Why are periods so taboo? – A Medical Student’s Perspective

Periods. I’m not talking about full stops, I’m talking about menstruation. Some people may have just gone “ew!” and stopped reading. Or maybe people aren’t as awkward as I used to be. Because when I was younger, I was super awkward about periods (well, I was pretty awkward in general). I would have never thought in a million years that I would be writing this, but I guess people change.

I guess part of the reason for my awkwardness was that I had two brothers (but no sisters), so openly talking about periods wasn’t a thing. I remember once my brother came across one of my sanitary towels, not knowing what it was, then asked “aren’t those for when you’re pregnant?” I told him that the opposite was in fact true and made a hasty retreat (and I think that was the last time I spoke to him about anything period-related). That can’t have helped my awkwardness. When I started my period, I avoided my mum for weeks, in case she started talking to me about it. My friends at school picked up on my awkwardness, such as how I refused to answer when we were discussing who had started theirs. I remember a friend playing peek-a-boo with a sanitary towel in and out of her bag, enjoying watching me squirm.

So what changed? I guess it was partly just maturing. I got used to it. If something is going to happen once a month for about 30 years, you might as well accept it. But I think part of the reason my outlook on menstruation changed was coming to uni. More specifically, studying medicine. Studying medicine changed me in a way I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have expected. Nothing much fazes me about the human body now. It’s quite hard to cringe me out in conversation. I have to remember what is considered unsuitable to talk about in conversation, particularly at meal times; I found out quite quickly people don’t generally appreciate anecdotes about dissection when they are trying to eat their tea in hall. Whereas I’ve found I can quite happily watch a documentary of someone dissecting a dead person’s foot whilst eating my lunch. So writing an article about periods doesn’t bother me.

I mentioned people generally don’t like to hear about dissection (particularly when they’re eating), and often people don’t like to speak about bodily functions in general. Telling people you are leaving because you are desperate for the loo leads to slightly disgusted looks and comments of “I didn’t want to know that”. People generally very much don’t like hearing anecdotes about sick, and many aren’t fond of anecdotes about blood either (such as when I point out my fingers are bleeding, because I’ve ended up picking the skin off the sides of the nails again). And I think this is a large reason why periods are taboo in society. It’s because bodily functions and liquids are considered awkward and disgusting in general. If people don’t like blood when it’s coming out of someone’s finger, they’re not going to like it when it’s coming out of someone’s vagina.

Then there’s the whole thing about the “disruption to life”, and the misogyny of the past (and still continuing elsewhere today) where women were considered incapable of certain roles and tasks because they bled once a month. A period is not a big deal. Your uterine lining is shedding itself; you deal with it. It tries to make a mess; you do laundry and hope the blood washes out. Your stomach feels it’s ripping itself to shreds; you take some paracetamol, hug a hot water bottle and wait for it to stop. It’s just a part of life. But I don’t see what’s wrong with telling someone “I’m on my period, I can’t deal with your shit today.” If we don’t want periods to be a taboo topic, we need to accept them as a part of life. Sometimes they can be super annoying, but what can we do? You just have to get on with it. Each woman’s is different, and each one is different. Towels, tampons, whatever, it doesn’t matter how you choose to deal with it. You don’t have to go out roller-skating or whatever it is people in tampon adverts seem to do. You can sit around in your comfiest clothes and wait for it to stop aching (what I usually do). Or go roller-skating, whatever. This summer my period didn’t stop me trying to learn to wakeboard (nor did it stop me from trying to leapfrog a bollard; that did stop me from wakeboarding though, as I nearly broke my wrist in the process).

So in conclusion, periods shouldn’t be so taboo. But then again, I don’t think most things to do with the body should be taboo (they are our bodies, we should embrace them), but society seems to think so. So I guess I’m just going to say, don’t be ashamed of your body. Don’t be ashamed of your period. Whether you want to quietly deal with it yourself, or tell the world about it, it doesn’t matter. Periods are a fact of life, deal with it. Period.

-Emma Pickersgill (3rd year Medical student)


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