Warning: The following entry contains adult language and discussion of a sexual nature. This one isn’t for the kids! 18+ please!
Previous to six months ago, thinking about my period outside of the misery it brought me and the basic things I needed to do for care wasn’t much of an occurrence. I only talked about it with other people who shared the same monthly experience in private. Following the stigma pounded into my brain by my traditional environment, that little voice would silently remind me, “Don’t talk about this openly, especially not around certain people.” It’s gross, right? People are uncomfortable because it is gross.
Most of those “certain people” to whom myself and other female-presenting individuals would avoid discussing anything period-related were our male-presenting peers. (I don't assume to know everyone's gender.) Many of those male-presenting individuals were outright disgusted by the thought of periods. Of those to whom I could speak about the grittier details of my health, I had to select my words carefully. Don’t get too detailed about things like my flow, how long I’ve been bleeding and how much it sucks, and how I’m worried something might be wrong because...ew! Menstrual blood...it’s like...not normal blood because it’s from your uterus, right?
What a load.
It is truly unfortunate how in one context our bodies are sexualized for a person’s pleasure, but in another they are deemed truly disgusting. We hear aspects of ourselves glorified in popular culture as if they are how we are valued, but when we need to talk about our health, it’s as if we are attempting to induce vomiting. There are individuals of all genders (and no gender) who seem to be equally turned away from and uneducated about their own bodies, regardless of the parts they have. It shouldn't have to be that way.
So everyone, we need start talking about vaginas. The everyday vagina, not just the one you're going to get down with. When you learn about it, it’s not gross. And you know what, we need to learn about penises, too. (However, that can be for another post, so I can better do my medically and socially related research.) It’s really clear, we don’t know enough about bodies because we’re making up weird stuff about them. This isn't to say we need to bring up our parts and the things they do with the weather each morning, but we need to be able to discuss our bodies in appropriate contexts--like health and sex.
That said, let's learn a little bit about that ever mysterious vaginal discharge with the help of one of Madame Noir's very educational videos! I love the refreshing and approachable voice they give to a topic so many don't want to ask about. You can check out their channel here!
If you have no issue with blood in general, you must realize, the blood has not changed chemically when it applies to menstruation. It is the same blood as if you were to bleed in any other part of your body, plus tissue and the above mentioned fluid. Think of it as one of our organs having a really bad few days to a couple weeks once a month or so. The amount of deposited blood and uterine tissue deposited varies from person to person, but there tends to be more blood than tissue. (I can’t say this for certain in mass, but in general area and I'm assuming volume of what you see on a pad. I need to check my figures on this one. Volume of flow varies per person.) In terms of the tissue, is just a very small portion of the lining of the uterus and is noticeable but not typically overwhelming.
Your skin peels sometimes, your nose runs, your hair falls out, your nails break, and we have all sorts of other bodily waste, right? It’s not exactly attractive or fun, but it’s just a body thing, and unlike some other parts of us, there’s no bad bacteria lurking in our periods unless you have a bloodborne illness or infection. Not to mention, the majority of people with penises, we know you’re not exactly a non-dripping faucet, either. You might not have the same things going on as a vagina, but if you tell me you’ve gone everyday of your life completely dry down there, barring any sort of medical condition or surgery, I will call you a liar.
Thankfully, I have had partners plenty accepting of menstruation who helped me start to feel more open about it, but like I’ve previously mentioned, there’s been a few people I've been close to who have made me feel like the way I am is not okay. Initially, with one a romantic partner, touching me anywhere near my vagina at any point during menstruation was a point of discomfort. With that individual, things changed over time for the person, but I never felt comfortable.
In a completely different, platonic relationship, conversations are/were barred with any health related topic regarding periods, even very vaguely stated. Doing something like looking at my bad leg was a source of discomfort and mild revulsion. That made me feel pretty bad.
My issues, thankfully, are so, so minimal. I am incredibly privileged. I have access to money, education, and products to better myself. My personal experience about this is borderline-whining, but the larger issue, how we treat each other, is the big problem. How we aren’t learning and respecting each other, is even bigger. How other countries are barely or not meeting basic human needs is monumental and we need to take action. Thankfully, there are some awesome things happening that are beginning to re-shape and challenge the way we think.
The first is Lunapads’ continuing partnership with Afripads to bring cloth pads to a rural area of Uganda:
Next is from a newer company I am a bit unfamiliar with, BeGirl, but they are following in spirit with a slightly different take on cloth pad and period panties design:
You can check out the details of BeGirl’s line here, and find the shop here. I cannot speak for the quality, and frankly have not done that much research into them yet. However, I do like what they are doing so far in terms of outreach, they seem to have some good ideas, and I would like to eventually experience their product first hand.
When the young people in the video spoke about how they were teased by their peers, not fully taught by their parents, and sent home from school instead of being educated by teachers and continuing learning as usual, I wasn’t shocked. I was saddened for several reasons. The obvious being that these children deserve the best conditions and products possible, to be embraced, and to be able to go to school. Another reason was that I drew similarities to prevailing attitudes and practices in the United States. Many adolescents and children aren't being taught basic things about their bodies, don't know how to take care of themselves properly, are teased ruthlessly, and end up getting getting sick/contracting disease because they don't understand what is happening to them.
Another huge issue is access of products in the United States to the poor and people in prison. Disposable products are incredibly expensive when you have to repeatedly buy them. With no or very limited funds, many people have to go without and have no way to care for themselves. They become even less effective when due to those strains, one is limited to a certain amount. One is forced to reuse a disposable product when their need exceeds their ability to provide.
When there is nothing else, what other option is there but to reuse it? Could you imagine trying to clean a soiled disposable pad or tampon? Can you imagine the bacteria that might grow? Those materials, unlike cloth pads and the menstrual cup, do encourage bacterial growth. (This is why you don’t have to worry about your reusables smelling. Your tampons sitting in a garbage bin will, but if cared for properly, your pads and cup in your wet bag will be near-odorless.)
This is why we need more outreach internationally and in our own country. Cloth pads provide an economical, ecological, and healthy solution for any person who menstruates. It isn’t about having something cute to bleed all over or getting a rise out of making your skin crawl. It’s about making sure about half of the population can have better education, get to school with less absences, avoid unnecessary illness, and open all crucial conversation about our bodies that we just aren’t talking about.
This is also about sexual education for the entire population. Let’s not neglect the sexual health issues of people with penises either. They need to be heard, and we should all be educating ourselves. Let’s take care of each other by taking these first steps.
Teaching basic care at an appropriate age, using words that are age-level for comprehension but still clear and body-positive, and making the body less mysterious to all genders will destigmatize body processes. This will enable children through adulthood to make educated choices for themselves. People often go through life ignoring important issues, they become needlessly exacerbated, and it was all thanks to our learned shame. Too many of us believe we are inherently disgusting. The lesson should be is what happens is just another part of our body---clean, natural, and not to be feared.
Evolving the way the world thinks about periods and bodies is obviously a challenging topic. I could easily make two separate posts about other projects and products that are changing that way that we think about periods and our bodies. These are just the ones that have been on my mind lately. Do you have any you would like to share? What has made you change the way you felt about your body growing up? Leave your suggestions and stories in the comments below, on Facebook, or Instagram! You and they might get featured in an upcoming post!
When you're dealing with these tough issues on your own, you can feel isolated and ashamed. Please know you are not alone, and there are resources. Let me know if I can help direct you to something that can best fit your needs. I'm here to listen and help you make the best with your ability.
Love and Light,
Sorel Estrada Volpe