Period stigma can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and anxiety. It’s time to shatter stigmas, talk openly about periods and drive change.
Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a quality or person, and stigma around periods has unfortunately existed for a long time. Period stigma creates a sense of shame, embarrassment or hesitation to talk about periods. Too often, when we do dare to have conversations about menstruation, they center on disgust, discomfort or inconvenience. These perceptions can lead people to wrongly believe that periods are somehow abnormal or problematic, rather than a mark of female health and wellness.
Period stigma is revealed in the ways that people talk (or don’t talk) about periods and handle period products. When someone shies away from talking about menstruation, by using passive terms like “monthly visitor” or “Aunt Flo,” it discourages others from seeking information because they feel the topic is forbidden or that they should hide their own period. Further, negative comments around periods can lead to shame in purchasing or carrying period products – which is very silly when you think about how many people actually experience periods every month! Period stigma can also infiltrate into daily conversations and polarize us. For example, when people only complain about mood swings and cranky attitudes caused by periods, it creates a belief that periods are abnormal – when periods are in fact an important aspect of a healthy life and affect many people in our society. In order to shatter some of the misconceptions that periods are gross and unusual, we must overcome a fear of talking about them.
Encouraging conversations around periods helps girls and women understand when their cycles are healthy or not, get proper diagnoses for other conditions, and feel empowered to manage their cycles as they manage other aspects of their bodily wellbeing. Sometimes irregular cycles signal other health issues – but we wouldn’t know what to look for if we never talked openly about our normal period experiences. Additionally, sharing education on topics like how to use period products correctly, or resources like Alliance for Period Supplies, also benefits those who experience period poverty. A great way to drive change in your community is to help increase access to period supplies for others. Check out Alliance for Period Supplies’ list of local allied programs to get involved in your area. We can also drive change by confidently carrying around or purchasing period products. There’s no need to be ashamed to carry a tampon! Creating a space where periods are normalized encourages people to have more positive and confident discussions, enabling women to access information and products they need to manage their cycles.
Some societal norms, like using passive terms about periods (ever heard of “Aunt Flo” or “code red”?) make women feel invalidated. However, we can challenge negative perceptions around periods and instead open up bold that conversations that normalize periods and spread education. You can be part of the movement by encouraging friends and family to embrace the topic and help each other better understand this normal part of female health. Period stigma doesn’t have to stand in the way of a woman’s progress – let’s shatter period stigma together!
Author Summary Tomi-Ann Roberts, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Colorado College whose research, teaching, advocacy and expert testimony centers on her theory Objectification Theory, which examines the sexual objectification of girls and women. In addition to her scholarly publications, she has served on the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls and as the President of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.
This is not intended to be medical advice. Everybody is different so please make sure to consult your physician if you're having issues. Do not delay or refrain from seeking professional medical advice from your physician because of something you have read on this site.
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