Getting your period is a biological necessity for getting pregnant, yet it still carries a stigma and is talked about in hushed tones at almost every age — including young girls. Now, a new study is bringing to light some startling facts about how girls truly feel about their periods and is urging parents to talk honestly and openly about this topic with their children.
A study by Bodyform, shared exclusively with HuffPost U.K., discovered that 52 percent of the 1,000 girls surveyed would rather get bullied at school than talk about their period with their parents. All in all, 43 percent believe that periods are an “off-limit” topic, while 87 percent also say they have gone to great lengths to “hide” their periods.
“Historically women’s health and women’s issues have been hidden or traditionally not spoken about,” Dr. Radha Modgil, GP shared with HuffPost. “Things are improving in this regard but it does seem like not talking about periods is still an issue that we need to break.”
And that’s absolutely true. In an article written by Jen Bell on Medium last month, Bell discusses how brands still use phrases like “virtually undetectable” or advertise that their product has a “discreet wrapper” to ensure “discreet protection.” All of that helps send a message that women should be hiding their periods from the world. With terms like “time of the month” and “monthly visitor” that disguise what’s really happening to a woman’s body, it’s no wonder girls still feel the need to hide their periods.
The study, conducted by the girls’ rights charity Plan International U.K., found that almost half of girls aged 14-21 in the U.K. are embarrassed by their periods and less than a third of the 1,000 girls surveyed felt comfortable talking about menstruation in front of their dads.
These statistics make me all the more thankful my daughter feels entirely comfortable talking about her period not only with me, but with her stepdad as well. She doesn’t even hesitate to ask him to go out and get her tampons.
We were at an event this summer and she directed him confidently over the phone through the store.
“It has to say ‘plastic applicator on the box,'” she demanded loudly into the receiver.
“OK, I’m in the aisle. I’ve got the one that says ‘cardboard.’ Bingo,” he said proudly.
Needless to say, there was some back and forth about the fact that cardboard and plastic are two different materials, until he landed on the tampon to meet her needs.
So why is discussing periods still so taboo?
Researchers believe it’s because people still don’t talk openly about the topic, which in turn causes a lack of understanding about periods. Parents also may be avoiding the topic with their children because, as Nadia Mendoza from The Self-Esteem Team, points out, “It’s no wonder it’s not an easy topic to talk about — periods are a bit gross.”
“They are unpredictable, leak through underwear, pass in clots, can be any and every shade of black-red to brown, cause chronic cramps, affect mood, and leave you wandering around with something that resembles an adult nappy or a piece of string dangling between your legs. They ain’t pretty.”
For its part, Bodyform and The Self-Esteem Team have teamed up with Plan International U.K., to teach boys about periods in schools with #AboutBloodyTime classes, which aim to help reduce the stigma about periods by educating boys early. The main objective? To show them that periods aren’t just not “gross,” but they also aren’t something to be ashamed of.
The new curriculum will be incorporating lessons that teach both girls and boys about “the physical, personal and social aspects of menstruation,” though Mendoza points out that these conversations should start at home.
“There is no ‘right’ age to start,” Mendoza told HuffPost. “Talking about the birds and bees does not mean diving in with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but instead educating them with age-appropriate information.”
We also need to discuss periods not just with our girls, but our boys, too. “It’s important we’re having these conversations with boys too so they widen their understanding and it never escalates to the playground taunting of ‘must be on your period,'” Mendoza said.
The bottom line is this: girls should never feel shame when it comes to their periods. We need to continue to move the conversation forward, so future generations talk about menstruation the same way we talk about the weather.