It's 2017 and we still lower our voices when we tell a fellow menstruating person, "I have my period" when other people are nearby. It's seen by our culture as "private" — something not meant to be spoken about in "polite company" (whatever that actually means). As such, there are still a number of period issues we need to talk about more, because it's past time we normalize menstruation — a process created by nature itself. You can know that our culture still isn't fully comfortable with periods because the conversation continues to make heads turn and elicits strange looks; what's more, those who speak openly about menstruation are viewed as courageous and outspoken. This much is true — but the question is this: Why do we need to be so brave to talk about periods? Should it be easy, ordinary, casual?
Menstruation is a complex discussion, punctuated with many questions, curiosities, and mysteries. Regardless, there is one conclusion in the end that none of us can deny: Periods are normal, and they're never going away. For that reason, isn't it high time we get comfortable and start talking about it more? So much of it remains an enigma, and people who menstruate often endure it in silence. But we'd all benefit from confronting these seven period issues head-on.
1The Maze That Is Birth Control
Birth control isn't this magical pill that makes all your problems go away, giving you the freedom to have sex with whoever whenever and never getting pregnant. There's so much more to it than that.
Yes, it protects against pregnancy; it also makes your periods regular and can help reduce cramps and some other factors of PMS. However, there are a variety of negative side effects that we don't always make a point of talking about — like the depression, especially for people with a history of it. Research has found that when people are on the pill, certain parts of their brain look and behave differently. It's not just emotional — it's physiological; and it can be intense. Research from the Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre in Australia found that people on hormonal birth control are twice as likely to be depressed as people not on hormonal birth control.
And how about your sex drive? As in, you might not have one. While the pill can increase your libido, many people experience a huge drop. Imagine your body literally being incapable of getting turned on, no matter what you do. Does it not defeat the purpose of birth control all together? (Then again, it's still getting the job done. If you don't want to have sex in the first place, then you can't get pregnant. Thanks, birth control!)
Birth control can be the answer to many problems — but not all. Furthermore, birth control can open a whole host of new problems. It's complicated.
2How Periods Affect Literally Everything
Periods don't necessarily turn people into irrational messes (hi there, harmful gendered stereotype), but they can knock your train off its proverbial tracks in a lot of ways. For example, PMS and menstruation can give you some serious brain fog and zap your motivation, thanks to the effect they have on your neurotransmitters and how much harder it becomes to focus. If you're having an extra hard time in school or at work, it honestly could be your period.
Periods leave you extra irritable, meaning your anxiety might be at an all-time high. Another ironic issue? Although your period makes you tired and sluggish, it can also make it harder to sleep. Right before Aunt Flo arrives, your estrogen drops, which can make you feel hot and clammy while you try to sleep. Decreased levels of progesterone also help create a good environment for insomnia.
Let's recap: You're forgetful. You have no motivation. You can't concentrate. You're anxious. You're depressed. You're exhausted. How could this not affect every aspect of your life?
3The Period Stigma
We have so many reasons not to talk about our periods. There's the concern that it'll be perceived as an "excuse" for one thing — usually by people who have never menstruated in their lives. We're also often chastised or told that we're "gross" for talking about something "disgusting" — and when I say "disgusting," I clearly mean, "a totally natural process that about half the world's population experiences whether they like it or not." Oh, also, it's a reason we're able to reproduce. So, you're welcome.
Still, it's blood coming out of nether regions, and some people just can't handle it. We get it. Really, we do. No one gets a more up-close and personal view of the entire process than we do. But let's make it OK to talk about periods, ya know?
Now that we're all on the same page, we're about to run into another period problem that we should be talking about way more.
For Pete's sake, the period blood in tampon and pad commercials isn't even red. They use this mysterious blue liquid. Is that alien period blood? Where did it come from? Why aren't my periods blue?
Why are we still censoring period talk? Take social media, for example. As much as I love Instagram (and I do), they've been guilty of censoring women's bodies more than once. One such instance was when Rupi Kaur's photo of herself completely clothed — whose pants and bedsheets had period blood on them — was deleted. We all went apesh*t, and Instagram was like, "JK. You can keep the photo."
This wasn't the first time something like this happened, and it's (sadly) safe to say it won't be the last. Menstruation is something we are constantly emphasizing should never leave the bathroom, even though, as we've now discussed, it can have such a huge imprint on someone's life.
Get over it, people. It's just blood. We watch far worse things on TV.
5The Tampon Tax
Allow me to explain: Most states make tax exemptions for certain "necessities," or what they consider non-luxury items. These include things like groceries and medical purchases. One would assume that this would also include menstrual products, since, you know, periods are a fact of life for so many of us based purely on biology. But no. Tampons are considered a luxury item — hence, the "tampon tax," as it's been termed.
Since when is getting periods a luxury?! That must explain why it's so effing expensive: In California alone, people are paying about $7 every month for roughly 40 years of menstrual products, which translates to over $20 million annually in tampon taxes.
For women who menstruate in particular , the problem is a double whammy: We get paid less than men across the board, and then we get taxed extra for having periods on top of it. And, simply put: That's the pits.
More states are eliminating the tampon tax, but we're not done yet.
6How Periods Are Used Against You
This is a huge (huge) pet peeve of mine. Sometimes, when I get angry or upset and I'm on my period, someone — meaning my partner (I love you, honey!) — will innocently say, "You're on your period, right?" He's looking for the reason I'm so upset, but trying to pin the blame on my cycle is effectively a way to excuse yourself from responsibility for doing anything offensive.
Yes, menstruation can make us extra moody. We've already established that. But that does not dismiss everyone around you from any wrongdoing. It's not a viable excuse for anyone to push the boundaries in the way they treat or speak to us, though.
7Endometriosis Seriously Sucks
For the most part, all people really know about endometriosis is that it can be really painful, but let's get into this a little more. (Full disclosure: I do not have endometriosis. This information comes from the Mayo Clinic.)
When someone has endometriosis, the tissue that should line the inside of their uterus grows on the outside of it instead. It still behaves like this tissue normally would: It breaks down and bleeds when you have your period, but it becomes trapped. This leads to what can eventually be severe pain, particularly during your period.
You can also experience pain during sex, and when you go to the bathroom. Your periods might be extra heavy, and you can also bleed in between them. Infertility is another possible side effect of endometriosis, along with fatigue, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea.
We don't really know why people get endometriosis or how to get rid of it. But we do know that it affects around 10 percent of people with uteruses of reproductive age, and it's incredibly unpleasant. This can be yet another factor that makes periods (and life in general) more difficult than they already are. We're not being wimps. We're not being too sensitive.