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 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 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.
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!
In the UK today as many as 3 in 10girls are struggling to afford or access period productsduring the lockdown. This is according to Plan International UK’s latest report that highlights the extent to which the pandemic is exacerbating period poverty.
As of January 2020, period products have been made freely available by the government to all state schools and colleges across England and Wales. This follows the Scottish government’s landmark move to provide free menstrual products in schools, colleges and universities in 2018 – the first in the world to do so.
Yet, with schools and youth clubs closed, as well panic-buying leading to a lack of affordable products in store, many people are struggling to get access to free period products, or any products at all.
Over half of those struggling to access products have used toilet paper as a substitute in the past, with 1 in 5 girls finding it harder to manage their period due to toilet paper shortages. And shortages of painkillers, particularly the low-cost versions, contribute further to the problem.
So, what can we do to support those that are struggling to get the essential products they need to manage their periods? And where can you go if you need help?
Below are just some of the amazing organisations continuing to fight period poverty throughout the pandemic. If you would like to learn more or donate please follow the links, and if you or someone you know needs help or support get in touch with these charities.
Bloody Good Period
Bloody Good Period provides menstrual products to those that need them through partnerships with 40 asylum seeker drop-ins around the country, as well as providing education and some bloody good campaigning against period poverty to boot.
During the pandemic, the charity is offering a take-what-you-need scheme at its Alexandra Palace warehouse to get products to people. It is also continuing to deliver bulk supplies outside of London and is working to keep supply to its partners.
If you want to, you can donate to Bloody Good Period HERE to help them keep up the amazing work. Or if you need to access support, you can by scrolling to the bottom of the page HERE.
Hey Girls is a Social Enterprise that provides ‘no leak, super comfy, chlorine and bleach free, environmentally friendly’ period products. The real winner here though is that the social enterprise model means that all the profits from its ‘Buy-one-give-one’ scheme goes to tackling period poverty.
You can support their work by buying Hey Girls products in supermarkets such as Asda and online. The Hey Girls mission has not stopped during the lockdown, it has partnered with local councils to get period products out there and continues to get products to its partners.
Hey Girls take donations HERE, you could also become a corporate supporter HERE.
The Hygiene Bank
The Hygiene Bank is a network of collection and distribution banks that provide essential hygiene products to those in need. Through community partners such as food banks, it redistributes new, unused and in-date toiletries across the UK.
It also provides soaps, sanitisers, shower gels, and laundry care among other products, which, let’s face it, are as essential as pads and tampons for feeling clean and maintaining hygiene throughout your period.
During the pandemic it is continuing to distribute its products and has announced a major partnership with FareShare to get products to NHS frontline staff.
Ifyou want to donate money or products to The Hygiene Bank click HERE!
Are you struggling to find products in the pandemic? Concerned about period poverty?Tell us what you thinkin the comments below.