Menstruation Around the World is a series from Vulvani that attempts to show the diversity of menstrual experiences around the world. We portray people from different countries with their personal stories. Let us explore the wonderful and so diverse world of menstrual experiences together. And who knows, maybe soon we will all be saying: ‘I am in love with my period’.
As a teenager, Katharina eagerly awaited her menstruation and was full of anticipation for her first period. Since then, she has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions towards her own period: from anger to indifference to gratitude, she has felt them all. Today she has turned to cycle awarness and is proudly saying: ‘I am in love with my period’. And she thinks we should all talk much more about our periods.
Katharina has spent months researching for her master’s thesis on how the media talks about menstruation and the period taboo. The impressive final result is her documentary ‘Menstrual Taboo?’. Dear Katharina, thank you so much for your important period documentary and for actively fighting the period taboo.
Gender / Sex: female
Country of birth: Germany
Home: Magdeburg, Germany
Age at first period: 13
Favorite period product: Menstrual cup
Cost per menstruation: 20€ last year for a menstrual cup that finally has the right size and fits my body
Contraception: IUB (copper bead ball)
1. How is menstruation seen in your family, culture or even country?
My mom, being the esoteric yogi she is, was super excited for my sister and I to get our periods and talked quite openly about it to us.
My social environment on the other hand had strict bounders when talking about periods. You were one of the cool kids, when you had it and complained about it. Because that meant technically you were old enough to have sex (at least that’s what we thought). It was a sign of growing up. Apart from that, no one would talk about it. You were supposed to buy tampons (because pads are gross and for old people) and use them in silence. Don’t get blood anywhere. That’s it.
Period blood is still a taboo
Even though things are starting to look up now in 2020, periods are still a “things between women” and people as well as commercials show very clearly, that menstrual blood is something that strictly needs to be hidden.
2. How and by whom were you educated about menstruation?
When I was a girl I learned about periods and sex education in fourth grade. We used colorful silk cloths to build a giant uterus on the floor and learned about our cycle and what happens if you get pregnant and if you don’t. The entire class showed a clear emphasis on how to not get pregnant and how sex is about the penetration of a vagina. Things like oral, anal or gay sex, were not a topic. There was also no education on the vulva and female pleasure.
Back then I thought, I know everything and now that I do, there’s no need to talk about it any longer.
I was keen to get my first period. Now looking back on that moment, I’m pretty proud of my menstrual excitement.
3. Tell us a little about your first period.
I think I was 13 or 14… honestly I don’t remember. I was keen to get my first period. Now looking back on that moment, I’m pretty proud of my menstrual excitement. Most of my friends already had their period. And while the rest of my body was in full on adolescence mode, my uterus was a bit behind. Whenever I had the slightest feeling of mucus coming out of my vagina, I ran to the bathroom to see if it was finally time for my menarche. Trust me – it never was. When it finally came, I had no idea until I went to the bathroom. My mom was even more excited than I was, when I told her about it. We went shopping that weekend to celebrate. That’s all I remember from my menarche.
4. How do you feel about your own menstruation?
My feeling about my period has changed from excitement to annoyance to indifference and finally to total cycle awareness and a new found love for my period and thankfulness for what my body is able to do and how I can tell my personal stress level from my period blood.
Today I am in love with my period
I used to be so careless with my body. Trying really hard to be ‘normal’ and act as if my menstrual cycle had no impact on my body. After a time period of 7 years of taking the pill, going off it, taking the morning after pill once, which messed up my cycle for 6 months, and then taking the pill again – I finally decided to stop taking artificial hormones and learn to read the signs my body gave me. It’s been a long way coming, but I am now in awe of my reproductive system and truly in love with my period.
My feeling about my period has changed from excitement to annoyance to indifference and finally to total cycle awareness and a new found love of my period and thankfulness for what my body is able to do.
5. Which menstrual products have you already tried?
I started by using pads, because I was terrified of tampons. I was really ashamed of that, because it seemed like using tampons was the only cool thing to do… At age 16 I finally started using tampons. They left my vagina insanely dry and in combination with the pill, it only got worse. But I simply ignored that fact for years.
The long way to finding the right menstrual cup
When I was 22 I used a menstrual cup for the first time… it was horrible, because I did everything wrong. And I didn’t try it again until almost a year after that. I took me a while (1.5 years to be exact) to find the right cup to fit my body. But I’ve been happy using the menstrual cup ever since.
I also own two reusable organic cotton pads. They were a gift. And I use them when I don’t feel like using the cup yet or at the end of my period. I am currently considering investing in enough pads for an entire period and maybe stop using the cup at all. To just let things flow freely.
6. What do you like to do when on your period?
This depends on how my life has been going for the past 2 months. My cycle is very good at suspecting stress and showing me, whether I need to take a few days for myself or not.
There are times when I’ll feel the need to stay home, take a bath and just lay in bed for the entire duration of my period. And then there are times when by day three I can hustle all day, go for a run and only have to empty my cup every 8 hours.
7. How are you feeling when menstruating?
When my body decides to power down during my period, I feel very exhausted on the first few days, especially on the heavy flow days. I’m sweating and feel very bloated. Period diarrhea is my constant companion.
I’m a big fan of using a heating pad for cramps and wearing soft clothes to not put extra pressure on my uterus. Thankfully, even though I have an IUB, which can increase bleeding and cramps, I don’t have insanely bad cramps or anything. It’s a pain I can tolerate and try not to numb down with pain killers. To me the menstrual pain I experience is a good kind of pain. Because I know where it comes from and that my body is just extracting uterine lining and blood to get ready for a new egg.
8. Who are you talking to about menstruation?
Since I started researching on how menstruation is being discussed in the media for my masters thesis, I’m talking about menstruation to everyone. Sexist or disrespectful comments about periods or menstruating people are being met with basic facts by me. I’m so annoyed with people calling periods useless and menstrual blood disgusting, that I have 0 tolerance for period shaming.
My boyfriend is very aware of all my ups and downs during my menstrual cycle, which makes it easier for him to show more empathy and understand my feelings. I love how interested he is in this subject. And I think we should all talk about periods a lot more.
9. Do you have a particular funny, embarrassing or important story about menstruation?
When I was filming my documentary about period stigma, which was the final part of my masters thesis about periods and media, I interviewed a social worker who teaches sex ed to children. She told me, that a lot of girls thought you were supposed to put the sticky side of the pad on your body, to stop the blood from leaking. I don’t know why, but this shocked me so much… These girls seemed so afraid of someone seeing their period blood that they thought they had to literally glue their yoni shut. This made me so sad and mad at the same time…
Period blood is still being hidden
We live in a highly advanced society with so many great achievements. But at the same time we created a world where children are so afraid of leaking period blood, that they think they are supposed to glue their vulva lips together with a pad to not show that they’re menstruating. That’s insane!
10. Want to share anything else about menstruation (or yourself)?
Every menstruating person has a very unique relationship with his or her yoni. No one should feel the need to share their period stories with everyone, but they should feel the possibility to do so without being judged. We live in a society, created by cis-men, that has a very clear image of how menstruating people are supposed to act: Like they’re not menstruating. Like they’re not in pain. Like their bodies are not going through a four part cycle every 28 to 32 days.
Normal vs. not normal
We have forgotten what our bodies are made for and declined our cycle to “bleeding” or “not bleeding”, which translates for a lot of people to “not normal” and “normal”. But periods are nothing out of the ordinary and something everyone (with or without a uterus) should be informed about, so the social stigma, which is clearly still a big part of our society, can be defeated.
No one should feel the need to share their period stories with everyone, but they should feel the possibility to do so without being judged.
Do you want to become part of ‘Menstruation around the world’?
We hope to be able to present the portraits of menstruating people as varied and diverse as possible. And for this we need you – no matter how you feel about your own menstruation or where you come from! If you would like to be part of this series and share your personal experiences and thoughts about menstruation with us, please write us a message or simply fill out this questionnaire (anonymously is also possible). We are already looking forward to sharing your story with the Vulvani community!