British attitudes towards menstrual health

Photo of menstrual health products
Menstrual health products. Photo credit: Marco Verch

In Britain, menstruation and menstrual health are not taboo subjects. Although it is not a topic of polite conversation – meaning that you would not talk about it with people whom you do not know well – women speak about it freely amongst their friends.

Brits may strike you as very unashamed about the topic. You may overhear female classmates discussing their cycles with each other. Your female friends may even tell you that the reason they do not feel like going out and doing something is because they are menstruating and would rather lie on the couch with a hot water bottle and some snacks.

Their openness may shock you but try to remember that this frank attitude is considered normal in the UK. British women will likely be annoyed if you express disgust at the idea of menstruation. After all they cannot control whether or not it happens so it feels unfair that they might be judged for experiencing it.

If you find that your menstrual cycle is very painful, or you have any concerns about it, you should speak to a doctor. You can access free medical care through the NHS.

Where can you get menstrual health products in the UK?

Menstrual health products – also called sanitary protection products or feminine hygiene products – are widely available in the UK. The most common types of menstrual products are pads (also called sanitary napkins), tampons and menstrual cups.

The products can be purchased at grocery stores, high street health and beauty shops, pharmacies and even gas stations. Do not be embarrassed about buying them. The other shoppers will probably not even notice what you are putting in your basket.

You can also pick up supplementary products such as painkillers and hot water bottles in these shops. These items can help make you more comfortable.

The UK currently has a “tampon tax” which classifies menstrual health products as a luxury item and charges a 5% tax on them. This is controversial because luxury taxes are meant to be applied to non-essential items. Menstruation is not voluntary (or, to be frank, luxurious) and these products are essential to good health. Therefore, many Brits feel that the tampon tax is unfair.

Tesco, the Co-op and Waitrose all currently pay the 5% tax themselves so that the customer will not be charged extra. Tampons are also freely available at Scottish universities.

It is important to never flush any menstrual health products down the toilet, especially if you are in an old building. They can block or even damage the pipes.

Keep a small bin in your bathroom to dispose of used products. If you do not want your flatmates to see these products, wrap them up in toilet paper before putting them in the bin. The stalls in women’s bathrooms have small rubbish bins so that you can dispose of used products. These bins will either be on the floor or attached to one of the walls of the stall.

Many British women carry spare pads or tampons in their bags so if you find yourself in need of one just ask a female friend or classmate. Someone will probably be able to help you out.