Is free bleeding lazy or a radical reclamation of femininity?

Is free bleeding lazy or a radical reclamation of femininity?

Is free bleeding worth all the hype? How did it start? Is it safe? And what the heck is it?  

Firstly, what is free bleeding? Well, it is, put simply, bleeding freely during the menstrual cycle without the aid of any hygiene products to soak up the blood. No tampon, no pad, no cup. Just as our cave women ancestors would have done, down the legs and into the earth. 

Ok, maybe we aren't selling it yet. You might wonder why people would voluntarily walk around bleeding freely. So many questions and images of hippies with flowers in their hair are probably flooding your mind.

So many questions are probably popping up. Won't you stain your clothes or - well, everything? Won't it feel icky? Won't it just lead to more hassle? How embarrassing, won't everyone see the stain? Why on earth would I do this on purpose?So let's take these questions and really assess the weight of that wrongness, shame and disgust that has been attached to our blood stories over millennia. These questions are actually the result of centuries worth of religious, political, cultural and social shame, rooted in misogyny. Almost every culture on the earth has been fearful of, touting hatred towards and quieting the woman due to her bleeding, her birthing and her cycles. This shame has been created for us. It isn't biological or real. It is a product of the structures of our societies and man-made (read man made) cultures. 

Would we feel shameful and embarrassed of our femininity in a matriarchal society where womanness was transparent, openly discussed and solutions collectively sought?

Free bleeding all began as a social movement about 9 years ago. Of course, it really began before the invention of menstrual products, but in the form of the trending hashtag, we are talking circa 2015/16. The movement was really highlighting how women are trained to believe in the wrongness of their blood and programmed to feel shame at the sight of it. We're trained to keep our mouths shut, to see the stains from our leaks as embarrassing and definitely not as a celebratory sign of our fertility and creative power.  So this movement started to challenge stigmas and taboos about menstruation, the shame each woman is silently carrying generation to generation as a dead weight we bestow to our daughters and granddaughters, the increasing cost of hygiene products and the tax we pay each month to deal with it and the mounting environmental effects of disposable and non-degradable feminine hygiene products [1]. 

You may remember the iconic Kiran Gandhi who free bled during the London Marathon in 2015. The 26 year old said 'I got my flow the night before and it was a total disaster but I didn’t want to clean it up. It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles’ [2]. So she decided to be comfortable during the marathon, by running without sanitary protection and simultaneously using her platform during the marathon to advocate for women with limited access to sanitary products all around the world, where this is more of a monthly occurrence than radical choice. Indeed, a major theme of free bleeding is building awareness of the prevalent issue of period poverty that many women are still faced with.  Her advocacy was something fellow women on Twitter applauded. The user, Demiurgic, posted ‘You are one AWESOME woman! Thanks for boosting my confidence and clearing my equivocal mind.' 

Hundreds of users have touted similar tweets of support, applause and added their own stories to the #feebleeding hashtag and the movement gained organic momentum across the twittersphere and Instagram.

What about the intense criticism that Emma Pallant-Brown received for free bleeding during her triathlon? On Pallant-Brown's Instagram, she posted a picture of her staining the bottom of her pink and blue swimsuit after the European Open triathlon in Ibiza, Spain. A comment was made on this post by user, xavier_coppock stating: 'Not the most flattering pic of @em_pallant- surely you can crop it a bit better.’  To which she responded exactly why she didn’t crop out the blood stain, since “the idea to edit [the picture] means there is something wrong with it.”

“If you wrote to me saying 99% of the women you know would be mortified at this then that is exactly why I am sharing this, because there really is nothing wrong,” Pallant-Brown wrote.

She further states how there are no hygiene products suitable for a 3 hour long race, as a result, she will continue to normalise the struggle of uncertainty of women in sports with periods. [3] Emma tackles the patriarchally fuelled "period shame" we all face in our lives, in one form or another, head-on, by saying she will "not be afraid to talk to women who have the same problem."

“It’s natural and coming from eating issues as an endurance runner when I was growing up where I didn’t have my period, I now see it as beautiful,” the athlete added. “So if you have a photo like this, save it, cherish it, remember how you performed on a tough day because one day you might just be able to help someone else.”

Find me a woman alive who wears tampons and who doesn't know the horror of having an ill-placed tampon? You cannot! And she will tell you there isn't much else you could concentrate on at that moment than how incredibly uncomfortable it is to move let alone compete. So, running a marathon, doing a triathlon or any other major sporting event with a tampon shifting and moving around - it is not ideal, to say the least.

And this is why women in professional sports are speaking up all over the world and giving voice to the taboo around bleeding in public. UCL and St Mary's University undertook research that found more than 50% of professional female athletes believe their menstruation affects their performance. 

In 2015, around the time the free bleeding movement was at its height, Heather Watson, Britain's number one female tennis player at the time, had to call a doctor at the end of her first set in the opening round of the Australian Open (you know, the one held in January in Melbourne where average temperatures are between 30 and 40 degrees C) because she was experiencing the dizziness, nausea and low energy levels from her menses.  ⁠Show me someone who wouldn't feel that way even without a period to combat on top of that heat?! 

The free bleeding movement is layered and nuanced and tells us so much about the culture and belief systems we have all inherited when it comes to female health, female rights and our views and beliefs on what it is to be fundamentally female. It is far more than just another moment of twitter fuelled frenzy in 2015 where men and women took to Twitter to express their disdain and disgust at seeing menstrual blood. In fact, it is challenging the very core of what it is to be a woman. 

A comment on Twitter from user Bellyrina asks us to really reject this natural state of womanhood as unfeminist: 'I don't know about you, but I don't find this feminist. Just unsanitary.' The movement is divisive. The movement asks a deeper societal question of us all. It asks us why we feel such disgust at seeing menstrual blood? Why is our preference to see women doing hard things, like running a marathon, doing a triathlon or competing at the Australian open, yet for us to prefer women to be uncomfortable, inconvenienced and overall lesser performing in their chosen field, than openly and unabashedly female, in the full definition of what that is and what that means. 

Why does advertising, across any media such as television, Meta or websearch and others, ban the use of menstrual blood in graphics or video, forcing menstrual brands to be creative in terms of how they remain authentic, push the conversation forward and also not be banned and shut down? What is this desire to have menstrual blood hidden from society, but video games, movies, television, advertising and social media can openly, overtly and grotesquely show killing, massacring, slaughtering - all of which show gushing blood in larger quantities than menstrual blood would ever be shown? Why are we conditioned to see war, terror and killing and accept that, and are conditioned to shun and shut down menstruation as a grotesque act that should remain hidden. What is truly grotesque is the acceptance of the silence and taboo by both genders, across most cultures around the world, that has persisted since the written word. It doesn't mean that it has always been like this, but since history has been written, it has.


No, the free bleeding movement is about something far deeper than just being too lazy to wear a pad. It is about more than saving the environment, although this is an admirable reason. It is about fighting deeply engendered taboo, the demonisation of women, and outdated (yet enduring) rhetoric around our menses, and the leaks that happen on accident or on purpose. It is about the undertones of wrongness that have guided our societies for millennia and the shame we are forced to carry from that wrongness. 

During COVID we saw the global political equivalent of women passing tampons discreetly in our clenched fists with whispered and hushed tones play out in the international political forum. That is, when government decision makers forgot to include tampons and sanitary napkins on the essential items list, and as a result, sanitary products faced imminent risk of shortages when in March 2020 feminine hygiene manufacturing plants across India had to shut their doors. Why? They were not deemed essential items by the federal and state governments. Why? Because when a perverse and unchallenged culture around women's health and menstruation requirements is allowed to go unchallenged for too long, we all become compliant to its consequences.  "The central government is yet to clarify if sanitary napkins are an essential item because of which almost all factories have shut" as BloombergQuint reported in March 2020. It isn't just that it was forgotten in the first instance, it is that the time it took for the government to ponder that decision was long enough for a Bloomberg journalist to catch the story, find a spokesperson to be interviewed, and a story to be investigated, written, edited, checked by legal, and printed in a print run newspaper… all within the time scope that still didn't provide a clear answer on whether these are essential items for women? That is the outrage. How did it take so long to know if this is essential if the general public are generally outraged by the sheer sight or mention of menstrual blood.

How can it both not be essential and be essential? 

That is what this free bleeding movement highlights. How women are both forgotten and ignored and also how they are so out in public and offensive. Our menstrual blood has been intertwined with social, cultural and political misogyny for so many millennia that it is indeed hard to understand how to untangle it. This free bleeding movement is a powerful step to undoing the indoctrination we've been raised with around what it means to be a menstruator and what it means to have menstrual blood. We are the first generation who are asking these questions, changing the tune that was sung for us - and to us - for millenia, and to instead reclaim and rejoice in what it means to be a menstruator and how to let go of that shame and be unabashed by the taboo.  

To tackle taboo, we need to have healthy, fully balanced conversations. We need to listen to all parties and their concerns and tackle an issue from multiple angles and viewpoints. So let's address the biggest criticism of free bleeding and the movement: That it is unsanitary. Free bleeding is safe for the individual bleeding in terms of bacterial or viral issues. There are no significant illnesses or medically reported injuries reported from this method of bleeding to the bleeder herself. 

Regarding the other people in the community, yes, let's say that another member of the community would no more want a man bleeding from his leg all over the footpath or subway train anymore than someone might want that from a woman on her period. It is definitely acceptable to not want others to get their blood, and all that the blood carries, over public places and property. Agreed.

Indeed, the question around sanitation and good hygiene could however be extended to wearing tampons and the risks to women's health from that. For decades the FDA and other trusted governing certification bodies in the UK, EU and Australia have all deemed tampons and sanitary napkins safe and certified them for sale. Independent research conducted by multiple entities and organisations globally continues to reveal more and more independently backed findings revealing undisclosed toxic chemicals in tampons and napkins. 

For example, in March 2018, Women Voices for the Earth, a US based NGO commissioned comprehensive lab tests to analyse volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds in a variety of different tampons readily available for purchase across the US, including organic, mainstream and dollar store brands. The results of the testing detected carbon disulfide, a known reproductive toxin. Some brands of tampons contained other volatile organic compounds including reproductive toxins, toluene and xylene, as well as carcinogen, methylene chloride (commonly found in paint strippers, linked to over 50 deaths since 1980). None of these chemicals are disclosed by the manufacturers. Instead, where disclosure exists, only basic components of tampons are listed, often using vague language such as ‘may contain:..’ and ‘rayon and/or cotton”.

Toxic Shock Syndrome and its risks has been well documented for decades and while rare, can be life threatening and serious. It is caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and can affect organ function and blood circulation. The most commonly reported way of getting TSS is through tampon use. TSS is caused by tampons (especially super-absorbent varieties) when they are left in the vagina for a long time may encourage the bacteria to grow, and when tampons stick to the vaginal walls, especially when blood flow is light, causing tiny abrasions when they are removed. TSS is serious, and so many women have moved away from its use or try to only use organic cotton tampons.

The health concerns of tampons and pads are numerous and reported over decades. So it is no wonder that women shifted in droves from disposable products like tampons and pads to reusable and washable period underwear thinking that it was better for their health and would avoid the chemical risks from these disposable products. Also, the brands in the reusable space told them (through marketing and ingredient information) they were safer. However, in yet another trust-destroying episode, one such company has revealed malpractice and their customers are outraged. In January 2023, Thinx, a US period underwear brand settled their class action lawsuit for $5 million. Thinx claimed its products were ‘free from non-migratory antimicrobial nanoparticles’ when in fact they did contain such particles. Interestingly, the settlement agreement didn’t require Thinx to remove their potentially unsafe antibacterial nanotech, such as Agion treatments, it only required Thinx to disclose its use and stop falsely saying it doesn’t migrate from their products.

As a menstruator, it becomes harder and harder to understand what you can trust, who you can trust and what you can trust on your body. Free bleeding can be an option for truly knowing that no chemicals, no carcinogens or toxins can infect you or your daughters. In a world where trust is difficult to maintain, going back to a natural state of unimpeded bleeding, may make sense for some women.

Maybe what some women call unsanitary is really just a personal sense of grossness at free bleeding. That is such an interestingly influenced thought. Are our menstrual bloods gross? Or are they a beautiful sign of fertility and life force? Is it feminist to free bleed or is it irresponsible? It really is in the eye of the beholder.

So, what do we recommend? 

If you are curious about free bleeding, it is best to first try at home to gauge the amount you bleed depending on the day. This will advise you on which days you are able to free bleed in public without leaving a trail behind. 

Maybe free bleeding is something that is best for you overnight while sleeping? Phenxx, have designed our bedding ranges with 100% natural organic product ingredients with zero chemicals or toxins. Perhaps this is a sleeping solution for you if you aren't interested in wearing a tampon overnight (especially to avoid chances of TSS) but still need reassurance that your expensive mattress won't end up with stains from your blood. 

The Phenxx Canvas has been designed with women's womb needs in mind. The fitted sheet is 100% waterproof and protects your mattress from all kinds of leaks and stains, so you are able to free bleed on it without the risk of staining your mattress. The beautiful darker Merlot colour will disguise the blood and you can use our chemical free, blood stain detergent so all stains will wash out easily. 

Our sheets are made with highly absorbent Tencel, which is made from 100% recycled wood pulp fibres and we weave in beautiful components that are naturally antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti odour. Unlike synthetic fibres that trap moistures, our natural fibres are 10 times more moisture absorbing than cotton. Our bedding will protect your intimate areas from bacteria without the need for harmful chemicals or additives, making them the most hygienic and sanitary sheets for women no matter how they are sleeping - free bleeding or not. 

Our mineral infused sheets have powerful wound healing elements, meaning it is perfect for women who suffer from eczema, psoriasis or other skin conditions.

All our ingredients are natural products obtained in an environmentally friendly way and processed using innovative technologies and can be returned to the ecosystem as fibres. 

Now, you have the choice to sleep naked on your period, without worrying about staining your mattress on sheets that are mineral infused and designed exactly for women to do this on! This experience allows you to feel free. No worries, No stress, just a great night's sleep. 

Why not let go and experience how liberating it can be to not wear feminine sanitary items? Encompass being a Phenxx Woman. She is empowered by her capabilities of bearing a child. She is renewed each month from the harsh pain and discomfort of shedding her uterus lining. She is not disgusted by her blood. But understands her blood is the elixir of life. 

Are you woman enough to try? Stand with us proudly to question the increasing prices of feminine products and eliminating shameful stigmas on periods. 

Reference list 

  1. Bell, J. and Maggi, S. (2023) Free bleeding is a call to action, What is free bleeding and why is it important? 
  2.  Barns, S. and London, B. (2015) London Marathon Runner called disgusting while ‘free bleeding’ hits out at critics, Daily Mail Online. (Accessed: 25 September 2023). 
  3. Raiken,A. (2023) Triathlete proudly shares ‘beautiful’ racing photo where she bled through a swimsuit while on her period, Independent UK.
  4. Flow Health (2023) What is free bleeding? all you should know - 



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