Nobody Talks About: The Problems with Periods

NB: This is not just one for the ladies. Read on, men, you might learn something.

NB 2: I apologise in advance for the amount of swearing that goes on in this blog. Some topics just deserve it.

Every fourth Monday I’ll be going to work in the morning thinking, Oh, hello MEN. You ARSEHOLES. I hope you’re enjoying your constant days without any or all of the following:

  • Feeling like your stomach’s getting scraped out with a spoon. And every so often, or for an hour at a time, the spoon finds a particularly stubborn bit and really digs in.
  • Walking a little bit like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, because your stomach muscles are cramping too much for you stand up straight.
  • A chronic ache in your lower back.
  • A headache which is just enough to make you feel a little sick and dizzy, but not enough to be classed as a migraine. (So when your doctor asks you if you’ve had any migraines, and you say not really, but I get these bad headaches which painkillers don’t shift – and they say, so, a headache, and look at you like you’re making a problem out of nothing. And you say yes that’s right. I’m sorry I’ve reported my inferior pain. Please do keep giving me contraceptive pills.)
  • Sore breasts.
  • Inexplicable changes in body temperature.

This is having periods. There are many and numerous problems with periods. The pain reported above is only one of these problems, although it’s one of the most obvious, immediate and spoken about problems. I’m going to discuss a few of the less obvious and spoken about problems below. Feel free to add your own at the bottom.

Number 1. Embarrassment

Obviously, having a period is embarrassing. As a girl you’re brought up on stories in Cringe! pages of girls bleeding through their skirts in classes, or on dates, or turning swimming pools red. You live in constant fear of this happening. Periods are not often talked about, particularly with men who, even at their most enlightened, will look confused and get a bit vague if you start telling them about your period. It is high time we got over this. It’s half the population, and it’s one week out of four of their lives from the ages of about 12 to 45. We shouldn’t have to worry about saying that we have menstrual cramps, or feel the need to get two plastic bags in Boots so you can’t read ‘TAMPAX’ from the outside. Let’s just collectively get over it.

Number 2. Advertising

I hate adverts for pads and tampons almost as much as I hate adverts for yoghurts (WOMEN DO NOT ORGASM AND FALL OFF THEIR CHAIRS WHEN THEY EAT YOGHURT. STOP IT). I should think the patronising, nauseating, itchingly irritating Always ‘Have a happy period!’ campaign was responsible for more wine glasses / cushions / stuffed animals / live cats being thrown at televisions than any other advertising campaign in television history (unless it was a woman falling over with sheer delight at eating a fucking yoghurt). Stop trying to make periods cute and funny. They are neither of these things. Why can’t we have one that says: “I’m so sorry you’re still a woman and still have to deal with this, to use the technical term, total bullshit. This pad is slightly softer than your average. It shouldn’t leak if you use the right thickness. Best of luck ladies.” Not some crap about an overly made-up and posh woman representing Mother Nature telling you that you can’t leave the house, you’re on your period, BUT WAIT YES YOU CAN because this tampon will stop the neon sign flashing over your head, and you can leave the house looking like a totally normal person! What a load of crap. Who the hell is thinking “oh no I can’t live my life, I’m on my period”? What century is this? (Unless, of course, you’re living in a country where woman are practically sealed in quarantine when they’re on their periods). In most places, it’s the same, except you take your bag with you whenever you go to the bathroom. That is literally the main difference. Or, it’s a month when you get all the pains described above, it’s the same but plus ibuprofen, and hot water bottles. (Can we please make the use of hot water bottles in offices absolutely the norm? It would be great.)

Also, Always, having a period doesn’t get any nicer by you putting ribbons on the packaging. I shit you not, they actually do or did this for a long time. They put pink or purple (obviously, because we’re GIRLS and GIRLS LOVE PINK) ribbons round the top of the packets of pads. What the hell is the point? How are you supposed to get rid of them? They don’t decompose, as far as I know. Unfortunately I do some sewing, and always keep things like ribbon, just in case one day I want to make something which could use a bit of ribbon somewhere. So I have a lot of useless (8 inch) lengths of pink and purple ribbon. I don’t even like the shade of purple. If you ever get a homemade cushion or something from me with lots of pink and purple ribbons, they’re probably courtesy of Always.

Number 3. Equipment

Disposable pads/sanitary towels. Applicator tampons. Non-applicator tampons. Mooncups. Washable pads. There is more choice for blood removal equipment these days. The problem for me these days is half the time if you admit to still using disposable pads and/or tampons, you get someone say: “Oh! Don’t you use a Mooncup? They’re so COMFORTABLE! And CHEAP! And GREEN!” (For the uninitiated, a Mooncup is a rubber cup you put inside you to collect the blood. Then you take it out, empty it, put it back in.) Stop with the judgement. Some people find just using tampons will give them more cramps than if they didn’t. A small cup is not going to make this any easier. I know that the people who aren’t using them are single-handedly filling up landfill and the ocean with cotton wool on strings and cotton wool wrapped in adhesive plastic. I know. I, for one, feel bad. But one of the other problems here is being brought up thinking the whole thing is icky. It’s taken me fifteen years of being on my period to realise that non-applicator tampons are 700 times easier to put in than applicator ones. (Again, for the understandably ignorant: a non-applicator tampon is just a tampon. You put it in yourself using your finger. An applicator tampon is a tampon inside a cardboard tube, with another smaller cardboard tube behind it, so you can push the smaller tube into the larger tube and eject the tampon inside yourself. It means you don’t have to put your fingers inside yourself. Because, you know, god forbid). What I only realised very recently was that applicator tampons are often the reason why tampons feel so uncomfortable: if you have it in the right place, i.e. far enough in, you don’t feel it. If it’s slightly too low, you do feel it. And it’s extremely uncomfortable. (No, it’s isn’t at all arousing.) And why has it taken me so long to stop using applicator tampons? Because I felt like I shouldn’t be getting dirty. Like the whole thing was too icky just as it was and I shouldn’t be making it worse. I don’t think applicator tampons should even exist. The only purpose they serve is to stop you getting blood on your finger. That’s it. Why bother? It’s just blood. I know we treat it like it’s some mythically nasty substance but it’s not, it’s just blood. And it washes off. It’s fine. By the way, I love it when men talk generally about women being super squeamish at the sight of blood. What do you think we’re doing, swooning onto the bathroom floor every month?

Oh, and another thing I hate about pads in particular these days: SCENTS. Manufacturers have decided to persuade women that washing regularly isn’t going to be enough to stop people smelling a period on you (newsflash: it is enough) so they’ve started perfuming pads and pantyliners with new FRESH or FLOWERY scents. This is bullshit for a few reasons. Firstly, unless someone sticks their face in a clean one, they’re never going to notice the scent. These things are the pot pourri of the blood removal equipment world. You can only smell it if your nose is three centimetres away from it. Secondly, the pH level of vaginas is extremely sensitive, and just the chemicals in pads and so on can affect it. So do a lot of shower gels. More crap in the form of unnecessary smells is only going to make it worse. Do not give yourself thrush by using a pad with a, probably awful, scent that nobody is ever going to smell. And manufacturers, fuck right off. Stop making us feel even dirtier than we do already. Washable pads are the new thing: they’re fabric so they don’t have all the chemicals used to bleach the plastic and who knows what in pads. But, obviously, they’re a bitch to clean. And if you live with a partner, or flatmates, they’re going to need to be understanding about blood-soaked bits of fabric soaking in buckets for a week a month.

Number 4. Vocabulary

I hate the signs they use for the period stuff aisle in Boots. ‘Feminine care’. Nothing feminine about it, my dears. No matter how purple and pink you make the packaging. I wish we could have some other name for it which actually represents what it is. I always look at ‘Feminine care’ and think what the hell is that? Is the rest of this shop, therefore, masculine care? I can’t think of anything that would really fit. ‘Period crap’ probably wouldn’t be acceptable. Just ‘Towels and Tampons’ might work, although people would probably then go there looking for actual towels. I much prefer the term pads to towels. Sanitary towels. Ugh. It’s so long. And just sounds like something you should get from a hospital. Ideas on this are welcome.

Number 5. Cost

Ladies, we are poorer from birth, because we have to spend so much money on keeping acceptably clean every month. Pads and tampons and so on are not cheap. They’re even more not cheap because they’re taxed as non-essential items. NON-ESSENTIAL. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m bleeding uncontrollably (no, we can’t control it like you can peeing – I read somewhere that some guy asked a girl about that, unbelievable) what would you like me to use to mop it up? Rags? Newspapers? It is total bullshit that these are classed as non-essential. They should be given out for fucking free.

Number 6: Talk about disadvantaged women

Finally, getting period supplies to women in warzones, refugee camps, and women without a home is getting more attention. Can you imagine losing your home, travelling hundreds of miles, living in a refugee camp, and then you start fucking bleeding? And for homeless women too, getting your period has to add insult to injury. Some homeless shelters provide free pads and tampons, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Nobody talks about it because oh, it’s embarrassing. Shouldn’t they be able to just deal with it quietly without inconveniencing anybody. These women. Want the earth on a stick.

Number 7: Sportswomen

A tennis player lost a game earlier this year, and speaking about it afterwards, she made some reference to the fact she was on her period at the time. If you’re in a lot of pain or just feeling slightly off colour, as you can when you’re on your period, it has to be a reasonable disadvantage. My mother’s attitude was that she should be on the pill and have just kept taking it through the competition. I will talk about the problems with that in the sister blog to this one, on the Problems with Contraceptives. Essentially, not all women can or should take the pill. It doesn’t agree with them. And even if you’re on the pill you’re told to stop taking it usually every month, but at least every few months, so you can have a period. Apparently there may not be any medical reason why you should do this. It’s just ‘feminine’ to have a period. What a load of bullshit. I swear, if men had to deal with this, they’d have found a fucking cure by now.

Number 8: Unpredictability

I am lucky in that I am on the pill so I know pretty much when my periods are going to start every month. But that doesn’t mean the cramps can’t start a couple of days early and catch me out. Or I might think it’s done and then it will start again. For women not on the pill, or with less predictable bodies, Lena Dunham’s line in Girls probably drew a lot of knowing nods: “I never know when my period’s going to start, and that’s why all my underwear is covered in weird stains.” Such a freaking pain. (Soaking in a bucket of Vanish usually gets the worst of it out, I find.) Actually one of the reasons I went back on the pill after some time off was because not knowing when it was going to start was driving me crazy.

Number 9: Cleaning sheets and towels

It’s almost inevitable you’ll get some blood on a sheet or a towel. White bottom bedsheets are just asking for trouble. Especially if you have sex at some point while your period is on. Some people like to avoid it completely, but for others waiting five days is just not feasible. In these cases, more Vanish.

Number 10: Culture

The assumption that being on your period makes you irrational and crazy. It doesn’t. Sometimes it affects your mood because there are so many hormones flying around, and reactions to things might be a little angrier than seems reasonable. Or you might be more emotional. But it is by no means universal, and doesn’t affect all women. Just save yourself a stick in your eye and don’t even ask if she’s on her period.

Of course, there are a few good things about periods. Here they are:

Number 1. You’re not pregnant.

If you’re a woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant, there are few things more terrifying than thinking that you might be growing a person inside you. Sometimes getting a period is the biggest relief ever. You’d think they’d be a neater way of doing it though. And it seems ridiculous that you have to be in suspense three weeks out of four wondering if there might be a baby starting in you. Come on, science, sort it out.

Number 2. Lazing

If you have nothing to do and nowhere to go and nobody to see, sometimes being on your period is a nice excuse to lie in bed all day, with many cushions (for the backache and the headache), braless (for the tender breasts), in your slackest trousers (for the bloating), with a hot water bottle (for the cramps), drinking tea while watching total crap on the television. And maybe eating chocolate, because either due to actual science or simply the influence of decades of advertising, you do get cravings for chocolate on your period. You can justify spending all day doing only this, because you’re on your period, and by any other name, you’re ill. Only you can’t call it ill because it’s every freaking month and you don’t want to sound weak.

Number 3. Female Solidarity

You can talk to other women, whether you know them really well or not (although I probably wouldn’t bring it up with a cashier in a supermarket) about what utter bullshit it is being on your period. Another woman’s handbag stock of painkillers, pads and tampons is available to you in an emergency. Instant sympathy and bonding.

That’s all I can think of for good things about periods. They are mostly just incredibly annoying and uncomfortable. I hope you’ve enjoyed this rant, and do leave in the comments more shit or good things about periods! I will post another piece soon about the Problems with Contraceptives- talking specifically about hormonal ones for women: the pill, etc. The problems are many and numerous, contrary to popular belief.


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