What Does the Phrase "On the Rag" Mean?

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Question: What Does the Phrase "On the Rag" Mean?

Answer: The phrase “on the rag” is a slang term for menstruation.

This phrase likely originated sometime during the late 19th century. When a woman was menstruating, she was “on the rag,” a phrase that literally described the way women of the day managed their menstruation. Typically women would layer pieces of absorbent cloth or other material together until they created a "pad of rags" that was sufficiently thick enough to absorb their menstrual flow.

They also would use pins to attach it to their panties. After each use, women would wash the cloth or "rags" so they could be used again.

Eventually, "rags" and pins were replaced by disposable pads and menstrual belts. Although the concept of a disposable sanitary pad was introduced in the late 1800's, it was the Kotex brand that successfully launched a line of disposable pads in the early 1920's. However, it wasn't until the late 1970's that the disposable pad had an adhesive strip on the bottom. Shortly after its introduction, this self-adhering sanitary pad rendered the menstrual belt obsolete.

The first commercially available modern tampon was produced by Tampax in the late 1930's. However, there are historic records dating back thousands of years describing women using various naturally absorbent materials inserted into their vagina to contain their menstrual flow.

Around the same time as the introduction of the modern tampon another menstrual hygiene product, the menstrual cup, was introduced.

For several reasons, including the new found convenience of an absorbent and disposable tampon the menstrual cup was not a huge success.

Because of social stigma, early disposable feminine hygiene products were packed in plain wrappers to be discreet. Contrast that discretion with the U by Kotex brand of today with its vibrant packaging and significant social media campaign.


Today's menstruating women have many more choices than their mother's and grandmother's had.

To start with, modern disposable menstrual products come in a myriad of different styles and sizes. And thanks to advances in the technology of absorbent materials menstrual pads are much, much thinner than they used to be.

There are also great options to go retro to manage your flow. Many women are going back "on the rag" and choosing to use reusable cloth sanitary pads. Another retro flow catching option gaining popularity is the menstrual cup. There are now several different manufacturers of menstrual cups to choose from.

The latest addition to the field of feminine hygiene options is the absorbent and leak proof panty. These undergarments produced by companies such as Thinx and Lunapanties  offer menstruating women an option to forgo attachable or insertable products to absorb their menstrual flow. These non-disposable options for when you are "on the rag" are far from rags.

Updated by Andrea Chisholm, MD


News November 1997; The Museum of Menstruation (MUM); http://www.mum.org/olnews43.htm; accessed 12/22/2015

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