How to talk about your period: replac­ing stigma with openness

von Ailsa
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There are, accord¬≠ing to a sur¬≠vey by the Inter¬≠na¬≠tional Women‚Äôs Health Coali¬≠tion and the app Clue, over 5,000 ways to say you‚Äôre on your period. They run the gamut from English‚Äôs ‚ÄúAun¬≠tie Flow,‚ÄĚ to French‚Äôs ‚Äúthe Eng¬≠lish have landed,‚ÄĚ or even Danish‚Äôs ‚Äúthe com¬≠mu¬≠nists are in the fun¬≠house.‚ÄĚ These 5,000 dif¬≠fer¬≠ent euphemisms can come in handy: the sur¬≠vey also found 78 % of men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tors only talk about it through euphemisms. But why is it so awk¬≠ward to talk about your period?

That same sur¬≠vey exam¬≠ined how the stigma can vary from place to place ‚Äď and also on who you‚Äôre talk¬≠ing to. 95 % of Alge¬≠ri¬≠ans feel com¬≠fort¬≠able dis¬≠cussing their period with a female fam¬≠ily mem¬≠ber, while 86 % of Rus¬≠sians would hate to do so with a male class¬≠mate. These are two very dif¬≠fer¬≠ent cul¬≠tures and sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tions, but dif¬≠fer¬≠ences in the same topic are strik¬≠ing as well. 93 % of Pak¬≠ista¬≠nis wouldn‚Äôt talk about it to a male fam¬≠ily mem¬≠ber; in Swe¬≠den, that num¬≠ber dropped to 55 %. Taboos will vary depend¬≠ing on the cul¬≠ture ‚Äď India is known for a very strong one ‚Äď but many cul¬≠tures still carry it. And this can have tan¬≠gi¬≠bly harm¬≠ful effects on men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tors, espe¬≠cially when they are young.

The impact of stigma when you talk about your period

There are a num¬≠ber of rea¬≠sons that silence about men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion, espe¬≠cially men¬≠strual health, can be dam¬≠ag¬≠ing. One in four chil¬≠dren in the UK don‚Äôt learn about their period until they have reached puberty. The Inter¬≠na¬≠tional Women‚Äôs Health Coali¬≠tion reports that in some devel¬≠op¬≠ing coun¬≠tries, period dis¬≠cus¬≠sion is so rare that young peo¬≠ple are often sur¬≠prised when it arrives. Peri¬≠ods can be ter¬≠ri¬≠fy¬≠ing if you know noth¬≠ing about them, so the chance to talk about your period is vital. Fur¬≠ther¬≠more, not only can a lack of edu¬≠ca¬≠tion lead to poor men¬≠strual hygiene and infec¬≠tion, but also rein¬≠force myths that demean and shame men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tors. (Hint: walk¬≠ing past a plant when you‚Äôre men¬≠stru¬≠at¬≠ing will not kill it.)

The effects of this stigma and lack of atten¬≠tion are dan¬≠ger¬≠ous. Only 12 % of Indian girls have access to period prod¬≠ucts, which fre¬≠quently causes them to drop out of school. Across the world, World Bank esti¬≠mates that pupils miss four days every four weeks due to men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion. UNESCO ran sev¬≠eral small stud¬≠ies on it, which had var¬≠ied results. A 2010 study of 198 stu¬≠dents in Nepal found menstruation‚Äôs effect on atten¬≠dance was min¬≠i¬≠mal. Mean¬≠while a 2012 study of 120 stu¬≠dents in Ghana found sup¬≠ply¬≠ing period prod¬≠ucts and edu¬≠ca¬≠tion sig¬≠nif¬≠i¬≠cantly improved atten¬≠dance over five months. Over¬≠all, how¬≠ever, men¬≠stru¬≠at¬≠ing stu¬≠dents were found less likely to con¬≠tribute, stand up or write on the black¬≠board, for fear of acci¬≠dents. Being unable to talk about your period can have detri¬≠men¬≠tal effects on health, self-esteem, and edu¬≠ca¬≠tion and future prospects.

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How can you talk about your period?

So how could we change this? There are a num¬≠ber of ways to try to nor¬≠malise dis¬≠cus¬≠sion of peri¬≠ods in every¬≠day life. I listed a few below which may help, though they are unlikely to work for everybody.

Talk­ing to oth­ers about periods

Talk­ing to other men­stru­a­tors may be eas­ier: they already have the expe­ri­ence and under­stand what it means. But it’s just as impor­tant to talk to peo­ple who don’t men­stru­ate as it is to those who do. In order to decrease the stigma, edu­cat­ing every­one is important.

Using proper language

Proper lan¬≠guage is vital. Euphemisms serve to alle¬≠vi¬≠ate the speaker‚Äôs dis¬≠com¬≠fort, and thus per¬≠pet¬≠u¬≠ate the idea a period is dirty and shouldn‚Äôt be spo¬≠ken of. Call your period what it is; don‚Äôt call it a ‚Äúcrim¬≠son wave.‚ÄĚ Not only does it fight the impli¬≠ca¬≠tion that peri¬≠ods should be hid¬≠den, but it‚Äôs also for clarity‚Äôs sake. If you‚Äôre edu¬≠cat¬≠ing a young per¬≠son or some¬≠one who doesn‚Äôt men¬≠stru¬≠ate, euphemisms risk con¬≠fus¬≠ing them on what you‚Äôre actu¬≠ally talk¬≠ing about.

Being con­sis­tent

Talk¬≠ing about a period once then never again still sends the mes¬≠sage that it shouldn‚Äôt be spo¬≠ken of. Bring¬≠ing it up often enough that it isn‚Äôt avoided, but still treated in con¬≠ver¬≠sa¬≠tions as some¬≠thing totally nor¬≠mal, is key. The more it is used in con¬≠ver¬≠sa¬≠tions as a per¬≠fectly casual topic, the more it begins to be viewed as one.

Being inclu­sive

Peri¬≠ods are a bio¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal func¬≠tion. That means that no two peo¬≠ple will expe¬≠ri¬≠ence them the same! Some have a very dif¬≠fi¬≠cult time with it, while oth¬≠ers will find it eas¬≠ier, and some peo¬≠ple may not men¬≠stru¬≠ate at all. Not all men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tors are women, not all women men¬≠stru¬≠ate, and not all men¬≠stru¬≠a¬≠tion is the same. In order to encour¬≠age dis¬≠cus¬≠sion, it‚Äôs impor¬≠tant to embrace dif¬≠fer¬≠ences, rather than try to think of all peri¬≠ods as a sin¬≠gle experience.

Hav­ing confidence

Finally, the impor¬≠tant one is per¬≠haps the hard¬≠est one: being con¬≠fi¬≠dent and unashamed. The more you act awk¬≠ward for bring¬≠ing it up, the more awk¬≠ward a topic it will be. And if other peo¬≠ple see you‚Äôre unapolo¬≠getic in talk¬≠ing about your period, they may feel inspired to talk more about it as well! Feel¬≠ing ashamed for a basic bod¬≠ily func¬≠tion serves no one. If you build con¬≠fi¬≠dence in your¬≠self and stop need¬≠ing to act like it‚Äôs a secret, it may make every¬≠thing that much easier.

These tips are sup­posed to be just that: tips. Depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion you’re in, and how peo­ple around you might react, they may not work for you. As the fourth tip high­lights: we all have dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences, and expect­ing some­thing to work for every­one is unrealistic.

Talk­ing about your period and encour­ag­ing openness

The sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tion in most coun¬≠tries is still far from ideal, but there are plenty of move¬≠ments dri¬≠ving change. There is now an inter¬≠na¬≠tional Men¬≠strual Hygiene Day. Open¬≠ness in the media is also on the rise, like Hello Flo‚Äôs 2013 ad and CBBC‚Äôs 2021 News¬≠round spe¬≠cial. Wat¬≠erAid works with com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ties to encour¬≠age con¬≠ver¬≠sa¬≠tions about peri¬≠ods, improve facil¬≠i¬≠ties, and even made the short film ‚ÄúPeaky Bleed¬≠ers‚ÄĚ. Period art is increas¬≠ingly com¬≠mon. A period emojiūü©łhas even been added to key¬≠boards world¬≠wide, to make it eas¬≠ier to talk about.

So, hope¬≠fully in the future, the stigma won‚Äôt be nearly as pow¬≠er¬≠ful, or non-exis¬≠tent entirely. But in the mean¬≠time, it may be pos¬≠si¬≠ble to improve open¬≠ness about it in your daily life, through a sim¬≠ple con¬≠ver¬≠sa¬≠tion or two. Talk about your period! Even if it‚Äôs only with some¬≠one you trust, it will make such a difference.

Who do you talk to about your period and who do you hes­i­tate to talk to about it? Write it in the comments!

Veröffentlicht am 7. September 2021
Von Ailsa
Ailsa wohnt in England und studiert Geschichte und Politik in Schottland. Sie verbringt ihre Zeit gerne mit Schreiben, Tagtr√§umen und Gedanken √ľber die Zukunft - insbesondere √ľber Frauen und LGBT-Menschen in allen drei.

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