can I send a male assistant to get me tampons?

A reader writes:

I work as a lead “maker” in a very hands-on industry. Usually on jobs I’m hired by a client alongside an assistant of my choosing (who is also paid directly by the client).

When I’m at the coalface, so to speak, the job is very engaged and my assistant’s job is to to provide to me any equipment I need, do basic technical work, and run out on errands to get me extra elements to facilitate what we are creating. It goes without saying in this industry that assistants also will pick up the odd thing for the lead when they are out and about (think grabbing a coffee or some extra tissues, hand sanitizer, etc.). We always work to very tight timelines so the client is happy for this to happen if it keeps us ticking along.

This brings me to the crux of the matter. Last week I had a male assistant with me and realized I was in urgent need of sanitary items. If they were a female assistant, I would without doubt have quietly asked them to nip out and get me some but because it was a male assistant I felt I could not. Instead I had to dash out to buy some in a quiet moment, which could have jeopardized the whole job.

If this happens again, what is the correct thing to do with an assistant of any gender? I don’t want to embarrass anyone or make them feel pressured to do something that made them uncomfortable. To be clear, I have no problem asking my male partner or close friends of any gender to grab me such items.

Lastly and to make this situation more confusing, we actually use sanitary items in a technical capacity within our job and I have never before considered the ramifications of asking any assistant to pick them up when they were only for work, not personal use.

Go ahead and ask him to grab tampons for you, the same way you’d ask him to pick up tissues or Tylenol.

It’s past time for the remaining men who feel weird about menstrual products to get over it, and what better way of getting over it than being matter-of-factly directed to do it as part of his job, by a matter-of-fact boss who asks for it in a matter-of-fact way?

Your matter-of-factness will demonstrate that this is a routine, not-strange part of being an assistant to a woman who needs errands done.

That said, one possible way to mitigate any weirdness you or he might feel is to mention it at the start of the job in a larger explanation of the sorts of things you may ask for — like “depending on the day, I might ask you to pick up coffee, hand sanitizer, tampons, water, or whatever’s needed here.”

Also, keep in mind that since you also send him out for sanitary supplies when they’re needed in a work capacity (what is this work capacity? I must know), there’s no reason you need to specify “FOR MY BODY.” Even if it’s clear that it’s not needed for work purposes that day and so he surmises it might be for personal use, rattling it off the same way you would for a work need might increase your comfort.

Alternately, is it an option to just have him in charge of keeping a supply kit stocked with the most commonly needed stuff, including tampons but also including tissues and whatever else you occasionally need? I’m thinking here of Gary’s Leviathan on Veep, and the advantage there is that you could ensure it’s stocked with the exact brand and type you want.

Obviously, the other answer is that if you don’t want to deal with it, just make sure you carry tampons with you — but if it were that easy, no one would ever be caught without a tampon and that is not the way life works.

More broadly: workplaces really need to routinely stock menstrual hygiene products the same way they provide toilet paper, hand soap, and other basic supplies, which would make this a non-issue.

{ 537 comments… read them below }

  1. Meg*

    My old job had a MASSIVE first aid kit (like… 2 foot by 3 foot) that contained anything under the sun you could possibly need. It was fantastic. It was stocked by a secondary service that would come in periodically and check dates/refill. I’ve since moved jobs and the first aid kit here is paltry, so I’m trying to keep stock in my desk, but its not the same.

    That said, LW ask the assistant if you need to, but I’d definitely have some sort of mini kit in the trunk of your car (since it sounds like you do location work) in case of emergencies/the assistant seems weird about doing stuff like that.

    1. Lynca*

      I agree that a kit of some kind is probably the way to go. I travel long distance to job sites and have my own essentials kit that I keep stocked up in my backpack.

      I started doing that about 2 years ago and having easily accessable wet wipes, first aid, etc. is just so much better than having to scramble to locate a place to get them when you’re remote.

    2. Xenia*

      I have a basic sanitation and first aid kit in my car–toothpaste, sanitary products, aspirin, that sort of thing. Everything is airplane safe, so if I’m traveling I can grab it out of the car and put it in my luggage, and I restock it regularly. Super useful for both me and everyone around me. Would recommend.

      1. What*

        I would love to do this but cars routinely heat up to above 150° where I live and the contents eroded spoil. So, purse it is. You must live somewhere cold.

    3. herekittykitty...pspsps*

      I like the suggestions to maintain a kit (with other items y’all generally need in a pinch, of course). He can be in charge of keeping it stocked and you can minimize having this conversation, and the items you need will always be available for you to grab at your discretion. I think most adult dudes can handle this in this day and age, but I just don’t want my colleagues to know every time I’m on my period. I’d rather have a supply somewhere and trust my assistant to keep track of it. FWIW I would prefer this system regardless of my assistant’s gender.

      When my husband picks up period supplies for me, he sends me a picture of the aisle and I circle what I need and send it back. This systems works well for us.

      1. Mannequin*

        “he sends me a picture of the aisle and I circle what I need and send it back”

        My husband & I do this any time he needs to pick up something for me that he’s not super familiar with. Works like a charm!

    4. Alice*

      Bless you for keeping that first aid kit stocked. I had an accident some years ago, I fell on my way to work and scraped my knees and arms badly. I went into the office since it was just a minute away and they had… nothing. Just an empty box. Had to make do with a coworker who had some disinfectant, then used some tissues to stop the bleeding and hobbled to the nearest store for bandages and stuff.

      I do agree having an “emergency” kit would be a great help, and also ensures you have the tampon brand you like best.

    5. Aitch Arr*

      We have one of those on each floor of our office building.

      Also, tampons and pads available for free in each women’s restroom.

      (Next step is to put them in all the other restrooms, as I am aware some men do need them.)

  2. TimeTravlR*

    I have worked for almost 50 years at a lot of different places and have had exactly one employer who provided sanitary items. They stocked a variety so most of us could find what we prefer. They also provided mouthwash which we all appreciated. They stopped providing hand lotion once a raging case of pink eye went around the office!

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      My favourite job had them in a supply cupboard (that was semi-shielded from view, but had many other office supplies too).

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        I’ve had several employers who provided them over the years. But much like the 1-ply toilet paper in most public restrooms, the quality of those feminine hygiene supplies was… questionable at best.

    2. Freelance Anything*

      I worked for a company over the summer who had a bathroom stock of tampons, pads, brushes, dry shampoo, bobbles and pins!
      They were great in a few other ways too, perhaps not surprisingly.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yes, I love restroom hospitality baskets! My old employer had them. My new one has a free dispenser for tampons and pads, but none of the other goodies.

    3. Firm Believer*

      We have some tampons and pads available but I don’t consider it a mandatory item that a workplace should provide.

      1. Alanna*

        Why not? Menstrual products are necessary in the same way that toilet paper is, and for roughly the same reason.

        1. The Other Shoe*

          My guess is that there will be a few people who would take all the supplies home with them. Free tampons in their mind. Like the people who overdo it with free food, and take way too much.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            Like people steal toilet paper from work? That is a thing. Even places with the thinnest, roughest paper.

            1. Alice*

              Yep, had one of those. He also stole sugar packets from coffee shops. I still think workplaces should provide menstrual products — it’s not as if anyone stopped providing toilet paper because of thieves.

              1. Hey Alice*

                Funny you should say that, Alice. About a year ago, our local area ran out of toilet paper, and the stocks at our work bathrooms vanished overnight. So people definitely will steal toilet paper under the right circumstances. Then came the lockdown and we all worked from home. I still keep a roll in the trunk of my car, because you never know.

          2. Golden*

            This is why my last employer stopped providing them; someone/people would take the entire supply within the day they were set out. Notes reminding people that the products were for everyone’s use didn’t help, and it even continued when some employees spent their own money to stock the communal supply after the company stopped.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              We had the same problems at one of my previous employers. Their solution was to re-install coin-operated tampon and pad dispensers in our bathrooms, but they were rigged so we didn’t have to pay. The tampon thieves found it too time-consuming and annoying to steal an entire supply of tampons one at a time, so it wasn’t a bad solution.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                That’s what we have. A few years ago, they removed the coin slots, so they’re free, but you have to turn the lever for one at a time. And they are the super cheap generic option. But I like that you don’t need to scrounge for some quarters on a day you’re caught off guard.

              2. Shhh*

                I’m an academic librarian and that’s what the bathroom on my floor has. It works . I don’t think ours even needed to be rigged – I think the ones we have in there now are designed to dispense them one at a time without payment (I could go check but eh).

                1. Shhh*

                  Also! I’ve gotten my period unexpectedly during TWO day long, on site interviews in my career (to be fair, my period tends to be irregular when I’m stressed so…). Thank GOD both of those libraries (which does include the one I currently work in) had free menstrual products in the bathrooms. Should I have been carrying my own? Yeah. Was I? No. Will I be in the future? Who can say.

                2. Tell Me About Your Pets*

                  I’m picturing you now at your interview, flinging tampons everywhere instead of condoms like that one poor OP.

            2. Anon for this*

              I worked at a gym that used to get unsolicited free samples of things to hand out to our members, and one of those things was tampons. We’d get several crates of tampons, about the size of a medium moving box, packaged in the travel-sized boxes.

              If we put them out in the locker room they would be gone within an hour or two. All of them. Hundreds of tampons. Just gone like it was a Black Friday doorbuster deal.

              When we put out other things- deodorant, shampoo, lotion, hair ties, toothpaste, snacks- they’d stick around for days. At one point we had so many of those go unclaimed for months I donated them to a shelter. But the tampons were always just gone in a blink.

              1. Mannequin*

                I’m kind of astonished that so many people here are relating stories of “but then all the free menstrual supplies instantly disappeared!” without seeming to have any insight as to the reasons *why* free menstrual supplies would instantly disappear (even in situations where other free personal hygiene/care items would linger.)

                Just WOW

                1. Anon for this*

                  You know gyms have these things called “membership fees” so just belonging to one is a privilege.

                2. Mannequin*

                  @Anon for this
                  There are large national chain gyms in my area that cost <$10 a month for membership (and signup fees are low as well)

                  Menstrual hygiene products generally cost WELL over that.

                3. Mannequin*

                  Also, I knew someone that got their gym membership when they were doing well, and then held on to it when they were poor, because they’d gotten an incredible deal at a normally pricy gym that they knew they’d never be able to get again.

                  Seriously, your comment stinks of “poor people need to suffer/aren’t actually poor if they ever enjoy even a single privilege or luxury” and it’s really gross…no wonder you went anon for it. >:-(

                4. Katrianah (UK)*

                  Indeed, and also can often be a safe, reliable place to just get a hot shower with no judgement.

                5. Aitch Arr*

                  I was just at CVS to get tampons and they were buy one box, get one 50% off.
                  Now, I know there are Supply Chain Issues and the like, so that could have been a factor, but there was literally 1 box left. (which I grabbed.)

                6. beewhisper*

                  Right? It is extremely common for homeless people to maintain a gym membership. They might be able to scrounge up ~$100/month, but nowhere near $1000+ for rent. A gym gives them a place to shower, use the bathroom, and maybe a secure locker to store belongings.

              1. quill*

                Because if they didn’t stock toilet paper they’d have a heck of a lot more janitorial work to do. They’re depending on the relative taboo to ensure that women keep providing their own supply of tampons or pads.

                1. Mannequin*

                  Yes, that is the whole point.

                  TP is provided because it is a personal hygiene product that is used by men…as well as women.

                  Menstrual hygiene products are perceived as only being used by women, so while the need for them is equivalent to the need for TP, they are not considered necessary to supply- literally the definition of sexism.

                  Also inaccurate, since there are many men and non-binary people menstruate, and many women who do not (which includes cis women who do not or no longer have periods for any reason, because being a “woman” is not defined by ability to either menstruate or reproduce.

          3. kiki*

            I can definitely see this happening, but this can (and does) happen with anything supplied by an office, like toilet paper, boxes of tissues, paper towels, etc. Drawing the line at tampons seems strange to me! I also think that if every public restroom provided complimentary tampons the way toilet paper and tissues are, the desire to hoard them would be reduced. Tampons aren’t actually very fun (at least in my experience), people stockpile them because they need to have them in a pinch.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Drawing the line at tampons seems strange to me!

              Not when you think about who uses them, and who usually gets to draw that line…

          4. IndustriousLabRat*

            That’s luckily not the experience I’ve had in my current employer (9 years here). They stock the most generic supplies the janitorial distributor sells, not exactly the creme de la creme, but they WORK. The stock dwindles at a slow and steady rate before being refilled. It’s perfectly reasonable for the company to have these things available and saves the women who work here having to go find another woman in the very male-dominated shop, hope she has spares, pull her from her workstation to retrieve them from her locker on the other side of the building… assuming she can even leave due to production requirements… and if no luck, having to do the brown paper towel makeshift pad wad which is NOT functional nor sanitary. There is still a 25 cent coin operated dispenser hanging empty and unlocked on the wall in at least one restroom, but it fell out of use in favor of the Sanitary Smorgasbord well before my time here- which makes me think that free access turned out to be cheaper!

            I think the risk of losing a few boxes’ worth of bottom-of-the-barrel sanitary supplies per year of taken tampons and purloined pads is far outweighed by the other logic (and dignity) of providing restroom basics for everyone who works there.

            1. Carol the happy elf*

              Funny-not-funny that you mention brown paper towels….My job in Germany had a dispenser. For toilet paper. Not Softie Silken, either. 10 pfennig (4 cents at the time) for a rough, brown paper towelish thing. Positive aspect? It had a teeny little scrap of soap about the size of a postage stamp, stuck to the paper. You would peel off the soap stamp, stick it on your arm (it was soft enough) and wipe with the industrial-grade sandpaper. Then wash your hands with the soap stamp and ice water.
              I brought my own toilet paper, my own soap- but they DID have sanitary supplies, not the finest, but there was a dispenser with a plastic door. You slid out a plastic drawer, and your item was on it. Choose your strength pads and tampons with little wooden skewers we called “PMS harpoons”.

              When there was a hard freeze and the water lines to the Damen (ladies’) leaked all over, they had us using the Herren. No sanitary products, but a wide variety of condoms and little packets of jock-itch cream. One stall, and there were no toilet paper packets OR soap in there. They also didn’t have urinals in the mens room- there was a trench against a wall, and a tile line about 3 feet high. Above it was a sign saying “defence de urinee”, or “Please don’t pee above this line”.
              I was never so thrilled to get back to our freezing (seriously, you could see your breath, and were always afraid that if you lost your balance, your bum would freeze to the toilet seat!) but adequately-stocked women’s restroom….

              1. Barefoot Librarian*

                I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at those descriptions but, wow, you paint a vivid imagine.

              2. pagooey*

                Was this before reunification, as well as the EU? A good friend lives in Munich, and I haven’t seen anything quite this…rustic, in my visits…but her husband grew up in Berlin and so had things like a Soviet-made TV, for example.

                Anyway, this reads like a fascinating travel article in National Geographic! But the WOODEN SKEWERS will haunt me for a long time, yiiikes.

          5. Allegra*

            Honestly, menstrual products can be really expensive. It adds up. So while, sure, there may be some people who’d take stuff just to have free things, I wouldn’t judge someone who took what might seem like “more” than their share, because you never know what someone’s going through. If you can’t afford pads or tampons when you need them, you essentially can’t be in public.

            In my experience–which admittedly isn’t an office, since I’ve never had one offer them, but I went to a women’s college–menstrual products supplied by an organization are your most basic, cardboard applicator tampon/papery uncomfortable pads (much like single-ply office TP). Most anyone who can afford it has a preferred brand of this stuff (again, in my experience! all the people I know who menstruate) and would not opt for the office-supplied stuff except when they need it. And if someone needs it and it’s all that’s accessible to them–it’s good that the stuff’s there for them.

            1. cat lady*

              A past college where I worked did the same– one-size, cardboard applicator, the type of thing you only use when you have no other option. So if people are taking them in bulk, I think it’s safe to assume because they don’t have another option.

            2. IndustriousLabRat*

              Great point. The failure to treat sanitary products like TP and hand soap is not just discriminatory towards the sector of the workforce that menstruates, but doubly so towards the subsector who menstruates on a limited budget, and literally might not be able to be present at work on days when they have no sanitary options.

              The term “Period Poverty” describes a real fact of life for many folks whose access to education and employment is limited by access to sanitary products.

              1. Pikachu*

                And many people have BAD periods. They can be extremely heavy and last for days, so buying enough supplies gets expensive quickly.

                With adequate health coverage, some people can go on medications to help alleviate this. Many people cannot, and some employers refuse to cover birth control pills anyway (which can be transformative when your period is debilitating)… It’s almost like if you have a uterus, the deck is stacked against you.

                1. Mannequin*

                  I know two people who could not sleep through the night without soaking their sheets because even doubled up (tampon + pad) there was no menstrual hygiene product on earth absorbent enough to soak up what their body disposed of in 8 hours. The descriptions they’d give of their beds in the mornings were quite creative.

          6. Nanani*

            If they still provide toilet paper despite people stealing it, then they should also provide menstrual products.
            It would be absurd to stop stocking toilet paper and it’s just as absurd that period products aren’t provided.

          7. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            It was apparently not a problem for the place I worked in Silicon Valley, but I think the circumstances were set up for success there: cleaning staff who checked each bathroom multiple times per day and would refresh as needed (probably within sensible limits), the vast majority of staff were extremely well-paid, and the tampons and pads were very basic so if you had strong preferences on the topic there was a reason to bring your own. The baskets were never more than half empty that I saw, and maintained around 2/3 full.

            This same company stopped stocking full-size chocolate bars in the free snack kitchens after multiple people took home large amounts of them, before my time there, so I think it was a balance of the general wealth of the bathroom users and the relative crappiness of the products. (The toilet paper was pretty thin but not the sort where you see actual wood chips.)

          8. Vetiver*

            I once left a box of tampons in the bathroom for anyone who might need (I originally bought them when I had an emergency, but quickly realised tampons are NOT for me) and was pleasantly surprised that they went at a reasonable rate and no one took the whole box for themselves.

        2. cat lady*

          And it sends a signal to menstruating employees that the company has thought of them and their needs. I don’t even menstruate and I feel welcomed and oddly seen when I encounter tampons/pads in a workplace or business restroom!

        3. Meep*

          I like to think of myself as a feminist and encourage companies to have free sanitary products as a precaution (I have them in my own home for visiting friends despite wearing period panties) but at the same time… As much as I would love it in the perfect world where Aunt Flo is normalized, we do also have to be mindful of small businesses too.

          1. Mannequin*

            Small businesses don’t stop providing toilet paper (or hand soap or paper towels) when their employees steal it though, do they?
            These things are considered a cost of doing business, and just like “paying a living wage” and “providing good benefits”, if it’s a cost a small business can’t afford, that small business isn’t actually doing well enough to be hiring employees. “Mom & Pop” business no longer get to use the excuse “we can’t afford it” so that they can force low-wage employees to subsidize their costs of doing business. :shrug:

            This is not strictly a matter of feminism, either, because many men & non-binary people DO menstruate, and many women (trans AND cis) DON’T menstruate.

          2. Mannequin*

            And small businesses are *already* exempt from a lot of the regulations that big businesses must abide by, so this seems like a really poor reason to excuse not provide hygiene supplies.

        4. TiredEmployee*

          I disagree, mainly because of the variety of menstrual products. While different brands of toilet paper are more or less pleasant to use, they’ll all suffice for everyone who needs to use it. The same isn’t true for menstrual products.

          Add that there are reusable options (cups, discs, pads, underwear), one of which would work for most people in most situations, which is also not true of toilet paper.

          No one would expect every workplace to provide a change of underwear in the event of a soiling, everyone would expect a workplace with a toilet to provide toilet roll. Menstrual products are somewhere in between those two extremes.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            I disagree.
            I think store brand tampons or pads are pretty equivalent to your run of the mill TP.

            They are functional and serve a need in the office, but aren’t everyone’s personal preference.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I’m of the belief that if a place supplies toilet roll it should provide sanitary towels and tampons. In both gender bathrooms please.

      3. Emotional Support Care’n*

        Pads and tampons are great for emergency medical kits, too. Stopping up bloody noses, bullet wounds, scrapes, gashes, knife wounds, glass wounds, etc.

        I’ve been in multiple companies that wouldn’t stock them, but I kept them on hand in my own personal emergency kit. As soon as guests needed supplies, or an actual emergency happened, all of the sudden the PTB saw the need for proper stock.

      4. Anonymous4*

        Do you think toilet paper should be provided by the workplace? Or should employees be obliged to bring their own?

        Or is it just hygiene products for women that are extraneous and should be self-supplied?

        1. Anonymous5*

          There is a difference.

          Toilet paper costs maybe 10 cents a roll and can be used upward of 40 times. It’s a minor cost.

          Each tampon costs 10 cents a time, and that can only be used once. Add in the ease of theft and you’re suddenly looking at multiple times the cost.

          Assume a company of 200 with 100 women. Let’s say half menstruate for 5 days on a monthly cycle.

          They use 20 tampons during that time (2 during work hours plus 2 for the road).

          20 x 50 x 0.1 = $100

          Whereas the cost of supplying toilet roll for each person is around $30 a month.

          Honestly, I’d hoped the numbers would be much closer so I could be sarcastic about it. However, if it’s a company of 200 people, you’d hope that $100 a month would be pretty easy to cover.

        2. allathian*

          Some basic stuff should definitely be available for emergencies, but I think that one problem, in addition to basic sexism, is that people’s preferences vary widely when it comes to menstrual products. I’ll only use pads, for example. I did use tampons when I was younger, but stopped after a bout of toxic shock syndrome that sent me to the ER. Luckily they got it under control with IV antibiotics in a couple of days, but I had tampons at home and had run out of the pads I usually used at night, and didn’t set the alarm in the middle of the night to change it. After that episode, I’ve only used pads.

          Other people are equally adamant about never using pads for whatever reason. Others prefer reusable products like moon cups, or reusable sponge tampons.

          1. ceiswyn*

            I never use pads, for a lot of reasons – but if I were bleeding through my clothes and onto my seat, you bet I’d take a pad rather than nothing.

      5. CatLady*

        The bigger/corporate employers I’ve worked for have supplied them. Usually they were cheap and not overly comfortable but in a pinch they were better than wadding up TP. I think it should be provided too (like TP) but if there is a concern about theft, well, ain’t nobody going to willingly use on a regular basis what they provided :-)

    4. NeutralJanet*

      At my last job, some of us brought up the idea of stocking menstrual products in the same way that we stocked tissues, Tylenol, etc. but got shut down hard by the facilities coordinator at HQ (in a different state), so I purchased pads, tampons, Midol, and little chocolates out of my personal money and encouraged everyone to consider restocking if they used it and noticed we were running low on anything. I kind of anticipated that if I didn’t buy more supplies when we ran out, no more would be bought, but things worked out better than I thought! I didn’t announce that there was chocolate, you just found out if you checked in the cupboard, and I think that helped matters.

    5. Pigeon*

      A place I worked for ten years stocked them gratis, in baskets in the restroom… Because given there were a grand total of six women working there (out of 100 employees) when I started, it was cheaper than paying a supplier to stock a more customary cabinet. Nice outcome, bad underlying cause.

      That said, I used them more than once in a pinch, and since I don’t carry cash I was grateful to have them provided this way.

    6. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I used to work at a place where someone broke into the tampon vending machine in the bathroom (I’m guessing because they were in desperate need and didn’t have any quarters?), so the company president spent 20 minutes of his speech at the Company Christmas Party lecturing us about it – then had the tampon dispenser moved outside the bathroom to a place under direct video surveillance. It was also a heavily male dominated workplace, especially out on the shop floor, so as far as I know no one ever used that dispenser again.

      1. Carol the happy elf*

        Oh unholy night….
        I would never access a pad/tampon dispenser unless it was completely behind a door. Videos would be completely off the rails.

    7. turquoisecow*

      My current job would sometimes have a few sitting in a basket on the counter of the ladies’ restroom, but I suspect it was more that some (female) manager purchased them out of her own pocket, not that the company provided them. There are a number of women in higher-ranking positions here, and the office manager is a woman, so I could see one of them deciding to give them out. At other times I would use the restroom and not see them, though, so it was clearly not a systematic thing.

      (I haven’t been back to the office in two years since I’m mostly remote and haven’t needed to go in since Covid started, so I don’t know if this has changed.)

      1. turquoisecow*

        I also have occasionally seen lotion or hairspray there, and then other times nothing, so it could be that someone takes them home.

      2. McS*

        I think this question lies somewhere between “can I ask a pregnant assistant to get me coffee?” and “can I ask my assistant to go out for toilet paper if the bathroom is out?” If the answer to both of those is yes, then yes, ask any gender assistant to get tampons. But in all cases (coffee, tampons, and toilet paper) an employer that properly values employees’ time will have it onsite and no one should have to make a trip.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          It sounds like the OP is off-site, so doesn’t always have easy access to what she’d have access to in her office/employer location.

          1. LC*

            I think my comment was the top one of that thread (which wasn’t off topic, but I can see how it may have spiraled), and I have no problem with long off topics threads being removed, but does anyone know if someone answered my question?

            I was just curious why asking a pregnant assistant to get coffee was somehow analogous to asking a male assistant to get tampons.

    8. voluptuousfire*

      My old job had menstrual supplies in all bathrooms, men, women, and gender-neutral. Some of the male employees asked why there were tampons in the mens room and our workplace team said it was to make sure all employees had what they needed. We had some trans and non-binary colleagues and it was awesome how our workplace team made sure everyone was taken care of.

      1. LuckyPurpleSocks*

        That’s what I do for my department: I keep pads and tampons stocked in all of the bathrooms for anyone who needs them (women/men/gender-neutral). I put a few in each bathroom at a time and restock them as needed. I used to feel a little weird walking around the hallways openly carrying boxes of tampons and pads because I was socialized as a teen to keep “those things” hidden, but I’m used to it now :)

    9. mlem*

      My company uses the coin-style dispensers but sets them not to need coins. They have one variety of pad and one variety of tampon, and both are similar quality to the toilet paper. (Well, honestly, probably a hair nicer, because the TP is just *bad* and I don’t think anyone makes menstrual products quite that bad ….)

      I think they’re only in the women’s (and handicap-accessible single-occupant) bathrooms, though.

      1. JustaTech*

        We had those in our building before the renovation, and then they were taken out during the renovation (because they interfered with the “clean lines” aesthetic). The first day we were back in the renovated area someone asked about it and suddenly an empty cardboard box appeared, stocked with the same extremely basic pads and tampons.

        Frankly I think it’s a huge improvement because sometimes the dispensers didn’t work, or would go unstocked for extended periods.

    10. A Feast of Fools*

      I’m 55 and have only ever worked at one company where tampons and pads were provided.

      I’m past having periods myself, but keep a stash of various sizes/strengths of tampons at my desk and in my backpack just in case a younger colleague needs them.

    11. Boof*

      I think the problem with stocking bathrooms with stuff that’s easy to grab (including extra TP) is that in some places the items will disappear. Disappear at high rates, not just mildly inconvenient rates.
      Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice, and I get the people who are taking them home may be in desperate need, but at the same time, I wouldn’t expect someone other than perhaps the government to subsidize anyone else’s home sanitary products.
      I suppose the solution is to have one of those coin operated ones if it’s in a place where supplies regularly walk though.
      (I say that as someone who find the grocery store that has a supply of free diapers for all baby sizes in the restroom AMAZING but I definitely appreciate why all grocery stores don’t do that)

      1. Mannequin*

        Ok but no place would even consider not stocking TP just because employees steal it at astronomical rates, and menstrual supplies fall into the exact same category.

        1. Boof*

          Well some places only have the TP in the dispensers / bare minimum supplies, some have extra you can replace if things run out. I, personally, disagree menstrual supplies are all that different from other hygiene products bathrooms don’t regularly stock like deodorant, toothbrush/floss, diapers, etc. And yes I am someone who sometimes menstruates. And no I’m not saying they shouldn’t stock it if they can, it’s nice to have the emergency access, just that it’s not as essential as toilet paper.

            1. Mannequin*

              Your user name is “let’s be reasonable”, so please explain to me in detail how it is “reasonable” for businesses not to supply an essential toilet hygiene product that is used by 1/2 the human race (and not just women)

          1. Mannequin*

            How on earth are menstrual hygiene products not exactly as essential as TP? If not MORE SO?

            I mean, if I ran out of TP at work I could use a paper towel, napkin, piece of cloth, even soap & water in a pinch- it might be uncomfortable, but it will dry/I can shower later.

            If I am caught without a menstrual hygiene product, I’m supposed to, what, just sit in the puddle of continually draining blood all day?

            I no longer menstruate, and when I did, I was the type that kept supplies on me 24/7, so I wasn’t caught off guard, or could help a sister out- BUT- there were still times I forgot to replace the ones I used, or had a heavier-than-normal day, or it came early, or whatever and I was caught short.

            Expecting people who menstruate to stuff their pants full of TP or paper towels in those situations is unacceptable.

          2. Mannequin*

            Then they can have bare minimum/in the dispenses menstrual supplies as well. I don’t see anyone here insisting that employers supply a full range of name brand, crème de la crème products for everyone to pick & choose, just that they supply a BASIC hygiene product that is exactly as essential as toilet paper and hand soap, and is also used by people of all genders the same way those items are.

          3. allathian*

            Yeah, I admit I tend to agree. But then I’ve never been in such desperate financial straits that the cost of menstrual products would’ve been a problem, so that’s my privilege showing.

      2. Anonymous4*

        If the company has a coin-operated tampon dispenser, the company should also have a coin-operated toilet paper dispenser. Keeps people from stealing the toilet paper, which can be a real problem in some areas, y’know.

    12. Cheap Ass Rolex*

      Frustratingly, my employer supplies them at one office building/location but not the other five. Still, better than nothing!

    13. Decidedly Me*

      My partner’s office (I’m remote – no office to speak of!) stocks a bunch of stuff in the women’s bathroom, as well as the men’s – just not sure of the exact items there. Tampons, pads, mouthwash, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair pins, those stain remover pens, and probably a bunch of other things I’m forgetting right now.

    14. Killer Queen*

      My company is AWESOME about this. My (male) boss decided that since we stock TP it only makes sense to stock feminine hygiene products too. And we were told to just tell the (female) office manager what we want: brand, size, etc. and she will buy them and stock the bathroom with them. And they aren’t just there to use in a pinch they are there to use every time you use the bathroom if needed. It’s really great!

    1. Meg*

      It seems to be a UK term: “doing the work involved in a job, in real working conditions, rather than planning or talking about it”

    2. Anonym*

      From Cambridge Dictionary: “at the coalface” UK
      doing the work involved in a job, in real working conditions, rather than planning or talking about it:
      “At the coalface with a deadline looming, you sometimes feel under a lot of pressure.”

    3. KSlice*

      This was a new expression for me, too, so this is what I found when I looked it up.

      Cambridge Dictionary:
      at the coalface
      Doing the work involved in a job, in real working conditions, rather than planning or talking about it.
      At the coalface with a deadline looming, you sometimes feel under a lot of pressure.

    4. Dokes*

      I’d never heard it before, but from context I’d guess it has something to do with, like, the part of a boiler or steam engine that you shovel coal into?

  3. Justin*

    Would also like to know this capacity?

    But yeah, I got overly concerned about supporting my employee’s pregnancy and birth a few years ago because I knew the work experience was often so brutal for nursing mothers, etc. And mostly she was like, I appreciate it, but I will ask if I need something other than what I have now. Which is not the same as this, but it’s best we’re all matter of fact about the fact that our bodies have needs, even if our own bodies don’t have those same needs.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      They’re absorbent. A standard in hiking first aid kids (compact, lightweight, actually designed to soak up blood) and I imagine for any other fluids, like that blue one they use in ads.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          There’s some company that’s started to use red water and I heart them.

          (Of course there are comments about how disgusting this is – but – damn. Women menstruate. We bleed. Blood is red. This is how life works.)

          1. LC*

            Yep, same. I was so excited the first time I saw a commercial that actually used red liquid (then I thought about why it’s something worth being excited about and I got sad).

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          When I was a very little girl (like 5), I legitimately thought being on your period meant you peed (or somehow leaked) blue water. I was half disappointed and half relieved to learn the truth.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Please someone write an AAM fanfic in which a devoted reader deals with leaking holes in the boat, engine, and their companion by whipping out a box of tampons.

          1. Ally McBeal*

            Well, you wouldn’t want to use them in an OR, but for field medicine they’re fine. They ARE created to be inserted into an area full of mucous membranes and sensitive equipment, after all…

          2. Sasha*

            Neither are bullet holes I’m afraid! You get powder, clothing fibres and all kinds dragged inside.

            Obviously the tampon is not a permanent solution (and won’t deal with the internal bleeding).

        2. allathian*

          They’re even better for stopping nosebleeds. When I was in high school, one of the boys in my class got punched in the nose by an older boy in the cafeteria, and blood just spurted out. One of the girls in my class had the presence of mind to whip out a couple tampons and put one in each nostril, before I and the girl made sure he got to see the school nurse, who gave her credit for quick thinking in an emergency. She’s a paramedic now. The puncher got suspended (that was then, now he’d probably get arrested for assault), although I don’t remember for how long, and the guy who got punched got the nickname TN, for tampon nose. But it didn’t last long, because he was popular with both the boys and the girls, and ended up dating the girl with the tampons for a while.

        1. Sloanicote*

          I’ve seen on TV people have put tampons (in the fuel thingie I think?) to sneakily cause the car to break down later. Perhaps OP is a professional kidnapper … :)

          1. Anonymous4*

            Through the fuel filler into the gas tank? Nnnnno, not really. I mean, they could — they could put anything into the gas tank that fits through the fuel filler and the fuel neck — but a tampon wouldn’t be very effective at blocking off the flow to the fuel pump.

        2. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

          I remember once being asked by a man for a tampon, and didn’t think anything of it other than whether I happened to have any on hand. It was only after I got to my locker to check (I only had ultra thin, surprisingly absorbent pads, unfortunately. I hadn’t restocked. Admittedly I can be kind of mom-ish in having those on hand for people who might get the Red Scourge Surprise at work, where they only have the Telephone Book Pads) that I realized it was because he was trans. He told me he’d been nervous about asking anyone but me because I apparently give off a vibe of acceptance that these things are normal — which, to me, they are. Men get periods if they happen to be trans.

          All that to say, dudes really need to get used to menstrual products! More people than we know have uteruses, get over it, weirdos (people who are squicked out by tampoms and pads, that is!).

      1. RagingADHD*

        And while they are not perfectly sterile, they are wrapped to stay clean enough for most purposes short of surgery.

        1. IndustriousLabRat*

          Can confirm, that’s why every school nurse I know keeps around tiny tampons for snout spouts!

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            I actually saw a principal yell at a student who did just that to plug the nosebleed till his parent got there to take him to the dr. So he pulls it out, goes thru a whole box of tissues trying to stem the flow, and when his mom picked him up – she promptly gave him another tampon to stem the blood on their way to the dr.

            (None of us witnesses ever got a straight answer from the principal/administration as to what the problem was, and it wasn’t like there was a long applicator tube sticking out either.)

              1. SadieMae*

                Once I got a bad nosebleed first thing in the morning and stuck a tampon way up my nose. A few minutes later I was sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast when suddenly the inside of my face (?) got really hot. It was the WEIRDEST feeling. I seriously thought I was having a stroke!

                Turns out that when I’d taken a sip of hot coffee, the tampon (which I’d forgotten about…I had a lot of nosebleeds) had wicked the hot coffee way up into my nose.

              1. IndustriousLabRat*

                I’m gonna go with Universal Portable Sorbent Capsules after seeing so many different uses for them listed on this thread, some that I’d never even thought of. Quite the Swiss knife of the toiletries world, I’d say; and all the more reason to pooh pooh any lingering bit of stigma involved in purchasing them or having one nearby at all times, whether you plan to use it for the marketed purpose or not.

              2. caps22*

                Haha, if manly hockey players use them to stem nosebleeds after a fight on the ice*, then they are manly enough to be publicly acknowledgeable.

                *ask me how I know as the only woman on several different beer league teams …

        2. Just Another Librarian*

          They don’t usually use it anymore, but once upon a time a nasal tampon with a cocaine solution on it was the go to urgent care treatment for severe nosebleeds. My poor husband, who is prone to bad bleeds, has had that done a few times. Recently though the micro cauterizers have gotten cheap and available enough they just go straight to burning.

          1. Sasha*

            There’s no cocaine on them, but we still use Rapid Rhinos (inflatable tampon-like device, Google it) to pack nosebleeds. Way easier than ribbon gauze.

      2. turquoisecow*

        Yeah I remember when we learned basic first aid in health class the teacher mentioning that ambulances and such will often stock sanitary napkins because they are absorbent, so if someone is bleeding a lot it’s more efficient than using a pile of paper towels or whatever.

        1. Windchime*

          Back in the day, my family had a bunch of horses and so we would have occasional visits from the vet to deal with stitches, porcupine needles, etc. Once when the vet was stitching up a wound on my horse’s leg, he mentioned to me that sanitary napkins are a great way to cover the wound and absorb blood in these situations. I never needed to use that information but thought it was a great idea.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I was once involved in a situation with a draining golf-ball-sized abscess in a really inconvenient place to bandage (top of inner thigh). It turned out that putting a pad on the *underside* of the underpants was the best solution.

          2. Lonely Aussie*

            My horse first aide kit had nappies, pads and tampons in it. they’re cheaper and easier to get than horse branded stuff Nappies are great on injured hooves and around hocks. Pads are great under bandages and often flex around a leg a lot better than a simple gauze pad.

      3. LizM*

        We started keeping tampons and pads in our first aid kits in all the fleet vehicles after some of the men I work with pointed out that given their size and weight, they’re one of the most absorbent materials you can stock.

        The fact that they’re available to menstruating employees who are working in remote areas miles from the nearest gas station is a nice side benefit.

      4. It's Growing!*

        Back before the days of fancy hiking backpacks (we used WWII surplus packs), the trick was to put a pad inside a sock and use that for padding the web shoulder straps.

    2. drtheliz*

      I learned today that old-school pads were used for water sampling to track down a typhus outbreak in Scotland, so something like this isn’t out of the question.

    3. Somewhere in Texas*

      I came here to say this. I think a picture makes it less awkward because they aren’t standing there overwhelmed with options. Then there is less time spent on the task and it’s less memorable.

    4. Julia*

      One possibility is they’re using tampons to create fake steam in videos involving prop food. For example they make a “steaming” bowl of soup by secreting a tampon soaked in hot water behind the bowl; it sends up plumes of steam that look like they’re coming from the soup.

      1. Unicorn Parade*

        They are also super useful in food photo shoots where you need to quickly clean up an edge, or soak up some liquid that spilled, or blot grease from the food, or apply a little oil to make the food look fresher. My team has worked with a few food stylists who keep tampons stocked for those purposes – usually the very experienced ones who knew every trick in the book. I’ve also seen makeup wedges used to prop up food items / dab on oil and Q-tips used for cleaning up very small issues on a plate or carefully moving around crumbs / herbs without disturbing other food items.

        1. AutolycusinExile*

          Can confirm that all menstrual products make excellent soaking-up devices in all sorts of contexts – my best friend once spilled melted ice cream all over the front seat of her car, and all we had with us to try to clean up was a box of pads. I don’t recommend it only due to the cost to replace them, but the pads worked so well that most of the car wasn’t even sticky afterward. I was impressed!

      2. daffodil*

        YES this is exactly the kind of example I would never consider I was scrolling the comments hoping to find. Thanks!

    5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Well, I’m a science teacher and teach about puberty. In one of my classroom cabinets I have a file box stuffed with lots of different brands and sizes of tampons, pads, menstrual cups, and period underwear. Also a kinda weird-looking plastic model of the reproductive system to demonstrate them with.

  4. Sk*

    I’ve seen tampons on hand at more and more bathrooms including public and workplace bathrooms. When the bathrooms are gender neutral, more persons who don’t menstruate get used to seeing them.

    1. Katherine Vigneras*

      I like this as a solution: don’t have to ask anyone for tampons if they’re already on site.

    2. Apocalypse How*

      My favorite coffee house has started stocking free pads, tampons, and diapers in the gender neutral bathrooms. Hope this trend continues to catch on!

      1. MCL*

        Yes, we have them in all of the restrooms at work. We have a gender neutral bathroom, and a women’s and men’s room. Any person who chooses the any of the restrooms might also be in need of menstrual products, so they are in every bathroom. It’s an easy way to be more inclusive.

        1. MCL*

          And now that many of my friends are parents I have been made aware that many men’s bathrooms don’t have child changing facilities (and not all women’s restrooms do either), so it’s especially annoying for dads who are out with their babies to find a place to change them. And then the implicit expectation falls upon the woman of the family (if there is one) that she must be the one who changes the diaper even if the man could do it. Changing areas! Make them available everywhere!

          1. turquoisecow*

            I haven’t been to many places with my kid since pandemic, but it is really annoying to realize you need to change a diaper and the restroom at the restaurant doesn’t have one. Ended up walking down the street back to the car to change her one time. I get fancier, more “adult” places not having them, but it’s just convenient and they fold up so it’s not like they take up a lot of space.

          2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            At Boston Logan Airport, in many areas, there are only changing tables in the special “family restrooms.” Which are often kept locked in off-hours and you have to call on the “courtesy telephone” to get someone to unlock it. Grrrrr.

          3. allathian*

            In many places here, changing tables are in the single-stall gender neutral bathroom, because there’s enough space in them for the fold-up table. It has the added benefit of being just as easily accessible for parents regardless of gender. What if both parents are men?

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Love the diaper thing. People forget that men also look after their kids and may need to change them.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      We provide them in our workplace for us and for the public and the only male employee happens to be in charge of ordering them because suppliers are part of his job.

  5. No Tribble At All*

    If you can screenshot the specific type of product you want, you don’t have to go into as much detail (“just find this box” not “the playtex soft glide with cardboard applicators”). Your assistant’s job is to keep you onsite and prepped; if you leaving the site could’ve caused a risk, have your assistant get things for you!

    1. Katherine Vigneras*

      This is a great way to be specific and reduce back-and-forth discussion about what exactly is needed. Another option might be to place a for-pickup order with CVS, Target, etc. so that the exact product is waiting at pickup for whoever ends up on the errand run.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I love this solution. Just place the order and say “Todd, I need you to do a curbside pickup for me at Walmart, I’m sending you the text with the confirmation link so you can notify them when you get there.”

        1. Anonymous4*

          What’s awkward about asking someone who’s there to run errands for you, to run an errand for you?

          And if this assistant is both male and old enough to hold a job, he’s also old enough to know that women menstruate. And not to freak out about it.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, this. That said, lots of women don’t want their coworkers, and particularly not their male coworkers, to know when they’re on their period. It’s one thing to know that most women between the ages of 12 and around 50 menstruate, quite another to know exactly when someone is having their period.

            I would certainly never want my coworkers, regardless of gender, to know exactly when I’m on my period, so I always carry a pad or five in my bag when I go to work.

            I certainly am not in the least ashamed of my status as a menstruating woman, but there’s a difference between general modesty and period shame.

            I also think that it would be less awkward to ask the assistant, regardless of gender, to do a curbside pickup when they don’t know the exact contents of the purchase, rather than ask them to go into the store and pick up some tampons, especially if that’s the only purchase.

            1. A Wall*

              Yeah this is it for me. In my personal life I do not have any issues talking about menstruation or whatever else with people, but I don’t want to make it known at work precisely when I’m on my period. Part of that is the same way I don’t want attention in general drawn to the nature or timing of any of my bodily functions, like, I’ll slip off to the bathroom discreetly as possible as well, but I’m not scandalized if someone else lets people know that’s where they’re going or asks me for a tampon. It doesn’t have to be shameful for you to still like keeping it private at work.

      2. PT*

        A lot of stores that offer pickup orders put them in more sturdy and opaque bags than if you went and purchased the item at checkout yourself, and they often tie or tape shut the handles if they can. So you wouldn’t need to sit and think “Is it OK if I send my personal assistant for (private item)” because he’s probably not going to see more than a brief glimpse it in the course of picking up the bag.

      3. A Wall*

        Oh that’s genius. I’ve done the “text them a photo of the box to choose” thing which works great most of the time but there’s always the caveat that it only works if the store has that exact product in stock at that moment. If you’ve already placed the order than you know for sure you’re getting the exact one you’ve selected.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a good idea: the main reason I bought them myself was the problem of going down the preemptive decision tree for my spouse of “If they don’t have the type I like, which features are good and bad? When should you just go to another store?”

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This. I have had long, involved telephone conversations with my wife while standing in front of the tampons section. I am, being an adult, not squicked out by it. But I also don’t want to be responsible for guessing from among the astonishingly large number of options.

      2. Lexica*

        Yeah, I’ve found that people who don’t menstruate – and even other people who do menstruate, but aren’t me – do a different calculus as far as what’s most important.

        Providing a prioritized list (“this brand/size is choice 1, but if it’s not available get the next one on the list that is”) is a good way to avoid frustration, IME. I recognize that I get annoyed when I’m standing in the menstrual supplies aisle trying to figure out what to get if my go-to pad is sold out; if I didn’t have first-hand experience of using the products, I’d have zero idea of what’s important.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          And even among women different qualities can be important at different stages in our lives. Hence the screen shot or packaging to help the person running out to the store for you.

    3. Anon anon*

      Yep, when my sister and I were teens and needed Dad to pick up supplies we would rip off part of the packaging and hand it to him. He loved that system.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Yep, when my sister and I were teens and needed Dad to pick up supplies we would rip off part of the packaging and hand it to him. He loved that system.

        That’s very much along the lines of what I was thinking; if you can impart enough detail to the assistant that (s)he can deliver the right type, then you’re all adults and there should be no issue. You just may have to concede providing a male assistant a little more training than a female one, or find a clever workaround (like this or ordering ahead).

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’ll just make the caveat that some women have very different preferences and needs – even in families. Yes women may be better at ad lobbing if the preferred brand isn’t there, but even then giving some packaging or a picture isn’t a bad idea.

          1. daffodil*

            I mean, I’ve bought myself the wrong thing because I misread the package. It’s overwhelming.

        2. Margaret Schoen*

          My father worked for Johnson & Johnson, so my sister and I would call him at work and ask him to bring home boxes of o.b from the company store (so much cheaper!).

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I do this with the better half when I need anything specific. He tends to overthink if there is any ambiguity because he’s worried about making a mistake, which is both sweet and kind of silly

      3. league**

        I was a teen in the early nineties and had one of those dads who Shuddered at the Very Thought. If my sisters or I said we needed tampons, he tended to blindly fling money and car keys at us while running in the opposite direction. This came in pretty handy; we each “menstruated” once a week or so, which he was CERTAINLY not going to question.

        Anyway, obviously that’s not the attitude anyone wants to see, but it sure bought us some extra pocket money.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          This cracked me up. “Hey Dad, I need tampons. They raised the price so they’re about $20 now, and I have to go to a special far-away store, so I’ll be home around 11:30 tonight. Thanks!”

    4. After 33 years ...*

      As a male, I have done just that – give me the old package, and I will find an equivalent new replacement.
      I really appreciate Alison’s answer here!

    5. Green Tea For Me*

      I do something similar with my (cis male) partner. He has hours which allow him to doing grocery shopping outside of busy hours so he does most of the shopping. I’ve learned to just keep a picture of the box I use saved on my phone so whenever he goes if I need some tampons/pads/midol I just text him the picture. I also do the same for other things too (that yogurt I like, that one weird flavor of sparkling water, etc). That way, if he for some reason can’t find what I want, he can just show someone working at the store and they can probably direct him. Something similar should work for the assistant.

    6. calonkat*

      I’ve been in that sort of role, and I’d have appreciated knowing what sort of supplies might be needed at a moment’s notice so I could have them in advance. Especially if we might be heading out to a remote location! You want over the counter pain killers? I’d have them. You need a specific brand of soda? I’d have it, and if possible in a cooler. Tampons wouldn’t have been an unusual request, and because of brand preferences, I’d have really liked to know in advance (also, the need tends to be sooner than a town run if the store is 45 minutes away).

      I like the idea of a “stash” and list of what’s in the stash. That could include supplies the assistant might need as well! Not everyone can use aspirin, and some might need other meds on hand (I have a dodgy tummy when traveling…)

    7. Three owls in a trench coat*

      I second this! I once heard of a cis man who thought the yellow and green colors on the box meant the tampons were lemon and lime scented.

      (For those of you who don’t menstruate – the colors refer to the size and absorbency)

  6. Katherine Vigneras*

    For what it’s worth, when my husband (a military officer) was a course instructor, on more than one occasion, he made tampon runs for female trainees (subordinates) who were stranded in the field without menstrual supplies. You need what you need, and any non-period-having-person who has an issue with it can shove it.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Right?! My dad, who was older than the average dad when I was a teenager, would pick up menstrual supplies for me, and just needed me to tell him what to get. Collectively, we need to get over this idea of periods being weird and gross.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes my father did the same. As long as I could specify precisely what I wanted he was very happy to pick them up. I used to just give him the box and write down what type it was (in case the colour had changed). I have since found it a good way to weed out boyfriend candidates. If they’re weird about having to pick up / handle / add to the shopping sanitary products then we’re unlikely to be compatible in the long term.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          My dad was the same, which was really lucky, since due to health issues, he was the only parent who was capable of actually getting them for me. He also discussed my period issues with me and is still comfortable discussing women’s health stuff with me if I need a sounding board.

      2. RagingADHD*

        Well, I’ve been having them for 38 years, and I still think they’re gross. I mean, belly button lint is gross, too. So are saliva, ear wax, and nail clippings. Lots of normal body things that we all deal with are gross, and we just need to be matter of fact about them.

        However, the difference between asking someone to get you a box of tampons and asking them to pick up a box of Q-tips is that you are revealing something about your personal state – it has reproductive implications that are nobody’s business. And in many places you still encounter stereotypes about women being irrational or overly moody, which could bring stigma in some workplaces.

        I’m fine asking my dad, brother, or spouse to get them. I still wouldn’t want to ask a man I work with, anymore than I would ask him to pick up prescription meds, a pregnancy test, or a yeast-infection remedy. It’s too personal, and I wouldn’t be comfortable with that level of disclosure.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          That’s totally a decision you get to make for you! It’s more the stigma that gets associated specifically with periods that I object to, and the way some (alleged) men act like it’s somehow more gross than other things that come with having a human body and claim that the sight of a pad or tampon is traumatizing. Would I share the details with a coworker, especially a male coworker? Not the nitty-gritty, no. But in a situation like the OP’s, I’d ask him to pick up what I needed, if picking up other needed items is part of his job. I think one of the ways to lessen the stigma is to be matter-of-fact about it – periods happen and the supplies to deal with them are necessary.

          I want to stop hearing stories like the one about the office worker who had to explain to a 60+ year old Congressman that no, women can’t hold in a period like urine – it just doesn’t work that way. For me, that level of ignorance is way more embarrassing than admitting I’m having a period, and it seems way too common.

          1. RagingADHD*

            Oh, I totally agree with the level of ignorance being awful, just like the level of ignorance about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and menopause.

            I just don’t think we’re going to get to that matter of fact place by insisting that nobody should ever think body waste is squicky, or that tampons are completely impersonal, and any True Feminist ™ must therefore think and do a, b, and c.

            It just creates cognitive dissonance. Asking for a kleenex is not exactly the same as asking for a tampon — just like offering a co-worker a kleenex unasked would not be anything like offering them a tampon unasked!

            Getting people to grow up about the biological fact of periods has to include being mature about the personal and potentially sensitive nature of periods. You can’t get to the first by erasing the second.

            1. Mannequin*

              Asking someone for a tampon is no different or more personal or embarrassing or “about bodily waste” than asking someone for a tissue or a roll of toilet paper, and the only reason anyone has ever thought it was somehow categorically different is because of misogyny & transmisogyny.

            2. AnonEMoose*

              Serious question – then how do we get to the “grow up about it” place? Other than by making it a “not a bigger deal than any other function of bodies”? Periods are associated with reproduction, yes, but all it means is that the person having it is probably in their reproductive years, and probably not currently pregnant (though I know that’s not 100% – some people do have periods while pregnant, as I understand it). It says nothing about whether they’re sexually active, having sex capable of inducing reproduction, intend to reproduce in the future or not…it means they have a uterus that is at least basically functioning. That’s it. That’s all. Like billions of other uterus owners over millions of years. I mean, if the reason for periods being “shameful” were because of the association with reproduction, wouldn’t announcements of pregnancy or attempts to conceive also be considered shameful? If this were all logical, anyway.

              I’m not saying anyone should stand on rooftops or street corners broadcasting that they’re menstruating. I just think people, regardless of what anatomy they have, should know the basics of how bodies work, and it shouldn’t be treated as shameful. And for me, part of the way to get there is, to the extent you can, not treat it as shameful. I have nephews. And if they have questions about it, they can ask me and I’ll explain as best I can, and direct them to resources I trust for anything I can’t explain. Because, hopefully, any uterus having partners or children they have later in life will be glad I did.

            3. Mannequin*

              “Asking for a kleenex is not exactly the same as asking for a tampon — just like offering a co-worker a kleenex unasked would not be anything like offering them a tampon unasked!”

              This isn’t really the best comparison.

              If your coworker was in obvious need of either a Kleenex or a menstrual hygiene product (runny nose, bloodstained clothing), it wouldn’t be weird or inappropriate to offer them one unasked for.

              If they are not obviously in need of one, it would be just as weird to offer them a Kleenex unasked for as it would a tampon…how would it not? :laughs:

              Also, this is more than just a feminist issue, because not just women menstruate, and not all women menstruate.

        2. SnappinTerrapin*

          Wife, daughters, granddaughters. No problem. Tear off the box top so I can match it up. All those boxes look very similar. I want to bring home the right one. With some chocolate.

          The over the top reactions always confused me. A cardboard box filled with paper products can’t hurt anyone. It’s a little weird to get squicked out about it.

        3. Mannequin*

          “ are revealing something about your personal state – it has reproductive implications”

          :shoulders up around ears:

          Oh yuck, no, NO, no it absolutely doesn’t!

          I say this as someone who is happily menopausal and childfree by choice (I’ve literally never felt even the smallest desire to have children) who had periods for 40 dang years, but also:

          -*children* menstruate

          -people who are abstinent or not yet sexually active menstruate

          -asexual people menstruate

          -people who don’t have reproductive sex menstruate

          -childfree people menstruate

          -infertile people menstruate

          -some men and some non-binary people menstruate

          Which, when listed out like that, makes it pretty darn obvious that being aware that someone is menstruating has ZERO reproductive implications.

          And the way we get over menstrual stigma IS by bringing it out in the open & treating it like NBD. Sunshine kills germs!

          1. AnonEMoose*


            Thank you for saying it better than I did! I mean, if it were about reproductive implications, then wouldn’t there be just as much pearl clutching about pregnancy announcements or talk of trying to conceive?? But these days, few people blink an eye at those! Periods just mean that the person having one has a somewhat functional uterus, and nothing about what they may or may not be doing with it (other than possibly cursing it…cramps, bloating, and all that other stuff are not my idea of fun!).

        4. allathian*

          Yeah, I disagree about the reproductive implications (except that the menstruating person is probably not pregnant), but other than that, I’m on the same page as RagingADHD about this. I don’t want to advertise my cycle to people around me. My husband knows when I’m having my period, and because I want to normalize periods for my preteen son, I don’t hide it from him, either. But literally nobody else needs to know anything about my cycle, except my gynecologist.

          But let’s face it, if a man is going to be squicked out by the idea of buying or picking up tampons for his manager, forcing him to do so isn’t going to normalize periods for him, or make him think that they’re anything other than gross.

      3. Mannequin*

        My dad was born in the 1920s, and he never had an issue with anything like this either for me or my mother.

    2. Legal Rugby*

      One of my favorite stories was when a friend of mine, who had always been in all male units, moved over to mine to make command staff. At his first meeting, he leaned over and asked me if there were any differences he needed to be aware of. I handed him a 40 pack of tampons and told him to add it to his “E3 forgot important things” stash in his ruck. I have never seen a man pale that quickly without fainting.

      1. London Lass*

        My father was in an all-male unit. As far he is concerned, the primary use for tampons is as first aid for gunshot wounds.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yup – it’s amazing how just a basic part of life for roughly a third of the population any given time can be so problematic to some guys. Just Get Over It! Periods are a part of life, and so are the supplies to take care of a period in a sanitary fashion.

        Plus – there are plenty of first aid applications for both tampons and pads. They are just a good thing to keep around, get over the discomfort.

        1. lex talionis*

          Many years ago (like 30) worked with a guy who was rather vocal about how yucky he found the whole thing. One day I asked him if it had ever occurred to him that he was a period that never happened? The look on his face was priceless. And the ribbing from his colleagues…..

      3. Katherine Vigneras*

        Outside of that instructor billet, he’s been all male combat arms units his whole career. I’m proud that he’s just matter of fact about body stuff including menstrual happenings, and that he makes an effort to support his subordinates in truly anything that happens. It reinforces my opinion that anyone who is squicked by helping out with a CVS run kinda sucks. ;)

  7. AppleStan*

    My cousins and I have a weekly Zoom Chat and it can include their significant others/spouses from time to time. Participants can range in age from 35 – 55, and they discuss all sorts of things, including things that some might consider extremely personal.

    One woman brought up menopause, so naturally the women in the conversation began to talk about it as well…those who have been through it, are going through it, what to expect, etc.

    I’ve never seen men flip out so fast. We just got finished discussing in GREAT detail the skinning and dressing of a deer but just mentioning menopause drove them to use the safeword (yes, our weekly Zoom Chat has a safeword — usually used for politics, and apparently also for menopause).

    Also reminds me of the scene in G.I. Jane where Demi Moore moves into the same barracks as the men, and one of the men freaks out “What about the tampons, man?” You’re training to be a SEAL…but you’re worried about tampons?????

    It’s high time men just get over it.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Mum’s been giving me advice about menopause (because I’ve started going through it and it sucks) but we have to be very careful to not talk about it in Dad’s hearing.

      He’s fine buying period supplies – but talk of the menstrual cycle itself isn’t something he can deal with.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Meanwhile, my DH was actually interested in an explanation of why sneezing with a tampon is inserted can be scary.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          The better half was find with everything uterine/ovary related until I showed him the post hysterectomy photos of my uterus and fibroids. Fair enough, since it was kind of gross and cool

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        No kidding. They deserved to have a few new you-know-whats ripped for acting like that!

    2. Your Local Password Resetter*

      I hope they had some good explanations why menopause of all things would set them off like that. Menopause isn’t even that bad on the scale of icky things that routinely happen to bodies.

      1. AppleStan*

        To be fair, I was a little more glib in my comment because I didn’t want to get detailed, but some of the side-effects like bleeding gums, insomnia, cycles disappearing and reappearing without sticking to the normal schedule, or when you’re used to a certain “rhythm” in your cycle of light days or heavy days, and all of a sudden, the rhythm is completely out of wack, etc. So it wasn’t just saying the word menopause, it was a little more detailed than that, but their reaction was more about the fact that we were talking about “female things” than anything else. They should have had a daughter or two, LOL!

      2. Nanani*

        but you see it doesn’t happen to cis men, therefore it’s both horrifying and totally fake and in your head

        (read with maximum sarcasm)

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      This is particularly irritating because menopause needs to be talked about more – I don’t even know when I might reasonably expect mine to begin let alone what it might look like, because nobody in my family has ever mentioned it.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        I certainly had no idea! I’m heavily relying on my mother these days for my ‘is this to be expected or is something going wrong?’ questions. I only knew about hot flushes.

        Which turned out not to be the worst bit.

        1. Lirael*

          It’s too off topic to ask whether hot flushes can affect only your legs, probably…..

          (SERIOUSLY I keep waking up with legs boiling and soaked in sweat and the rest of me is absolutely fine, it’s weird)

          1. AppleStan*

            I don’t know for certain, but I don’t know why it wouldn’t be. It was all neck through mid-back for me. Everything else was fine. But it was also a guaranteed time of night, and a couple of hours later, I was guaranteed to be freezing to death.

            I also had absolutely NO IDEA that insomnia could be a huge indicator that you were starting menopause or a symptom of menopause. I suffered for two years before we figured it out. I had no idea how much I missed sleep until I had it again.

          2. BlueSwimmer*

            Been through menopause twice- once due to taking anti-cancer drugs and once for real. My hot flashes always started with my feet which would get so hot I would run outside and stand barefoot on the brick patio in freezing weather and go “Ahhhhhh.”

        2. Philosophia*

          Short-term memory loss. At one point during perimenopause, by the time I arrived back at my desk, I’d have forgotten whatever it was I told my supervisor I would take care of. I was beginning to be terrified (what if it’s dementia?) until luckily I remembered hearing about the same thing from a friend who was undergoing it during the preceding year. The solution was to write notes to myself for EVERYTHING, for as long as I needed to. Eventually the short-term memory loss diminished to a fraction of its former self (although I learned subsequently to write notes to myself to stash with partially finished projects, reminding me of where I left off). Good luck with whatever gets thrown your way!

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Brain fog is so real isn’t it? I take notes too.

            (And the unexpected sudden bleeding can eff off too)

          2. Mannequin*

            The short term memory loss of perimenopause was one of the things that indirectly led to me finally getting diagnosed with ADHD.

      2. on campus still*

        I found reading a book that came out recently helpful in getting an idea of what might happen: _What Fresh Hell Is This?: Perimenopause, Menopause, Other Indignities, and You_.

        1. Quinalla*

          This book is really good – funny and informative written by someone in some pretty crappy perimenopause. I’m in perimenopause myself right now and got some great tips and learned a lot. I am also making a point to talk about it with everyone as it is relevant and not shying away from it, so that’s been interesting. Also recommend The Menopause Manifesto by Jen Gunter – yes that Jen Gunter – really great info there too!

          The Women at Work podcast under HBR also did podcast about menopause at work that was really great. I need to go back and listen as I listened to it before perimenopause started for me and would probably find it even better now :)

      3. Caramel*

        Do some research. Never rely on anyone else apart from anecdote. When the time comes (or any time actually) make sure you have a good GP).

        1. Mannequin*

          Having a good GP is s privilege that not everyone has access to, so good resources for self-education are essential.

      4. turquoisecow*

        Agreed! I feel like I was very much prepared for first period, but I know almost nothing about menopause other than hot flashes, so I appreciate when I see women discussing it online. I’m probably approaching the age where I’ll want to talk about it with my mom (I’m 40).

      5. Epiphyta*

        I’m the first in three generations of my maternal line to go through a non-surgical menopause, have no aunts except by marriage and my paternal grandmother had passed before it kicked off. It was a ride.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, my maternal grandmother had her youngest child at 45, and I have no idea when she went through menopause. My mom took estrogen blockers for several years when she got diagnosed with breast cancer at 50 when she was still regular, and says that she remembers having one or two hot flashes, but got off easy with the symptoms. I’m not currently close enough to any of my maternal aunts that period or menopause talk would come up naturally, even if one of my aunts went with me to buy my first training bras when I was 11. My mom hasn’t worn a bra, just some sort of bralette for as long as I can remember, so she didn’t think of it. My paternal grandmother was more than 60 years old when I was born, so it never occurred to me to talk about menopause with her, and my dad was an only child. I do remember that just after I’d started my period, she told me about the knitted wool pads that she used as a teen and made herself, and how they had to be washed and dried “in secret” so the men in the family wouldn’t know about it.

    4. londonedit*

      I despaired the other week at a conversation in the WhatsApp chat I have with a group of friends from school, where there was a whole joke going on because one of my friends’ 10-year-old son had asked his dad what menstruation was, and his dad, my friend’s husband’s, response had been ‘Go and ask your mother!’ A couple of us said ‘Oh, come on Pete, it’s 2021 – can’t you talk to him about it?’ and my friend said ‘He doesn’t know what it is either!!’ I mean, they’re all from the small town I grew up in and are not what you’d call worldly wise, but still. They all thought it was hilarious but the undercurrent was definitely ‘God, yeah, I wouldn’t want to talk to my kids about it either’. Which makes me incredibly sad!

      1. I edit everything*

        I explained periods to my 11-year-old a couple months ago. Not that hard! He didn’t seem especially grossed out about it, and he said something to me about periods the other day, totally matter-of-fact. I was so proud!

        1. allathian*

          Yup, I’ve been doing the same with my 12 year old, who seems to be a typical cis boy of his age. I try to avoid heteronormative talk with him, but even though he’s not yet shown interest in any particular girl, he’s said things like “when I have a girlfriend in the future…” which leads me to think that he’s probably heterosexual. I want him to be as comfortable picking up feminine hygiene products for his future girlfriend(s) as my husband is buying them for me.

    5. WellRed*

      Ha! This is why I’m not in favor of large group meetings at work. At any one time, at least at my company, half of us have no vested interest in the topic.

    6. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

      I guess i am strange becasue i would find it fascinating to learn more about something i don’t/can’t have personal experience with.

      There was a CSI scene where Sara was talking about vaginal effects of rape and the male police officer instantly excused himself. Extremely hilarious.

    7. Dainty Lady*

      Let me evangelize for just a moment on “The Menopause Manifesto” by Dr. Jen Gunter that I mentioned in the weekend thread. VERY useful reading.

      Also I rolled my eyes so hard at AppleStan’s menfolkz. They need to read TMM too.

  8. Turanga Leela*

    The challenge with tampons is that you have to be specific about them. “Can you pick me up some tampons?” is, for me, an easier ask than “Can you pick me up some tampons? Playtex Ultra if they have them, Super Plus if not.” There’s nothing wrong with either request–I agree with Alison that this is something normal to ask–but you wind up having to convey information about your body that you might otherwise choose to hide.

    Although as I think about it, is this really worse than saying, “Medium oat milk latte with Splenda”? Probably not.

    1. Nora*

      I think it is comparable to a coffee order – it can be fairly straightforward or somewhat complicated. I don’t think your example of either Playtex Ultra or Super Plus is that complicated. He doesn’t have to know what either of those mean or connote and they’re pretty common. I’ve bought things like deodorant or shampoo for coworkers before (long story) and in all such cases any explanation was helpful and also not a pain.
      “Any spray deodorant”. “drugstore shampoo for volume, tresseme if they have it if not herbal essences”.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, the issue I thought of here that might be a problem is if he’s never bought them before and doesn’t really know what he’s supposed to do or get.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. I think give him a picture or the name of a product that works for you. This is not a thing where you’d want the person doing the purchasing to innovate as different people have different preferences for sanitary ware.

    3. Silicon Valley Girl*

      Yeah, if someone can take a detailed coffee order, they can take a specific menstrual product order. At least the latter says what it is on the box!

      1. Elenna*

        IDK, I’d find it easier to remember a string of words and repeat them to a barista, rather than remembering a string of words and then looking at a wall full of boxes to find which one has the right words on it. And the tampon boxes are all so colourful and it’s sometimes hard to see exactly where the brand name is, especially for someone not used to it.
        Which isn’t a reason for cis men to freak out at the idea of picking up tampons! But it might be a reason to provide a picture of the kind you want, if possible, instead of just words. Similarly, if someone wanted a specific brand of cereal that I wasn’t familiar with (I don’t eat much cereal), I’d probably prefer a picture in addition to the name.

        1. Elenna*

          Heck, if the exact brand I use isn’t available, I generally just don’t buy tampons instead of staring at all the boxes, trying to find where the size and applicator type is listed on each one.

        2. Mannequin*

          Whether it was coffee or tampons, why wouldn’t you just write it down exactly what they wanted (or make a note of it on your phone/electronic device) so you wouldn’t ever have to worry about not getting it right at all?

    4. Anon attorney*

      I think I’d deal with this by saying “the green Tampax, any type” rather than get into applicator size and absorbency etc. Not through embarrassment – I have no issues with this, menstruation needs to be normalised – but really because that’s how my brain organises tampon information anyway!

    5. SleepyKitten*

      I mean applicator or no and absorbency level (which you can give as number of drops on the packet) are your only real variables. And if it’s an emergency then anything is better than nothing.

    6. Vancouver*

      This was the one comment I wanted to make – you beat me to it. As someone who does not have periods, I have picked up supplies for people who need them but I always make sure to ask what specific product they want to make sure it’s comfortable for them. It’s the same thing if I’m making a coffee run, ordering pizza, or buying office supplies – everyone has their own preferences and needs.

  9. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Out on site, about 10 years ago, just me and my male boss. Now I’m disabled so dashing out to get things isn’t really an option and I was sat trying to get a really troublesome Windows machine (3.1 for anyone interested) working again when I realise I really need some sanitary towels quick.

    So I asked my boss if he’d mind dashing out to Tesco’s and getting some paracetamol and a packet of these *showing the exact image of the type I need*.

    ‘Nae bother pet’ he says and off he goes.

      1. Nessun*

        Agree that the picture is the most important part! I’d go buy products for anyone who asked, and I’d hope my non-menstruating co-workers would also, but I’d be equally confused as some if all I got was “get me tampons please”…I’d know to ask more questions, which some wouldn’t, but really – give me a picture so I get you what you need!! (and so if that’s not available, I have guidelines: “the pictures says Super, what do you have of the same type since you don’t have this brand?”)

        1. AnonEMoose*

          A picture is a good idea, when possible. I remember some years ago at Bullseye, when I was looking for my preferred brand, and this poor guy asked me “I know you’re not an expert or anything, but which ones are unscented?” I gladly helped him find what he needed – he was clearly trying, and I feel like that should be encouraged!

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Agreed – I’m always willing to help out in that aisle while hunting for where they have moved my preferred brand/what have they changed the packaging too this time.

      2. All the words*

        And I swear they change the packaging every 6 months so even buying them for myself was sometimes a bit of a hunt.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Strong Agree. Can’t they just decide on a package and stop changing it? It’s the primary reason my spouse struggles buying supplies for me – because the packaging keeps flipping changing…….

      3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh my yes. I mean, I work IT – I know the importance of the exact error message screenshot :p

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Old engineering measurement device would only connect via parallel port and the software for it would only run on Windows 3.1…the company that made it had gone bust years ago but we had to keep that device running.

        Joys of tech support :)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Oh man, I remember trying to play Myst on Windows 3.1.

          *clicks on screen*
          *waits five minutes for something to happen*
          *repeat ad nauseum*

          1. Magenta Sky*

            I once saw an account of someone who had managed to get Doom to run on a 386 by overclocking it to an obscene degree. The camera would only turn in 30 degree increments (so you couldn’t shoot anything only 15 degrees off from where you were aiming). They said it worked, sort of, until they started drinking the coolant. (They mounted it inside a freezer and used frozen tequila as coolant. Once they started drinking it, the motherboard caught on fire.)

        2. Magenta Sky*

          I know the feeling. We have paint mixing machines that have a hardware dongle that plugs into a 25 pin serial port. Though we can, at least, buy replacement PCs from the manufacturer, and we’ve finally gotten rid of all the old XP machines.

        3. never mind where I work*

          Thank you for explaining. Apparently I wasn’t the only person who wondered what you were doing with Win 3.1 ten years ago. :-)

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        He was aye. That company was my first introduction to the myriad accents of my fair country. I grew up in a very remote Wiltshire village.

  10. HannahS*

    I completely agree. Also, it might be helpful to specify “just regular ones, from any brand” or state your specific preference, if you have them. I know that for most people, anything will do in a pinch, but I’ve definitely been the grateful but uncomfortable recipient of someone else’s spare tampon when their preferences were very different from mine (cardboard applicator vs. plastic vs. none). Or like, getting pantyliners when you’re trying to stem the River Styx, as it were. So, specify as necessary.

    1. Nora*

      I use tampons without applicators so I’ve definitely had that moment where someone asked for one and I’m like yes I have it but you probably don’t use this type.

      I’ve also had the “they are much more absorbing than they look” convo about the always xtra protection liners, but if people don’t buy that I totally get it. Not something to be iffy about.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Right there with you. Had someone decline my offer to share when they realized mine didn’t have the applicator. I think that’s a harder switch – no applicator if your used to having one.

        1. Mannequin*

          I’d use one in a pinch but I really disliked them- they didn’t work well w/my anatomy and I could never get them, um, settled in the correct location, shall we say.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Yup – I have never in almost 30 years found an applicator that worked comfortably and quickly for me. So why spend the extra money for something I’ll not use?

    2. Katie*

      I’d go further than specify “just regular ones, from any brand” and specify “SIZE regular, from any brand” because of the double meaning of regular. Someone may get you the wrong size and then be like, “But I didn’t get you the fancy tampons, I got you the regular ones!” (where fancy could be organic, or no applicator, or a tiny applicator, or a colorful applicator, or any other tampon innovation)

      1. AnonEMoose*

        And if you care about it, be sure to specify deoderant/non-deoderant! The “deoderant” ones are not a good choice for me!

  11. Student*

    I don’t want to use company-stocked feminine hygiene products if they are as cheap and low-quality as the company-stocked toilet paper, hand soap, and other basic supplies. Is there such a thing as half-ply toilet paper? Because if there is, that’s what work buys. Watered-down soap is an ever-present nuisance. Don’t get me started on the pens they provide! With that kind of pro stocking, I’d be going through 6-8 low-quality feminine hygiene products in a day and I’d probably get a rash from them to boot.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Oh memories of my last workplace where there was ONE sanitary supplies dispenser in the building. Ground floor women’s bogs.

      I worked on the 5th floor. According to my staff at the time though you were better off just wadding toilet roll anyway as what that machine dispensed was worse than useless.

    2. Jennifer*

      Yes, the few places that keep tampons on hand are the worst quality and I’d almost be afraid to use. It’s such an intimate product.

    3. pancakes*

      What you’re describing is a workplace-specific problem of extreme cheapness, not a problem inherent in supplying people with basic bathroom stuff.

      1. Jennifer*

        I think many public bathrooms have the same issue, just based on personal experience, I don’t think it’s just specific to that company.

        1. pancakes*

          I suppose, but both Alison’s reply to the letter and the commenter I replied to are talking about workplaces.

    4. collectdust*

      this just reminded me – sort of off topic, but not really?

      if someone is donating to a shelter – homeless, domestic violence, etc – money is nearly always best. they know how to spend it better than we do. the exception is name brand products like tampons, soap, bras, formula. the products stocked, because needs must, are almost always the lowest quality. i know from people who were in charge of shopping for a dv shelter that these donations were very well appreciated.

      1. I edit everything*

        Middle and high schools are desperate for period products, too. A group I’m a part of just did a product drive for all the school districts in our area, and they were extremely grateful to receive them.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s pretty sad. This ought to be funded as part of the school budget rather than have the students rely on donations.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            The government where I live proudly announced a few years ago that pads and tampons could henceforth be accessed for free at school… and then refused to give schools any money to purchase them. The teachers all kind of shrugged and went back to what we had been doing anyway, buying them ourselves, accepting donations or collecting massive quantities of the promotional packs from the manufacturers.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Promotional pack hoarding was the strategy for my high school 20+ years ago. Because budget.

      2. Sloanicote*

        Yeah I just saw a bunch of posts on social media about either donating $5 or dropping off a load of supplies to a shelter as a tribute to Betty White. My non-profit heart flinched at both ideas; making single tiny donations can be quite tricky on many org, but spending your own money to buy and drop off $20 worth of supplies is also probably inefficient. It’s a generous impulse but please trust the org enough to donate $$ in a reasonable sum!

        1. feral faerie*

          Eh, as a former non profit worker, I disagree with the first point about small donations. It’s odd to suggest that people are donating $5 because they don’t trust the organization enough with their money. That might be the case, but maybe someone wants to donate something but a large donation is not in their budget. Their $5 aren’t useless, and if many of people in similar positions are donating in the $5-10 range, those donations do add up. I’m subscribed to a number of nonprofits via email and a lot of them will do donation drives where they encourage people to donate any amount that they can.

          In terms of supplies, when I did street outreach for a syringe exchange in a large city, a bag of donated socks meant that 10-15 people on the street now had a fresh pair of socks and could change out of wet/soiled ones and reduce the risk of serious infection. We could always find a use for them as the parent organization (which had a much larger budget) would not pay for socks, underwear, or a number of other important hygiene items.

          1. collectdust*

            it really is about learning about the org one wants to support and what works best for them. i also know that if someone can afford it, a year of $5 donations are better than $60 dollars once. being able to plan for a smaller donation is more useful than a 1 time thing. but for so many orgs, any amount of engagement is useful (except for things like expired food, half used OTC drugs, clothes you’d otherwise throw away, etc)

        2. Mannequin*

          And many people can only afford to give tiny single donations- would you prefer those people not give at all?

    5. bookworm*

      years ago when I was a senior in college, not only were there no period products available, but someone in the administration decided to remove all of the individual trash cans from bathroom stalls in the student center because they made more work for janitorial staff than just having one big trash can to empty. So many people complained, and I think they did eventually fix it, but yet another example of ridiculous penny pinching with no understanding of menstruating students’ needs

      1. UKDancer*

        I had that in one of my previous companies, also as a cost cutting measure. They removed all the bins from the stalls in the ladies (and probably also the gents). Being more than usually confident I was deputed by the other female staff to go to explain to the male director why we needed them back. They felt it was too awkward to ask.

        It was one of the more embarrassing conversations of my life. Our director was really sweet but a bit unworldly so the reason for the bins being in stalls had escaped him. He went a lovely shade of beetroot. I should say we got the bins back later that week but it took a while longer for him to stop blushing whenever he looked at me.

      2. Fancy Owl*

        In fairness to the janitorial staff, I used to clean bathrooms at work and the individual trash bins were a significant amount of additional work and waste. You’d be astonished how many women just drop their unwrapped tampons straight into the little bin without checking if there is a bag or if the bag has gotten dislodged. Leaving me to fish them out later. And you can’t consolidate or reuse those bags. I don’t think it’s really much of a hardship to just wrap your product in toilet paper and put it in the main bin when you leave the stall.

        1. bookworm*

          It actually is a significant hassle. Where am I supposed to put my used, wrapped product while I’m unwrapping/applying the new one and finishing other bathroom business? If I’ve got a purse or anything else in the stall with me when I’m leaving, I now have both hands full while trying to exit the stall and make my way to the trash, which is inevitably located by the door since that’s where people are depositing paper towels on their way out. In a crowded bathroom I’m then trying to swim against traffic to get back to the sinks. Also, there are times when no reasonable amount of toilet paper is going to keep a product from being a huge mess to carry any kind of distance.

    6. Caramel*

      In England you can buy shop brand products from leading retailers and they are cheap and good (I’m extremely heavy).

    7. NotRealAnonForThis*

      True, but at the same time, in cases of what we’ve affectionately (not) termed “unfortunate femininity moments”, its the far lesser of two evils!

  12. Your Local Password Resetter*

    Getting tampons is like getting toilet paper, only some people are lucky enough not to need it.
    It’s a standard part of their job, and if they get weird about it that’s their problem.

    You also have the advantage that you are the senior employee, and that this is their actual job, so it should be easy to just send any weirdness right back at them and make them deal with it themselves.

  13. Pricilla Queen of the Office*

    When I was a manager at my store, I always kept an open locker for general feminine supplies, midol, a box of tampons, and a few pads. The other ladies at the store contributed sometimes, or passed me cash, but for the most part I stocked it. When I left one of the things I did was turn over the running of it to my male counterparts. It’s been two years and I’m curious if it was kept stocked. I’ll look into it.

    1. Clorinda*

      As a high school teacher, I keep a box of pads in my desk (no medications, obviously). It’s just a normal part of my office supplies, right next to the spare pencils.

  14. Allornone*

    The only place I worked at that provided tampons was Borders bookstore back in my retail days. When they closed down, I took the remaining ones. The other women in my location didn’t want them because they were not very discreet and not very comfortable. But to me, they were just free. I didn’t have to buy tampons for a full year! Incidentally, now I don’t have to buy tampons because my IUD makes my period go away almost completely, but hey, whatever.

  15. Ana Gram*

    I don’t think it’s an issue to ask an assistant to grab tampons, pads, etc. but I’m so picky about those items that I always keep a little kit in my bag. And a picture on my phone if I need my husband to pick some up while he’s shopping!

  16. Kiki*

    If this was me I’d probably do a Walgreen’s order for pick-up and have him pick up a completed order, or order from Walgreen’s on Uber Eats. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for what you need of an assistant, I just wouldn’t want to deal with saying “this kind if they have it, that kind if not, needs an applicator” etc.
    I’ve also known men from some cultures where it was deeply stigmatized.

    1. Delta Delta*

      This is a clever way to do it, if it’s possible/accessible. Then you don’t have to spend 10 minutes describing the brand/style/type/color of box, etc, to someone who may not know what they’re looking for.

    2. Mannequin*

      Someone being from a culture where it is deeply stigmatized is, AFAIC, totally a “them” problem. I’m not going to make their culturally approved misogyny comfortable for them.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. To be fair, most of those would probably be uncomfortable with dealing with women in the workplace in any but the most subservient positions, and wouldn’t voluntarily work for a female manager. The point is probably moot. It’s a bit different for the average white guy who’s been used to women in authority since childhood, as most of their teachers have probably been women. Yet many of them, too, have misogynistic attitudes to feminine health and hygiene issues, even if they’re perfectly comfortable working for a female manager.

  17. Non-techy tech editor*

    I used to work as a reporter and would be out and about a lot during the day, and in the office the rest of the time. I once had an editor ask me to pick up underwear for her while I was out because she had an unexpected surprise. Way worse than buying tampons.

    1. Siege*

      My sister-in-law and I once went to Victoria’s Secret for a friend of hers who had medical issues following a car accident. For reasons too long to get into, this was actually the best option, but neither of us shop at VS, so we were trying to find a specific type of panty with green in the pattern (any pattern) and I’m sure we would have looked much less ridiculous if we had just been there to make creepy comments to the staff and hit on the customers, or if we were visibly scoping the place out for a burglary later. It – we – were so awkward, and we are functional adult women who have been buying our own underwear for years and years.

  18. bookworm*

    re: uses of tampons, all I can think of is the scene in She’s the Man (and replicated IRL by at least one international soccer player) shoving one up the nose to stop a nosebleed…

    1. Buni*

      They were invented for emergency treatment of bullet wounds in the battlefield – I know one paramedic who still carries them in the ambulance stock for just that reason.

      1. Valancy Snaith*

        This is a common misconception, but tampons have been used for thousands of years by women all over the world (obviously not using cotton, but locally-available materials). Modern tampons were patented in the 1930s, explicitly for menstrual use, not derived from battlefield emergency treatment.

  19. csj*

    Ask him, lots of guys these days wont bat an eyelid, and if they would, it’s good for them to get over it.

    But please be specific. If he’s already nervous about it he’ll have an aneurysm when he sees the endless variety on the shelf :)

    1. PhyllisB*

      Yep. I was in my local Walmart one day and saw a man on the feminine supplies’ aisle looking totally lost. I asked him if he needed help, and he said, “I didn’t realize there were so many kinds!!” I helped him as best I could, but suggested the next time get his wife to show him the box. (This was before the days of cell phones.)

    2. Dragon*

      A male comedian said he found the tampon section in the supermarket, and thought, “Well, that was easy.“

      Then he took a closer look and thought, “Wait a minute. These things come in sizes?!”

  20. Lots of Things Leak*

    I’m sure OP can provide a better answer regarding their job, but tampons can be used plug leaks in a range of situations. I had a friend who worked on boats and had a strategy for temporarily plugging small holes while out at sea that went: insert tampon into tip of rolled condom, partially unroll condom over tampon, twist to lock tampon inside, place tampon-filled condom open-end first through hole towards water, hold in place while condom untwists and water expands the tampon to hold everything in place. Leak is now tolerably plugged for a few hours. Obviously only works for certain sizes of leak, but…I’m sure the “soft facbric plug that swells to fill a tampon-sized space” has other similar applications.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      On this same topic, when I worked in an area with a lot of gang violence and drivebys, tampons were stocked in the first aid kit, and we were told to use them in the event someone at our facility received a gunshot wound, while waiting for the ambulance.

    2. Katherine Vigneras*

      That’s some McGuyver stuff! I love it. I’ve also used tampons to contain a nosebleed – OB are great as they have a sort of slim, bullety shape and are substantial/dense enough to stay in place.

    3. The Katie*

      I just remembered the sanitary pad advert where they fix a hole in a convertible top with a pad.

  21. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    Should be totally fine to ask an assistant or coworker to grab things like tampons, but having grown up being asked to run out and do this for siblings when needed, I’ve been informed that preferences/requirements in hygine products varies by individual from “anything in this general category” to “no, I need this very precise and specific type.” Your male coworker is unlikely to understand the differences between the products, so a screenshot or text of your preferred product will be much appreciated.

  22. Jennifer*

    Lol, poor Gary. I think he jacked up his shoulder carrying around all of Selina’s supplies.

    I think it’s a good idea just to have an emergency kit in your desk or wherever it’s convenient. A lot of us are particular about the kinds of products we need and I’ve found it’s just easier to order them for myself when I order my own personal groceries and take a few supplies to work with me. That way if there’s an urgent need, you don’t have to wait for someone to run to the store and possibly end up getting delayed due to traffic, lines, etc.

    I also want you to know I understand why you felt weird about asking. There shouldn’t be any shame surrounding periods but many of us grew up with it. I still feel a little weird buying tampons sometimes when there are only male cashiers working because I can remember getting laughed at for buying period products by some teenage boy when I was a kid. One day at a time. Don’t beat yourself up too much but keep working at removing the stigma.

    1. Texan In Exile*

      Remember throwing in all kinds of other junk you didn’t really want so the cashier wouldn’t notice you were buying tampons? It became even more expensive than it needed to be.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yes! I used to hide them in the basket, pretend I was browsing just to wait until the a female cashier came back from break, all kinds of silly things.

          1. starsaphire*

            This, for sure.

            Tampons, Advil, bottle of wine, pint of Haagen Dazs. NO one will mess with you.

  23. Just Me*

    I am officially changing the name of my EDC (every day carry) to Leviathan. It has a bunch of seemingly random stuff but it is carefully crafted to work for me. All tampons are for personal use and I am very curious about how they might be used as work. Maybe the OP is a prop maker and they are exceptionally good at making textures or soaking up paint?

    1. OhNo*

      I’ll admit, I love seeing what everyone else calls their stash of supplies. “Leviathan” does make it sound very cool, but I learned “JIC kit” (stands for ‘just in case’, usually pronounced as “jikkit”) when out camping as a kid, and I’ve been using it for so long, I don’t think I could change at this point.

    2. pancakes*

      It’s not exactly personal use when food stylists microwave them and hide them in or behind a dish to create steam. I’m sure there are other creative ways to use them, but that’s one I’ve read about.

    3. Selina Luna*

      If you watch the movie, Spare Parts, about a real-life high school robotics team, they use tampons to stop water from frying their computer hardware during a competition. The things hold a LOT of liquid and are dirt cheap.

  24. Green Beans*

    Please tell me you shoot tampon commercials.
    Or you provide medical services for professional athletes.
    But I really want it to be one of the two.

  25. bottomless pit*

    Just ask, best to pick out the item and send a link or screenshot so you get exactly what you want.

    On a separate note – consider getting a menstrual cup. I have one for my purse and another to keep at home or in my gym bag. It’s so nice to never worry about restocking, it’s just a small thing that’s always on deck for me.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      I second the recommendation of a cup – there are times when going to the bathroom to change things out every 30-60 minutes just isn’t reasonable. I’ve now had surgery to correct the problem so no longer need it but it was definitely a relief to have that near the end. (Also helped me prove to my Dr how bad the problem was and got me on the schedule faster).

    2. londonedit*

      Menstrual cups are brilliant if they work for you, and I absolutely love mine, but I’ve learned to tone down my evangelism because they really don’t work for everyone and a lot of people do get irritated when ‘get yourself a menstrual cup!!’ is mentioned at the first sign of any period chat.

      1. UKDancer*

        Can relate. I had one friend who loved them with the ardor of the convert and kept going on about them to the rest of us in the social circle until we wanted to strangle her and banned her from mentioning them as we were all sick of it. They definitely work for some people better than others.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Yeah, there’s a mate of mine I had to have a VERY irate word with because she would not stop trying to get me to buy a cup and wouldn’t stop badgering me about why I kept saying I can’t use them.

          Because I can’t. End of.

          We’re okay now though, I think having me swear at her for a bit made her realise hat maybe she’d gone too far!

          1. Anonymous Luddite*

            I file menstrual supplies, veganism, cross fit, Burning man, and THC in the same category.
            The people who have opinions have STRONG opinions and won’t stop.

      2. RagingADHD*

        Let’s face it, “You should change a very intimate part of your lifestyle because my way is superior” is never really a welcome comment, about any topic.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I always meant it more as ‘Have you heard about these? I totally love mine, it’s brilliant’ but at this point it’s the period equivalent of ‘Have you tried yoga?’

      3. Nora*

        Same here, I got one and am really enjoying using it during the pandemic but now that I am more familiar I know they definitely do not work in many situations (including my pre-pandemic life)

      4. LOLno*

        I absolutely loved my cup for the first 6 months and then it began giving me recurring UTIs! So I appreciate that :(

  26. LizB*

    The women’s bathrooms in my office building have jars of menstrual products, but not provided by the org, just from in-kind donations of various women who work in the building. Not ideal, but at least there’s a back-up stash for anyone who uses the bathroom and might need them. No idea if a similar stash is available in the men’s bathrooms (we don’t have any gender-neutral or single-user options, sadly) but I kind of doubt it.

  27. NerdyKris*

    “More broadly: workplaces really need to routinely stock menstrual hygiene products the same way they provide toilet paper, hand soap, and other basic supplies, which would make this a non-issue.”

    Seriously guys out there, keep a small package of pads and one of tampons in your bathroom at all times even if you live alone. Women in your life will thank you that one time they need it.

    1. After 33 years ...*

      Our province has now committed to stock menstrual hygiene products in bathrooms in all schools with Grade 4 students (age~9-10) and older.

    2. SleepyKitten*

      Yes! And if you can only get one product, winged pads are where it’s at. Lots of people have problems with internal products, and wings stop the damn things turning upside down somehow

      1. Daisy Avalin*

        Sadly, not for me, I hate winged pads! They always ended up twisting and sticking where they shouldn’t, for me!
        I use re-usable ones now, but still keep some always in my bag, for emergencies/lending out

  28. MGW*

    Last month at work my period decided to do the whole “you thought you were done 2 days ago but surprise! Have an extra day” thing and in desperation I looked at the cupboard under the sink and was surprised to find maxi pads, pantiliners, and tampons. Also several large bottles of Advil, fully stocked first aid kit, and some other nice to have supplies. I’ve worked here since June and I guess no one thinks to include “cupboard under the sink” in their clinic tour but it was a pleasant surprise for sure.

  29. Construction Safety*

    “what is this work capacity? I must know”
    I’m guessing she a hitwoman. The tampons are for filling the holes of collateral damage vics.

  30. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    Anecdote: For years our toilets (single stall, gender neutral) did not have any sanitary supplies. Finally, two members of senior staff got building services to install cabinetry with sanitary supplies of all types. A variety of menstrual products, tissues, extra soaps and hand sanitizers. Their push to get the restrooms equipped was done publicly. It really, really helped others be more comfortable advocating for needs that were previously socially stigmatized. This is all to say that this could actually have more positive knock on effects than you think! If your assistants are comfortable retrieving tampons, they can show others who might be uncomfortable that it’s not weird, it’s the same as buying tissues, or Motrin, or whatever your lead requires.

  31. Blarg*

    I used to have season tickets to a baseball team. The usher in my section was well known for being well stocked — he’d have sharpies for autographs, sunscreen, bandaids, you name it. But he didn’t have tampons or pads. He made a joke about it once, that it was the only thing he didn’t carry. So at the end of my first season, I made him a little gift bag as a thanks. Freshened up his marker stock — and got him pads and tampons. Which he proudly showed off the next season, and continued to keep them on hand after that. I think he didn’t know where to ‘start’ with buying them, as he was in his 70s and as he told me, his wife hadn’t needed them in quite a few years. I moved away a few years ago, but I like to think he’ll be there again in April, with masks and hand sanitizer, and pads and tampons.

  32. Construction Safety*

    FWIW, MoCS cured my (16-YO-w/new driver’s license) self of any shyness while she corralled the 6, 4, & 3 YOs at the house.

  33. Montre*

    I worked somewhere we had to use condoms to line parts of a centrifuge. New employees were always quite embarrassed when they opened that cabinet for the first time and we told them what needed to be done.

    1. drtheliz*

      Oh, my favourite is the Durex senior lab guy in the 90s. They were doing a comparison test with the competition, and you *can* request samples but it’s a lot of paperwork and takes weeks. So he says “stuff it”, goes to the local supermarket on his lunch break and gets a basket full of condoms – wide variety of brands. But it’s a work expense, you do still need the proper paperwork for reimbursement.

      So you’ve got this 90s yuppie type, suit and tie, with a basket FULL of condoms, asking for a tax receipt.

  34. Nene Poppy*

    We keep a small amount of sanitary supplies along with wipes and a few disposable nappies locked in the unit under the washbasin – quality products, not the rough cheap stuff (shudder). There is a little card on the mirror telling visitors to contact reception if they need anything. We will then give them the key. We don’t leave the unit unlocked as there have been problems with visitors helping themselves to the whole box!

  35. StellaBella*

    “More broadly: workplaces really need to routinely stock menstrual hygiene products the same way they provide toilet paper, hand soap, and other basic supplies, which would make this a non-issue.”
    All good employers have these supplies on hand.

  36. M2*

    I worked at an office years ago that had sanitary pads and tampons and bought Tampax and always two good brands! Unfortunately, people used to hoard/ take lots home so a message went out asking people to only use what they needed at work. It continued so then they bought cheaper brands and get dispensers where only one came out at a time.

    For the record they paid above market value and if you worked after a certain time paid for a dinner and had a service to drive you home if it was very late and needed so they weren’t stingy.

    1. rnr*

      This is why we can’t have nice things! A dispenser is probably a good idea, although not one where you have to pay, because a lot of people won’t have any money on them when they go to the bathroom at work. (After all, if you had your purse, you probably wouldn’t need an emergency tampon.) I worked at a place that always stocked 2 tampons on top of the toilet paper case in each stall, so they were available if necessary, but it would be hard for someone to take a bunch. That saved me a few times. I don’t love the cardboard applicators, but I’ll take what I can get in that situation.

  37. Blue Puck*

    Back when we had an office, our office manager was excellent at keeping feminine products stocked.
    Quality products, lots of choices, always plentiful.
    HE was just excellent in general though and always choose office products and other supplies with a discerning eye.
    His job was to keep the office supplied and he did it well. ALL parts of it.
    Just treat it like it is just an ordinary part of the job, because it is.

    Gosh, I miss the free liquid creamer and heavily discounted vending machines…

  38. Ellena*

    since you also send him out for sanitary supplies when they’re needed in a work capacity (what is this work capacity? I must know)

    I second that! I must know too :D

  39. Just Another Techie*

    Every place I have worked in the last fifteen years provided a stock of free tampons and menstrual pads, and not one was there any indication that they were being taken in bulk

  40. CeeKee*

    I…kind of don’t love this answer? It has nothing to do with the assistant being a man, but I’ve been (and currently am) an assistant whose job explicitly does include personal/household errands and have also been an assistant whose job was to provide strictly professional and project-based support, and in the latter case I would have been pretty affronted if my boss had asked me to start picking up personal things for him/her. It’s one thing to, as the LW says, grab things while I’m already out. I would do that for any co-worker, really (“hey, I’m going to the market, do you need anything?”). But it’s another thing to be asked to start making special trips to do personal shopping, whether it’s tampons or coffee or dry-cleaning. If it’s truly an emergency and her absence “would have jeopardized the whole job,” then I think she has some latitude, but as a general habit, unless he’s a personal assistant, he shouldn’t have to do her errands for her.

    1. Jennifer*

      I was thinking this too but I assumed maybe this assistant is actually a personal assistant. Picking up something when you are already out is one thing but sending them on special errand trips is another thing altogether. If the job is supposed to provide professional support, they shouldn’t be running out to buy tampons, tissues or anything.

      1. CeeKee*

        Yes, if the assistant is a personal assistant too, then that’s a different story. That’s not what I was inferring from the question, but I definitely could be making wrong assumptions here.

    2. anonymous73*

      That was my first thought…glad it wasn’t just me. Having your workplace assistant run personal errands for you is not cool, nor should it be expected. Urgent situations are different, and I would hope that ANY colleague would be willing to help out in that situation, but in general…nope.

        1. Not actually the OP*

          Also I’m not acutally the OP – that was from when I was replying to my own letter and I guess I haven’t updated this.

          1. Jennifer*

            This situation was urgent but from the letter it seems she routinely asks the assistant to pick up items like tissues and hand sanitizer. I would run out and buy period products for anyone who had an urgent need for them just as a courtesy but it shouldn’t be an everyday expectation from an assistant if they are supposed to only be providing professional support.

            1. Persephone Mulberry*

              I would trust the LW writer to know better than us what types of tasks are appropriate for her to assign to her assistant.

                1. Allegra*

                  She’s not asking about the fact of making the errand run–it seems like that’s accepted as normal for the role. She’s asking about adding a specific item into the errand run.

            2. Kevin Sours*

              From the sound of it the situation is you have one person who is a specialist working on a time sensitive client task and one person whose job description is “whatever it takes to keep the specialist focused on the task at hand”. I don’t think that’s an especially unusual arrangment.

            3. Not actually the OP*

              But the letter writer said for the other stuff it’s “when they are out and about”. I don’t see any problem with “I need you to go to XYZ supply store and get this specific work supply and while you’re out can you stop at Walgreens and grab a bottle of hand sanitizer? We’re low”.

              But also if it’s the norm in that industry I don’t really feel like there’s any issue at all.

        2. anonymous73*

          I never said it wasn’t. The letter states that she asks him to run other personal errands for her.

            1. Curiouser*

              Why are tissues you use at work less personal than tampons you use at work? Both are absorbing your personal body fluids, while at work.

              1. Dahlia*

                I don’t think asking your assistant to grab you tampons IS a personal errand either!

                Hand sanitizer just seemed incredibly odd to label as a personal errand in these pandemic times.

            2. anonymous73*

              OP called those things out herself when mentioning things outside the realm of work. Stop with the nitpicking FFS. The bottom line is that unless someone is your personal assistant, they shouldn’t be running errands that aren’t work related. If someone (ANYONE, not just an assistant) is running out for something, then asking them to grab something for you is fine.

              1. Dahlia*

                It IS work related when it would take OP away from work, though. If the person who the job relies on sliced their hand open and asked the assistant to grab a bandaid, would you be angry OP wasn’t doing it themselves?

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        If she asks female assistants to do the task without batting an eye, but hesitates with a male assistant, does the urgency even matter? If this type of errand is part of the job description, then she can’t be basing who gets asked to do it based on sex or gender.

        1. CeeKee*

          No, I don’t think she should base it on gender at all. My comment was about whether she should ask ANY assistant to do this, as a matter of course.

        2. Nanani*

          This is true. If personal items are okay to request in general, then set gender/sex/menstrual status aside and just add it to the list.
          If not, then don’t regardless of whether its tampons, shoelaces, or coffee.

    3. Koa*

      I thought the same but seemed to be in the minority. Male or not, I would not ask professional subordinates to pick up sanitary supplies for me….just something I would not feel comfortable asking for or even doing for someone else I wasn’t close to.
      I absolutely agree that businesses should make a habit of providing these things tho, in which case, no one would have to run out to get them at all!

      1. Katherine Vigneras*

        I mean this genuinely, but is it more comfortable to bleed through undergarments, possibly such that others can see the blood, than to ask for help obtaining sanitary products (or alternately obtaining them for someone else’s use)? I would find a pad or a tampon for my worst enemy, if they were in need.

        1. Yorick*

          Agreed. Just like I would do whatever I could to help a coworker who peed or was in danger of peeing themselves, for example.

        2. Jennifer*

          I think most people here are saying they would help anyone with an urgent need. I happen to agree with Koa and would either run out myself or place a rush order on postmates or something, but would be happy to help anyone in need. They are objecting to an assistant who is supposed to provide professional support routinely being sent out on personal errands.

          1. EventPlannerGal*

            It sounds like whether this is in the job description or not, it’s a de facto expectation and happens routinely. The argument that assistants should only be asked to do tasks strictly within the scope of the job description is a reasonable one, but it’s a different argument. If assistants can be asked to fetch coffee or tissues, which they are, they can be asked to fetch tampons. (And it sounds like fetching tampons specifically is in fact a routine work-related task for them anyway, rendering the entire argument pretty pointless.)

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, to your parenthesis. It’s really a no-brainer in this particular case. But I do think it’s odd if this has happened multiple times. I get it that some people have a very irregular cycle, but if so, maybe the first step would be to ensure they always carry tampons on them rather than relying on their assistants to get them?

              Once can be an emergency and happen to anyone, but more than once is pure sloppiness.

      1. CeeKee*

        Well no, what she said was “errands to get me extra elements to facilitate what we are creating,” (which sounds to me like project-specific errands) and that “assistants also will pick up the odd thing for the lead when they are out and about.” This, to me, read differently than it would if she had said “my assistant regularly goes out specifically to run personal errands for me,” which is why I responded the way I did. But if I’m wrong and the assistant’s job description DOES include running regular personal errands, then sure, tampons are as fine as anything else.

    4. McS*

      My assumption is that she is working at a client site and the assistant is fulfilling some roles that would normally be with a facilities manager for a work site. If she’s at a main work site, the right answer is definitely for them to be supplied in the bathrooms. Supplying necessities to get through a work day is an appropriate role for someone your employer pays. Getting tampons or coffee is different from picking up dry cleaning or making dinner reservations because the coffee and tampons support you while you’re working and can’t be done by you outside of your work day.

    5. Essess*

      That was my reaction too. The description sounded like a work assistant for items needed for the project, not a personal assistant to run errands like coffee and dry cleaning and shopping. In that case, it wouldn’t be appropriate for any gender assistant to go buy personal hygiene supplies for the OP.

    6. RagingADHD*

      Putting myself in the position of the assistant, I would think it was odd but not a big deal, especially if it were urgent. Then again I’m also a woman and it’s a “sisterhood” thing. If I were never, ever asked to do personal errands for anything else then yes, I would feel a bit put-upon but wouldn’t object unless it turned into a pattern of scope creep on my general job description.

      Putting myself in the position of the boss, I would be deeply uncomfortable with it, and I would much rather risk pushing back the deadline or needing to call in extra professional backup, etc, than to ask this of a guy I am not blood related to or living with. TBH, I’d rather MacGuyver something out of TP and paper towels to tide me over.

      That’s not a rule or anything I think should be a general policy for anyone else. I just personally…couldn’t bring myself to.

      1. allathian*

        Yep, hard agree on this one! I have no problems asking my husband to get feminine hygiene products for me, and I’m doing my best to teach my preteen son that periods are a part of life for most girls and women of childbearing age and some trans men and gender non-conforming people, and nothing to be embarrassed about.

        But this doesn’t mean that I’d be happy to announce my cycle to my coworkers, regardless of gender or position in the organization. But then, I usually have pads in my bag when I’m at the office, and if I find that I’ve run out, I have flexible hours and nobody would bat an eyelash if I went to the store in the middle of the day to pick up supplies. My job is also rarely time-critical, and never so time-critical that I’d have to ask someone else for a pad in an emergency. There’s a grocery store in our office building at street level.

    7. SaffyTaffy*

      I dunno, think of it like a medical thing. If you need Tylenol, the assistant gets Tylenol.

  41. Siege*

    The grocery store closest to my house stocks tampons and pads (a couple kinds of each) in a cup on the counter in the women’s room. Totally free to take, and the restroom is publicly accessible. It’s really awesome, particularly as open-access bathrooms decline.

  42. monogodo*

    The summer after graduating HS, I was the only male employee working at the shoe store. One of my coworkers needed tampons (or pads, can’t remember which, this was 35 years ago), but wasn’t comfortable walking the 3-4 blocks to the pharmacy to get them. I offered to get them for her. She asked if I was sure, I said yes, she just had to be specific as to what she wanted, as I wasn’t about to guess for her.

    The only semi-embarrassing part of the whole thing was that the cashier happened to be my prom date from a few months earlier.

    I think part of the reason I didn’t have an issue with it was my step-mom used to keep her supplies in the open in the bathroom. When I’d be doing my business, I’d read the packages. So to me, it’s always been a normal part of life.

    My wife appreciates that I have no issues with buying supplies for her (so long as she’s specific with what she wants).

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a male partner who isn’t in the least bit embarrassed or immature about it. I grew up with a dad who was disgusted when I started my period and a brother who got angry at commercials for the product and felt they should be banned like cigarette commercials.

      1. Macropodidae*

        I once sheepishly asked my future husband to buy me tampons: “Sure what kind?” I asked if he would be embarrassed and he responded, “Why would I be? They’re obviously not for me. Women will think I’m an awesome boyfriend and men will know I have a girlfriend. Win win.”

        1. allathian*

          I wish more men thought like your husband does. I’m also very glad that my husband treats my pads like any other item on the shopping list.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        My spouse’s only requirement is a picture of what he’s looking for because he assumed that this was a situation in which one did not want the “wrong kind”. To him, it’s no different than buying toilet paper or any other bathroom supply. I always find this interesting because I would assume that neither his father nor brother would be comfortable with it at all.

  43. JAASON*

    Tampons/pads for work related things?

    The forklift mechanic at my former job would use them for oil leaks as a temporary fix until the machine could be taken out of service to be fixed. They would stick and stay in place and hold a surprisingly amount of oil for a minor leak or drip. I think if it was too hard to fix the drip he would just replace the pad every few weeks.

  44. McS*

    I think this question lies somewhere between “can I ask a pregnant assistant to get me coffee?” and “can I ask my assistant to go out for toilet paper if the bathroom is out?” If the answer to both of those is yes, then yes, ask any gender assistant to get tampons. But in all cases (coffee, tampons, and toilet paper) an employer that properly values employees’ time will have it onsite and no one should have to make a trip.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      This whole dilemma is so bizarre to me, coming from workplaces where asking support staff to do personal errands for an employee would be considered demeaning and Not Okay.

      But for sure, if it’s industry standard that assistants do personal errands, then I do agree that tampons should be fine. (Plus, I think a lot of men who are partnered with women are actually pretty used to this kind of errand, and if a particular assistant is not, all the more reason to normalize it.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I get what you’re saying, but even the male assistant could be perfectly happy to buy tampons for his girlfriend or wife, but might nevertheless feel weird about being asked to buy them for his supervisor. It’s not the same thing at all. Similarly, I don’t hesitate to ask my husband to buy pads for me when he’s going to the supermarket anyway, but I wouldn’t be comfortable asking my coworkers, regardless of gender, for pads. The only exception I could think of would be if my nose suddenly started bleeding heavily at work, then I might ask my female coworkers if any of them had a small tampon to spare (I only use pads).

  45. Don’t Call Me That*

    In our ladies bathroom we have a basket of communally-donated supplies of all kinds: floss picks, spray deodorant, liners, tampons, lotion. None of us really mind dropping a few extra tampons in the community bin for anyone to have just in case, and this way we have our favorite on hand if we’re in need ourselves. It’s a pretty small office, so supplies tend to last a while too.

  46. HLK_HLK45*

    Alison, never before have I agreed with your answers as much as this one. THANK YOU! I can’t tell you how traumatic it feels running out (in visible or invisible circumstances) and how shamed it’s made me feel. 1,000% this needs to be destigmatized and treated as part of typical office supplies.

  47. Miss V*

    I have a very good friend who owns a comic shop. He’s a straight cis man who nonetheless tries extremely hard to ensure his shop is inclusive and welcoming to everyone. The shop has a single public restroom, and he once asked me what the most common period product that would work for the most people was (he had limited space on the bathroom and didn’t have room to stock a lot, but had enough room for a box. I told him get a box of pads. I don’t know anyone who gets a period that can’t at least make one of those work for a little while in an emergency.)

    After he got the box he started getting complaints from some of his male customers about them. His response was always something along the lines of ‘do you think Captain America gets scared of pads? Pull it the eff together’

    One day one of the male employees had a hemorrhoid burst. He didn’t want to leave despite being offered to and he apparently ended up sticking one of those pads in his briefs to keep him from bleeding everywhere. Then whenever one of the customers would complain this 6 foot 200+ guy would state then dead in the eye and say ‘those are mine.’

    This is all a long winded way of saying ask the assistant to get you the tampons. Anyone who has a problem with it can keep their complaints to themselves.

    1. Observer*

      I love the whole thing. But ESPECIALLY ” Then whenever one of the customers would complain this 6 foot 200+ guy would state then dead in the eye and say ‘those are mine.’”

    2. Mannequin*

      What even were the complaints- “I had to look at evidence that periods exist!”?

      Because all I can think otherwise is someone snarking “why are there pads in the bathroom?!” and answering them “because people use them” and not even understanding why there was an issue, lol.

  48. awesome3*

    If you’re providing them to clients, double check your rules (I know commenters are saying you’re in the UK, so I have no idea what your laws there might be), but I know at my work we’re not allowed to provide tampons to clients, and most schools and community health orgs have the same rule, only pads can be given out.

    1. PT*

      I see people discussing Tylenol, Advil, and Midol, too. We had the same problem with that at one of my previous jobs. We had employees who were first aid certified as part of their job description and we were not allowed to keep OTC meds in the first aid kit because it was “outside the scope of certification.” We were not allowed to keep anything more medicinal than hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes, even tweezers had to go because they were surgical implements. If someone wanted to keep these things in the office, they usually ended up stocked in the office supply cabinet with the envelopes and paperclips and notepads.

      Also occasionally we had a first aid situation where someone would want to use a tampon to stop a nosebleed and we’d have to stop them, because you were not allowed to insert anything into the nostrils to control a nosebleed as per our certifications. So while we did tend to keep tampons near the first aid kits because that was an obvious communal place accessible to employees who might need them, they had to be kept clearly separate from the first aid supplies so people would know not to use them for first aid.

      To add to all this, there was one year the health inspector demanded we keep bar soap in the first aid kit even though there was no sink or running water anywhere near the first aid kit, but there was soap provided at all of the sinks in the facility. So we had a random bar of free hotel soap taped to the first aid kit that no one was allowed to use or move so we wouldn’t get a citation.

      It was surprisingly complicated, honestly.

      1. doreen*

        Are you sure someone at this job wasn’t just paranoid? Because while I can totally understand why someone with a first aid certification might not be permitted to give someone Tylenol or to use a tampon to stop a nosebleed , I don’t understand why you’d have to stop me from using a tampon to control my own nosebleed and I kind of wonder if first aid people at that job would also feel they had to stop people from using their own epi-pens.

        1. WS*

          Yeah, that’s pretty standard – if you’re not certified to give out medications, you can’t have medications to give out. My workplace has a drawer of medications you can give to yourself, but I can’t give them to you. I am certified for asthma relievers and epi-pens though.

  49. Industry Anon*

    This would be EXTREMELY common in the tv/film industry. Having production assistants of all genders get personal items for pretty much anyone on the cast/crew is just part of the job. I’m not suggesting we hold PAs up as an example of great working conditions, but the situation strikes me as similar to what OP describes: The principal workers are engaged in hands-on, time sensitive work that cannot be easily paused and the assistants are specifically hired to make sure the work does not have to be paused for errands that do not physically require the principal workers.

    1. Nora*

      I’m not in the field but my cousin is and I immediately assumed tv/movies was the OP’s industry. Especially the part where an assistant would be assigned to them for the project.

      I’m also reminded a bit of medical surgeons. Under normal circumstances it would be ridiculous to ask a skilled coworker to wipe up your sweat, but that’s what is required during surgery.

  50. TessSNYC*

    I strongly disagree with just about everyone here. I think everyone should take care of their own intimate hygiene issues. I understand that it is an emergency, and I think everyone woman dealt with their emergencies with a huge stack of toilet paper or tissues in their underwear and later learned to keep emergency supplies. Or, they asked around to other women in the office. There are always women who keep them in their purse 24/7. I don’t think women should ask men in the workplace to do this, the same way I wouldn’t want a man to ask his female assistant to pick up things like jock itch cream because he has sudden severe itching going on. This could be problematic especially if he is unfamiliar with buying tampons. I know just about every time my husband picks up tampons for me, there tends to be a lot of questions because they either changed the packaging of what he is familiar with or they ran out of that particular brand. Sometimes they’re out of a particular absorbency or quantity, and I just don’t think that a potentially awkward or embarrassing discussion of these personal intimate products should be discussed in a professional relationship.

    1. feral faerie*

      The letter mentioned that there weren’t other women present. This also isn’t an office job, it’s pretty clear from the letter that the LW is in a job the involves being onsite and possibly it’s a trade. This might be a job where she works long hours doing physical work. A wad of toilet paper and running to the bathroom frequently to check on it isn’t going to cut it in these circumstances.She mentioned that she ended up leaving the site which could have jeopardized the job, so it isn’t the kind of position where you can decide to take your break whenever you want and leave the site.

      I do think that in these circumstances, the best option is just to bring a few tampons or pads with you to work every day so that this isn’t an issue. In a situation like LW’s if an assistant getting tampons is an option, that is a much better alternative that putting toilet paper in your pants.

      1. TessSNYC*

        I guess I’m not really responding to this particular urgent, unusual instance, but more to the many replies on this topic about whether asking your assistant for intimate hygiene products is fair game. Personally, as a female assistant for many years, it always really bothered me when a male boss used to bother me all the time with running to provide them with personal care items.

        1. Not actually the OP*

          But this particular assistant’s job includes personal errands, which they presumably knew either because it’s industry standard or it was in the job description. The question is not “Is it OK to send my assistant on personal errands” because we’ve already established that this job does. The question is “My assistant will get me personal items like kleenex or tylenol, can I also ask them for tampons”. To which the answer is yes – if their job ***already includes*** personal items then tampons are fine.

    2. Nanani*

      Hi, we just had a holiday called “new year” and it is in fact 2022 now. Not 1962.

      Half the planet menstruates and if its that assistant’s job to pick up items for the boss, there is no valid reason to exclude tampons.
      If OP has an assistant, then sending the assistant to get tampons IS a way to take care of her own issues.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I think it entirely depends on whether grabbing personal items – any personal items, coffee, a sandwich, a pack of gum, whatever – is an accepted part of the job. Which it sounds like it is. If an assistant can pick those up, they can pick up a box of tampons. The idea that anything period-related is some shameful secret never to be mentioned is antiquated.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is where I am – we generally have a policy not sending staff on personal errands, so the issue for me is not that the item is menstrual supplies, it’s whether or not personal errands are part of this particular assistant’s job duties. If it is a personal assistant job, then it’s no big deal. If it’s an office admin job, it’s not appropriate.

        Having lived through a time where you were supposed to pack your drawers with stack of scratchy industrial TP or paper towels lest the men be aware we menstruate, I’ll take asking the personal assistant (regardless of gender) over fine-grit sanding my nethers.

    4. Mannequin*

      It’s literally no different than supplying your employees with toilet paper, or asking an assistant to pick some up at the store if there’s an unexpected occurrence that causes the TP at your work site to run out between maintenance shifts or regular supply orders.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      How is it any different to asking one’s personal assistant to pick up some loo roll because they’ve suddenly run out?

      They’re both sanitary items that are needed.

    6. Mannequin*

      Tampons = toilet paper

      Tampons ≠ “jock itch cream”

      By the way, if I was an assistant tasked with running PERSONAL errands as part of my job, I don’t see how it would be inappropriate to pick up any kind of medication for an employer of any gender, regardless of the condition it was for- why would it be? How would a male boss saying “please go to the drugstore and pick me up a bottle of Listerine & a tube of Lotrimin cream” be any weirder, or more inappropriate than the same male boss asking for a tube of hydrocortisone cream or neosporin?
      Neither would it be inappropriate for a boss of any gender to send me to the Bullseye for a pack of Hanes or Fruit of the Loom, whether we are talking about socks or t-shirts or underpants. How could it?

  51. Scottish Teapot*

    We are so lucky in Scotland. Free products in educational establishments and most public places now (my work place is one of these)

    1. Scotlibrarian*

      Yep, I work in a public library in Scotland. We have them in our public toilets and our staff toilets. They are there if anyone needs them, refilled as necessary. Exactly the same as for loo roll

  52. LL*

    My workplace just began including tampons in the bathrooms last year. I felt surprised to see them there, followed by surprise that they hadn’t been there before!

  53. Persephone Mongoose*

    If you’re regularly using tampons in the course of your work in addition to your own needs, then I don’t really see why this is a question. If it’s for work, it needs to be purchased. Period (pun kind of intended). The gender of the purchaser shouldn’t even come into play.

    Certainly it’s on men to not be squicked out about buying tampons in the year of our lord 2021, but this question is making it A Thing on its own — the assistant hasn’t even been asked to purchase them yet!

    As for personal tampons needed for their intended use…honestly, I would follow every other period-haver out there and keep a personal stash on hand that you supply yourself. To me, that’s just part and parcel of being an adult.

  54. feral faerie*

    I feel like in a situation where it’s urgent and the assistant role involves some personal errands occasionally, asking the assistant would be fine, regardless of gender. That being said, I don’t think LW should make a habit out of it- not because it involves tampons but more because it’s the type of thing they can prepare for on their own. I like leaving a few tampons or pads in my work bag just in case I get my period unexpectedly. There isn’t anything inherently wrong for asking an assistant to run that errand since it doesn’t sound like a major inconvenience, but if it got to the point where this person was going out and getting LW’s tampons every month then that would be odd (though there’s no indication in the letter that that would happen).

  55. LGC*

    …like, I sometimes joke about being the least qualified person to deal with menstruation BUT ALSO like…it wouldn’t kill me if I had to get some tampons for my boss. And even though I’d probably be a little uncomfortable…like, again, not going to die if my delicate gay man hands touch a box of Tampax. At least, I don’t think so.

    And if I do die, it was for a good cause.

  56. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I really want to know what kinds of jobs require the principal person to be there every second and their absence could jeopardize the whole job. I don’t need guesses about the OP but I really don’t know what kind of job this could be and so if you recognize your job in the general description, could you share?

    1. doreen*

      There are jobs where a person with a particular certification/license is required to be present at all times when work is being done – and if the work on demolishing a building has to be shut down for 20 minutes while the safety manager runs out to buy tampons , the demolition may still happen – but the safety manager might not be hired by that client again. It’s not really clear which “job” was in jeopardy – the actual work to be done or the LW’s job. I mentioned construction, but that’s not nearly the only type of job with this sort of requirement – it’s just that a lot of them have multiple employees with the same license /certification so it’s not really noticeable. But in my city, if the only person on duty with a food handler’s certification suddenly needs tampons or anything else, they will either have to send someone else or shut the restaurant down. (The same would be true for pharmacists, except that it’s hard to imagine an urgent need that couldn’t be fulfilled without going off-site)

  57. Miss Andry*

    Can a male assistant refuse to buy female hygiene items? Is there a chance this could be sexual harassment via TMI?

  58. OhNoYouDidn't*

    To me it’s weird to ask a work assistant to get me anything personal, whether it be sanitary products or deodorant, etc. To me it seems like that would be boundary pushing. But, then again, I don’t work in an environment where I have an assistant to get me anything, so my perspective is probably skewed. :)

  59. Goldenrod*

    While we are reminiscing…..I remember getting my period unexpectedly at work and the tampon machine in the bathroom was out of stock….as it usually was. I went to the supplies area in the back to grab one from where they were secretly stored (a female co-worker had told me that’s what she did when the machine didn’t work), and the guy working back there got very angry at me for doing that and actually demanded that I pay him a quarter.

    I took that opportunity to yell at him about how they should remember to fill the machine….why would you confront a desperate woman just trying to deal with her period?? He fully deserved that. :D

  60. Liina (she, her)*

    I have used tampons to help start a bonfire (stays dry, is compact and burns really well). As a scoutleader I tought this trick to all my scouts – boys and girls.

  61. Fred*

    I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I have bought pads for my wife (with very specific instructions for the ones she wanted) and I got over the embarrassment very quickly. It helped the supermarket staff didn’t bat an eyelid. On the other, I can understand why a male assistant will feel a little awkward if asked to do it for his boss (as opposed to someone he’s been having carnal relationships with) and telling him he shouldn’t feel awkward won’t make things any better.

    Really. I’d advise telling him it’s part of the job ahead of time.

  62. Amethystmoon*

    I agree they should be stocked. Even before COVID, the machines in bathrooms would frequently run out. You could not rely upon them & always had to have a stash at your desk. This became challenging when we moved to hot desking, but at least we had a locker to put stuff in.

  63. Emily D*

    Since the assistant’s job is to help with personal errands, I think it’s fine to ask your male assistant to get feminine products and there’s no reason they should be embarrassed – they should understand what the job entails. But I could sort of see not wanting to ask them if they look very young and naive. When I was young (I’m a woman) I would have found it very embarrassing to get, I don’t know, male underwear or condoms or something. I guess an older guy would not have wanted to ask me. But then, I never signed up for a personal assistant job.

    1. Mannequin*

      Condoms are not the equivalent of menstrual products. Toilet paper is the equivalent of menstrual products. Would you feel uncomfortable buying toilet paper for the office?

      1. allathian*

        In an ideal world that’s true, but in the minds of many men (and some women who menstruate), the awkwardness of buying menstrual products is more akin to buying condoms than buying toilet paper. Saying this is wrong and shouldn’t be this way doesn’t help much. I think it’s ironic how so many posters, including Alison, keep saying that it shouldn’t be awkward for a man to buy menstrual products. The fact remains, it is awkward for many men, and wishing it were otherwise doesn’t make it so. It’s especially interesting that Alison doesn’t seem to accept that some men might feel awkward if they had to buy menstrual products for their manager, when she’s usually so on point about the necessity of dealing with the world as it is, rather than as we wish it would be.

        1. F.M.*

          But in this case, it’s not akin to “Your boss can do this shitty thing but it’s not illegal” of how the world is, but “Some men might be uncomfortable taking orders from women, but they need to get over it.” An assistant who wants to keep their job, and who already fetches minor personal supplies like hand sanitizer as part of that job, may be uncomfortable about fetching tampons: but if so, being told to do so a few times will help them learn some professionalism and get over that discomfort.

  64. lilsheba*

    I never wanted to be caught off guard needing something like this, I made sure I was always prepared, and kept a stock in my desk.

  65. Rosie*

    LW: I’m going to disagree with the main advice here, speaking as an assistant with two decades’ experience, primarily working for other women: asking your assistant of any gender to buy you any personal care or hygiene products – even the tissues or Tylenol Allison mentions in her example – is a serious overstep. There is a bad tendency among female bosses to blur the lines of power like this and it’s a bad idea. You have power over your assistant’s career and you should not make any of your personal needs their professional responsbility. None of my male bosses have ever once asked me to pick up something for them past a bar of chocolate and I have appreciated that enormously. On multiple occasions in different workplaces I’ve found female colleagues — all of whom outranked me — going through my desk or my purse looking for candy/tampons/aspirin/who cares, and when I got upset they asked me where was my female solidarity? What they were really doing was making sure I knew that even though we were both women on the same team, I was lesser, with no right to my own possessions or private space, which meant they had droit de seigneur. I was obviously never reimbursed for whatever they took and when I would later on refuse to share it was always a problem that I, as the least senior of the team, was the most affected by. In one case finding a colleague helping herself to candy from my desk began a series of events that resulted in me losing that job. Do not do it.

    The idea of keeping a locker full of essentials for everyone in the office is a good one but before doing that make sure the assistant access to petty cash or a corporate card to maintain it; you do not want them out of pocket for your personal needs.

    1. Mannequin*

      I’m not sure how asking an assistant, who’s job description *already* includes “picking up personal items for OP since the nature of their work makes it impossible for OP to just pick up and leave the worksite” to pick up tampons is in any way comparable to your situation, where toxic, entitled, boundary stomping higher- ups (who just happened to be women) rifled through your personal belongings while giving lip service to feminism as an excuse.

      Also? A job having menstrual products on-site is not “female solidarity”, because men and non-binary people also menstruate.

    2. Not actually the OP*

      But this is the job description. If I’m the boss and I hire an assistant and I say “Job duties include scheduling, filing reports, organizing emails, running company errands, and the occasional personal errand” it’s not an overstep to say “run this personal errand”.

      The OP has already established that personal errands are acceptable for this person, which means the assistant knows this because it’s industry standard or it was in the job description. This question isn’t about “Can I send my assistant to grab tylenol when they are out buying printer paper” it’s “It’s perfectly acceptable for my assistant to get me tylenol while they are picking up printer paper, can I ask for tampons too”. And the answer is yes. If personal items are a part of the job (which we’ve established they are for this job) then tampons are included.

      And your situation seems to have nothing to do with running errands and everything to do with crappy disrespectful colleagues and I’m sorry for that. I would absolutely send my male or female personal assistant on a tampon run (with cash or my credit card). I would not go through a female colleague’s purse, regardless of their working relationship to me) looking for a tampon.

      1. Mannequin*

        Yes, you have stated this much better than I have.

        And since running both business & personal errands is a known part of this job, I would be assuming that there was already a system in place for the job, not the assistant, to pay for it (company card, petty cash, reimbursement, etc), so jumping straight to “make sure it’s not coming out of their own pocket!” doesn’t seem like the advice this OP actually needs. :-/

      2. Rosie*

        My job descriptions have always included the scope for running the occasional personal errands for my bosses. My point is that none of my male bosses have ever taken me up on it, ever, while my female bosses, almost without exception, have abused the privilege, per the examples above. Since the LW is concerned about being a good boss one easy way to be that is to not send her assistant out for personal errands which they both know full well she’s very entitled to do. I thought that information would be useful to the LW, and anyone else wanting to consider how to be a good boss from the point of view of their assistant.

        The overall comments on this thread have made it crystal clear how little anyone cares about the assistant’s point of view, though.

        1. HereKittyKitty*

          No- it shows you that your scope may be limited to your professional experience. There are many many different types of “assistant titles” in many industries. Where it may not be the norm in your industry for assistants to be asked to get personal items, there are norms in other industries where that is common.

          If an assistant is told that their job will also include picking up personal items, then it is okay for the boss to ask the assistant to pick up personal items. If I’m an assistant to say a celebrity, or motivational speaker or another type of performer are you saying they should not film that day, not go on stage that day and not perform because it’s “boundary crossing” to ask your assistant to pick up a material that allows you to do your job? If I’m an assistant to a manger about to present at a conference, or sit in an all-day meeting, is it boundary-crossing to ask my assistant, who’s job description includes picking up personal items, to grab me a phone charger I’ve forgotten? Or should I just cancel the conference and the all-day meeting?

          It is boundary-crossing to dig through personal items and make unreasonable demands. It is not boundary-crossing to ask a person you hired to perform work-related and personal errands to literally do their job.

            1. HereKittyKitty*

              A phone charger is most certainly a personal item if you are the only one using it and it will become “yours.” Same with coffee picked up at Starbucks, hand sanitizer for your desk, lunch for your break, and Kleenexes for when you have a cold. Those are all personal items. Furthermore, the LW stated she required these tampons in order to do her job. That makes them essential for her work. She states, specifically, going out to get tampons could have “jeopardized the whole job.” If she had written in because she was fired, and her assistant let go, because she refused to ask him to pick up tampons when it was an emergency, I’m sure we’d all be wondering why she didn’t just ask him to pick up tampons!

              It’s strange to insist that managers who write the requirement of picking up personal items into the job description, should not actually ever ask for the requirement that they literally wrote into the descriptions! Should I inform my manager just because she can ask me to make spreadsheets, she shouldn’t, because I don’t like being asked and a “good” boss would never ask me to do something like that even if it’s written into my job requirement? I’m sure those don’t feel comparable to you, but they are, because they are both job requirements agreed to when hired. It’s as simple as “was someone hired to do X? Yes? Okay, feel free to ask them to do X.”

              It is of course unfortunate when you’ve been abused by your boss. It is awful if you’ve lost money because they never paid you back. It’s awful that your past bosses dug through your personal belongings. I’m sure there are certainly huge problems with boundary crossing between assistants and those they are assisting. However, we are always told to take LWs at their word and she has given no indication that she’s abusing her assistant, rummaging through their things, using their money, or asking them to do trivial matters like vacuuming their home or driving her to the hair salon. She asked him to assist her at work, which is fine.

    3. TessSNYC*

      Rosie, I just wanted to say in case you see this, that I agree with you 100%. I wrote a similar post above. I’ve had incredibly similar experiences that you have experienced, including paying for personal care items out of my own pocket. I always found it absurd that I worked for people making literally over a million dollars a year, but on my meager salary I had to pay for all the over the counter medicine, etc. I have also had identical experience with a female boss constantly rifling through my desk to assert her dominance and take whatever she wants. It’s horrible, and I don’t think people understand unless they have been through it themselves.

      1. HereKittyKitty*

        “It’s horrible, and I don’t think people understand unless they have been through it themselves.”

        I’ve been through many horrible things and I find someone rifling through your desk awful. In fact, there have been many LWs that have written in about bosses rifling through their things, and I can’t think of one time the commentary stated that this was a fine and okay thing to do. Fortunately, the LW has not stated that they plan on rifling through anyone’s desk, so it would seem odd to label her as one of those usual abusive bosses that you or Rosie has experienced, when we have no indicators that she is one.

  66. SnappinTerrapin*


    The “coalface” is the wall in the mine that the miners are cutting the coal from to extract it for use. Hence the UK usage that it is the point where the work is getting done.

  67. Faith the twilight slayer*

    I would advise OP to be very, very specific when making this request: thisbrandname, thissize, this quantity, etc. most dudes will simply grab a box to just get out, and the last thing you need on a “heavy” day is a product made for someone with no flow whatsoever

  68. Mannequin*

    I just involuntarily cringed at reading “feminine products”…both because I’ve always had issues with what is/isn’t considered “feminine” but because men and non binary people also menstruate.

  69. Old Lady Here*

    I’m retired, so maybe I have no business commenting, but I always carried extras, or kept a stash buried in the bottom drawer of my desk.

  70. Stevesie*

    While nodding along to the answer, I started thinking “this is great, I wish my work provided some backup supplies.” Then I remembered, I’m in charge of the supply order. Its never crossed my mind since I don’t handle any of the other bathroom supplies (soap, tp, towels supplied by building mgmt). I mostly take care of stationary and snacks, but I’m adding sanitary supplies next time! We’ll see if it gets flagged by the higher ups.

  71. Mannequin*

    Ok, like many older people here, I always carried my own stash, because I couldn’t rely on school or work to have them, and I made sure to have them on me 24/7 in case someone else needed emergency supplies. I am all for this. I am all for keeping a stash of them in a personal emergency supply kit. No arguments there.

    I also 100% believe that menstrual hygiene products are no different from toilet paper and as such, should be supplied AT ALL TIMES in every restroom- men’s and non-gendered as well as women’s- exactly the way that toilet seat protectors & toilet paper & soap & paper towels are. There is no LOGICAL reason that the cutoff line for “personal items used in the restroom” should stop at “menstrual hygiene products” (or for that matter, at diapers, wipes, & changing tables), but there are plenty of sexist, and/or transphobic, and/or gender essentialist ones.
    In the age of Covid, when so-called “personal hygiene items” such as tissues, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and even *masks* are now being provided on the company dime, it should be really quite obvious how exclusionary that not providing menstrual hygiene products actually is.

    1. Mannequin*

      In addition, it’s really odd the number of people commenting here who:

      1. Have overlooked the fact that due to the nature of OP’s work, it is a normal part of the assistant’s job to run not just project-related, but personal errands.

      2. Are commenting that OP should “make sure to give Assistant a detailed description of the actual menstrual product you need! Don’t just say “tampons”!” as if a) “tampon” isn’t being used as a generic shorthand here AND b) OP is not a competent professional who is already used to giving their assistant accurate instructions/descriptions when they have them do an errand

      3. Are assuming that OP does not *already* have a system in place to reimburse the assistant for any purchases made while on an errand, since that is literally the nature of their work

  72. Aisling*

    This sounds like it could be a construction site. My partner used to order materials for sites and he ordered tampons because they were often used on sites, though I don’t know in what capacity. OP could be a welder who hired her own welder’s assistant, which is common for welders to do. And all of the sites my partner worked for were very rural, like one-to-two hours away from the nearest city rural. If that were the case the welder wouldn’t be able to leave the job that long, given construction timelines. Asking her assistant to get some instead of asking for them to be added to the supply order would make it clear that they were for her, rather than the site. But assistants regularly make lunch runs, ice and water runs, etc., particularly for rural sites, so this shouldn’t be a problem for them to add to the list.

  73. OMGPeople*

    This is wack. Would you ask your assistant (of any gender) to pick you some hemorrhoid cream? A laxative? Keep a “Keeper” (silicone cup), a zip pouch of panty liners, and a small bottle of midol or ibuprofen in your personal go-bag of choice. And a clean pair of panties too. Problem solved, jesus.

    1. Dahlia*

      Oh my god OP is an adult who has presumably been menstruating for at least a decade. Can we please assume that they have heard of such radical concepts as “bring period supplies with you” and that sometimes people are human and imperfect?

      1. eastcoastkate*

        THIS. Mistakes happen- cycles are off, we forget, you think you’ve stocked up your ’emergency supplies’ and you’re out or you thought you had one or two in your purse and you don’t. It happens. I’m frustrated at the sanctimonious comments saying OP needs to just “keep supplies on hand at all times.”

    2. Mannequin*

      “ Would you ask your assistant (of any gender) to pick you some hemorrhoid cream? A laxative? ”

      If it was within my assistants job description to run personal errands, absolutely. Why wouldn’t I?

    3. Jaybee*

      Neither hemorrhoid creams nor laxatives are generally an ‘urgently needed right now’ situation.

  74. Pikachu*

    If I were OP’s client and had thousands or millions of dollars invested in a time-sensitive project only to find out that timelines got delayed (inevitably delaying/affecting the work of who knows how many other people) because my lead task-doer had to step away for an emergency menstrual situation, the first question I would ask would be, “Why did you not ask your assistant to buy what was needed?” The client is paying the assistant directly, after all, not OP. In this scenario, tampons weren’t a personal errand. They were an emergency requirement to keep OP moving forward and the project on track.

    It doesn’t have to be common practice, and of course the next step would be to look into making resources conveniently available in the future so people have what they need, but an urgent bodily fluid situation is an urgent bodily fluid situation. I think any client would expect it to be handled in a reasonable, timely manner, even if that means asking someone without a uterus to buy menstrual products. Especially if the products get left on site for multipurpose use and not taken home with OP at the end of the day.

  75. Heffalump*

    If I bought tampons, I’d assume that the store clerk would: 1) assume that I was buying them for my wife or girlfriend, and 2) not be stupid enough to so much as comment on it.

    In her excellent book Hardball for Women, Pat Heim wrote that she was once taken aback to learn that an area in her workplace where many women had their offices was known to the men as “Menstrual Alley.” She went on to say that since men don’t experience menstruation, they think it’s a much bigger deal than it is. To up the mystery quotient, it’s tied to the phases of the moon.

  76. LolaJosie*

    I may have an answer for the sanitary products in an official work capacity! I work for a large CPG company that makes sanitary/personal care/toilet products. In our R&E departments, we fairly frequently purchase competitor’s products to test against. This is fairly common in the industry. I’m wondering if OP is in the same industry. Hope that helps!

  77. BuildMeUp*

    I work in the TV/film industry, and when I used to work as a PA (production assistant), I was once asked to run to Walgreen’s to get some Orajel for the cinematographer’s toothache. If he’d gone to get it himself, all work would have stopped and we would have run behind.

    I’m assuming the people taking weird issue with this are used to an office environment and aren’t familiar with other industries where asking a PA to grab something personal is considered normal and necessary because 1) you’re on set for a 10-12 hour day and 2) your job is important enough that leaving to do it yourself doesn’t make any sense.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I remember reading that in the making of the original Dune film in the 80s that for one of the sandworm bits they needed a lot of condoms for the effect. Someone had to go out to get them!

  78. rudster*

    “What does coalface mean?”
    The thread with this question doesn’t seem to have a Reply button, so I’m putting here.
    Since many people seem to be wondering, the coalface is the exposed surface of the coal seam in a coal mine. So figuratively it means being in the thick of the action, doing the hands-on, dirty work (like a coal miner working at the coalface).

  79. Ricci*

    About the uses for tampons:
    I recently watched a video from two car mechanics using tampons to fix a problem. They had a car with an oil leak, where the oil was somehow pushed into the cables, damaging connectors and attached devices. The usual (and expensive) fix would be to replace the cables, but this being an older car, the instead cleaned the connector, fixed the damaged devices and installed tampons in the affected cable. With this, they could remove the oil from the affected cable and keep the price of the repair low. Also, the customer can now tell everybody that he needs to take his car to the garage to get its tampons changed :D

  80. Manager X*

    I disagree with Alison and most of you. Not about the stigma, which I agree is silly. It’s that my staff are not my minions to fetch my tampons, wash my car, or feed my cat. They’re not my personal attendants whose mission is to facilitate my comfort and ease. I lead a team that’s working on executing the mission, and I expect everyone to come to work prepared to see it through. That means thinking ahead and bringing whatever personal supplies we require to get through the work day.

    I respectfully suggest that some of you reflect on the power dynamics at work here. Managers who expand their demands from “taking care of business” to “taking care of my personal needs” are abusing their authority. Gender doesn’t really enter into it.

    Also, feminine hygiene products can be confusing. For people unfamiliar with them — men, for example — the astonishing variety of features & flavors make it really unlikely that the exactly correct product will be selected.

    1. Metadata minion*

      I would assume the LW is asking their assistant to buy a specific product, not just “tampons”, just like they would specify exactly what type of pen to order for the office. Menstrual products are not some vastly different and confusing category of item to buy.

      1. Manager X*

        Meta-Minion, this is a small point, but I’m going to make it anyway. The next time you’re at the store, go to the beer aisle and just look at all the choices. Imaging you don’t drink beer and your boss sends you to get some.

        Now walk over to the feminine products. Imaging you don’t understand or appreciate all the different choices regarding wings, flows, sizes, textures, etc. Can you see that it would be difficult to get it right?

        Sure, we would hope that the boss sending you to the store would tell you something specific, but it could still be hard to do … particularly if the specific product is not available at that store on that day.

        1. Metadata minion*

          I indeed don’t drink beer, and so if my boss asked me to get some I would ask what kind. I have in the past used menstrual products and so if my boss asked me to get some, I would ask what kind. If the specific product wasn’t there, I would contact them to ask what I should get instead. I understand that talking about tampons would be more awkward than saying “hey, they’re out of our usual printer paper; what should I do?”, but this is really not a unique problem.

        2. Yorick*

          If you look closely at some of the labels, you’ll notice every brand of tampons has a “regular.” I think pads might use that term too, but I’m not as sure. So without more info, you’d get one of those. The problem is that men are too uncomfortable to look at and think about tampons, so they won’t notice that.

    2. HereKittyKitty*

      I would perhaps agree if this wasn’t part of their job description. But according to OP- it is. Their job description is to run out and sometimes buy personal things. You can disagree with that job, but if that’s what you’re hired to do then it’s no different than my boss using their “power dynamic” to ask me to create a spreadsheet.

      But also getting tampons, washing a car, or feeding an animal are all wildly different. If I mentioned I was going to a store and my manager asked me to please pick up tampons and handed me cash, I’d say “yeah sure” and it’d be whatever. In fact, I worked in an office where my manager and two other coworkers would happily pick up coffee for each other, lunch, or other items if we were taking a quick trip to a shop. It wasn’t “abusing authority,” it was people being kind to each other.

  81. Anonymous for This*

    I have to disagree. I’d be willing to bet that even if personal errands were included in the job description, if a male boss asked a female assistant to go to the store and get him a new jock strap, it would be seen as harassment.

  82. EBG*

    Maybe you should consider trying a menstrual cup. They’re not for every female body but they’re worth a try.

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