Imagine being a homeless woman. You have just $7 and you are starving, but you’ve just started your period. Now what do you do? Do you go into the store and buy food, or do you buy feminine hygiene products?

For five to seven days of the month, homeless women experience what no one should have to. These women are unable to properly care for themselves during that week. They create makeshift tampons out of tissue paper, towels, cotton balls, pillowcases – any material that is absorbent. Imagine what women would save and, most importantly, what women would gain if tampons and sanitary pads were more accessible and affordable.

There are 50,000 women living on the streets in the United States. These women are experiencing inconsistency in where they will sleep, where they will shower, when they will eat again and how they will stay clean and dignified five to seven days a month.

Low-income women also face the consequences of the unaffordability and inaccessibility of menstrual hygiene products: the “pink tax.” Women are taxed for something they cannot control. We are being taxed because we are women, and we have a uterus.

“I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax (feminine hygiene products) as luxury items,” Barack Obama said last year in an interview with YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

Let’s just remember: Out of the 45 states that have a sales tax, 44 states don’t tax Viagra (Maine doesn’t), and eight don’t tax Rogaine. But 38 states – including Maine – tax pads and tampons. Apparently, getting an erection and having hair are not luxuries, but menstruating is.

I had no idea that menstruation was luxurious – bleeding for days straight, having painful cramps, and (the worst part) feeling dirty. When you are able to bathe, and change your clothes regularly, it is easy to manage. When you are living on the streets, what do you do then? Get creative, deal with unsanitary conditions, face an increased risk of infection and hope for the best.

On average, a woman has her period from five to seven days, and the average woman menstruates from age 13 until 51. That means the average woman endures some 456 total periods over 38 years, or roughly 2,280 days with her period, or six years and three months of her life.

Feminine hygiene product companies instruct women to change their pad or tampon every four to eight hours to protect against bacteria that can cause serious health issues. When women are bleeding more heavily, pads and tampons may have to be changed more often.

At Walgreens, a box of 36 regular-sized pads costs $7, or 15.5 cents each. On average, menstruating women will use six pads a day, averaging one box of 36 pads a cycle.

Thirty-six pads per cycle, multiplied by 456 periods, equals 16,416 pads in a lifetime. At 36 pads per box, that’s 456 boxes in a lifetime; at $7 per box, the cost is $3,192.

You’re instructed to change your tampon every four to eight hours – every six hours, on average – so that is four tampons a day, and 20 tampons per cycle. A box containing 36 tampons costs $7 at Walgreens.

Twenty tampons per menstrual cycle, multiplied by 456 periods, equals 9,120 tampons in a lifetime. At 36 tampons per box, that’s 253.3 boxes in a lifetime; at $7 per box, that equals $1,773.33.

Think about all the other expenses women endure during their period. Think about all the underwear women go through, requiring them to purchase new ones, if they can afford them. Pain is bad? You go to the store and purchase Midol. In order to regulate periods, women use birth control. At Planned Parenthood, a woman could pay anywhere from zero to $50 a month, all dependent on her income or lack thereof. Being female is fun.

This session, the Maine Legislature is considering L.D. 206, a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, that would exempt feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax. That is the right step in the right direction. New York City requires free tampons and sanitary pads in all homeless shelters, public schools and jails.

Let’s end this stigma and start talking about blood – period – and about what we can do as a society to make Aunt Flo’s visit as “luxurious” and affordable as possible for all women.