The stigma surrounding menstruation is a serious problem. Getting your period once a month (during certain years in your life) is something that happens to roughly half of all humans and yet it’s still something considered, at best, impolite and, at worst, downright shameful to talk about. This can have devastating implications for women around the world, especially those who are part of vulnerable populations and socio-economic groups. Being ashamed to talk about menstrual health can lead to the perpetuation of dangerous myths, difficulty obtaining necessary products or appropriate access to menstrual-friendly bathrooms and even increased discrimination against women. There has been a lot of research done on the lack of affordable, hygienic menstrual supplies being linked to greater rates of infection and higher instances of school absence or dropout among girls living in poverty.
The issues causing period stigma are many and varied, as are the subsequent problems and inequalities they create. Education, legislation, and organization around this topic are needed. Indeed many wonderful non-profits have been created around this issue in the past decade, though they have a great deal of work still ahead of them. There are many ways to get involved with their efforts, such as running collection drives for pads and tampons to distribute to school clinics in your area.
But in this blog, I want to especially highlight one simple, impactful way to start removing the stigma surrounding menstruation for the next generation and that is to talk about it with our sons.
Most of us remember being separated by gender, some time around 5th grade, and listening to a discussion on how our bodies were going to begin changing as we entered puberty. I have a vivid memory of the classroom my girlfriends and I sat in, the titillating embarrassment of it all, and the shroud of mystery surrounding what the boys had talked about while we were learning about boobs and periods. Though this separation by gender may be a necessary and even humane way to ensure that both camps are more comfortable to ask questions or share personal information, I think we are doing our boys a disservice by not introducing information about menstrual cycles from a young age.
Educating boys about this subject is important for so many reasons.
We can’t reduce the shame surrounding being on our periods without their help. We need to teach our boys that making PMS jokes or laughing at period supplies glimpsed in girls’ backpacks is humiliating. We need to help our teenage and young adult sons understand that acting disgusted by their girlfriends’ menstruation is immature and hurtful. We need to prepare our sons to grow up to be the types of partners who have no issue picking up tampons at the store for their wives, helping their daughters navigate their first period, or educating their own sons on the topic. We need better informed male classroom teachers, coaches, principals, and most especially legislators, who can help address systemic issues surrounding menstrual stigma, like the tampon tax or including menstrual supplies in government SNAP and WIC benefits.
As we work to become a more body positive and inclusive culture for our kids’ generation, let’s include changing the narrative around periods. To do that, we need to start while our sons are young. If our kids barge into the bathroom while we are changing our tampons or menstrual cups, let’s use it as a time to introduce and normalize periods. We can treat menstrual products like toilet paper, not working to conceal or hide them away, so that discussions surrounding them naturally come up. We should get boys involved in tampon drives and school donations and include them when reading books about puberty to their sisters.