It is not all doom and gloom when it comes to periods and thankfully, as a society, we are moving forward. Periods are not as demonised as they have been in the past. A film about menstruation won an Oscar. Period products are provided for free in a number of institutions. A period board game has even been invented. However, we still have some work to do.
Periods remain a source not just of inequality but also real embarrassment and taboo.
I am a firm believer that periods should be whatever the individual wants them to be. If you want to free bleed and share your period stories with the world, then you should. If you want to quietly power through your period because you actually kind of hate it, you should also be able to. The only criteria for both is there should be no shame, hate or judgement for whatever decision you make. Periods are unique to the individual.
Personally, I am somewhere in between. Although I literally speak about periods every single day, I don’t really want to show the world my period. On top of this, I don’t love having my period. Now this might be a shock to the people around me as I do tend to chat a lot of period chat. However, for me personally periods give me intense pain, cravings, breakouts and are just a hassle when I have other things to do. That being said, periods exist and that’s a fact. They should therefore never be a source of inequality or taboo.
My younger self who would ask friends to check for leaks at any opportunity would not have guessed that they would start a period focused company. Now, I get to spend my days creating content surrounding periods and dance around school classrooms diving into puberty and periods using various objects and scripted activities. I can safely say periods have become my norm.
Although I never want anyone to feel they have to talk about their period to feel empowered, one thing which remains shocking to me is the complete ‘ick’ we have with period blood.
Now leaking is another issue in my opinion. Not everyone chooses to free bleed and that is fine. I still hate the thought of leaking and when I was about 14 I remember what felt like the most embarrassing moment of my life when my mum chased me down the aisle of the plane whispering in my ear that I had leaked all over my new trousers. (cringe)
Period blood however is seen as something horrifically disgusting. Why? If we are making such great steps to challenge the taboo around periods, why is the blood such an issue? Now I do not have a decisive answer to this (unfortunately). It could be that for some people blood in general freaks them out. Personally I think there is more to it than that.
An activity I love to run in class surrounds the topic of blood. Students are asked to role play various different scenarios surrounding blood. These vary from a shark attack to a nose bleed in the playground to childbirth, to a papercut. On top of this activity leading to laughter (which is always encouraged in a Lilypads lesson) I always find it fascinating. Students never have a problem acting out these scenarios, they actually enjoy it (although they would never tell me that).
Afterwards, I hand out scripts for them to complete another role play exercise. This time it focuses on someone leaking due to their period in classroom. The response to this activity is different. I like to pose these questions to the class to try and dive into why our perceptions of periods are so different any other blood focused scenario. What support would you offer someone who experiences a nose bleed in the classroom. These often include get them a tissue, maybe a hug. Generally, a solution to make the blood go away and comfort. I like to ask the class what support someone who has leaked would desire and why our attitude would be any different.
I think it is so important to break it down this way. To encourage young people to see the scenarios side by side and encourage empathy towards the situation. By doing this we can remove the blood entirely. The scenario becomes something someone needs help or comfort with, and that is it. Lilypads firmly believe by allowing all students the open space to act out situations like these, to ask questions, to open see and feel period products (often for the first time), the secrecy and taboo surrounding periods can be challenged. Creating a fun, inclusive and active environment can make everyone feel more open to engaging in a conversation about periods and can break topics like periods and puberty down to more relatable and human things.
Of course when it comes to period blood, the stigma and taboo is also engrained within society as a whole.
It is linked to the taboo surrounding vaginal health in general, to sexual health to reproductive health and to wider inequalities surrounding gender and sexuality. As well as breaking specific topics down we think it is vital to link them to these issues. To allow the space in a classroom to talk about how toxic masculinity can play out in P.E changing rooms and young people’s bodies begin to change or how periods can be used as a tool to dismiss someone’s opinion or mood. By proposing some of these scenarios through similar activities like scripted role play or group work young people can learn to identify and challenge them, to learn to build understanding and consideration to different groups of people and to experiences they might not experience themselves
It is not all doom and gloom. We have made great progress so far. But when it comes to periods it’s about bloody time we talked more about blood.
Learn more about Lilypads Education programme on our website.