There are so many facets to menstruation – health, period taboo and shame, period poverty, waste and pollution and period education, to name a few. But Menstrual shame is a major barrier, not only in our ability to tackle issues like the lack of education but also to discuss period management.
Why can’t we talk about our periods?
Menstrual taboos and the stigma shaped by social, cultural and religious norms mean that periods are not openly discussed and are rarely celebrated. Even in 2023 menstruation is still surrounded by a shroud of secrecy and shame.
Our menstruating bodies and the period products we use are kept under wraps, sanitised and hidden from view.This leads to exclusion and discrimination and distances us from menstruation, a perfectly natural bodily function.
48% of girls in the UK are embarrassed about their periods.
Period shame dictates which products we use as well as how we dispose of them. This has an impact on the health of women, girls and people who menstruate AND massive consequences on the environment and wildlife nationally and globally.
It also shapes the products mainstream manufacturers market to us. For example the added synthetic fragrance used to overpower ‘menstrual odour’ and the needless and harmful added antimicrobials.
Brightly coloured wasteful plastic wrapping is deployed to help us hide period products, and the lighter plastic filled pads to conceal neatly in our pants, so nobody knows we are on our period!
15% of 18–24-year-olds claimed they felt pressured to conceal the ‘smell’ of their periods.
Flush it or bin it!
Period shame means that many of us feel we need to dispose of our period products down toilets, the so-called ‘flush and forget’ solution. Often there aren’t bins available to dispose of them correctly.
It has been estimated that of the 4.3 billion menstrual products used each year in the UK between 1.5-2 billion are flushed. That is about 35-47% of products. As well as blocking sewers, used period products along with wipes make their way into waterways and our sea, polluting and harming wildlife.
Shame and our health
The shame surrounding menstruation means we may not seek medical health for painful periods, unusual bleeding patterns, period poverty, fertility and other period related or continence problems. And when we do seek help, especially medical help, we may not be taken seriously.
But there is some good news!
In recent years the surge in the use of reusable and organic single-use disposable products has led to a revolution in period product innovation and a huge increase in those switching to reusables, 18% of the market last year.
This brings big benefits for our health, wildlife, and the environment. But we still need greater transparency and more urgently, regulation for all period products.
No Laughing matter
While periods are one type of taboo, continence is a whole other type of stigma and shame. According to Natracare – More women in the UK experience stress incontinence than hay fever. 1 in 3 women will experience light bladder leakage in their lifetime. This is compared to 1 in 9 men. Yet the only time it is spoken about is as the butt end of a joke. Luckily for many pelvic floor exercises can help lessen the symptoms but for many more it’s a condition they must deal with daily.
Continence issues and products
Given our concern about what is in our period products, we are really worried about the additives and plastic used in single use disposable and reusable continence products such as additives such odour control.
As with period products innovation has meant advances in the type of products used to deal with continence. Wen advocates for safer, affordable and sustainable period and continence products.
HELEN LYNN, ENVIRONMENSTRUAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER & HEALTH ADVISER
Helen helped founded the Alliance for Cancer Prevention and No More Breast Cancer Campaign. Helen sits on the advisory board of Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF).