Menstrual taboos: how can we combat these preconceived ideas?

For some time now, spurred on by female influencers on Instagram, committed brands like Elia, podcasts, we've been hearing more and more about menstruation in the modern world! But there's still a long way to go: taboos still persist.

Why do we talk about period taboos?

Menstrual taboo refers to theomerta surrounding the subjects of menstruation and the female cycle, which struggle to find their place in everyday life. When a woman has her periodshe's generally conditioned not to let anything show. Pain, menstrual crampsPain, menstrual cramps, migraines, tiredness, sanitary protection... So many inconveniences and discomforts that go unmentioned. Among top sportswomen, menstrual flow is also a taboo subject, and is only just beginning to emerge in the media. Indeed, what more normal explanation could there be for a slump in performance? It's a physiological situation like any other.

The taboo surrounding menstruation sometimes goes even further: it can also be accompanied by intolerable stigma, prejudice and superstition. In France, women are supposed to miss out on mayonnaise when they're menstruating, while Indian women can't go near food or visit temples when they're menstruating because they don't want to contaminate anything... These false popular beliefs help to keep this menstrual taboo alive andaffect women's lives and rights.

What are the false beliefs surrounding menstruation?

There are many false beliefs about menstrual flow, rooted in different cultures and origins.

Menstrual blood is not clean

The first stigma is that menstrual blood loss is dirty: associated with the often misunderstood female genitalia, menstrual blood is often considered impure.

Unlike the blood that flows through our veins and symbolizes life, menstrual blood loss symbolizes death: the death of an ovum that should have been born, of a lack of fertilization... But women aren't just baby-making machines! Most men are also put off by the idea of making love during their period, either because they don't want to get dirty, or because they're afraid of the sight of their penis covered in blood.

Menstrual bleeding is intriguing because of its variations in color and appearance: the presence of clots, from pink to brown to black blood... Menstrual flow can take on many different appearances, depending on its position in the cycle. It therefore appears less clean and smooth than the fresh, vigorous red blood pumped by the heart.

Menstrual cycle pain is normal

Since the dawn of time, women have learned not to talk about their periods, and therefore not to complain about them, thus keeping their menstrual pain under wraps. This has helped the next generation of women to perpetuate the idea that it's normal to suffer pelvic pain with every cycle: we're also the first culprits of this omerta! While menstruation may cause slight discomfort or a tugging sensation in the lower abdomen, it's not normal to have unbearable menstrual cramps: a consultation with a gynecologist or healthcare professional is necessary.

This lack of interest in menstrual ailments and disorders has accentuated the lack of understanding of the subject, and in particular the delay in diagnosing gynecological diseases and conditions such as endometriosis, toxic shock syndrome, premenstrual syndrome... A woman who gets upset has often been told "are you on your period or what?"But like everyone else, we can have good or bad days, regardless of hormonal variations in the cycle or supposed hysteria...

We can't talk about our periods without shame

Today, it's still difficult for women to openly and simply say "I'm having my period". As a result, we're seeing the development of more colorful expressions and formulations: women have "their moons", "ragnagnas" or "les anglaises qui débarquent".

Similarly, when a girl asks a friend for a sanitary napkin to tide her over, or if she has a stain while getting up from the chair, she often whispers discreetly so that it doesn't get out... Sad reality! It's not so long ago that blood flow was represented in ads by a more hygienic, more "marketing" blue liquid. Today, a number of brands, including Elia, have managed to restore its natural color!

While it seemed that freedom of speech had been liberated in the West, new studies have in fact revealed that one person in two would find it inappropriate to talk about it in public. In fact, 46% of French people believe that mothers are still theonly people they can talk to about menstruation.

But in other countries, such as India, Nepal or Africa, superstitions surrounding menstruation go beyond shame: some menstruating people have even lost their lives or committed suicide, victims of these intolerable traditions and beliefs.

Impossible to play sport or swim with your period

Another common misconception is that youcan't do sport during your period! On the contrary: sport eases menstrual cramps by warming and relaxing uterine muscle tissue. Sport calms uterine contractions, making it easier to bear the pain.

As for swimming and water sports, while our hygienist society sees a problem with swimming during your period, there is no physiological contraindication: we do bathe! In any case, there are hygienic products suitable for swimming: tampons, cups, menstrual swimsuits... There's no shortage of solutions for enjoying a few laps in the water like everyone else!

What are the consequences of the period taboo in France and around the world?

When half the population concerned doesn't dare talk about their daily lives, their menstrual cycle or their periods, this can have consequences for the freedom of speech and society in general.

Menstrual precariousness

Menstrual insecurity is defined as the difficulty women have in accessing sanitary protection. In France, 1.7 million women suffer from this condition. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among people living on the streets, but is also found among students, people with insecure jobs and women in prison.

Dropping out of school

Who hasn't been indisposed at a young age, asking her parents for a note of apology for school! The taboo surrounding pain and being at ease with one's body during this period is at the root of high absenteeism rates. Some girls may even drop out of school if they are repeatedly absent, shattering their future.

Yet we know thateducating women is a very important part of a just society. Moreover, access to sex education, biology and physiology courses, gives everyone a better understanding of the female body and cycle. Ignorance and fear of what we don't know are generally at the root of false beliefs: we need to explain the rules!

Social isolation

Menstruation can also lead to social isolation, in some countries where women are considered impure and unwelcome in their own homes.

What can be done to combat the taboo of menstruation?

Taboos are born of ignorance and fear. So it's important to understand the physiology of the female cycle, whether for young girls and boys or adults:

  • It's a natural, physiological phenomenon: as a result of the breakdown of the endometrium following the absence of fertilization, the uterine mucosa is evacuated through the vagina in the form of a bloody discharge, with or without clots, and whose color and viscosity can vary.
  • Don't be afraid of the vocabulary: menstruation, menstruation, vagina, vulva... These are not vulgar words, but the right words to accurately describe female anatomy.
  • Women are neither mad nor hysterical: menstruation is neither the systematic cause nor a condescending excuse for anger. Hormonal variations throughout the cycle are, however, a scientifically proven explanation for mood changes that may occur as part of premenstrual syndrome.
  • Period blood isn't dirty: whether it's blood from the arteries or from the breakdown of the endometrium, it's blood, and it's part of the body's natural secretions, like so many others.

Remember: menstruation is not and should not be a taboo subject! It's a completely natural phenomenon, neither dirty nor impure. On the contrary, it's something to talk about.

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