There are lots of stories like this one of how travelers on their periods can end up subjected to searches because of their period products. So what can we expect if we use a menstrual cup while flying?
What Does TSA Stand For?
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that has authority over the security of transportation systems within, and connecting to the United States. Source: Wikipedia
Do Menstrual Cups Show Up at TSA?
Let's go over some of the basic menstrual cup airport security information you need to know here first to ease some concerns. When it comes to menstrual cups, there is the chance that the scanner will pick up that there is a foreign object in your vagina and raise a red flag. The same is true for other period products. On top of that, there is the chance of being searched to be sure it isn't something else. It is important to be prepared when flying on your period, so here is some more information to help you out.
Can TSA See My Menstrual Cup?
There is the fear that when we pass through an airport body scanner, they can see our insides and intimate parts in fine detail. That isn't the case on the standard scanners. Instead, the scanner picks up anomalies where there are foreign objects and highlights these areas on the image. They won't see a detailed image that indicates it is definitely a menstrual cup, but the TSA agents will know something is there. Some are experienced enough to realize it is probably a menstrual cup or tampon, but they still need to be sure there isn't something else going on here.
What About Tampons and Other Period Products?
Anything that looks like it doesn't belong on the body will get picked up as a foreign object in need of questioning. Unfortunately, this can mean some awkward questioning about the vaginal area. There are stories of people getting pulled aside for tampons, period pads, and incontinence pads. There is even a story of a woman with a clitoral hood piercing explaining it to TSA staff.
What Happens When They Detect Something?
Unfortunately, things can get very uncomfortable from here because of the nature of airport security, the intimacy of the vaginal region, and the products involved. It is hard to look at this from the perspective of the TSA agents ready to put their hands on you, but let's try for a moment.
People smuggle drugs and contraband onto flights in weird places. A vagina is pretty convenient that way if you wanted to disguise a condom full of cocaine as a tampon. However, the vast majority of us aren't doing that and are simply trying to deal with menstruation. So, it can be pretty distressing when faced with a pat down.
Pat downs can happen in privacy with a woman TSA agent. Many stories where this doesn't happen are often the result of travelers worrying about missing their flight. The pat down can get intimate as they touch around the vaginal area to feel for a pad or make sure that it can't be anything other than a tampon or cup inside you.
What Does the TSA Say About Menstrual Cups and Period Products?
This is another problem and one the agency should address ASAP. The short answer is that they don't talk about this or offer any sort of advice on what to expect and what to do. If you put menstrual products into the search bar on the TSA website, you get zero results. They just don't seem to be comfortable having a conversation about something that affects so many people. The site will tell you it is fine to pack tampons in your carry-on bag, but that's about it.
Naturally, there are calls for the TSA to do more and improve the guidance and information on their website. We should have a better appreciation of what we could face – whether we wear a cup, use a tampon, or stick to pads. It would make things less anxiety-inducing at security knowing that there is the possibility of being asked to step aside because of a red flag. It would also show that the TSA does at least acknowledge this common part of their job. There is a petition for change for clear period product and menstrual cup airport security information.
At the same time, it wouldn't hurt if there was better training for handling the situation. We would all feel safer if a TSA agent simply asked upfront if it is a period product before requesting a search, or if they were more compassionate and a little less hands-on in their search. Maybe they could ask to see proof of products in our carry-on bag before feeling around our vaginas?
Can I Wear a Menstrual Cup Through Airport Security? Or Should I Use Something Else?
Let's make this clear to all who need to hear it. You have the right to wear whatever menstrual product is right for you on your flight. If you prefer a cup because it doesn't require changing so often, that's great. If you think wearing pads is a better idea with these menstrual cup TSA searches going on, that's understandable too. Wear what you need to, communicate what you are using to the TSA staff, and consider having proof in your bag in case that lowers the chances of a pat down.
Don't Let TSA Agents Scare You
While there are some menstrual cup airport security horror stories out there, they aren't guaranteed to happen to you. The best advice is to do what you always do when it comes to menstrual care, prepare yourself for the red flag on the scanner, and know your rights. Talk to the agents, request privacy as needed, and don't let them make you feel ashamed for a natural monthly cycle.
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