From the invention of the tampon to taboo-breaking talk at the Rio Olympics, we're cheering on these menstrual milestones. 

Anthea Levi
May 16, 2017

 

When you think of periods, you probably focus mainly on your own—if they're on time, how long they last, and whether any unusual symptoms are suddenly popping up, like a very heavy flow or more intense cramps than normal. 

But while menstruation can be a totally personal thing, it's also something universal that almost every woman experiences and every culture deals with in its own way. To understand how far menstruation has come in modern society, take a look at our timeline recapping six breakthrough moments in period history.

The first tampons hit store shelves

Before the modern tampon was invented, women used everything from pads to rags to absorb their flow. That all began to change in 1929, thanks to a doctor named Earle Haas. Haas came up with the cotton tampon plus applicator concept after a friend told him she’d been inserting a piece of sponge inside her body instead of wearing bulky pads. 

Four years later in 1933, Haas sold the patent for his tampon and applicator to Gertrude Tendrich, who later founded Tampax. Tendrich bought the patent for $32,000, a serious steal considering that feminine hygiene products are now a $2 billion industry in the U.S. alone. 

RELATED: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period

The word "period" is spoken on TV

In 1985, almost a decade before she starred in Friends, Courteney Cox was shilling tampons in a Tampax commercial. Cox told viewers that the brand’s tampons “can actually change the way you feel about your period.” Amazingly, this was the first time the P-bomb was dropped in a television ad.

Menstruation gets its own magazine

In 2014, Dutch journalist Paula Kragten founded Period! magazine, a digital platform devoted entirely to the menstrual cycle. Posts cover topics such as whether menstrual leave should be granted to women in the workforce, and the site highlights events like marches for endometriosis awareness.

Free bleeding becomes a thing

For some women, that time of the month means making a date with a heating pad and avoiding exercise at all costs. Not so for Kiran Gandhi, the woman who ran the 2015 London Marathon sans pads or tampons while on her period. Gandhi “free bled” to raise awareness about the millions of women around the world who lack access to feminine hygiene products. She also did it to break the silence that continues to surround menstruation.

According to Gandhi, the global reaction to her crossing the finish line in blood-soaked tights taught her two things: “that period stigma runs deep and that we have a lot of work to do as a society to build together a world that is more loving and inclusive of women’s bodies,” she wrote on her website.

RELATED: 9 Best Workouts to do When You Have Your Period

Periods go public during the Olympics

Female athletes generally don't publicize whether they have their period or not during a competition. But Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke that taboo when she mentioned her period to an interviewer at the Rio Olympics in summer 2016. Yuanhui was visibly in pain after her team swam the 4 x 100 medley relay, so an interviewer asked her why she was crouching poolside. “It’s because I just got my period yesterday, so I’m still a bit weak and really tired,” she candidly explained. The 20-year-old's comments were especially impressive considering periods are an even more hush-hush topic in China than they are in the U.S. Tell it like it is, ladies.

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A "menstrual equity" bill goes national

Last June, New York City legislators proposed a “menstrual equity” bill that would make that time of the month a little bit easier for some women. The bill sought to provide free tampons and pads in all bathrooms in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities. 

Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the council member who proposed the legislation, spoke out about the bill on the steps of City Hall last year, saying "menstrual hygiene products are as necessary as toilet paper—​and no one is freaking out about toilet paper." The bill, "is the only one of its kind, and it says periods are powerful," she added.

Powerful indeed: Just a few months later, the bill was passed. Earlier this year, New York congresswoman Grace Meng proposed a similar bill in Congress that would make feminine hygiene products more affordable. If it passes, it would take effect nationally.