In many parts of the world, periods are still phenomenally powerful, strange, even feared things. From the insane ancient misconceptions about menstruating women being toxic enough to kill bees to confinement in “period huts,” the very figure of a woman with a period is like Godzilla. Help! She’s bleeding from the Intimate Bits! Hide! And even if you pride yourself on your rational modern outlook, it’s possible — even likely — that a little reserve, prudery, even shame, still governs how you discuss and feel about your period.
The idea of feeling shame for something that happens to almost every adult woman on the planet is frankly ridiculous, but it’s also a manifestation of millennia of patriarchy. A woman’s intimate body is seen as an unclean, confusing place, and talking about its most intimate aspect is correspondingly shrouded in embarrassment and silence. We’re told to be pretty and fun and bear children and lean in, and yet simultaneously not have cellulite / wrinkles / grey hairs / manifestations that we are in fact real, breathing humans that live and age. And we’re certainly not allowed to talk about a natural process that’s perfectly normal. How dare we!
You’d think we were talking about giving birth to spider-babies made of phlegm, the way some people shrink from the topic. (We aren’t. In case you were really being misled in sex ed.) Here are seven things about your period that you should never feel ashamed of.
1. The Appearance Of Blood On Clothing
Pubescent nightmares are built on the discovery of blood on white pants, dresses, sweatshirts or whatever else we cherish in our wardrobes. That’s why tampon ads always have a woman in white doing twirls. We’ve been conditioned to fear the telltale stain, as if we’re all characters in a bad Edgar Allan Poe story.
Yes, stains are embarrassing. I get it. But after a certain age, they get both rarer (since we’re taken by surprise less often) and easier to handle (since we become experts at scrubbing out blood in bathroom stalls). Yes, we’ve all done it, don’t lie. If it happens, though, don’t let it ruin your life. Tie on a sweater, change your jeans, and get on with stuff.
2. Bleeding During Sex
Women are told to be spotless, hairless, fatless beings in the sack, so the unexpected arrival of a period during sex can feel like a betrayal of our “role” to be neat, clean, perfect little princesses (who also swallow). But it’s not. It’s also, frankly, not an obstacle to good, hygienic, enjoyable sex.
If you have a partner who gets embarrassed and neurotic about your period during sex, it may be time to point out that we’re not special flowers who lack bodily functions. In other news, we also poop. Surprise! A real partner doesn’t need to smear your blood all over their face and do a war dance of delight, but they do need to not be excruciatingly paranoid about bits of uterine lining.
3. Asking For More Sensitivity During Sex
The other side of the period sex package, however, is that it does require you to take some command of your own feelings and sensations. Even if you’re the kind to go with whatever pleases your partner — whether from laid-back enthusiasm or out of a fear of voicing your own preferences — period sex is not the time to shut up and go with the flow, as it were.
The main reason for this is that, done wrong, it can actually be quite painful for some women. Cervical tissue is tender, the uterine lining is going everywhere, and you’re likely sensitive as hell. You and your partner both need to acknowledge that this isn’t everyday sex, and keep up good communication about how it feels for you.
4. Buying Chocolate, Tampons And Pain Relievers All At Once
You are not a stereotype. Repeat with me: You are not a stereotype. The tie between chocolate and pain relief, particularly in women, has been proven by science. The endorphin release chocolate produces in the brain leads to a kind of pleasure override when it comes to pain, even if it’s only temporary. You’re just using a science-proven method of mediating your brain chemistry, and you can do what you damn well like with it.
You are not under any obligation to avoid embarrassing supermarket clerks about this stuff. And who cares if you do? You’re an adult, and it’s not like you can do anything about this particular gift of nature. So hold your head up high when you get to the checkout. It’s just a bodily function. Who cares?
5. Asking A Partner To Buy Your Period Stuff
I don’t even understand why shame about this is a thing. Sitcoms dine on this kind of nonsense, but there should be zero stigma about getting somebody an anti-bleeding device on a shopping trip. It’s just a Band-Aid for the vagina, for goodness sake. What if people acted all squeamish or teased somebody for being “whipped” just because they bought a bandage from the first aid aisle?
The one disclaimer on this, however, is that it’s not fair to give no specifics about what you need and then get mad or accusatory if your partner comes home with the wrong thing. Whether they're male or female, if they aren't informed about your preferences, then they’re not making a bad decision out of embarrassment; they probably just made an educated guess. They are not uterus mind-readers. Don’t make it a test.
6. Admitting Your Misconceptions About Periods In The Past
The way we get rid of period myths is by talking about them. It's OK if you were once under the impression that the hymen somehow “blocked” periods from their full power until it broke, or that dieting until your period disappeared was a good idea, or that menstrual blood was poisonous or somehow harmful. That doesn't make you an idiot.
Some of the most common period myths — which usually involve the “corrupting” power of menstruating women and their need to be isolated from the community for its own health — are very ancient. Your admission of your misconceptions can make other women feel less upset about their own journeys toward truth.
7. Discussing Your Period With Your Doctor
Periods aren’t the be-all, end-all in female health, but they’re certainly not irrelevant. They need to be discussed if you notice anything different in their appearance or frequency, if you’re going on or off birth control, if you’re having a smear or any kind of cancer scan, or if you’re being given the HPV vaccine — in other words, a reasonable amount of the time. If you’re too uncomfortable to talk about it with your doctor, then either take deep breaths and reassure yourself of its normalcy, or change doctors. (No, seriously — if you only want to talk about your period with a female doctor, that’s perfectly OK.)
Trust me, doctors have heard some sh*t. They don’t get embarrassed by anything bodily. It’s their job. Remember that you’re not just blurting intimate health details to a stranger; you’re discussing a vital part of your health which only you know the truth about, and your doctor is the best person to interpret that information. You’re not raving at a bus stop.
Images: Helga Weber/Flickr; Giphy (7)