Period Stigma

A History of Menstrual Messages

Tomi-Ann Roberts
Kotex illustration of ladies in dresses

A History of Menstrual Messages

Messages around menstruation haven’t made much positive progress through history. But we can change the course by creating positive conversations around periods.

Periods Portrayed as Problematic

Often, conversations or comments about periods are met with hesitation or embarrassment. Why do people feel ashamed about managing or talking about a period? Well, maybe it’s because these perceptions have been perpetuated, and even normalized, within culture. Take a look at portrayals of menstruation throughout history, and you will likely find periods represented as negative, burdensome and even shameful. It’s time to change that narrative and empower women to be confident in shedding the stigma along with their uterine lining!

Periods in History

In early history, periods were perceived as a curse, and people with periods were even considered by some to be “possessed by a demon” (Knsight, 1991). Nowadays, we don’t think periods are a sign of demon possession, but our social norms and language around periods still imply that those who menstruate are weaker or more fragile than those who don’t menstruate. Another issue is the implication that menstruation is an illness, rather than an essential part of reproductive health. Even advertisements in the early 1900s suggested that “ultimate humiliation would be any indication that (a girl was) menstruating” (Houppart, 1995). This has contributed to a societal norm that still tells people to hide all evidence of their periods, in fear of risking humiliation. When we look at the ways periods are talked about in our cultures, we can understand why so many people feel shame or embarrassment around the topic. However, it’s important to challenge these negative perceptions around periods to ensure nothing stands in the way of a woman’s progress, certainly not her period.

Shifting the Conversation

Instead of hiding or avoiding periods, we should shift the conversation to encourage each other to talk about menstruation. One benefit of openly discussing periods is that we can learn how periods affect mental and physical health. We’ll be able to educate each other about best products to use for our bodies and needs, what foods are healthy to eat, and other wellness practices we can engage in during the different phases of the menstrual cycle. That way, we can empower women to overcome certain barriers to their success throughout their daily lives. Further, we can learn more about serious period-related conditions, such as Polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis, and the necessary treatments and resources that are available in modern times. That’s the importance of talking about periods – if we don’t bring up questions, we can’t find the right answers to take care of our cycles and our bodies. By talking unapologetically about menstruation with your friends and family, you can help us create a new set of norms about how periods are healthy, positive and natural. When we do so, we’ll be replacing those old outdated myths that have stuck around for too long with facts and information. And that champions progress for everyone.

Author SummaryTomi-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.

Sources Referenced:

  • Houppert, K. (1995, February 7). Pulling the plug on the sanitary protection industry. Village Voice.
  • Knight, C. (1991). Blood relations: Menstruation and the origins of culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Pre ss.
Kimberly-Clark makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.