If you’re unfamiliar or only heard the term in passing, it’s the practice of allowing one’s self, when on their period, to bleed without blocking or collecting the flow of blood. Some people have done it publicly, others stay home and let the body do its thing, sitting and lying on towels or wearing dark clothing. There are also period panties, which are undergarments that collect period flow, which is seen as a form of free-bleeding. People have been sharing their experiences trying it all, panties, nothing at all, on the Internet.
Wherever you stand on it, there are women, Black women included, who are going without, choosing free-bleeding over tampons, pads, cups and more. There are multiple reasons for making the choice, including an attempt to raise awareness about things like period poverty around the world, and for some, a desire to avoid the discomfort that comes with the use of some products (medical experts say there’s no proof that there actually is a true medical benefit to doing it, but there could be more of a sense of comfort from not having to worry about inserting products correctly or feeling the bulkiness of pads). And then there is the desire to call out menstrual stigma. Dr. Charis Chambers, board certified OB/GYN known as The Period Doctor, says free-bleeding and the attention it’s been receiving over the last few years, has been helping to put the spotlight on period apology culture.
“I love it because we’re kind of challenging the status quo, we’re changing the narrative, which is something that I 100 percent welcome,” she tells ESSENCE.
What better way to shun apologizing for the ways in which symptoms impact your day-to-day, not talking about your period or going out of your way to hide your products than to let blood just flow, right? While she isn’t a free-bleeder, she is passionate about combatting menstrual stigma and teamed up with Midol to applaud all efforts to do away with period apology behavior.
“There’s the awareness piece, there’s the empowerment piece, there’s the ‘I’m not a victim to my period. My period doesn’t control me, I choose what happens to my body.’ I love all of that,” Dr. Chambers says of free-bleeding. “And so I do think there’s some benefit there because it’s kind of breaking down all the shame and stigma that we’ve faced for just far too long and I love that.”
She is all for bold actions to help women be more comfortable with the natural process that is their period. That’s one of the reasons she chose her specific title online and for social media.
“One of the simple ways in which I tried to kind of bring period conversation to the forefront is just the name I chose for social media. I literally chose “The Period Doctor” so people would have to say period. And so I liked that because it kind of makes people uncomfortable for the sake of growth, for the sake of learning. And I see that in this movement that the free-bleeding, just even showing pictures of blood and having the blood running down the legs in a stained item, those things, it brings period conversations up. It’s a conversation starter. And it’s a statement of being unapologetic about how you are going to manage what happens to your body, what your body does in a natural process. And I’m all for that.”
She shared that period apology is a big part of our culture due to what many of us were even taught by our mothers, specifically the secrecy encouraged when it came to talking about this process. That’s why she encourages everyone, whether free-bleeding or not, to talk about their periods openly.
“There was a Midol survey that was done by the Wakefield Research and they showed that nearly 47 percent of menstruators just apologized for their periods. We literally walk around being apologetic for this normal process,” she says. “And so free-bleeding really flips that script on its head, like entirely. Like not only am I not apologizing, but I’m not hiding it and you can’t make me feel bad about this. You can’t make me feel like I need to hide this. Your shame isn’t going to work on me. And I love that messaging. I absolutely love that messaging. And I think that takes a lot of courage and it certainly sends a very clear message.”
She adds, “Honestly a lot of what we need to do to change the narrative around periods and to really break down period stigma is having these conversations. And really correcting people, lovingly correcting people. Period blood is not gross. It’s a normal thing.”