When somebody implies that someone's being irrational because they're on their period or acts grossed out about it, that's definitely period shaming — or, making people feel like their periods are something they need to hide. But there are also some other things you may not realize are period shaming. These are usually done with good intentions, but they stem from and contribute to our society's disgust toward periods and the subsequent stigma that arises from it.
I've been unintentionally period shamed several times myself. One day, for example, I was in a coffee shop a few weeks after a breakup. A song came on that made me thought of my ex (you know, that song you used to listen to together and have all these sentimental attachments to, even if the lyrics have nothing to do with your relationship), and I teared up a bit. To both laugh at myself and get emotional support, I texted my roommate that I had just started crying in a coffee shop. She responded with one word: "Periods." She thought I was crying because of my period. It felt like she was making light of my breakup — and reducing my emotions to my biological sex. She was just trying to sympathize and laugh along with me, but she ended up shaming me, even though she didn't mean to.
Here are a few other ways that we unconsciously shame people about their periods, and why they need to stop.
1. Freaking Out Over Leaks
Dealing with leaks during your period is far from uncommon — it's hard to determine exactly when you need a pad or tampon. And it's not a big deal; the blood usually comes out in the wash pretty easily. Yet whenever anyone's informed me that I was leaking, it was with a scared look on their face and a hushed tone. If, on the other hand, I have something in my teeth, people who choose to say something will do so matter-of-factly and nonchalantly. But when we act embarrassed for someone because they're leaking, we send the message that they should be embarrassed.
Earlier this year, in the Facebook post above, a 16-year-old named Anushka Dasgupta called out people who act nervous around people who are leaking:
Do not whisper when you utter the word "PERIODS," do not subtly offer a woman a sanitary napkin, or a fresh change of clothes. ASK her if she needs one, TELL her she has stained her clothes, DO NOT HELP HER HIDE IT.
It's an important message, and one our culture could stand to take to heart. Periods happen; it's time we stopped pretending they didn't.
2. Attributing Emotions To PMS
Some people may find that their emotions change before or during their periods, but this doesn't justify any assumptions about anybody's mental state. First of all, the link between menstruation and mood is actually tenuous — only about half of studies have found any connection at all, and only 17 percent have found that mood worsens right before your period, according to a meta-analysis in Gender Medicine. Besides, when there is a connection, it's not necessarily negative — one study in Hormones and Behavior found people can actually be more empathetic during their periods. As Gloria Steinem pointed out in the essay "If Men Could Menstruate," cis women actually have the hormone levels most similar to cis men at the beginnings of their periods. "Why isn't it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?" she asks.
Even in cases when someone does experience PMS, you don't know if that's why they're upset at any given moment. It's very possible they actually have something to be angry or sad about. The only person who can tell you that is them.
3. Dissing Period Sex
Unfortunately, a lot of people assume they can't have sex when they have their periods. I've known people who planned their dates around the cycles of themselves and their partners, and one of my friends was even told by her gynecologist to start her birth control pills on weekends so she could enjoy the weekend to its fullest (that is, not be menstruating so she could have sex). People should be able to do these things if that's their personal preference, but people often do them by default because they don't realize having sex on your period is an option. Sure, it might be a little messier, but it can also be more pleasurable for some people. This doesn't mean it's OK to make someone feel bad for not wanting sex when they or their partners are on their periods — but period sex shouldn't be out of the question just because that's the norm.
4. Not Talking About It
When we talk about periods in hushed tones or avoid talking about them altogether, we send the message that they should be kept a secret. There are over 5,000 euphemisms for periods around the world, according to a survey by the period-tracking app Clue. When we act like words like "period" and "menstruation" are shameful, we imply that the thing they're referring to is shameful. But it shouldn't be, because it's a healthy biological process that half the population undergoes regularly. We may have different levels of comfort with what we share about ourselves, but we should feel free to talk about our periods as much as we want — and we should never try to censor someone else who does the same.