If you stop to think about it, the fact that approximately one week out of every four in almost half the population's life is occupied with something that's deemed to be "utterly disgusting" and too improper to mention — our menstrual period — is completely bonkers. While periods aren't exactly something to celebrate for many of us, given the inconvenience, cramps, annoying symptoms, and blood stains, they're a natural bodily function that certainly doesn't deserve such an unsavory reputation. Almost every aspect of periods is talked about as "gross," but it's for that very reason that we need to normalize them, stat.
The consequences of squeamishness and taboos around periods because of societal disgust are serious. If your uterus is healthy, your period blood and discharge is completely sterile until it hits oxygen, but concepts of full-body "uncleanliness" for menstruating women have manifested themselves in many cultures, resulting in illogical restrictions worldwide against women on their periods preparing food, entering holy places or being around others at all. The belief that periods are disgusting and refusal to help people who menstruate deal with them in a supportive, healthy way also keeps girls out of education, holding back the empowerment of the entire gender. Here are seven aspects of periods that need to be re-categorized as natural and normal, instead of causing shivers and anguish.
Clotting, as I'm sure you learned in your health classes, may cause alarm because it doesn't look like a smooth flow of cranberry-colored blood, but for many of us, it's a perfectly natural part of the menstrual process, as the uterine lining doesn't necessarily shed in a predictable or smooth manner. Menstrual clots can involve blood and other parts of the lining, and aren't usually viewed as an issue unless they're very heavy or related to intense pain and extended periods. In fact, the idea of clotting is kind of empowering. An entire gender throws clots of coagulated blood and internal tissue every month and operates just as normal; how intensely badass can you get?
Brown blood isn't a sign that blood has gone "bad": It's actually related to your hormone levels. Those of us with lower levels of certain hormonal "triggers" for uterine lining replenishment have a lighter flow, and will likely keep a little bit of lining leftover after every period. That tends to be the first thing that's expelled in the next menstrual cycle, and age means it tends to look dark and brown. That doesn't mean the blood is contaminated, toxic, or particularly "bad." Remember, the uterus is a sterile environment, and brownness rarely signals any issues in and of itself.
Flows That Last Beyond "Regular" Limits
Studies of menstrual cycles led by apps like Clue, which collects menstrual data consensually from its users to collate into research, are highlighting something interesting: there's actually a very large variation contained within the idea of a "healthy" period, and it may not conform to what your 28-day chart idealized chart looks like. Longer flows in particular — those periods that go beyond the typical seven days — are common, and while they might be annoying, they certainly don't deserve to be stigmatized or seen as drowning in blood. The out-of-sight out-of-mind attitude towards menstrual bleeding felt by many women who've been raised in an atmosphere of shame means that those with longer cycles can worry or feel unclean, but that's deeply unfair. If you're healthy, you're healthy. End of story.
Reusing Menstrual Products
Today's modern menstrual products are largely geared towards disposability, which can mean that many people feel a bit uneasy or disgusted by the concept of reusing stuff that helps catch and contain menstrual flow. But that's not really the best way to look at it. For one thing, the heyday of the tampon and the reusable pad as one-use things is a relative reinvention; thousands of years worth of women have been using rags and other materials to help them work and function while on their periods, and you can guarantee that in societies where fabric was scarce and expensive or women were poor, reusing and washing was common. For another, reusing menstrual products in the modern day is having a comeback to help make periods more green, from the Diva Cup to environmentally friendly washable pads. It may be a good option for you to consider if you're worrying about the impact of your month's worth of pads and tampons.
Evidence On Clothing & Fabric
Can we get over this? Women bleed. It gets on things. It happens. People sometimes treat evidence of blood as something in the same category as urination or feces stains, as they seem to fall into the group of "bodily waste disposal," but there's a difference: humans who are functioning healthily have control over the disposal of waste from their digestive systems. Healthy women do not have control over their period flow. (And the amount of men who appear to believe that women can "just hold it" is truly staggering, might I add.) Period-stained underpants, the spill of an unexpected bleed on sheets: it's normal, and it'd be a lot easier to deal with if people didn't get all weird about it.
Women, a great-aunt once informed me, do not sweat; they glow. This may be all very well, but societal discomfort with the fact of women's perspiration get in the way of acknowledging one of the elements of periods: sweating. Hot flashes tend to be exclusively associated with menopause, but it's not unusual or particularly abnormal for women in their 20s to experience them too because of their period?, and the result is a whole lot of sweat. It's not gross. It's just a signal that they need water and a fan, and that you should stop staring or making snide comments.
Letting Men Know Periods Are Happening
It is not disgusting to communicate to men who need to know that your period is occurring. If you live in the same space, if you're in a sexual relationship, or if they're in some capacity in your life where it's necessary for them to know (like being your doctor), being open about your period is fine, and you do not need to hide your tampons under the sink and pretend that you've never had one in your life. Men are allowed to experience a bit of discomfort over periods — it is, after all, pretty damn intimidating that women bleed phenomenal amounts, dispose of the results, and then just get on with their lives all the time — but outright disgust isn't necessary. That doesn't mean you need to go shouting it from the rooftops if you don't want to; your bodily experiences are your own, and your privacy and boundaries are yours to draw. But avoidance of letting men know the realities of periods just perpetuates negative stereotypes and ignorance, and that's not cool.