By Felicia Hou
Since Feb. 1, Stanford’s Sexual Health Peer Resource Center (SHPRC) has sold subsidized period underwear in a student-led effort to increase access to reusable menstrual products on campus.
Washable and rewearable, period underwear is an alternative to pads, liners and tampons, and can also be worn with them for extra protection. SHPRC is a student-run center funded by the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), located on the second floor of Vaden Health Center.
A month and a half later, nearly 100 units have been sold — and Shrika Srinivas ’21, who spearheaded the pilot project as part of the executive cabinet of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU), hopes those numbers will only grow.
Srinivas started the pilot after hearing from students that they’d like to see more reusable menstrual products available on campus.
As the ASSU director of Environmental Justice and Sustainability, she recruited four other team members to start the initiative. After gathering over 200 responses from a campus-wide survey in early November on menstrual product preferences, the project sprung into motion.
The ASSU team partnered with SHPRC, which — as shown by its the glow-in-the-dark condoms, kama sutra massage oil and pocket rocket vibrators — mainly supplies products involving sexual health. But the center believes that these new products are not too different from the ones they currently have.
The center introduced subsidized menstrual cups — reusable silicone cups used to catch menstrual flow — in May 2017 after students mentioned that they’d like to try the products, but couldn’t or didn’t want to spend the money. They took this project as an opportunity to add more variety to their offerings.
“Being sex-positive doesn’t have to include only having sex,” said Sun Paik ’19, general manager of the center. “These products align with our values.”
Srinivas hopes that increasing the types of reusable menstrual products available will allow more students to try them.
“A huge reason people don’t buy reusable menstrual products is cost,” Srinivas said. “It’s like a win-win situation — not only are there more options for people who may not want to just use menstrual cups, but it can also save money over the long run.”
The new products will be available for a subsidized cost of $20, over $10 less than market price.
Aside from subsidizing products, SHPRC tends to stock items that are less available in Palo Alto so that Stanford students could have easier access to them on campus, Paik said. Part of the SHPRC’s goals as a peer resource center are to provide products that people might feel uncomfortable ordering by themselves.
“It’s important for us to be a peer-based group so that students aren’t nervous to ask questions about sexual health or anything else,” said Julia Freels ’19, student financial manager for SHPRC.
Srinivas said that since the center was small and run by students, her team was able to “get the project moving very quickly.”
The menstrual underwear will be offered through an online ordering process due to the center’s small size and the high cost of stocking a wide range of sizes and styles. Students can go the SHPRC website and place an order to choose the style and size they would like, and then pick it up at the SHPRC office.
Hannah Zhang ’22, a member of the Srinivas’ team, said that she believes students will be more willing to use these sustainable products now that they are available.
“I think a big reason people use normal pads and tampons is because they’re convenient and easy to find, while things like [menstrual underwear] you’d have to find online yourself,” she said. “This [project] might make it easier, and people might be more willing to use these products.”
This is not the first time that students have started initiatives to increase access to menstrual products. ASSU executives reinstated a pilot initiative in 2017 to offer free menstrual products on campus, providing tampons in the female, gender-neutral and male restrooms in the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, the Graduate Community Center and Kennedy Commons.
Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS) also hosted a “Sustainable Menstruation” conversation last year as a part of their annual Waste Week. Students were able to discuss different options for menstrual products and the difficulties in accessing certain ones. After expressing the willingness to try sustainable products if they were at a lower cost, SSS members spearheaded the effort to include menstrual products at SHPRC.
Srinivas and her team are hopeful that this project can allow students to live more sustainably without a heavy cost, as well as connect environmental and women’s health issues.
“Trying to reduce your waste can be very expensive, and more afforded to people with privilege and resources, but it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.
Contact Felicia Hou at fhou ‘at’ stanford.edu.