“Taboo”: Why can’t we talk openly about women’s menstrual health?
Words by Emily Tattersall
Periods. There are plenty of different ways to describe them, but put simply, they refer to the vaginal bleeding that women experience as a part of their monthly cycle, for the majority of their lives.
Yet, menstruation is still considered to be a taboo in society, which seems absurd considering that in most cases women have no control of their menstrual cycles. Seriously, no control.
In some cases, this can result in some pretty awkward and embarrassing moments, and for me personally these range from two of my school teachers drying my uniform in a bathroom to being at a guy’s house and stealing his mum’s pads.
The continued stigmatisation of periods can be largely attributed to how poorly female menstrual health is addressed in sex education to primary and secondary school students. Honestly, I cannot remember any mention of periods in my own classes, and believe I mostly relied on my friends’ experiences to know what to expect.
However, a friend of mine recalled the only advice that her class was given regarding periods:
“There are options. Tampons that go inside, pads that don’t, or the pill to skip it.”
Additionally, the fact that males do not menstruate is a major contributing factor to why discussions surrounding female menstrual health are not encouraged in society.
This is even more present in other cultures, which I became aware of through the experience of getting my period whilst staying with my grandparents in Indonesia.
There was a huge emphasis placed on keeping the whole concept of periods a secret from men which in turn required a great deal of effort. Furthermore, tampons are also considered a taboo in Asian culture, due to the extremely outdated theory that having your hymen intact equates to being a virgin. In general, the stigmatisation of periods causes women to feel ashamed of something that is normal.
Most importantly, destigmatising periods is instrumental to prompting discussions about female health issues. Linking back to the lack of education about menstruation provided to young girls, the absence of information regarding what periods actually entail makes identifying abnormalities incredibly difficult.
A friend of mine who has Stage 1 Endometriosis, PCOS, and symptoms of adenomyosis, attributed this to being why she was unaware of her chronic disorders for years. Even when she did get diagnosed, she was “told [she] had a 40 year old woman’s disease”, despite the fact that “it’s very common for girls to display symptoms at 17 like [she] did.”
Unfortunately, her experience, like many others, reflects the additional underlying gender bias present in healthcare.
Disclaimer: It should be noted that not all women menstruate, and not all people with periods are women.
This article was printed in Elle Dit, our feminist-themed edition of On Dit. Pick up a copy now on campus.