Normalize Menstruation: Let's Talk About It

Op-ed

So, we are going to talk about menstruation – but what is it exactly?

What is menstruation?

The first thing that we need to know is that not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women. It is a natural biological process that is responsible for bringing new life to the world. It is a monthly or regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina. The typical length of time between the first day of one period and the first day of the next is usually 21 to 45 days in young women and 21 to 31 days in adults. The bleeding usually lasts 2 to 7 days.

The first period usually begins between 12 and 15 years of age, it is known as Menarche. They may start as young as the age of 8 years old and still be considered normal.

Menstruation stops occurring after the Menopause, which usually occurs between 50-60 years of age

Periods also stop during pregnancy and typically do not resume during the initial months of breastfeeding.

What are the taboos or myths about menstruation?

Even though the year is 2020, more than half the population has got it wrong about periods. Upon being asked about menstruation, these are a few of the things that people said.

“Women use menstruation as an excuse to shield their irritation and win fights.” Let me tell you what a person goes through during their period, mood swings, bloating, breakouts, cramps, muscle aches, joint pain, nausea, and a lot more. If you think people use menstruation as an excuse, you're wrong. At times, it takes courage to even get out of bed.

“A woman is impure when she is bleeding.” Any person who bleeds is not impure, they just go through a natural biological process which is the doorway of a new life.

“Taking a shower while on your period can cause infertility.” This is not true, how even do people come up with such thoughts? Taking a shower or a bath while on your period can cause RELAXATION and not infertility.

“Period blood is dirty blood.” Blood is blood, how is it dirty when it's not taking a life but the way of giving a life?

Myths about menstruation makes it harder to talk about it, which leads to silence and shame. These are a few myths about periods from around the world.

“You can't enter the kitchen, or cook food.” “You can't enter a place of worship.” “You need to wash your pads before throwing them out, otherwise you will attract evil spirits.” “Tampons will break your hymen and make you impure”

Just know, we are free to do whatever we feel like and go wherever we want to go while on our periods, there is no rule book that states anything you shouldn't do. Throwing away your pads without washing them won't attract any evil spirits and tampons will not break your hymen.

What is premenstrual syndrome?

Premenstrual syndrome is basically a number of physical and emotional symptoms that occur between ovulation and menstruation. The symptoms include mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, bloating, acne, irritability, and depression. The mentioned symptoms vary from person to person.

The cause of PMS is unknown. It causes changes in hormone levels. Symptoms may be worsened by a high-salt diet, alcohol, and caffeine.

What is period shaming?

Even though menstruation is a natural biological process, it was revealed that more than half of the menstruating people feel embarrassed by them. One in three women agreed that they felt uncomfortable using the word 'Vagina'. More than half the men agree that it would be inappropriate for a colleague to openly mention periods in the office.

A few men even admitted to making jokes regarding a partner's mood when they were on their period.

Periods are not something to joke about and especially not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. You are not a cool person if you make fun of someone who is on their period, you have no idea what it feels like. Some women come to love their periods, while it is not easy for some, the cramps, the headache, and the cravings make it worse. So please think twice before speaking bad about periods, it is natural and the cause of life.

What are period huts?

It is a small windowless mudroom with no electricity, that is home for 2-7 days every month for every woman in the villages of India and Nepal. The unsanitary and unhygienic conditions can cause infections and sometimes even DEATH!!! Sometimes women catch pneumonia, while others fall prey to snake bites. At least 8 women have died since 2009 during this enforced seclusion Gadchiroli, Maharashtra alone.

Even though the practice of period huts had been banned more than a decade ago in Nepal, it is still practiced. Communities in Nepal believe menstruating woman is impure.

Such practices need to be discontinued, not only because periods aren't impure but because they are life-threatening.

How can we help in ending period shaming?

For the people who menstruate- don't be ashamed to talk about it. It is natural. It is your power to bring a new life. If you need help, ask for it without feeling embarrassed. Menstruation does not mean that something is wrong with your body, either something is wrong when you don't menstruate. Be proud of your period. Come to terms with it and start loving it, I know it can be hard, given the cramps. But just know it is your power. There is no need to hide a pad when you carry it.

For the people who don't menstruate- Don't make fun of periods or the who have their periods. Make the other person feel safe and comfortable so they can talk about periods without feeling ashamed. Don't think of it as a joke, because it's not. If you have a question, ask! Don't make assumptions about periods.

Being a girl from India, I know that in the 7th or 8th grade, all the girls of a class are asked to form a queue and are taken to a separate room to be taught about periods, personally I feel that is where the feeling of being embarrassed starts. Girls are made to believe that they cannot talk about their periods in front of boys, which is wrong! Both boys and girls should know about periods. Because of a lack of education about periods, many people tend to make fun of periods, which is not okay. It also leads to people forming misconceptions about periods. TEACH BOTH BOYS AND GIRLS ABOUT PERIODS, PERIOD.

What are period taxes?

Commonly known as Tampon Tax, period tax is referred to as the taxes on menstrual hygiene products. Because of the taxes, the products are considered a luxury. And many people fail to have access to them, they use sand, sponges, and dirty clothes which lead to infections. Menstrual hygiene products are a necessity not a luxury. No taxes should be imposed on them.

For the less fortunate people, these products should be distributed free of cost. There are a number of Non-Profit Organizations that do so. They ensure that every person has access to period products. Since 2004, many countries have abolished/ reduced sales taxes for the period products, including Kenya, Canada, India, Colombia, Australia, Germany, and Rwanda.

The legend of kamakhya

Goddess Kamakhya, or The Bleeding Goddess, has a temple dedicated to her in the Nilachal Hill in the city of Guwahati in Assam, India. While a large portion of the Indian population remains aloof about menstruation, this temple celebrates one of the most natural biological processes. According to the legend, Sati the wife of Lord Shiva took her life at a 'Yagna' ceremony that was organized by her father Daksha because she could not bear the insults about her husband. On hearing the news of his wife's death, Shiva, torn between sadness and rage picked up the corpse of his wife Sati and performed the dance of destruction called the 'Tandava'. To calm Shiva down, Vishnu cut Sati's body into 51 pieces using his disc (chakra), Sati's genitalia or 'Yoni' fell on the spot where the Kamakhya temple stands today.

Curiously enough, every year during June, the Brahmaputra river near the temple turns red. It is believed that the goddess bleeds during this period. Considering this to be a woman's power to give birth, this temple celebrates this POWER within every woman. Even though the temple celebrates the bleeding Goddess, but the people who menstruate while visiting the site, aren't allowed inside the temple. On one hand, they pray to the Bleeding Goddess but on the other hand, they don't respect the ones who bleed.

It is the time to change the way we look at menstruation, it is time to talk freely about it without the fear of being judged. It is time to be aware that Periods are nothing to be ashamed about.

What is the deal with period product commercials?

We all have seen period product commercials on televisions and on the internet, they use a blue liquid to represent blood. Why not red? This is because a large number is audience would feel uncomfortable while watching that commercial which would show red liquid. Why feel uncomfortable? To date, many women feel uncomfortable to talk to their kids about menstruation when they see a period product commercial and ask about it. This is because they feel it is something not to be talked about openly, it is to be hushed about.

Media encourages period shaming by showing blue liquid instead of red. When we can see red blood in a war scene or when an actor has been shot, then why can't we see red blood in the commercials? Period blood is considered impure, but it is not. It won't be a sin to show the red liquid, which actually represents blood.

Alternate period products

It is time we think about our mother earth too, the dump of period products every year causes a huge amount of waste which is non-biodegradable. A single person can generate up to 125 kg of non-biodegradable waste through their menstruating years alone. Menstrual products like pads and tampons can take up to 700 years to decompose completely. So here are some alternate products that we can use, that won't cause any harm to the environment.

Organic Pads/Tampons

Organic pads have plant based top cover with a corn, bamboo, wood, banana, jute pulp, or cellulose absorbent core and are thus free from any plastics, chlorine, latex, rayon, or chemical additives. They are biodegradable.

Organic tampons are made of organic cotton and it's free of any chemical dyes or fragrances. If there is an applicator, it should be made with biodegradable/sustainable/renewable material.

Cloth pads

Cloth menstrual pads are cloth pads which prevent the menstrual blood from leaking onto clothes. They can be washed and reused. They are less expensive than disposable pads and reduce the waste produced. They are usually made of cotton. They can last for up to 2 years.

Period Panty

Period panties are reusable panties that can be worn without pads or tampons, they absorb the blood and can be washed and reused. They too, can last up to 2 years.

Menstrual cups

Menstrual cups are small funnel-shaped silicon cups that collect blood instead of absorbing it. They can be worn for up to 12 hours and can last for up to 5 years.

Normalize It

Menstruation is meant to be celebrated and not detested upon. It is not an impurity. Be period positive. Normalize talking about it.

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Nishtha Gupta

A 17 years old bibliophile from New Delhi, India. Nishtha loves to try new things, talk, read books, play the guitar and the uke, and bake. She likes to be called Nish. She believes that reading books can really bring a huge impact in one's life.


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