Do periods make you uncomfortable?
If you said yes, I want you to keep reading.
Do periods make you uncomfortable? Why? Is it a lack of information, is it your culture, is it your religion, is it what you have heard people say around you?
Globally, periods are taboo. But we need to confront our discomfort and push against these dangerous stigmas. Keeping periods silent has lasting, damaging implications for women and for society.
Today I am breaking down why periods still carry such a prevalent stigma.
I am sharing why it is beneficial for everyone to normalize period education.
And I am sharing some steps you can take to confront your own discomfort and start advocating for a change in the way we view menstruation.
Period Education Is Essential
Natra Care states, “72% of boys have never been taught anything about the menstrual cycle and three quarters of children aren’t satisfied with the education on periods they receive.”
If you are male and find the topic of periods uncomfortable, this is a big reason why.
As of September 2022, the Guttmacher Institute shares data that only 38 states (and the District of Columbia) currently mandate sex and/or HIV education. Of those 38 states, only 17 states require the program to be medically accurate. 26 states require the information to be developmentally appropriate. And 10 states require cultural sensitivity as part of the conversation. This data doesn’t even reflect the large gaps in period education in countries outside of the United States.
And “according to a 2014 study by British charity group The Eve Appeal, only half of women aged 26 to 35 could identify the vagina on a diagram”. Bloodandmilk
What does it mean when the demographic that directly experiences periods, does not understand their own anatomy or the process that is taking place?
Lack of access to period education, for all genders, is a public health issue. This is why period education is essential. The video above, featuring a Ted Talk from Aditi Gupta, authentically describes this reality. Periods should not make you uncomfortable. Instead, they should be normalized as an every day event that is part of our environment.
Period Education is for Everyone
“Menstruation is something men can learn about but never experience. Yet, our society treats periods as personal and private, something sort of gross that shouldn’t be discussed except in hushed tones or vague references. This is the focus of a 2011 study by Katherine Allen, Christine Kaestle and Abbie Goldberg. By interviewing men, they realized that for many, the details and experiences of menstruation are relegated to the “other” bin — something that’s to be avoided at best, or, worse, looked down upon.”
When I started using a menstrual cup, my husband was really curious about how it worked. I took the time to explain and actually showed him the process of inserting it and removing it. His reaction was curiosity as well as a desire to understand a part of my menstruating experience. Truthfully, he had a stronger reaction when I used one of our cooking pots to sterilize the menstrual cup. Don’t worry, I have since picked up a pot from Goodwill designated for this sole purpose.
My husband’s interest and response is one of the reasons that I love him. My menstrual cup is not the first time that we have talked about my period. When it comes to sex and menstruation, I openly share my experience with him. But my experience with my husband is not what most women have with their partners, or men in general.
From colleagues to life partners, men are present in our every day. Why is it not comfortable for them to understand a bodily function that impacts half the population?
Why Is There A Stigma With Periods?
Isis Tijaro, menstrual educator and activist, explains “that the root of the problem is how the idea of menstruation is culturally constructed from stigma and associated with a disease. It is considered a taboo topic that should be handled in the bedroom or bathroom and only discussed when requesting medical help during a complication.”
“These stigmas may remind us that we are weak if we complain about our cramps, that our blood is disgusting, and that we should try to smile through the pain and hide the fact that we are on our period.” (How Domestic Abusers Might Weaponize Your Menstrual Cycle Against You)
“These practices can reinforce the idea that women and girls have less claim to public spaces, and that they are less able to participate in public life.”
Perpetuating outdated beliefs continues to harm women, and threaten the stability of our society.
The Implications of Being Uncomfortable
Did you know that in the United States we have a “period tax”? Menstrual products carry an additional tax on them, categorized as a “luxury” product. While I agree that some pads try to be bougie as eff, why is a product necessary for public health considered a luxury? There is no option for a bleeding person to not need a product to contain that bleeding. Periods are a normal, biological event that is not elective.
Period. is global, youth-powered non-profit that is fighting to end period poverty and period stigma through service, education, and advocacy. Period poverty is the lack of financial resources to purchase necessary products for menstruation. This primarily includes sanitary products, but lets take it one step further. How would you cope if you were unable to purchase pain medication or a heating pad for cramps, or could not seek out medical care for a lack of periods or for painful, heavy periods?
In my previous job, I worked as a liaison between volunteers and various non-profits, that included several local shelters and food banks. When we asked for specific items that they may need, they always listed period products as something they rarely had on hand, despite many women and young girls asking for these items.
But why was no one donating these items? Because there is still a stigma surrounding periods, even among women, and it is not wired into our thoughts to easily consider that these are necessary items, just as much as food and clothing.
Lack of access to appropriate and sterile period products can result in harmful results to women. If they do not have a way to contain the blood, girls may stay home from school (2-5 days every month) or women may miss work, risking their job. Alternatively, they may rely on products that will increase the risk of infections. They may be using reusable pads or menstrual cups, but not have a way to adequately wash and sterilize. Or maybe they need alternative solutions, such as rags or newspapers.
Shame and Abuse of Women
I once was at a church that had donation bins by the entrances for canned food and toiletries. One day someone donated a large box of pads, which was awesome! But, one of the parishioners noticed the pads sitting in the donation box and quickly spoke to a parish staff member, expressing their concern that Mass would be starting soon and EVERYONE could see the box of pads.
Why was this an issue?
THINX conducted a U.S. study that painted an accurate picture of period shaming. Some of the results include:
- 58% of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period
- 42% of women have experienced period-shaming, with one in five being made to have these feelings because of comments made by a male friend.
- 12% of women have been shamed by a family member
- 51% of men think that it is inappropriate for women to openly mention their menstrual cycles in the workplace.
- 62% claim that they have experienced others failing to take their period pain seriously.
- 56% of women feel uncomfortable initiating or having sex on their periods over fears about how their partner would react.
Periods are also often weaponized against bleeding persons. Endometriosis.net states that “Financial abuse can perpetuate period poverty. Even if a couple has enough money to afford period products, an abuser may not allow their partner to buy the products they need. The abuser may insist their partner save money by rationing how many pads or tampons they use.”
The spectrum is wide, but the ongoing stigmas surrounding poverty lead to lasting damage of self-esteem, possible health issues, and even violence against women.
How You Can Help
Start in your Homes: Do you have children or younger siblings? You can start by normalizing conversations about menstruation in your own family, for both boys and girls. Allow them to ask questions. Explain things in age appropriate, but anatomically correct terms ( ex. don’t use a slang word for a body part). If you aren’t sure how to start, there are countless resources for all ages online or in the library.
Don’t embarrass your menstruating friends: Resist the urge to make jokes about their period. If they need to purchase pads or tampons, treat it like an underwhelming event. Listen when they do talk about their experience and validate what they are going through.
Educate yourself: a lot of the discomfort that we have is the direct result of a lack of information. We are fearful or reluctant towards things we do not know or understand. And when we are uncomfortable, we respond poorly and perpetuate outdated stigmas. Do periods make you uncomfortable? Then learn about them! Research online, ask your menstruating friends, and take the time to understand. When you know more, then see if that discomfort is still there.