There are, accord­ing to a sur­vey by the Inter­na­tional Women’s Health Coali­tion and the app Clue, over 5,000 ways to say you’re on your period. They run the gamut from English’s “Auntie Flow,” to French’s “the Eng­lish have landed,” or even Danish’s “the com­mun­ists are in the fun­house.” These 5,000 dif­fer­ent euphem­isms can come in handy: the sur­vey also found 78 % of men­stru­at­ors only talk about it through euphem­isms. But why is it so awk­ward to talk about your period?

That same sur­vey examined how the stigma can vary from place to place – and also on who you’re talk­ing to. 95 % of Algeri­ans feel com­fort­able dis­cuss­ing their period with a female fam­ily mem­ber, while 86 % of Rus­si­ans would hate to do so with a male class­mate. These are two very dif­fer­ent cul­tures and situ­ations, but dif­fer­ences in the same topic are strik­ing as well. 93 % of Pakistanis wouldn’t talk about it to a male fam­ily mem­ber; in Sweden, that num­ber dropped to 55 %. Taboos will vary depend­ing on the cul­ture – India is known for a very strong one – but many cul­tures still carry it. And this can have tan­gibly harm­ful effects on men­stru­at­ors, espe­cially when they are young.

The impact of stigma when you talk about your period

There are a num­ber of reas­ons that silence about men­stru­ation, espe­cially men­strual health, can be dam­aging. One in four chil­dren in the UK don’t learn about their period until they have reached puberty. The Inter­na­tional Women’s Health Coali­tion reports that in some devel­op­ing coun­tries, period dis­cus­sion is so rare that young people are often sur­prised when it arrives. Peri­ods can be ter­ri­fy­ing if you know noth­ing about them, so the chance to talk about your period is vital. Fur­ther­more, not only can a lack of edu­ca­tion lead to poor men­strual hygiene and infec­tion, but also rein­force myths that demean and shame men­stru­at­ors. (Hint: walk­ing past a plant when you’re men­stru­at­ing will not kill it.)

The effects of this stigma and lack of atten­tion are dan­ger­ous. Only 12 % of Indian girls have access to period products, which fre­quently causes them to drop out of school. Across the world, World Bank estim­ates that pupils miss four days every four weeks due to men­stru­ation. UNESCO ran sev­eral small stud­ies on it, which had var­ied res­ults. A 2010 study of 198 stu­dents in Nepal found menstruation’s effect on attend­ance was min­imal. Mean­while a 2012 study of 120 stu­dents in Ghana found sup­ply­ing period products and edu­ca­tion sig­ni­fic­antly improved attend­ance over five months. Over­all, how­ever, men­stru­at­ing stu­dents were found less likely to con­trib­ute, stand up or write on the black­board, for fear of acci­dents. Being unable to talk about your period can have det­ri­mental effects on health, self-esteem, and edu­ca­tion and future prospects.

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How can you talk about your period?

So how could we change this? There are a num­ber of ways to try to nor­m­al­ise dis­cus­sion of peri­ods in every­day 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 lan­guage is vital. Euphem­isms serve to alle­vi­ate the speaker’s dis­com­fort, and thus per­petu­ate the idea a period is dirty and shouldn’t be spoken of. Call your period what it is; don’t call it a “crim­son wave.” Not only does it fight the implic­a­tion that peri­ods should be hid­den, but it’s also for clarity’s sake. If you’re edu­cat­ing a young per­son or someone who doesn’t men­stru­ate, euphem­isms risk con­fus­ing them on what you’re actu­ally talk­ing about.

Being con­sist­ent

Talk­ing about a period once then never again still sends the mes­sage that it shouldn’t be spoken of. Bring­ing it up often enough that it isn’t avoided, but still treated in con­ver­sa­tions as some­thing totally nor­mal, is key. The more it is used in con­ver­sa­tions as a per­fectly cas­ual topic, the more it begins to be viewed as one.

Being inclus­ive

Peri­ods are a bio­lo­gical func­tion. That means that no two people will exper­i­ence them the same! Some have a very dif­fi­cult time with it, while oth­ers will find it easier, and some people may not men­stru­ate at all. Not all men­stru­at­ors are women, not all women men­stru­ate, and not all men­stru­ation is the same. In order to encour­age dis­cus­sion, it’s import­ant to embrace dif­fer­ences, rather than try to think of all peri­ods as a single experience.

Hav­ing confidence

Finally, the import­ant one is per­haps the hard­est one: being con­fid­ent and unashamed. The more you act awk­ward for bring­ing it up, the more awk­ward a topic it will be. And if other people see you’re unapo­lo­getic in talk­ing about your period, they may feel inspired to talk more about it as well! Feel­ing ashamed for a basic bod­ily func­tion serves no one. If you build con­fid­ence in your­self and stop need­ing to act like it’s a secret, it may make everything 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 situ­ation in most coun­tries is still far from ideal, but there are plenty of move­ments driv­ing change. There is now an inter­na­tional Men­strual Hygiene Day. Open­ness in the media is also on the rise, like Hello Flo’s 2013 ad and CBBC’s 2021 News­round spe­cial. Wat­erAid works with com­munit­ies to encour­age con­ver­sa­tions about peri­ods, improve facil­it­ies, and even made the short film “Peaky Bleed­ers. Period art is increas­ingly com­mon. A period emoji🩸has even been added to key­boards world­wide, to make it easier to talk about.

So, hope­fully in the future, the stigma won’t be nearly as power­ful, or non-exist­ent entirely. But in the mean­time, it may be pos­sible to improve open­ness about it in your daily life, through a simple con­ver­sa­tion or two. Talk about your period! Even if it’s only with someone 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!

Ailsa Fraser, writer, Texterin, Vulvani
Stu­dent & Writer | + posts

Ailsa lives in Eng­land and stud­ies in Scot­land. She spends her time writ­ing, day­dream­ing about fantasy worlds and won­der­ing about the future of our own. As a stu­dent of his­tory and polit­ics, she is espe­cially inter­ested in think­ing about how the exper­i­ences of women, LGBTQ people and other minor­it­ies fit into all three – espe­cially when the topic of men­stru­ation is involved.