When I was growing up, we had a visit from ‘the period lady’ - a woman from a menstrual product company who took all the girls into one room (I honestly don’t know for sure what happened to the boys – I think they got an extra hour of PE, which was totally unfair), showed us all her company’s video about menstruation, gave out branded booklets and free samples, and left.
That was the only brand I ever wanted to buy, until I became a teacher myself and started questioning why no other school subject was taught that way. Maybe that was your experience too. It was an experience so ridiculous that I still crack jokes about it now. In fact, I’ve found through performing science-themed comedy that humour is a great way to tackle taboo topics – especially if those taboos are a little – or a lot – out of date.
I started the #periodpositive project after my Master’s research showed that because of those old taboos keeping education in the dark ages, things aren’t much better now. #periodpositive aims to challenge menstrual taboos, to research and improve menstruation education, and share free resources with schools, parents, charities and young people.
Want to strike out against menstrual taboos yourself? Here are three facts you can use to bust some myths right now.
1) The menstrual cycle isn’t always exactly 28 days long. That may be the average, but for many people it’s anywhere between 21 and 35 days every time, and as long as it’s regular for you, it’s nothing to worry about. There are many cycle-charting apps (Clue is a good one) or you can simply use your phone or wall calendar, or a printed diary. A regular cycle is a sign of good health, like your blood pressure or your resting heart rate or your peak flow. If your cycle length changes, or your period becomes heavier or more painful, it is a good time to see your doctor to rule out a medical problem like endometriosis, PCOS, or womb-related cancers, which all benefit hugely from early detection.
2) Disposable pads and tampons aren’t all there is – check out reusable menstrual products which include menstrual cups, like the Mooncup which is made in the UK, and cloth pads, which you can make at home or buy from online shops. Most people don’t find out about these until university or after discovering cloth nappies, but they’re easy to use, good for finances and for the environment, and the only folks who don’t seem to like them are… disposable pad and tampon companies.
3) Leaks happen. No menstrual product is perfect, and it shouldn’t be a big deal. The reason so many young people – and adults too – fear staining their clothes is because of about a century of advertising – ads that constantly use words and phrases like ‘discreet’, ‘secret’, and ‘whisper’, or promise to be ‘leak proof’ and to save you from ‘embarrassment’ or ‘accident panic’. If a leak happens, just be matter-of- fact, ask for a pad or tampon from a friend or teacher, and make sure you soak your clothes in cold water and put them straight into the wash when you get home.
Those are the big three, but if you’ve got kids at home, close but clueless friends, or you’re a teacher yourself you may end up being asked about periods or other reproductive health topics at any time.
If this happens, answer the question straight away, as factually as you can, and without showing embarrassment.
It may feel embarrassing - for you and/or them - but showing there’s nothing to hide sends a very powerful message – these are topics that may be private, but shouldn’t be kept secret.
* Adventures in Menstruating: Period Comedy is part of the Off the Shelf Festival at the Theatre Delicatessen on The Moor, on Saturday at 8pm. Visit bi.ly/otstkts for tickets or #periodpositive for information.