I had my first period when I was twelve years old. That day I had worn a royal blue skater skirt to school with spandex underneath. I remember walking into my mom’s office after school and doing a twirl because I wanted to show her the way my skirt moved. She was the first one to spot the blood on the back of my skirt, which immediately alarmed me considering I was positive I didn’t have any scrapes on the inside of my legs. Lucky for me, my mom immediately helped me clean myself up and was excited for me “becoming a woman.” The next day at school, my friends didn’t have the same reaction as my mom. Some of them shushed me as I was talking about my period because there were boys behind us and others devised a code name for it so that we wouldn’t be embarrassed if others heard us.
I was a sophomore in high school when I cried for the first time because of cramps. I was sitting in my chemistry class at 7:30 am and I genuinely thought I was going to pass out or throw up from the pain. I kept telling myself that my pain couldn’t have been that bad, considering most women have a period and I had never heard of cramps hurting so badly. I asked to go to the nurse but instead I walked to my locker, snuck two advils and headed to the bathroom. There I cried for at least half an hour before calling my mom to come pick me up from school.
I was 17 when I decided I wanted to try using a menstrual cup in a futile attempt to save the environment. My best friend and I walked into Whole Foods and spent $60 total. We ended up buying the classic fit, but we had no idea what size to get, what cleaning products were needed, or even how to put it in. After lots of trial and error, we both got the hang of using a cup and tried to convince our friends to try out our new way of living. To our dismay, we didn’t get many converts. Most of our friends had fears about the cup getting sucked up into their intestines or getting stuck inside of them.
This year, my freshman year of college, I began taking a birth control pill in order to help with my cramps. I hate having an alarm that goes off at 11:30 every night and I hate it when my friends hear it in the middle of a fun night. At the same time, I am so thankful that me and my gynecologist were able to come up with a strategy that is right for me and my period.
Writing all of this down feels extremely uncomfortable for me despite the fact that I know what my body goes through every month is natural and something other women go through too. Talking about periods feels personal and intimate because menstruation is just that- intimate! Despite the fact that there are women all over the world who bleed once a month, there are so many different relationships and experiences to be had with the menstrual cycle. Not everyone has cramps, not everyone has a heavy flow, not everyone gets emotional, and not everyone gets a period. But all of those experiences are valid and deserve to be talked about. The beauty of the period comes from how mundane it is.
Talking about periods can often feel ‘gross’ or like oversharing, but it is something that takes up a big part of women’s lives. In fact, some women will spend up over 10 years of their lives menstruating. Destigmatizing the period looks different for everybody. For some it looks like requesting better sexual education in their school system. For others, this could be admitting that you don’t want to hang out with one night because your period is making you feel nauseous or sore instead of simply saying you “just don’t feel like it.” This could even be as simple as calling someone out for asking a woman “are you on your period?” in order to invalidate their emotions. The thing is, you get to decide how vulnerable you are with your own experiences. While not everyone has to share what a period looks like for them, people do need to work on making room for others to feel comfortable talking about their own bodies!
The menstrual cycle is a complex and fragile process that people (of all genders) are often undereducated about. When talking about periods it is key to understand that everyone has an intimate relationship with the process. I mean, we all lived inside a uterus at one point in time. Some people might be dying to commiserate with others about their cramps, and some people might be grieving the loss of a period. And it is not just women who menstruate- transgender men and non-binary people are often silenced in conversations about periods. They deserve a voice in the movement to destigmatize the period as well. Women who have miscarried or who have gone through menopause or who are on birth control all deserve the freedom to share about their experiences with the menstrual cycle. Not everyone will want to share, and that is okay! We just need to focus on creating a culture in which people of all different backgrounds and experiences share the freedom to talk about the processes their body goes through.
If you are interested in learning more about menstrual health and the movement to destigmatize the period, here are some good places to start:
Image credit: https://www.dreamstime.com/cute-cartoon-uterus-blue-background-cute-cartoon-uterus-image118118078
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