Since we learn so many negative things about periods from such a young age, being period-positive takes conscious effort. From hearing people act grossed out at the mention of menstruation to being told to cover up leaks, we get the sense that periods are embarrassing at best and outright shameful at worst. But the same way people spread these messages to us in subtle ways, equally small changes in our own behavior can lift the stigma on menstruation.
According to a survey by the tampon alternative FLEX, which helps make period sex less messy, 43 percent of women have been teased over their periods, while 58 percent have learned it's impolite to talk about menstruation. When we learn that it's bad to talk about something our bodies do, we may come to the conclusion that the thing itself is bad — and that our bodies are bad. And that needs to change.
The survey also found that 90 percent of women hide their tampons on the way to the bathroom. I was surprised to realize when I learned this that despite my own determination to normalize periods, I do this, too. Which doesn't make sense, if you think about it: We're OK with people seeing us go to the bathroom, which involves bodily functions itself, so why is menstruation the one bodily function we have to hide?
If you agree and want to end the embarrassment and anxiety many still feel around their periods, here are some ways to spread period positivity.
1. Carry Around Pads & Tampons
Even if you don't menstruate yourself, a lot of people around you do, and you never know when they might be out of supplies. Carrying pads or tampons around to offer anyone in need is a nice gesture of support.
2. Talk About Your Period With Your Friends
As long as they're comfortable with it, share your experiences with menstruation with your friends — your first period stories, favorite cramp relief methods, or whatever's on your mind. When we lift the veil on a taboo topic, we not only send the message that it's OK to talk about it but also learn a lot about it.
3. Teach Your Kids About Periods
If you're a parent, aunt or uncle, or other person charged with caring for children, explain periods to them in a non-judgmental way or get a fun book that'll do it for you. Period stigma starts young — but period normalization can, too.
4. Make Or Collect Art
Menstrual blood art is a thing, and it's been used to depict everything from abstract flowers to Donald Trump's face. There's also a ton of art inspired by the female reproductive system that doesn't use menstrual blood itself. Hang some in your room, post some on your Facebook wall, or create some of your own to start a discussion.
5. Speak Matter-Of-Factly About Your Own Cycle
If you need to buy tampons, don't try to hide what you're going to the store for. If you're feeling less-than-stellar due to PMS, don't say you're sick. Tell the truth, regardless of the gender of the people you're talking to. Men should be able to handle it.
6. Wear Something That Makes A Statement
Show that periods aren't ugly by making them into something cute, like a uterus shirt.
7. Don't Project Your Embarrassment Onto Anyone
As 16-year-old Anushka Dasgupta pointed out in a viral Facebook post, assuming someone's ashamed can function to shame them, even if that's not your intention. If you see someone leaking, for example, don't whisper to them and hand them a pad; they could be free-bleeding intentionally. Treat everyone else's periods the way you'd probably want your own to be treated: like no big deal.