A few months ago, Anthem shared this incredible video by Glamour that showed us exactly what happens during our menstrual cycle. I don’t know about you, but a lot of this was actually a big shock to me! It really got me thinking about how strange it was that I knew so little about something that happens to me on a monthly basis. And if you’re male, or grossed out by all things bodily fluids, don’t go away – because this is for you too.
Did you know that 48% of girls in Iran think menstruation is a disease? How about that 70% of women in India think menstrual blood is dirty? I guess some of you are thinking that this might just be because of a lack in education. So let’s think a little closer to home. Just think about every sanitary product advertisement ever. Have you ever actually seen any blood on one of those? Or just that bizarre blue liquid that, if anything, makes your period look more like an incontinence problem? You might think that that’s because there are people who are frightened by blood and that it’s just a regulation thing – but there is no regulation against blood in sanitation product advertising. In fact, regulations only require these adverts to not cause offence and not be shown too close to children’s programmes. Because God forbid children might see something that could prepare them for adulthood. And don’t even get me started on the actual content of these adverts. All the talk about ‘discrete’ and ‘you can’t even tell’ and choice phrases like Tampax’s ‘Mother Nature’s monthly gift’. As if having a period is something to be ashamed of. As always, society finds a way to ridicule women for things completely out of their control. Do I even have to mention tampon tax?
I’m sure you have felt it too, either you or the person at the check-out being embarrassed by your sanitary products, or maybe if you were buying them for someone else. Or someone saying ‘oh god, she must be on her period?’ and your plummeting heart when you think “how did they know?!” Isn’t it common knowledge that women bleed from their vaginas regularly? For some reason, pointing out specifically that I will be bleeding from my vagina sometime in the future makes it all the more unbearable.
Periods aren’t talked about openly and that has resulted in girls not being prepared for it. Research commissioned by the period education campaign Betty for Schools in the UK found that 60% of women were scared and 58% were embarrassed when they started their periods. Furthermore, 44% of girls had no idea what was happening to them at the time. This shows a clear problem: the menstrual taboo. Why are people so afraid of something that happens so naturally? What is it that’s so embarrassing?
Researchers Rempel and Baumgartner (2003) have actually found benefits of thinking positively about our own menstrual cycles. They found correlations between positive attitudes towards personal menstruation (and comfort with menstruation generally) and sexual attitudes, desires and behaviours, including being more comfortable with personal sexuality. They also found that women who were more comfortable with menstruation had more liberal views on sex and became aroused by a wider variety of sexual experiences. Basically, women who were open and accepting about their periods had more sex (which included when they were on their periods). Now, you might think that just means that women with more liberal views are likely to have more sex and be positive about menstruation. But the researchers took this into account, as well as how susceptible these women were to disgust, and found that the relationship between attitudes towards menstruation and sexual behaviour occurred regardless.
One of the things I think would help women become more positive about their periods is actually understanding them. People are afraid of what they don’t know and this is the exact reason why a worldwide fear of something so completely harmless has taken hold. How can we expect men to show periods respect when we can’t even do that ourselves? So, male or female, start talking. Start asking questions about how and why the amazing female body does what it does. And to get you started, here are a few talking points and answers:
1. Periods can be regular even if they don’t occur every 28 days – some women might have them every 18 days whilst other have them every 32 – they only count as irregular if they come at different intervals
2. Just because you have periods, doesn’t mean you are fertile – a period where an egg is not released is called an anovulatory cycle.
3. Clots in your period are perfectly normal – it just means you’ve got a heavy flow – but if you’re going through pads/tampons faster than every 2 hours this could be a sign of a problem.
4. PMS does not actually occur during your period, it stands for Premenstrual Syndrome and occurs one or two weeks before the period. Women can get symptoms during this time and during their actual period due to the changes in hormones in the body.
5. On that note, there are some ways of naturally improving your PMS symptoms. For example, increasing magnesium a few days before your PMS starts will reduce cramping. That includes foods like nuts, beans, whole grains and even dark chocolate (woohoo). You can also reduce bloating by increasing vitamin B6 levels with pork, poultry, cereals, eggs and vegetables. For that matter, eating a balanced diet can seriously benefit your period experiences, including drinking enough water.
6. And for those who are on birth control – the ‘period’ that occurs once a month whilst you are on them is actually a withdrawal bleed. This happens as your body readjusts to not getting the hormones it’s been accustomed to for the past month.
Words by Jessica Yang
Part of the September Sex Education Week, 2017.
Rempel and Baumgartner (2003): Rempel, J. K., & Baumgartner, B. (2003). The relationship between attitudes towards menstruation and sexual attitudes, desires, and behaviour in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(2), 155-163.