If you menstruate, chances are you have your go-to period products, whether you love tampons, only use pads, or swear by menstrual cups. But recently, another tactic for dealing with aunt flow is gaining popularity and trending on TikTok: free bleeding.
Free bleeding is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: the practice of menstruating without using a tampon, pad, or menstrual cup to collect the blood.
And while the idea behind free bleeding is to bleed freely, it all comes down to personal preference. “Free bleeding can be safe, as long as someone is mindful of hygiene and feels comfortable with their choice,” says Melanie Bone, MD, an ob-gyn and US Medical Director for Daye, a gynecological health platform that specializes in period care. “For those who choose it, period underwear and similar items of protective clothing often contain antimicrobial technology, which can help maintain hygiene during free bleeding.”
Still a little reluctant on why so many people are free bleeding? Here’s everything you need to know, including the benefits, risks, and how to free bleed hygienically, according to an ob-gyn.
What Is Free Bleeding?
Put simply, free bleeding is the practice of menstruating without the use of traditional period products, like tampons, pads, or menstrual cups, to manage flow, says Dr. Bone. “Some choose to wear underwear, some forego it, and some choose period-proof clothing designed to contain and absorb menstrual blood,” she explains. What makes free bleeding unique, though, is that it’s intentional. You are purposely not doing anything to collect or block the period blood.
Is Free Bleeding Hygienic?
Free bleeding can be hygienic if managed correctly, Dr. Bone says. “Maintaining proper personal cleanliness, using appropriate protective layers, and changing them regularly can minimize the risk of bacterial growth or odors,” she explains. “However, it’s essential to recognize that everyone’s comfort levels and preferences are different, and what works for one person might not be suitable for another.”
If you are going to free bleed, Dr. Bone says it’s essential to prioritize cleanliness and maintain a regular bathing or showering schedule. You should also consider using layers or absorbent materials like period panties to help manage any leakage, she adds.
Additionally, it’s really important to regularly wipe menstrual fluid away when free bleeding so it doesn’t cause irritation or disruptions to the vaginal microbiota, which can cause discomfort, infection, or inflammation, Dr. Bone says.
Lastly, it’s critical to regularly change and thoroughly wash all protective layers (underwear, pants, shorts, period panties, etc.) to prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce infection, Dr. Bone adds.
Are There Any Benefits to Free Bleeding?
There haven’t been any proven health benefits of free bleeding, but the pros depend on the person and what makes them most comfortable and confident. “Some individuals find free bleeding to be a more comfortable and natural way to manage their periods,” Dr. Bone explains. In fact, free bleeding was actually the primary menstruating method until sanitary belts and tampons were later invented in the 19th century, so many people find the practice to be liberating, innate, and ultimately freeing.
Free bleeding can also be an economical choice, since it eliminates the need to purchase menstrual products, Dr. Bone explains. “From an environmental perspective, free bleeding can also reduce the volume of disposable menstrual products that end up in the landfill, although inevitably, soiled clothing and period underwear comes with its own costs and footprint,” she adds.
Finally, for those who experience gender dysphoria, or conditions like vulvodynia and vaginismus, free bleeding can result in a more comfortable period experience, Dr. Bone says. “Ultimately, it comes down to personal choice and preference,” she explains.
Are There Risks to Consider When Free Bleeding?
The primary risk of free bleeding is centered around hygiene concerns. “On heavy cycle days, in particular, there’s a higher chance of blood soaking through underwear, clothes, and even onto surfaces,” Dr. Bone says. There’s also the potential for vaginal odor or the spread of bacteria if proper hygiene is not maintained, she adds. Remember to regularly shower and thoroughly clean all clothing to prioritize cleanliness and prevent bacteria, infection, and irritation.
Free bleeding is unfortunately also often met with social stigma and judgment, which may be considered a “risk” for some people, Dr. Bone adds. “Free bleeding is a personal choice, and it’s important to be respectful and nonjudgmental toward individuals who opt for this method,” she explains.
Lastly, free bleeding might not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with heavy menstrual flows or specific medical conditions, Dr. Bone says. If you’re interested in free bleeding, a healthcare professional can provide personalized guidance.