do with you being a woman. Any argument resting on that premise is failin to see the big picture: public health.
    Should hygiene products be cheaper or more available to women? Absolutely. I’m not even opposed to having them be free to women completely.
    But the way to get there is not to endanger the general public with your blood.
    Remember, you don’t even need a to carry a disease for your blood to be a threat to someone else. Someone else who has a disorder can be severely hurt if they come into contact with someone else’s blood.
    The author of this post was HUGELY irresponsible for recommending that women free bleed in public.

  3. Thanks for sharing your opinion. We always appreciate engagement from our readers!

    • Next time you write an article to share an opinion, why don’t you try to actually engage with the readers? You might find you’ll earn more respect than if you just condescendingly ignore the content of my comment.

      • Please allow me to elaborate on this topic and what inspired me to write it:

        Menstruation is not a “hygienic” crisis. The menstrual hygienic movement came about in the 19th century with the pathologizing of the menstrual cycle. Gynecology and obstetrics viewed menstruation as an “injury.” Because of this, many physicians began giving cotton wrapped with gauze to their menstruating patients, a pseudo band-aid thought to “compress” their “wound.” Companies then jumped at the chance to get in on this new consumer market and began to manufacture and sell menstrual “first aid.” Interestingly, this is considered to be the beginning of medical consumerism.

        Companies like Kotex created a smear campaign to demonize the “old way” of menstrual care – which consisted of using homemade cloth pads – in exchange for the “new way” – manufactured disposable “sanitary” pads. The etymology of the word “sanitary” as used to describe menstrual products refers to the sanitary nature of the pad, not the unsanitary nature of menstrual blood. Advertisers played on this to sell products.

        But I’ll play into your concern. Your issue with free-bleeding, as stated in your comment, is the possibility of accidentally coming into contact with menstrual blood in public. Let’s break this down.

        First, menstrual blood does not spray out of our vaginas like the blood of a fresh wound. And many women, including myself, bleed mostly into the toilet when our pelvic floor muscles relax. The average woman loses only 3 Tablespoon of blood over the course of 3-7 days. So, that means most women who are free-bleeding will be entirely undetectable to those around them. I know that a lot of the attention to free-bleeding comes from famous examples of it: Kiran Gandhi running the London marathon, or when a group of women free-bleed in protest of the Tampon Tax, but these are extreme examples of what free-bleeding actually is.

        Second, In order to contract a blood-borne disease from a menstruating woman in public, you would need to come into direct contact with her vagina while simultaneously rubbing your own fresh, open wound on it. If you’re doing that, we have a whole other problem. “But women will be bleeding all over everything!” Really, though? Women free-bleed all the time, so let me ask you: when was the last time you saw or were exposed to menstrual blood while you were out in public?

        The assumption that a woman who chooses to free-bleed is going to be reckless and bleed everywhere with abandon is a trope pushed by people who don’t understand it.

        Third, I hate to break it to you, but you don’t have to be free-bleeding to leak onto your clothes. Maybe your pad shifted, maybe you wore too light of a tampon, or maybe you were surprised by an ill-timed cycle. Should we just demand that every woman stay indoors in the off chance her menstrual blood becomes visible in public?

        Finally, have you ever seen a biohazard container for used menstrual products in a bathroom or other public space? No. OSHA doesn’t even categorize used menstrual products as “regulated waste.” Meaning, there is no requirement that they need to be discarded into special containers. OSHA merely recommends these products are collected in the same bag for ease of disposal. On that note, if a menstruating woman uses a toilet, that water would be considered a biohazard, too, and have to be specially collected. But it’s not.

        But I suppose there are all those public health campaigns warning people about the dangers of having vaginal sex during a women’s period due to biohazard exposure. Oh, wait. There’s never been any such thing. But as doctors, public health officials and I recommend, wear a condom when you have intercourse!

        And before you even start to formulate your retort that menstrual blood is just as harmful to human health as coming into contact with urine or feces, let me stop you right there.

        While certain functions exist to remove toxins and bacteria from our bodies: defecation, urination, sweating, sneezing and the thinning of sinus mucus, menstruation is no such act. People menstruate to shed the endometrial lining, a lining of cells, tissue, and yes, blood, that creates a cushy, nutrient rich environment into which a fertilized egg implants. When fertilization does not occur, a menstrual period is a way for the uterus to refresh itself. Menstruation allows the endometrial lining to regenerate so it can support potential life the following month, not because it is storing bacteria and becoming harmful to the body.

        I also disagree with your claim that people don’t dislike menstrual blood, they just dislike blood. Movies, television, video games, and social media are filled with displays of blood due to injury or violence. We have a tolerance for that kind of blood and at times, we celebrate it. MMA and professional boxing make millions of dollars in paid viewership. The participants know the other person will bleed, the audience knows there will be blood, yet, there is no outcry. In contrast, movies, television, advertisements and social media extoll menstrual blood as something that is “gross,” “dirty,” “unsightly,” “disgusting,” I could go on. So no, I don’t believe we view all blood the same way.

        So, let’s call your comment what it is: an opinion on menstrual blood. You don’t like the thought of a woman’s menstrual blood being visible in public. You want to pretend women don’t bleed out of their vaginas. Maybe the idea grosses you out, maybe you have been propagandized by negative menstrual rhetoric your whole life, or you prefer to perpetuate menstrual stereotypes as fact. I can only guess. You are free to your opinion. If you would have said “the idea of women menstruating in public grosses me out,” I can respect that more than you hiding behind a straw man argument. In the future, you should just say what you mean and save me the time and energy of having to correct you.

  4. Thank you for your reply. I’d like to say it was a pleasure to read, but since you lack any professionalism when dealing with criticism, I won’t add false niceties.
    So there is no confusion, I’m going to quote what you said and reply to each part in turn.

    “Menstruation is not a “hygienic” crisis. The menstrual hygienic movement came about in the 19th century with the pathologizing of the menstrual cycle.”
    I’m not going to dispute this at all, I don’t need to. I don’t need to because HOW the hygienic movement came to be is irrelevant to the issue. The issue is whether or not blood is a biohazard. The answer to that is overwhelmingly yes. If blood were not a biohazard, why would the entire medical profession protect themselves from blood at all times? Why do places which accept blood donations HEAVILY SCREEN the blood? Could is possibly be that even A SMALL TRACE AMOUNT OF BLOOD getting into someone else’s system can be harmful, or fatal?

    Considering you said I built a straw man, you might want to watch out for the ones you build yourself.
    “First, menstrual blood does not spray out of our vaginas like the blood of a fresh wound.”
    I’m sorry, where did I say that? Oh right. I didn’t. Thanks for the straw man.

    “Women free-bleed all the time, so let me ask you: when was the last time you saw or were exposed to menstrual blood while you were out in public?”
    How is this relevant again? That I don’t experience something, and that something isn’t a danger, are different. I have never experienced rape, it doesn’t follow that I think rape isn’t a problem. The potential for contaminated blood to be in the public sphere of health is a problem, end of story.

    “The assumption that a woman who chooses to free-bleed is going to be reckless and bleed everywhere with abandon is a trope pushed by people who don’t understand it.”
    Again, where did I say this? That’s right. I didn’t. I’m glad you think you know me so well that you can pinpoint the exact assumptions I’m making. The fact is, and you’ve said it yourself, blood gets out all the time. The solution is NOT to just say ‘Oh well! Let’s free-bleed!’ The solution is to recognize that even though blood DOES get into the public sphere, we should always do our best to minimize that. And free-bleeding does not do that.

    “Should we just demand that every woman stay indoors in the off chance her menstrual blood becomes visible in public?”
    You are a master of the straw man. We should not do that anymore than we should make people with bleeding wounds stay inside. However, if someone entered the public sphere and was actually bleeding into the environment (say from a wound on the leg) we would ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE that person to be moved to a private/medical space. So don’t throw stupid straw man arguments at me when you haven’t thought out your position.

    “…there is no requirement that they need to be discarded into special containers.”
    Brilliant argument. There is no requirement that these things which hold blood be treated safely, so we don’t need to treat them safely. I’ll let you sort out the implications of that one on your own.

    “And before you even formulate your retort that menstrual blood is just as harmful to human health as coming into contact with urine or feces…”
    I actually would not have brought this up at all, because it isn’t true. But again, thanks for assuming what my arguments are.
    Blood is a problem because it can POTENTIALLY CARRY DISEASE. What about this is a mystery to you?

    “So no, I don’t believe we view all blood the same way.”
    You’re right. We look at blood in two ways: Clean, and Unclean. Clean blood is simply blood that has been through a rigorous testing program to verify that it has no communicable diseases – such as the blood in a transfusion. Unclean blood is EVERY OTHER KIND. Blood from a cut? From flossing too hard? From menstruation? Unless it’s been tested, it’s not safe.

    “You don’t like the thought of a woman’s menstrual blood being visible in public. You want to pretend women don’t bleed out of their vaginas.”
    Not once did I say this, but thanks again for straw manning me.
    I don’t like the idea of UNCLEAN BLOOD BEING IN THE PUBLIC SPHERE. Who the blood comes from? Irrelevant. How it got there? Irrelevant!
    Get off your high horse – my argument isn’t about women. It’s about blood safety.

    Oh, and your example about MMA? It’s a very poor analogy. Why?
    Because WATCHING boxing is one thing, PARTICIPATING is another. Boxers (those who participate) are aware of the risks of blood transfusion in their sport. Doctors are also aware of their risk, and they take precautions.
    So why does your analogy suck? Because PUBLIC SPHERE has nothing to do with PARTICIPATION.

    “If you would have said ‘the idea of women menstruating in public grosses me out,’ I can respect that more than you hiding behind a straw man argument.”
    It doesn’t gross me out. It’s blood, and it’s natural. There is nothing gross about it. There is a potential for blood to be dangerous in the public sphere, and thus blood should be contain, as much as possible, FROM the public sphere.

    I gave you some criticism, you were condescending, and then when I pointed out your condescension, you were rude and argued poorly. Don’t bother replying – you either don’t understand what it is you’re talking about, or you’ll recognize that I’m right and you’ll shut up. Either way, there is no need for me to come back and read what you say.

    Have a great day!

  5. You have a great day, too!

  6. I would totally agree that free bleeding is the most natural way to leave your period flow unhindered,to run it’s own natural free course and time and it’s a wonderful,most gorgeous experience

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