Vulvani Release Free Stock Images on Menstruation.

Menstrual education platform, Vulvani, have released a series of free to use stock images that feature beautiful and accurate photos depicting all things periods!

Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com

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.

Photo by Vulvani – www.vulvani.com

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.comif you use their images!

Why is it called “feminine hygiene” anyway?

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.

I May Destroy You: Period Sex and Blood Clots on the BBC

**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.

Which brings me to episode three: Don’t Forget the Sea.

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.

So, I want to join the chorus of people praising Michaela Coel right now and for bringing us essential period visibility and for bringing blood clots onto the BBC.

Popular Myths About Menstruation and How to Bust Them!

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:

  • The myth that your period attracts Bears is thought to have originated in Glacier National Park in the US in 1967, when two women were killed by bears, one of whom was on her period. Rumours began to swirl that the reason was due to their ‘menstrual odours’, and despite there being no scientific evidence backing up this claim, it persisted.
  • 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 men can 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!