The Not-So-Secret Life of a Career Tampon Thief

shutterstock_230432302I turn the crank of the tampon machine until its empty sign appears. My brown leather bag is now plump with free tampons. It’s a pretty Fossil bag and you would never guess that it belongs to a compulsive tampon-taker.

I look over my shoulder at a stunned undergraduate onlooker and give her a “don’t mess with me, I’m an instructor” look.  She might not know I’m a teacher. She might think I’m an entitled college student.

I don’t think I’m entitled, though. I just don’t understand why free tampons are not available to women in unlimited supply.

As a modern-dancer-turned-poet, it makes financial sense that I would take advantage of free tampons—but even my friends who have higher salaries are doing it. “Oh, yeah. I always take the tampons if they are free in a restaurant bathroom,” says my friend, Mary.* It turns out many of the tampons my friends and I have given each other over the years have been taken from public restrooms. We might sound like bratty millennials, but when you consider the gender wage gap, it’s something that needs to be talked about.

Think about how often condoms are available for free. You can’t even go out for a night of bar hopping without coming across a club with an oversized condom bowl. But most public restrooms, unfortunately, don’t offer free tampons.

Looking back, I can think of examples throughout my life when free tampons would have helped me immensely. In late elementary school, when I first began to menstruate, I would keep my feminine supplies in my lunch box so I could take care of things during the lunch hour. Since we were not allowed to carry our bags outside of our classroom during the school day, I came up with the lunch box solution. I’m sure young girls still do things like this—but why? If menstrual products were publicly and freely available, they wouldn’t have to.

Wisconsin lawmaker Melissa Sargent (D) believes feminine-hygiene products should be free in public buildings, including schools and correctional facilities. According to Sargent, women spend around $70 a year on feminine products. When discussing this amount with some friends, we agreed that $70 a year is a low estimate, but we’re on board with Sargent’s quest for free tampons.

I greatly admire the volunteers who donate feminine products to food banks in the U.S. and internationally. Not only are they helping women and girls, they are raising awareness about this problem. I hope someday government will get rid of the tampon tax, allow pads, tampons and menstrual cups to be purchased with food stamps and eventually find a way to make feminine-hygiene products free for all girls and women.

Until then, I’ll be stocking up from the restrooms that have free tampons. If you need some, let me know.

*Name has been changed

Learn more about how lawmakers are taking on the tampon tax in the next issue of Ms. Click here to subscribe!

Photo via Shutterstock

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Meg Johnson is the author of Inappropriate Sleepover and The Crimes of Clara Turlington. Visit her online at and @MissMegJohnson


  1. The problem with stocking up with the free tampons/pads in public restrooms is that then they aren’t there for others who might need them. And it actually discourages people from providing them. I have a friend who owns a coffee shop and after a while, she decided that keeping such things in the bathroom was not worth it because they would all get stolen right away.

    So while I can appreciate that it would be nice if such things were available widely for free in public restrooms, taking more than your share in such situations does more harm than good. Why not just continue to call for them without hogging the goods?

  2. Gee, Meg, I’m sure the women who come in behind you needing a tampon are really pleased that you – who is employed – took all the free tampons. I wish you’d just left out that part, the rest of the article was very good.

  3. I agree with your general idea. Tampons or pads should be provided for free in restrooms, should be covered by food stamps, and so on. But I don’t think it’s okay to routinely empty out every free tampon dispenser you come across.

    Don’t you feel bad that maybe the next woman who comes to the bathroom may need a tampon?

    I’ve been in that situation where the tampon dispenser was empty. It never occurred to me that maybe it was because someone purposely emptied out the whole thing. I just thought the supplies ran out naturally. Now I know.

    It’s possible that part was supposed to be a joke but it seemed pretty selfish to me.

  4. What a terrific way to thank those who supply free tampons! Please. You’re no starving artist, you’re a published writer, and I very much doubt stealing tampons is “financially sensible” in your case. It’s a lame excuse and the stealing seems more of a prank than a political statement.

    I agree tampons should be free in public buildings, tax free, available through food stamps, etc., but you’re playing Robin to the wrong Queendom. If you and your friends keep stealing the free ones, the enlightened may just stop supplying them. And think about this; you are leaving an empty basket for someone who truly NEEDS to take all the free ones — or maybe she wants just one.

    Why don’t you become an outspoken advocate for providing free tampons instead of for stealing them? Speak to building managers and Administration who don’t supply tampons for free, as opposed to attacking the ones who do, because as it stands, what it comes down to is this; you’re just stealing tampons from those who really need them. And when the free supply disappears, they are the ones who will suffer.

    • Jo Oppenheimer says:

      Well said.
      At least give the tampons away to others if your compulsion isn’t stopping.

    • Why would you steal the free ones supplied for others, in the very same position you advocate for? Give you head and heart a shake honey. Take two if you must, but don’t take them all and leave some other poor sister in the lurch.

  5. I haven’t spent money on menstrual supplies in years, and I haven’t hit menopause. And except for an initial purchase, the same for my teenage daughter. By pilfering tampons like the author? Nope. By using reusable cloth pads, a healthier and more environmentally responsible solution. There’s also Diva cups and similar reusable products for those who want to use tampons. Nice rationalization for greed, Meg Johnson.

  6. So you remove tampons everywhere you go, leaving the women who may need them with nothing. Nice sisterly move. And why should they be free, other than as a convenience for the traveler? Are soap, deodorant, razors free?

  7. So you steal all of them and the next woman who actually needs one is shit out of luck? Yeah, go you.

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