Period positivity: Why it matters and how to do it

Georgous image via @theclamsofficial on Facebook.

I wrote the following post for the Tsuno blog in 2016. As their blog is now offline, I have reposted it here to ensure it is still accessible. Happy reading! - Kate

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With 2015 being named the 'year of the period' it seems that period positivity is on the rise. Hooray!

So what does it mean to be period positive? I think Chella Quint of the #periodpositive campaign puts it best:

"If you are period positive, this means you are willing to confidently ask and/or frankly answer questions about periods ... avoid passing on shame to others, and if you joke about it, that you make sure [people who menstruate] aren't the butt of the joke."

It's your period and you are entitled to feel about it anyway that you like. Period positivity isn't about loving having your period but rather to approach the concept of it in a positive way. It is to see it as a natural physiological process rather than a shameful or dirty thing.

While there are benefits in individual people approaching menstruation in this way, the largest benefits are gained when we as a society are period positive. And in Australia we are not yet there.

It's not OK that in 2015 a woman who could not afford to buy tampons was fined $500 for stealing a $6.75 box. It's not OK that people who menstruate are continuing to be taxed for the 'luxury' items of pads and tampons. And it's certainly not OK that women and girls in Australia and around the world - some cultures and countries more than others - are stigmatised and isolated because of their bodily functions.

I see the direct effects of this stigmatization every day in my work as a researcher in women's health. For example, endometriosis is a disease experienced by approximately 10% of women worldwide and one of the most common symptoms is debilitating period pain. It takes an average of 5.5 years for women to be diagnosed with the condition. Research shows that negative attitudes and beliefs about menstruation held by women, their support network and doctors are a major contributing factor to this delay.

We need to do better because women and girls (and others who menstruate) are entitled to live in a society that does not punish them for menstruating.

So how can you be period positive? Here are some suggestions:
  • Educate yourself! I like this Royal Women's Hospital explainer and this great piece about why it is that we even have periods. 
  • Don't prevent or inhibit someone from discussing periods. If you don't want to discuss it just follow general conversation ettiquette and don't be rude about it to those who do. This especially applies if you are male, and includes both in-person conversations and those on social media. 
  • Parents and teachers have a lot of influence on the next the beliefs and attitudes of the next generation. Explain to your children what periods are, why some people approach it negatively, and why it's important to approach positively instead (see here and here for resources). This needs to be explained to boys and girls, and by mothers and fathers because menstruation concerns everyone. You wouldn't be here without it.