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.
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.
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.
Period myths can be pervasive in our culture. Spanning from the somewhat logical to the downright outrageous, there are many strange ideas that continue to circulate around menstruation.
These rumours, myths and ideas contribute to the misinformation, stigma and shame we experience around periods.
Some of these myths are easily busted, with many of the ideas we had as children around what happens when you start on your blob being dispelled when it actually happens.
But what about those funny little myths that never seem to quite go away?
Well, I’ve picked out the top five common myths about periods that I’ve encountered and found the facts on each so that, together, we can bust those myths!
1. You can’t get pregnant on your period
I hate to break the news to you but YOU CAN GET PREGNANT ON YOUR PERIOD! I’d love this to be true so we can all enjoy some free-loving at that time of the month but alas, it is still possible.
Due to the variations in our cycles and the fact that sperm can live in the womb for up to seven days, there is no window during our periods when you can guarantee that you cannot get pregnant. And while it is less likely that you would conceive on your blob, it is not impossible.
So, make sure you use protection even when the risk of pregnancy is lower. If only we could expel unwanted semen like Zebras do… life would be so much easier.
2. You can’t exercise while menstruating
I remember hearing this when I was a teen – luckily a friend (and known clever person) told me the opposite and I decided to believe her instead of the rumour. Exercising while on your period is totally safe and there is no reason why you can’t continue to exercise while menstruating, in fact it’s recommended!
Exercise can help you beat bloating, may relieve period pains and will boost your energy and mood more than that extra chocolate(*s*) will.
However, it is also totally normal that you might have less energy, coordination or strength during your period. This is due to hormonal fluctuations throughout the month and it’s fine to adjust your routine to focus on gentler, restorative workouts, or to take a break if you need to.
3.Your period stops in water
Ok so, this one is my favourite because I secretly want to believe that it’s true… But unfortunately, it’s actually false.
Your period doesn’t stop in water, but the pressure of the water does stem the flow meaning it is unlikely you will see a trail of blood in the pool behind you unless you sneeze or have a particularly heavy flow. If you want to go swimming on your period a tampon is enough protection against leaks and safe to use, just make sure to change it afterwards.
4.Bears and sharks are attracted by period blood
I get it, they are predator animals and it’s not absurd to think that they would be attracted to blood, right? Well actually wrong! Let’s tackle these one at a time:
Sharks on the other hand is a rumour probably born from another common myth that sharks can smell blood from a mile away, which is untrue. Sharks sense of smell is similar to that of many bony fish and varies between species, and while they do use smell for hunting, a drop of period blood diluted in the ocean is not enough to get attention.
5.Men can’t get periods
This is not a trick question and the most important on the list of myths to busted.
Trans mencan and do get periods – for anyone unfamiliar with the term, trans men refers to people that were born female but identify as male. They may make the gender transition through the way they present their gender (eg. Clothes), the name or pronouns they prefer to use (ie. he/him or they), and for some people (but not all) through hormone or further physical changes. To learn more, campaigning organisations GLAAD and Stonewall both have loads of helpful information to help you get informed.
For trans men, getting a period can be a varied and sometimes difficult experience, particularly if you experience gender dysphoria, a condition where a person experiences distress due to the mismatch between their biological sex and their gender.
While there are ways that periods can be stopped, whether through hormones or surgery, not everybody will want to choose these options and it is important to recognise that there are many trans men that are still managing periods in a world in which people don’t recognise or talk about this experience.
So, there we have it, my top five period myths and the truth we seek! While some of these myths are a bit funny once you know the truth, others can be harmful and perpetuate information that contributes to period shame.
By knowing the facts around menstruation, we can help to boost wellbeing and take care of ourselves better when it’s that time of the month, as well as supporting others. So why not join me in spreading some #PeriodTruths and sharing these myth-busting facts far and wide?
What myths have you encountered over the years? Tell us in the comments below!
Yes… there is a day for everything nowadays isn’t there? Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on the 28th May worldwide, is a great one though. It provides a global advocacy platform for charities, government agencies, the private sector, and individuals to promote good menstrual hygiene management for all.
Can we talk about the name though?
Menstrual Hygiene Day, is informative and clear, however, the use of the word hygiene implies that a period in itself is un-hygienic – feeding into the narrative that the period is dirty or shameful. There has to be a better name out there that is less, well, hygienic. And I’m not alone in thinking this. There is a growing number of people that are questioning the language we use to talk about periods in the public domain.
The campaign group Health not Hygiene is one such organisation that is campaigning to end the social stigma around menstruation and focuses on the language that we use when talking about periods. It argues that the word hygiene in Menstrual Hygiene Day perpetuates menstrual stigma and does not encompass the whole experience of having a period. It suggests that the word health, on the other hand, encompasses both the physical and the mental experience of having a period, focussing on well-being over hygiene.
Would a rose not smell as sweet if it were named Menstrual Health Day?
This is not to single out Menstrual Hygiene Day. I think it’s an amazing initiative and I’m totally on board. I just agree that we need to re-think the language we commonly use around menstruation, and that Menstrual Health Day is a better alternative.
Another example is the phrase ‘sanitary product’, with many organisations beginning to use ‘period product’ instead. The factual nature of the new phrase is to the point and the removal of the word ‘sanitary’ disassociates periods solely with cleanliness and the idea that it is something that needs to be sanitised.
The words we use are important, particularly around periods, which can be either incredibly clinical or wildly elaborate (eg. *BLOB*). A period is a varied experience that encompasses many things, not simply something that needs to be ‘cleaned up.’ This perpetuates menstrual stigma that, in turn, makes it more difficult to reach people that need the education, support, and advocacy around menstrual health that these initiatives provide.
So, join me in celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day, find out more on global events and campaigns running this May HERE. Whilst also recognising that the language we use is important. You can join the Health not Hygiene campaign HERE or join the conversation in the comments below.
You know the drill – you are on your period and need to change your pad, tampon or period product of choice. Maybe you’re at work, at school, a restaurant or another public place, and you don’t want everyone to know you’re on your period. Do you:
a) discreetly carry your bag to the toilet,
b) slip a tampon up your sleeve,
c) grab your pretty pouch full of your kit like it’s a purse and slide off to the loo?
But what if there was another option?
In the last few years a movement has gained traction that aims to de-stigmatise periods: baskets of period products have emerged in workplace bathrooms, often organised by staff and operating a give when you can take when you need system; period products have been made freely available to schools and colleges by the government; and campaigns such as Bloody Good Period’s‘Walk of no shame’ are working to end the shame of having a period.
Yet, for a product that is as necessary as toilet paper for menstruating people, we should also be seeking solutions at design level. There are emerging products becoming available that can tackle the shame and stigma around periods through better design, as well as further tackling period poverty by making products free and available in toilet cubicles everywhere.
Take hygiene services company Initial. It has developed an in-cubicle dispenser for tampons and pads that is discreet looking and easy to use. Much like a toilet paper dispenser, it hangs on the wall of any toilet and has a full range of product refills to be used privately in-cubicle.
It also has a charitable link, partnering with Freedom4Girls and donating £5 from each sale to the charity to support women and girls in the UK that are struggling to afford period products.
Imagine being able to go to the toilet and knowing that there are products readily available for you, just as there is toilet paper. No need to feel any embarrassment about taking from a basket, no need for elaborate hiding, no need to ask a stranger when you get caught short. Your period is thought of and accounted for at design level in public and private spaces.
And these product dispensers tackle more than just stigma. If they were publicly available everywhere from shopping centres to schools, we would be providing people experiencing period poverty with a real chance to manage their periods discretely and hygienically. Dispensers work hand in hand with existing measures such as hygiene banks and drop-ins to give people as many opportunities to access the products they need when menstruating.
We should have access to discreet and easy ways to access period products, without experiencing shame or stigma. We wouldn’t want a world without free toilet paper, so why do we accept a world without freely available period products?
Do you think period product dispensers are a good idea? Tell us what you think!
The last couple of months have been A LOT. The pandemic has thrown our routines, stress levels and for some, our periods, into disarray.
From the non-existent (like mine) to the heavy or more frequent bleeds, our menstrual cycles have become unpredictable and frankly straight up weird.
But what has caused your period to change?
Well, it seems that stress is the main culprit, with many sources pointing towards the stress and anxiety caused by the lockdown as the reason for the change in our cycles.
This is not uncommon. The NHS labels stress as a common cause of irregular or missed periods and lists many stress management techniques as ways of managing your missing, irregular or way over familiar bleeds.
So what’s happening?
Here’s the science bit, according to Dr Sarah Toler, stress causes the release of cortisol (the stress hormone) that can suppress your reproductive hormones, leading to disruption in your cycle.
This makes sense, there is an underlying stress to our lives at the moment. From the changes to our routines, lifestyles, and lack of access to the usual activities that de-stress us, to the obvious stress caused by the virus itself and the possibility of us or our loved ones contracting it.
If stress is the problem, then what’s the solution?
There are many ways we can try to manage stress during this time and these methods may help you with your periods.
The NHS recommends exercise such as yoga, jogging and swimming. Unless you have your own pool at home, the first two are more likely to be manageable. There are plenty of free yoga videos online (Yoga with Adrienne is great) and if possible, you can start (socially distant) jogging in your area, no equipment needed just comfy shoes and clothes.
Breathing exercises, healthy eating and relaxation techniques could also help. I know that sometimes these are easier said than done: especially with a full household, monetary restraints or a lack of private space, but luckily, the breathing techniques can be done anywhere and combined with other activities such as washing up or lying in bed… It’s worth a try!
Last week I also found that stumbling upon a group of women on Twitter having a chat about how their periods had changed made me feel better. Yes, I lurked (because I couldn’t tell if they were friends and whether or not they would want a stranger chiming into their chat) but knowing I wasn’t the only one experiencing these changes made me feel so much less alone.
So, thank you to those women and all the other people out there talking about their periods during the pandemic. Thank you for sharing, I know it’s helped me and I hope it helps you too.
Tell me, has the pandemic affected your period? And what have you been doing to de-stress lately? Comment below!