Sometimes when I am grocery shopping, even if I am there just for broccoli, I’ll swing by the aisle where they stock feminine products. Because, even though most of the things that disappeared during the pandemic like toilet paper, yeast, and flour have returned to the shelves, tampons are still in short supply. It’s become a strange fascination of mine, to see the large gap on the shelf, like a missing front tooth, where tampons are supposed to be.
In the last few months, I’ve visited stores in New York, Massachusetts, and California—no tampons. And it’s not just me. Dana Marlowe, the founder of I Support the Girls, which provides bras and menstrual hygiene for people experiencing homelessness, told me that her organization has seen a big drop off in tampon donations. “What’s been going on for a couple months is that organizations call us up and say, ‘we need tampons,’ and we go to our warehouse and there’s nothing there.”
[Quick side note: We learned during the formula shortage that some men are a little rusty on how women’s bodies work, so allow me to briefly explain. Women get their periods when the lining of their uterus breaks down every month. Tampons are manufactured pieces of fabric that about 40% of women in the U.S. use to absorb the blood.]
For the first six months of this year, Marlowe’s group received just 213,075 tampons, half as many as during the same time last year and 61% fewer than 2020. Marlowe texted me photos of aisles in Indianapolis and Silver Spring, Maryland that were stocked with menstrual pads but empty of tampons.