It might not be a picnic, but I love my period. Each month it reminds me that I have the capability to one day have children. That the hormones within my body are working as they should be, and most of all that I have successfully avoided pregnancy (yay!).
I also love my menstrual cup. For me, it’s the perfect way to deal with my monthly bleed and it’s saved me a small fortune over the years. I sing its praises to my friends, but recently I’ve been met with some comments which sparked a need in me to address this question: why are so many of the women I know completely grossed out by their periods?
I’ll give a recent example of what I’m talking about. A friend of mine posted a status on Facebook in outrage at the fact that in the UK, tampons and sanitary towels are classed as ‘luxury’ items and therefore have an extra 5% tax added to them. Most women will agree that taking care of monthly bleeding isn’t exactly a luxury, and that this tax is pretty unacceptable (to put it in perspective, biscuits and pitta breads aren’t taxed as luxury, rather they’re ‘essentials’). Whilst agreeing with her statement, I added that for me this was one of the many reasons I choose a menstrual cup – a one-off payment that means I’m not being financially screwed over for having a uterus.
The replies rolled in one after the other ‘OMG eeeeww’, ‘that makes me feel so ill’, ‘that is so gross, please remove comment’. My initial reaction was that I was being personally attacked, and I felt angry and upset. But then I started to think about the deeper implications of what these comments, made by fellow women, actually meant. Clearly there is a huge number of women out there who feel utterly grossed out at the thought of their own periods. This makes me feel incredibly sad, and desperate to somehow change this self-hatred ingrained in so many women and men I know.
These women are not unhappy to talk about periods or menstrual issues – after all, they were all commenting on a post about tampons. Clinical, mass-marketed, advertised-on-TV tampons. Society tells us it’s OK to know that tampons and sanitary pads exist, after all they are marketed to us by huge companies who, along with the government, profit from your periods. So if sanitary products are so often in the public eye, why are women suddenly disgusted at the mention of a menstrual cup?
Both a tampon and a menstrual cup are inserted into the vagina, using the fingers (or an applicator). Both collect blood. And both must be removed, cleaned or replaced and re-inserted. In both situations, the menstruating woman comes into contact with her own blood. The only difference is the state in which we see it – soaked into cotton, or loose and free-flowing, liquid.
Perhaps it stems from a belief that blood is bad. That blood flowing as a liquid means it is an emergency, that we should panic. Or maybe it’s because we are confronted with what is actually happening to us – we’re menstruating – which is seen by so many as off-limits, shoved-under-the-carpet taboo. It’s unladylike.
Except it’s anything but unladylike. In fact, it is 100% ladylike. It’s normal. It happens to most biological females, for 5 days out of the month for her whole reproductive life.
This public disgust for menstrual blood was highlighted recently by these instagram photos of a woman leaking menstrual blood during sleep, which were taken down despite not breaking any of the site’s rules. They were deemed unsuitable for viewing. After public outrage, the photos were re-instated as instagram couldn’t prove they were breaking any guidelines.
I’m not saying my friends (or other women for that matter) should feel they have to be so comfortable with their periods that they post images online. But I deeply, truly wish that more of them would think about what they’re saying about themselves when they speak about their periods with disgust. Every time we say that menstrual blood or cups are ‘disgusting’, we tell another woman her period is something to feel gross about. We reaffirm to men that it’s something to avoid talking about. We teach young girls that periods are something to fear and to keep their mouths shut when their time comes.
The fact that we menstruate is amazing. It is magic. It is 100% the reason we are all alive today, and to be appalled by it is to diminish the significance of our capabilities. We don’t all have to procreate, we don’t all choose to have our periods every month naturally. Some of us will choose tampons, some will choose menstrual cups, and many choose washable pads. That’s our personal choice. But the fact is, however we choose to manage them, periods happen – and the sooner we start recognizing that and having healthy, positive conversations surrounding this normal body function and stop shaming ourselves, the better.