The Importance of Talking About Periods

By Katy Thornton / November 3, 2020

There’s a huge importance of talking about periods, for the blatant fact that they affect half the earth’s population. Yet, there has always been this taboo when it comes to talking about them, and this creates the dangerous perception that they are not normal, or that they are to be suffered in silence. It can mean someone doesn’t speak up if they are having more severe pain than usual, it can make them uncomfortable when it comes to asking for help. Even in today’s modern world, where anything and everything is discussed in such explicit detail, periods are something people still shy away from. 

Here’s why there needs to be an emphasis in talking about periods. 

What is a period?

Periods are completely natural. They can affect girls as early as eight years old, and many women experience them into their fifties, when menopause hits. For half a woman’s life, they will have to deal with their menstrual cycle, once a month, for up to a week, and so it seems unusual that they’re still something that are whispered about. 

A period is when a female’s uterine wall sheds, causing her to bleed for several days. It happens two weeks after ovulation, if the woman hasn’t gotten pregnant during her ovulation period. 

A girl usually gets her period between the age of 8 and 16, it depends on the individual entirely. The lack of a period, or the disappearance of one’s period can suggest a health issue, such as rapid weight loss or gain, and if you’re worried you should contact your GP. However, periods differ for everyone, and while for some they can be easy to deal with, others can find them very difficult and painful. 

The problem with this is that because some can find them incredibly easy to deal with, this perpetuates the idea that they’re not that bad, when for some people, particularly those who deal with difficulties such as endometriosis, they can cause you to miss work or school.

If you’re trying to prepare your child for their first period, read more here.  

Tampax Ad

In August there was a tampon ad shown on Irish televisions that was banned due to 84 complaints. An ad that, instead of masking periods showing women playing tennis in bright white clothing or something equally as unrelated to having a period (I think I speak for the majority of women when I say these ads fill me with rage), actually informed the watcher of how to insert a tampon. There were no graphic images of vaginas, or anything that would be inappropriate for a child to see, and yet, because of 84 complaints (there are 4.9 million people in Ireland for scale), it was taken off the air. As seems to be the norm nowadays, people were offended by the ad. You can read more about this outrage and the return to “Catholic Ireland” in this Irish Times article.

How can someone be offended by learning about something that half the planet has to experience on a monthly basis, for a period of up to 11 days, depending on your cycle. When it seems like we’ve come leaps and bounds from the ways of the past, it is this kind of malarkey that reminds us that, once again, we have a long way to go.  

The worst thing about this is that tampons, although completely safe when used correctly, can be extremely daunting for young girls who are just starting out. This fear can extend well into adulthood, and it is rooted in, as many things are, a lack of knowledge and transparency. Some girls are too nervous to try to use one alone, and too nervous to ask for help. This ad sought to put those fears at ease, to provide empowerment for those who probably feel anything but empowered the first time they have to face using a tampon. And to add insult to injury, it was deemed too vulgar to have on television. This simply just doesn’t send the right message. 

Irish Youtuber Melanie Murphy spoke up when the ad was banned – hear what she has to say in her video “‘Offensive’ Tampon Ad Banned & We Need To Talk About It.”

Toxic Shock Syndrome 

Tampons are safe, but they do come with safety guidelines, for example, they shouldn’t be worn for longer than eight hours to avoid toxic shock syndrome, or TSS. This can be life-threatening, although that’s rare, and it is important young girls, or anyone who is starting to use tampons, know this and ensure they’re taking the necessary precautions. Removing an informative ad from television only further blocks people from learning the necessary knowledge about periods in order to get through it. Banning this ad only enforces the mindset that this is something we shouldn’t talk about, and talk about openly. If there are ads for breast-feeding, condoms, Viagra pills, then why shouldn’t there be an in-depth ad on periods and tampons?

Common symptoms of TSS to watch out for:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Temperature
  • Vomiting 
  • Rash 
  • Lips, tongue, and whites of eyes turning red 
  • Diarrhoea

Other Ways of Coping With Periods

talking about periodsTampons are not the only route to go when dealing with your period. Although they are what is most commonly used, they don’t work for many people, particularly those with conditions like vaginismus, which is when someone has difficulty with a foreign or manmade object entering their vagina. This can often be psychological, a fear which causes the vagina to tighten or clamp up, another reason why talking about periods is essential.

There are also sanitary pads, that stick into your underwear, period underwear, which soak up the blood without causing leakage, or, the most environmentally friendly, moon cups, which are reusable. It is important to find what works for you, as with everything else in life, not one size fits all. There can be a sense of shame induced around not using tampons, but at the end of the day it is entirely up to you what you want to use.

Talking About Periods with Men 

Talking about periods is not only important for those who will experience them. It is difficult for men to understand menstruation and what it is like, and when everyone remains so tight lipped about it, it leads to complete ignorance that’s not entirely their fault. Not every man has sisters who will experience periods, and even those who do may never witness the difficulties they can face on a monthly basis. I know personally that my period is not something I’d ever discuss with my brother or my father, as I too have felt in the past like it is something I shouldn’t discuss. When I needed to take painkillers to dull the cramps, I’d tell my dad that I had a headache. When I was bent over double in school with the pain, I’d say it was just a stomach ache. There should be nothing wrong with simply saying, “I’m on my period” and yet as a teenager, I couldn’t force the words out of my mouth. Talking about periods should be as easy as saying “I have a headache” or “I have a cold,” and if it is normalised to talk about with men at a young age, then the stigma behind it should begin to disappear. 

My Personal Experience

I’m a 24-year-old female meaning I’ve been dealing with my period for 11 years. At the tender age of 13, I looked into the toilet bowl and realised I had begun my period. What was at first excitement quickly turned to dread – I had no idea what to do next. My sister, only four years older than me, provided me with sanitary pads and off I went. For the first few months, I was fine, filled with a sense of womanhood.

Then, about six months later, I experienced my first “bad” period. I was out shopping with my grandmother, and suddenly was overcome with period cramps (which do not feel like anything else I’ve ever experienced) and I was unable to walk. I began sweating profusely and thought I was going to vomit; I couldn’t believe this could only be down to my period. But it was, and after then, every time my menstrual cycle began, I’d have to pray an attack of cramps, which was guaranteed at least once in the 7-10 days my period would last, would happen in the comfort of my own home, because there was no concentrating in school if it happened there.

I didn’t have it as bad as many women do – now I suffer from one or two bad days and regular paracetamol does the job for me. Many women experience it much worse. It is something they have to work into their schedule, to account for when making plans. It’s difficult to say to your boss “sorry I’m going to be on my period that week, so I may not be able to make that meeting because I may or may not be in agony with cramps.” And that’s just for women who have regular periods – that doesn’t account for those who never know when their period is going to arrive. I’m someone who has had it relatively easy, and even at that, I’ve ended up in the nurse’s office in school, or crippled for hours with cramps that won’t go away. I have learned to live with it, as all women must, but the burden would be easier if we could talk about it more. 

talking about periodsEven in writing this article, I am censoring myself, believe it or not. I am censoring my anger and frustrations in how this monthly issue for so many people on this planet is still considered taboo, and is still causing ads to be banned. Is still not openly talked about with men unless it’s in a science or SPHE class. I’m censoring putting more explicit images of period blood, opting instead for an abstract art-piece despite it just being blood at the end of the day (and I refuse to put a picture in that shows that non-descript blue liquid that is meant to mimic period blood in the ads on television). I’m angry about pink tax, but that is an article for another day. We have come so far with so many things, and talking about periods is simply another one that we need to emphasise for the sake of girls everywhere, so no one has to feel frightened or uncomfortable when that time comes for them. Because at the end of the day, if women didn’t have periods, they couldn’t give birth, and what is more natural than that? 

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About the author

Katy Thornton

Katy is a Creative Writing graduate from UCD who freelance writes and is currently working on her debut novel.

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