Menstrual education platform, Vulvani, have released a series of free to use stock images that feature beautiful and accurate photos depicting all things periods!
The collection eschews the infamous blue liquid completely, using realistic representations of periods. From moon cups to a person clutching a water bottle, this collection of images is a welcome addition to the growing number of photos and gifs available for period companies and campaigners.
As Vulvani say; “Pictures speak a thousand words”, and by creating this resource they can combat period stigma through the power of images. Seeing red blood, accurate depictions of menstruation and being able to normalise these, is an amazing project and will hopefully allow more people, like me, to talk about and destigmatise menstruation.
The only thing the company asks is that you credit them with the images, because while they are free to use they are not free to make! So please include: ‘Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com’ if you use their images!
Last week, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free access to period products for all. After leading the way in period provision, providing products in schools from 2017, it has made a huge step forward for menstrual equality.
In a system that is not means-tested, meaning that anyone can access the products, this decision will make a huge difference in the lives of many people that struggle to access the basic products they need to feel comfortable while menstruating.
It is a huge moment to know that MPs discussed this issue at length in parliament, including debating aspects of menstruating such as sustainability. We can only hope that this leads to other countries following suit and providing period products for all.
Given the number of people that menstruate, the essential nature of the products, and the accepted right to access soap and toilet paper, making period products freely available is a no-brainer. It is unfortunately still considered a taboo subject in many places, but with continued campaigning to de-stigmatise periods, we can make change.
If you believe that England should follow suit, then sign Bloody Good Periods petition today. You can also write to your local MP on this issue or donate to one of the many charities tackling period poverty in England today.
Last September (in between lockdowns) I was lucky to take a road trip around the famous lakes of Northern Italy. If you want some vicarious travel content, you can read all about our adventure on the excellent bi-lingual travel blog Voyage de Miel.
I know that for a lot of people holiday’s feel like a long way off right now. But, if you’re anything like me, thinking about your next trip may be just the thing to keep excited about the future.
Looking at pre-Covid pictures and dreaming of when we can all travel safely again has gotten me through the last few months and, although it feels like a long way off, I know that it’ll be all the sweeter to holiday after lockdown 2 is over.
So, for more road trips, travel tips, and advice, head to Voyage de Miel now.
This week On My Blob, I’ve been thinking about what questions I have about my periods that I’ve never actually asked. Given that I am currently craving all kinds of chocolate and sugary treats because of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), now seems like the perfect time to explore what’s actually going on in my body.
Why does PMS induce these major cravings?
Lots of research has been done into women’s menstrual cycles trying to identify the cause of monthly food cravings, which is the most commonly reported PMS symptom. Craving chocolate, cakes and any number of sweet treats before your period is a perfectly normal part of your menstrual cycle.
There are a number of theories for this. Firstly, during the luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle that starts after ovulation) hormone changes affect your appetite. Your progesterone, oestrogen and serotonin levels drop, while cortisol rises, causing an increase in stress. This hormone fluctuation may cause your cravings.
However, scientists also point to behavioural factors in our choices. Comfort eating is a common result of stress or discomfort, yet what and when we crave is a learned behaviour. A 2004 study into chocolate craving and the menstrual cycle showed that while American women craved chocolate due to PMS, Spanish women did not. This shows that craving chocolate before your period is a learned behaviour stemming from cultural habits.
The high fat and sugar treat is a go to for many and when we are feeling tired and stressed in the lead up to our periods. It doesn’t seem to be down to anything special about chocolate though. The craving is likely a mix of physiology, psychology and cultural conditioning. Changing hormones and learned behaviours tell us to grab the sweet stuff!
Is this ever a problem?
Sometimes I do worry that eating too much sugar during this time is bad for me. My PMS can last longer than the standard few days, so I try my hardest not to eat ALL the chocolate straight away…
But given the changes happening in your body and the fact that indulging in your favourite treats may make you feel better, if not less bad, then there I wouldn’t worry about what you consume too much.
The key is to learn about your body. Keeping a diary of when your cravings start, what you like and how you feel, can help you to predict your monthly rhythms.
Every person is different, learning what makes you feel better during your menstrual cycle is important for your wellbeing and if that’s chocolate, welcome to the club!
Anyone travelling with a womb may have to face dealing with their period on the road. Sadly, period protection is yet another concern a male traveller wouldn’t have to worry about.
My husband and I just came back from our honeymoon: a 14-month world tour, here is how I handled my period while travelling.
Contraception on a world tour
This conversation can’t start without mentioning contraception, which often dictates period flow and regularity. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of the contraception options offered to me good or really convenient while travelling. Also, it is sad to note that when going to the doctor and asking what to do for contraception while travelling as a couple it was never mentioned my husband could be the one dealing with it…
So, here is my rundown of the options available: Patches and rings might not be available everywhere and are tricky to safely store in the long run. You could stock up on a lot of pills but you might end up getting it wrong with the jetlag, the time difference or lose it’s effectiveness if you get sick from food or drink poisoning. Implants and IUD’s can be rejected, are a significant medical procedure to put in place and not suitable for everyone. Condoms quality, safety and availability might vary greatly depending on where you are in the world so might not be 100% reliable.
But I do have a great answer on the best period protection: reusable period underwear!
Accessibility to disposable period protection worldwide
First a word about using disposable period protection. I always found sanitary pads for sale in pharmacies. However, it was mostly external pads, not tampons. Also, the quality and effectiveness were extremely variable from one country to another meaning that some were unpleasant to wear.
It is also essential to note the very negative impact the use of disposable protections has on the environment. We would like to encourage anyone travelling to consider the best options for the planet and to work on reducing their waste on the road. The health risks due to the use of toxic agents in manufacturing also need to be considered.
Taking a menstrual cup on a world tour
I have tried and used the menstrual cup while travelling. The advantages of the menstrual cup are obvious: a low purchase cost for long use, the possibility of using it for several hours without needed to change, and, of course, it hardly takes up any luggage space.
During a backpacking-style world tour, however, it is not so easy to use. We sometimes spent several days with limited access to water, making cleaning the cup and changing it very complicated.
After hearing about the period underwear among the travel community, I finally decided in Australia (midway through the world tour) to invest in period panties. It was a revelation for me!
Reusable period underwear
Menstrual panties or period underwear, are external hygienic protections, which are washable and reusable throughout the life of the product.
The price, however, is a dissuasive factor as the technologies used makes it an expensive purchase, but it is a real long-term investment. Period underwear is easy to use and convenient on the road. They just need to be rinsed after use and can be washed with the rest of your laundry. A good brand will have the underwear coming out clean in any type of laundry, a conventional machine cycle or a cold by-hand one (which is the most common laundry style on a world tour). The fabrics used for the absorption capacity means the underwear will dry quickly. In reality, you only need to invest in a few pairs depending on how efficiently you can clean them (3 was enough for me).
For me now, period underwear is the easiest and best period protection for travelling. They don’t take up extra space in your luggage as you can wear them on regular days. In fact, they are also great on sweaty or humid days as they are fast drying. With more and more competition on the market, the technologies are getting better and prices lower. But there is definitely room for improvement on contraception and period management for travellers overall.
While there are many reusable products on the market and an increasing number of low or no-plastic disposable options available, these products often come with a heftier price tag or require more pre-planning to use them effectively.
How can we tackle the excess plastic in our period products?
As a consumer you can make a choice to buy and try reusable options such as cups and period underwear, sending your vote to the industry that you want change. There are also increasing numbers of options in many major retailers for low or no plastic pads and tampons. If you can afford to make these changes you can support the growing eco-period industry and reduce your individual impact too.
But this is not all! Making the world a better place is not just down to the choices of individual consumers. Major retailers need to address the use of single-use plastic in their products and through the amazing work of campaigners such as Ella Daish, companies are beginning to wake up to the devastating effect of single-use plastic on the environment, moving to change the design and packaging of their products making it easier and more affordable for consumers to make eco-friendly choices.
So, are the tides finally changing on single-use plastic in period products, or are they still full of used tampon applicators?
Why not join me today and pledge to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in your period products, or better yet sign Ella Daish’s petition to make all menstrual products plastic-free!
Last month New Zealand retail chain Countdown became the first international retailer to officially ditch the “euphemistic” language commonly used around periods in retail. Words like “sanitary” and “feminine hygiene” will no longer be used to describe the products and aisles, instead, the brand will finally call a period a period.
This landmark move shows that at least one retailer is listening to calls to de-mystify the language we use around menstruation. A spokesperson for the brand has said:
“We want to help normalise the language around periods and continence as well as making products like pads, tampons and menstrual cups much easier to find when our customers are shopping online.”
Kiri Hannifin, General Manager Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability, Countdown
But why do we use these words and phrases to refer to these products in the first place?
A blog by US company, Diva Cup provides us with some answers, although US specific. Their research says that in the late 1800s an anti-obscenity bill meant that companies could not talk explicitly about sex, contraceptives or anything deemed too explicit when advertising products. This lead to period companies renaming their products in a discreet way in order to get period products into pharmacies and stores.
By the early 1900s, the term feminine hygiene took off and was cemented by the popularisation of ‘germ theory’ that meant that everyday people took care to wash in order to prevent the spread of harmful germs.
Over time, advertisers have preyed on taboos and insecurities around periods in order to sell products. Focusing on discretion, covering odours, and stopping leaks to help women to hide their menstruation so they can continue to laugh and run in white trousers, the use of these terms directly links to society shaming menstrual cycles and renaming them to avoid embarrassment over a completely natural bodily function.
The words we choose today continue to embed this shame into our practices. As activist Chella Quint rightly points out, we continue to use language chosen by advertisers and product companies to describe our bodies, reinforcing old taboos that we are trying to break.
Words like “hygiene” and “sanitary” strongly imply that a period is dirty and needs to be cleaned up, which it is not. Note that we do not refer to toilet paper as “excretion hygiene” or as a personal care product instead it is called literally just “toilet paper”, the paper that is used in the toilet.
It is also important to recognise the impact of categorising products as “feminine”. For many, the implication of the word is dainty, discreet, pretty – for most this is the opposite of what a period feels like. Pastel colours and floral scents may try and make menstruation look more feminine, but the reality of popping your maximum ibuprofen for the day and laying crumpled on your bed in the foetal position waiting for the pain to subside does not fit this term.
Not every biologically female person menstruates, and not every person that menstruates would categorise themselves as “feminine”. This term excludes trans men, non-binary people and cis-women that do not identify as “feminine”, tying periods to a type of femininity that no longer (if it ever did) represents truly the people that need the products.
Countdown in New Zealand has chosen to confront the taboos around periods and have opted to take a stand, recognising its role in challenging the status quo. We can only hope that further retailers and period product makers follow suit and ditch the outdated language and branding used to sell us products.
So, let’s keep asking for better. Make it normal to refer to your chosen products as a period or menstrual product, and ask your retailers for the same.
**This blog contains spoilers for episode three: Don’t Forget the Sea**
Like the rest of the internet, I’ve been totally blown away by Michaela Coel’s ground-breaking new BBC drama, I May Destroy You. The show deals with sex and consent in a nuanced and multifaceted way. In particular, episode three explores period sex and brings this often-taboo subject front and centre.
I May Destroy You is centred around writer Arabella (played by Coel) as she deals with a drug-facilitated sexual assault. Masterfully written, the show explores consent from so many different angles, bringing the grey areas to the fore with honesty, humour, and an unflinching look at sex and rape. Coel’s script and performance takes us to places that I never thought I’d see on TV, let alone the BBC.
This half hour episode provides the most honest depiction of period sex I have ever seen on TV. In a world in which period product adverts only started using red blood to indicate a period in 2017, and many depictions of periods are used to shame or horrify audiences (I’m looking at you Carrie), it’s amazing to see a period treated so normally on TV.
Without spoiling too much, the episode takes us back to Italy, where Arabella is writing and her friend Terry is visiting. In an upturned classic *girls getting ready in the bathroom before going out scene* we see Arabella putting in a clean pad on the toilet: with no fanfare, no “can I wear this short dress while menstruating” – she just does it. Puts the pad in and goes.
Later, following a drug and alcohol filled night out, Arabella ends up towel down on the duvet, preparing to have period sex with a guy she had met that day. This in itself was perfect. To see a woman enjoy herself, be escorted home by a guy that is respectful and non-judgmental, and to have period sex presented without horror, feels amazing.
But, again, this is not the peak! Coel keeps pushing boundaries and brings us a scene that was cut from the 50 Shades of Gray films for being too taboo, seeing her tampon removed by the guy who subsequently picks up a rogue blood clot that’s now on the towel.
This kind of period representation is so important as it normalises the actions of literally millions of people all around the world. We menstruate, we go out, we exercise, we have sex, we eat and we continue to live our lives while bleeding.
It is also the first time that I have seen period sex presented as something other than a moment of horror, or fetish, or shame. And let’s be real, have you ever seen a blood clot on the BBC? Let alone one in the hands of a man who does not recoil but asks questions and shows genuine fascination about this aspect of the human body that few people get to talk about?
Often conversations around periods focus on the people having them. Coel throws this on its head, bringing a man into the centre and shedding light on the lack of education and exposure to the realities of having a period that many men face.
The reality is we need all people to feel more comfortable talking about periods in order to de-stigmatise menstruation fully. If more men knew about period products, blood clots and all the other things we deal with each month, this would go a long way to foster understanding and tackle shame.
This series brings to light the cultural and historical perspectives on periods that have shaped our modern understanding of menstruation.First in the series is a look at the history of the tampon and its influence on modern day menstruators.
A Revolutionary Invention
In 1931 US physician Dr Earle Haas patented a new compressed cotton stick and telescopic tubing, sounds familiar? This new product marked a revolution in the way that we manage our periods, drawing inspiration from Haas’ friend, a dancer, who confided that she inserted sponges to absorb her menstrual blood. Haas’ new product, the tampon, was designed to be discreet, practical and convenient.
The tampon built on hundreds of years of history, with evidence that tampon-like products were used as far back as the Egyptians, who inserted vaginal pessaries made of elephant dung and lint soaked in acacia juice, and the Romans who used wool to plug their menstrual flow, to name but a few!
What was revolutionary about Haas’ product is really down to the work of business woman Gertrude Tendrich, who bought the patent in 1933 and founded the company, Tampax, in 1936. Her work transformed the tampon in to the market dominating force that we know today.
Through its interior insertion, the tampon allowed much more freedom than the other products that were available at the time. It meant you could swim, dance and wear what you wanted on your period, without giving the game away. Prior to this many women were using homemade products or the relatively new period pads, which at the time were held up by a garter belt and were bulky and indiscreet.
An Uphill Battle
To understand the importance of the tampon, we need to understand contextually what it was like for women on their periods in this time. Marketing for period products was centred around discretion, as talking about your menstrual cycle was taboo. People used euphemisms to talk about periods and brand names like Tampax, Kotex and Modess, meant women could ask for a brand without naming the product. One brand even went as far as using ‘silent purchase coupons’ so that women didn’t have to face the shame of being heard asking for products.
Tampax tampons initially faced an uphill battle. As they had to be sold in discreet boxes, the company struggled with marketing a product that they couldn’t talk about to an audience that were not yet familiar with the internal insertion, or even the name tampon. Yet, the “no pins, no pads, no belts” allure of the product was a hit with women. In the first five years use increased five-fold, attracting educated upper class women who could afford to buy their own products instead of home-making them.
With the advent of the second world war, the tampon’s popularity increased further, as women began working in factories and physically demanding jobs and needed discreet protection that they could move in. Interestingly, by this time the menstrual cup had also already been patented, with American actor Leona Chalmers filing the patent in 1937 for a rudimentary rubber cup that looks much like the ones we use today.
The problem with the tampon and the menstrual cup was that many people were scandalised by the very idea. Inserting the product into the vagina required more contact with the genitals than was culturally acceptable for the time. People genuinely feared that the tampon would provide inappropriate sexual pleasure from insertion and worried that it would break the hymen. While attitudes towards tampons warmed up due to the practical benefits of the product, the menstrual cup did not find popularity in the market until much more recently. The tampons applicator reduced dreaded contact with your own body, whereas the cup involved more intimate touching and handling of the menstrual blood itself (Oh the scandal!).
The Next Revolution
In 2019, an estimated 4.5 billion boxes of Tampax tampons were purchased worldwide, Tampax is the industry leader with a 29% global market share, showing that the tampon is still an incredibly popular period product to this day. With the addition of ‘innovations’ over the years such as, Tampax Pearl, with a plastic applicator and rounded tip, scented tampons (because periods should smell like flowers…), and smaller, more discreet versions, the tampon has become ubiquitous for people managing periods.
The Tampax slogan “50 years of living a life without limits”, reminds us of the very limiting social and cultural taboos that people faced when menstruating. The tampon really did help break down barriers, allowing women to participate in sport, the workforce and beyond.
And Tampax played an important part in this change. In 1941, the company introduced an education department, sending out ‘Tampax ladies’ to educate women on the proper use of tampons and their periods. To this day, period companies still visit schools to educate them on periods. This in some cases, sadly forms the majority of the education young women are given on menstruation. It goes to show the lengths that companies went to get new innovative products into the hands of women, breaking down taboos, as well as benefiting their own business aims.
Today, these big brands are facing increased competition from newer, more environmentally friendly companies. With more choice than ever, consumers can now buy cups, tampons, pads, and disposable or reusable options with ease in shops across the UK. The menstrual cup is finally having its moment, as people confront the stigma and taboos around menstruation in search of reusable products that work.
It would seem that another revolution has arrived.
We may think that the euphemisms and need for absolute discretion of the last century is gone, yet to this day many people still feel that their period is not something that they can discuss or show in public. With phrases like ‘sanitary product’ and ‘feminine hygiene’ still commonly used instead of actually saying the word period, we still have work to do to normalise our periods and the products we use in our culture.
In just over a century we have arrived at a place where people never need to question whether or not they can ride a horse on their period, or swim, or do anything they fancy. Our products are continuing to be innovated on and I hope that in the next century (or ideally less) we can reach a point in which our periods are normalised and celebrated in our culture.
So, let’s celebrate the tampon, the cup, the pad and all the other fantastic products that mean that we can live better while menstruating.
This is a series of posts for men out there that have questions about menstruation and aren’t sure where to turn. You could say, we’re putting the MEN in Menstruation…
After some frank conversations with the men in my life about periods and my ambitions for this blog, it’s become clear that many men are in the dark when it comes to menstruation.
From gender separated education in which girls learn about their cycles (if at all!) and boys, well, don’t, to persistent myths surrounding menstruation in our culture, many men are missing out on the fundamental facts about periods and our bodies.
As we know, periods are a vital part of human reproduction and for many people form a central part of our (roughly) monthly rhythms and flows. Through better period education, men/ people that don’t bleed could foster a greater level of empathy for menstruators and understand how to become better allies in these conversations.
So, let’s start with the basics! This first post will talk you through what happens to the body during a menstrual cycle. Later in the series I will be explaining key terms, answering questions and providing more fact-based learning on periods for those that want to know.
Thanks to The Vagina Museum Twitter feed for introducing me to this 1946 Walt Disney produced ‘The Story of Menstruation’. I’ve chosen this as the first video as it’s not only good, it has interesting cultural and historical value. Made in partnership with period product maker Kotex, this video is believed to be the first film to explicitly say the word vagina in it and offers an interesting resource for learning the basics.
Whilst the second half of the video that encourages women to smile and wear make-up on their periods is pretty dated, the main section does a really good job of explaining the monthly cycle in a clear and non-judgemental way.
For the time period I was totally impressed with this video. Aiming to give factual information about menstruation in a time when periods were taboo, it’s a wonder that Disney made such a video!
If you want something a little more modern there’s a few options. This video from Always, a period product company, is quite good. Although it advertises products at regular intervals, which is distracting, it’s only three minutes and explains the basics clearly without the 40’s gender stereotyping of the Disney version above!
There is also this next video from Ted-Ex that provides a more scientific approach. It explains more around how menstruation has evolved and why we menstruate as we do. If you are a more scientifically minded person this could be for you!
Many of these resources tend to down-play period pains and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), I share them as an introduction to the basics of our cycles and will be covering more around the variations and problems that menstruation can throw at you later on in the series.
For now, here is your first Periods 101! For further information try checking out the NHS website. I chose videos today as a quick introduction on this post but of course there are plenty of other resources out there!
Tell me, what questions do you have around periods? What resources have you found helpful? Comment below to join the conversation.