Even in 2021, many parts of the world still consider periods taboo. And we’re not just talking about distant, faraway places. Canada and the United States have their fair share of issues when it comes to conversations about menstrual health too.
Stating one of the most obvious reasons: we don’t talk about it enough. Not at home, not at school, not even on social media where most of us spend our time. This isn’t to say we have to talk about periods as often as we talk about whether or not you should put pineapples on pizza. But improving discussions around this subject — healthy, open, non-judgemental discussions — would definitely be beneficial.
The problem with lack of knowledge
While we do have sex education, a majority of teenagers still learn more about sex through two avenues - porn and conversation with friends. Friends who are their age and who also learn through porn. Problem is, not everything they see in porn is akin to reality. This is where misconceptions enter the picture.
The same thing happens with menstrual health. The less we talk about it, the more misconceptions there are for teens - including those who don’t menstruate. Because it’s not just menstruating people who should have knowledge about this. People who don't have periods need more education too. You know, as a reminder that it’s a normal occurrence in a person’s life.
Another problem with lack of knowledge is the stigma it creates. Many menstruators feel awkward talking about their periods, because people might make fun of them or dismiss their experiences. The stigma, the shame, the bullying - these are the fruits of society’s decision to avoid talking about menstrual health.
Incorrect assumptions also come into play here. It’s easy to assume menstruating people automatically know what to do during their periods. In real life, that’s not always the case. If it’s someone’s first time, or they’re new to periods, it’s unlikely they’ll already know everything they need to know. That’s why they need good information in school, and lots of supportive conversations at home.
It can be even more complicated if you have PMDD, endometriosis, PCOS, or any other menstrual health disorder. Without proper knowledge about the menstrual cycle and your body’s reproductive system, getting a diagnosis won’t be easy - and it makes it even harder to know for yourself if something’s off in the first place.
Why periods shouldn’t be treated as something gross
So why do we need better menstrual health education? Isn’t sex ed in school enough? Isn’t it a private thing that menstruators have to keep to themselves?
For starters, better menstrual health education is the first step to treating menstruators with respect - especially during that time of the month. With knowledge comes understanding and empathy, which leads to less bullying and less judgement. Second, it’s really just like brushing your teeth or taking a bath - essential for your health. Menstruators may suffer reproductive tract infections or RTIs if they don’t know the safe, healthy ways to deal with their periods.
For too long, society has shunned people who bleed. People don’t talk about periods but will talk about their sexual activities out in the open. Why do you think that is? We have the power to shift the conversation and support each other (& future generations) by speaking more openly about menstrual health. Let’s stop treating menstruation as something gross because really, it’s not.
Making more resources accessible
It’s about time we tackle periods more often and more openly. Aside from the Youth Guide that Aisle offers, there are a lot of resources on the internet and we should just keep them coming. This is not just to prevent pregnancy or to know when to not wear white pants. Menstrual education is necessary because knowing our bodies is necessary.
There’s no shame when you’re bleeding three to seven days a month. There’s also no shame talking about it with your friends who are non-menstruators. And most certainly, there is no shame in respectfully asking a menstruating friend what it feels like, how it affects their mood, their appetite, their energy. Pretend you’re talking about sex, or the latest TikTok trend. Keep it light if it feels awkward. Awkward is okay. It’s only at the start. But always, always keep it respectful and educational. The more open we can be with each other, the better chance we have at leaving menstrual stigma in the past.
Tammy Danan is a freelance storyteller based in the Philippines. She reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers film, photography, and sustainability and how they intersect with our everyday life. Her words have appeared in Al Jazeera, VICE, Ozy, ZEKE Magazine, Audubon.org, and others.
Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com