By Rupi Kaur and Prabh Kaur -- Let’s begin with the obvious: Every woman in the history of humanity has or had a period. Each month, her uterus sheds its lining, sending blood flowing out through her vagina (unless she’s pregnant, in which case she gets a lengthy reprieve). This process is as natural as eating, drinking and sleeping, and it’s beautiful too: There’s no human race without it. Yet most of us loathe talking about it.
When girls first start their periods, they embark on a decades-long journey of silence and dread. Periods hurt. They cause backaches and cramps, not to mention a cloud of emotional ickiness—and this goes on every month, for 30 to 40 years. In public, people discuss periods as often as they discuss diarrhea. Women shove pads or tampons up their sleeves on their way to the bathroom so no one knows it’s their “time of the month.”
They get bloodstains on their clothes. They stick wads of toilet paper in their underwear when they’re caught without supplies. Meanwhile, ad campaigns sanitize this bloody mess with scenes of light blue liquids gently cascading onto fluffy white pads while women frolic in form-fitting white jeans.
In a 1978 satire for Ms. magazine, feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem answered the question that so many women have asked: “What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? The answer is clear—menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event:
Men would brag about how long and how much,” she wrote. Steinem envisioned a world where “men-struation” justifies men’s place pretty much everywhere: in combat, political office, religious leadership positions and medical schools. We’d have “Paul Newman Tampons” and “Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads” and a new model for compliments: Nearly 40 years later, Steinem’s essay still stings because “menstrual equity” has gone almost nowhere. Today, tampons and pads are taxed in most states while adult diapers, Viagra, Rogaine and potato chips are not.
Men can walk into any bathroom and access all of the supplies they need to care for themselves: toilet paper, soap, paper towels, even seat covers. Women, however, cannot. In most schools, girls have to trek to the nurse’s office to ask for a pad or tampon, as if menstruating is an illness rather than a natural function.
In most public and private places, women are lucky if there’s a cranky machine on the wall charging a few quarters for a pad that’s so uncomfortable you might prefer to use a wad of rough toilet paper instead. No change? You can pay for a parking spot with a credit card, but have you ever seen such technology on a tampon machine in a women’s bathroom? The situation for prison inmates and homeless women is far direr.
Even if you do have access to tampons, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require companies to list the ingredients—yet the average woman has a tampon inside her vagina for more than 100,000 hours over her lifetime. Tampons may contain “residue from chemical herbicides,” says Sharra Vostral, a historian at Purdue University who wrote Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology.
“We do not really understand the health consequences, because we are not testing for them in relation to tampons.”If all this sounds unfair, try getting your period in the developing world. Taboos, poverty, inadequate sanitary facilities, meager health education and an enduring culture of silence create an environment in which girls and women are denied what should be a basic right: clean, affordable menstrual materials and safe, private spaces to care for themselves.
At least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods, according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). In rural India, one in five girls drops out of school after they start menstruating , according to research by Nielsen and Plan India, and of the 355 million menstruating girls and women in the country, just 12 percent use sanitary napkins.
“In today’s world, if there’s nobody dying it’s not on anyone’s agenda,” says Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli, a WHO scientist who’s worked in adolescent health for the past 20 years. “Menstrual problems don’t kill anyone, but for me, they are still an extremely important issue because they affect how girls view themselves, and they affect confidence, and confidence is the key to everything.”
For something that has over 5,000 slang terms (shark week, Bloody Mary, red wedding), the period is one of the most ignored human rights issues around the globe—affecting everything from education and economics to the environment and public health—but that’s finally starting to change. In the past year, there have been so many pop culture moments around menstruation that NPR called 2015 “the year of the period,” and Cosmopolitan said it was “the year the period went public.”
We’ll never have gender equality if we don’t talk about periods, but 2016 signaled the beginning of something better than talk: It’s becoming the year of menstrual change. There’s a movement—propelled by activists, inventors, politicians, startup founders and everyday people—to strip menstruation of its stigma and ensure that public policy keeps up. For the first time, Americans are talking about gender equality, feminism and social change through women’s periods, which, as Steinem puts it, is “evidence of women taking their place as half the human race.”
Menstruation wasn’t always so taboo. In ancient and matrilineal cultures, it was a mark of honor and power, a sacred time for women to rest and revive their bodies. Today, no one is going to the spa or taking a few days off of work to celebrate her period. Menstruation has been cloaked in shame for centuries, but that silence was broken for a brief moment in 1970 when Dr. Edgar Berman, a member of the Democratic Party’s Committee on National Priorities, suggested that women could not hold office because of their “raging hormonal imbalances.”
His comments were directed at U.S. Representative Patsy Mink of Hawaii, who had implored her party to focus on women’s issues. Berman asked people to imagine a “menopausal woman president who had to make the decision of the Bay of Pigs,” or the president of a bank “making a loan under these raging hormonal influences.” Mink ridiculed his “disgusting performance,” forced his resignation—and, for a very brief time, women’s periods had the floor. Then 46 years went by without any change.
In January, President Barack Obama may have become the first president to discuss menstruation when 27-year-old YouTube sensation Ingrid Nilsen asked him why tampons and pads are taxed as luxury items in 40 states. Obama was stunned. “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” he said. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” -- Source.
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Your 7 Most Embarrassing Period Questions
If you’re a woman (and there’s a good chance if you’re reading this, you are), then you have probably, at some point in your life, had a weird or embarrassing period-related question that wasn’t answered in the “What to Expect When You’re Menstruating” manual—you know, the one every girl receives before her period starts
Never fear. We’ve gathered a list of seven totally normal (and yet, often unasked) period questions and had them answered by an award-winning board-certified gynecologist, Dr. Jessica Ritch, who specializes in minimally invasive gynecology at the Florida Center for Urogynecology and has worked throughout the world, including Africa and India, to provide the most state-of-the-art gynecological treatments to women in need.
Not only does Dr. Ritch have the medical experience to answer our most private period questions, but she’s also a woman who has personal experience with the crazy-weird things that happen during our menstrual cycle. Her answers prove that while women’s bodies are totally unique, we have a lot less to freak out about when it comes to our periods than we may have thought.
“I think it's so important for women to understand their bodies,” Dr. Ritch shared. She wants us all to know that no matter how strange we think our health (read: period) questions are, we should still ask them. Knowledge is empowering, and our doctors can only help us if they know what’s actually going on with our weird and totally wonderful bodies.
1. What exactly are those big red clumps we see in the toilet?
The big red clumps are bunches of blood that have started to clot. When blood sits in the uterus or vagina prior to being pushed out, it can clot together, causing the big red clumps you see.
2. Um, can you please tell us why we poop so much during our periods?
This is a good question that we don't completely know the answer to, but there are two basic theories. The first is that a decrease in hormones (estrogen and progesterone) leading up to menses cause changes in the neurotransmitters (chemical signals from nerves) throughout our bodies, which can cause a variety of different premenstrual symptoms. The second is when the uterus starts to menstruate; it’s inflamed and contracts to expel blood, which can irritate the bowels that typically sit all around the uterus. In addition, some of the blood from menses escapes through the fallopian tubes into the belly instead of out through the vagina. This blood is very irritating to the bowels, which can create either diarrhea or, interestingly, constipation.
3. Why do we have those annoying pre-period pimples?
This is related to fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels. Estrogen tends to drop off first and when the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is lower, this tips the scale towards the more androgenic (male-type hormone) properties of progesterone, like acne.
4. Why do so many of us report being hungry a few days before starting our periods?
This relates back to the second question and those neurotransmitters like serotonin. Changes in these neurotransmitters can cause hunger and mood symptoms.
5. Is there a reason some of us feel more sexually aroused shortly before our periods start?
Again, back to the neurotransmitters. The drops in estrogen and progesterone cause fluctuations in neurotransmitters. Serotonin is the most studied, and this is what many people think of as the "happy" chemical. Releases of serotonin are responsible for the exercise high and similar reactions with sex. While changes in serotonin can lead to irritability and mood swings, it can also lead to other feelings, like arousal. Add to that the increased blood flow to the pelvis around menses (and even pregnancy!), which can increase libido.
6. What is that brown discharge at the beginning or end of our periods?
The brown stuff before and after our periods is just blood that has oxidized. Just before and towards the end of periods, the blood flow is light, which means it doesn't quite have the force to push itself out as when the blood flow is heavier. The small amounts of blood sit around in the vagina and become exposed to oxygen, which starts to break down the blood and turn it brown.
7. Are there any health risks with period-control products like menstrual cups and absorbent period panties (and reasons to avoid trying them)?
Nope, there are no significant health risks to these products. It's really just about choice and what is comfortable for each woman! -- Source.
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*Consultation with a health care professional should occur before applying adjustments or treatments to the body, consuming medications or nutritional supplements and before dieting, fasting or exercising. None of these activities are herein presented as substitutes for competent medical treatment. See Disclaimer.