The lack of menstruation education can have devastating effects


CW / Kylie Cowden

Isabelle Beauregard

Over half of the world’s population will menstruate at some point during their lifetime. Unfortunately, the ubiquity of menstruation is not accompanied by a proportional amount of education on the issue, especially education that is directed at people who do not menstruate themselves. That lack of education can have devastating effects for a number of reasons. One is that a lack of understanding about periods can lead to social stigma, which can result in anything from simple embarrassment about bringing menstrual products to the bathroom to being restricted by family members from free movement for the duration of the bleeding. Another is that uneducated people may be the ones making policy that directly affects access to reproductive healthcare and menstrual products. There are many more consequences of the lack of education surrounding periods, but I am going to turn to a (nonexhaustive) list of things that everyone should know about periods.

Not all people who have periods are women, and not all women have periods. People with a wide range of gender identities and biological sexes have and do not have periods. Cisgender women (those whose sex assigned at birth matches their gender identity) may not menstruate for a variety of reasons. Trans people, nonbinary people and gender nonconforming people may or may not menstruate irrespective of their gender identities. For that reason, we should be careful to use gender neutral language when talking about menstruation.

In the U.S., people who menstruate typically begin menstruating at 12 years of age and stop doing so around age 51, in a process called menopause. These are average ages, of course, and many people begin menstruation and menopause earlier or later. People can also stop menstruation intentionally through surgical and hormonal techniques.

Menstrual products (like pads, tampons and menstrual cups) are not cheap, especially when one considers that they are typically necessary every month for about 40 years. And according to The Washington Post, which cited a Fusion graphic, 38 states and D.C. tax menstrual products like tampons and pads. Many people may think that this tax is not important, but for those living at or below the poverty line, it can be an expense that puts menstrual products out of reach. Of course, it would be ideal for menstrual products to be available for free, similar to toilet paper in public bathrooms. Many colleges and universities are beginning to provide free menstrual products to students, and some companies have begun to do so as well. Hopefully, The University of Alabama can take this important step in the near future.

Menstruation is often accompanied by a number of symptoms, including bloating, headaches, cramping, nausea and trouble sleeping. In addition to the more commonly known premenstrual syndrome (PMS), there is premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of PMS. PMDD may require treatment, so people who experience severe PMS should talk to a healthcare professional about their symptoms. Not all people experience PMS, and many people experience a combination of symptoms to different degrees. Just because people who menstruate may experience these symptoms does not mean that they should be considered weaker or less worthy of equal employment. Instead, workplaces and schools should make sure that their policies are inclusive and promote equity amongst people of all gender identities by taking into account people’s healthcare needs.

There is no normal menstrual cycle. Not everyone has a period that lasts seven days as a part of a 28 day cycle; some people have shorter periods and longer cycles, some have shorter cycles and longer periods. And periods are not scheduled. Many people are surprised by the start of their periods, making the availability of menstrual products in public places imperative. People have different menstrual cycles, and a single person’s cycle may change throughout their life. That being said, extremely irregular periods can be a cause for concern, and people should be sure to schedule appointments with a gynecologist to check in if they have a period that lasts more than 7 days, if bleeding is extremely heavy or if their period has become irregular after having regular monthly cycles ( Of course, every person with a uterus, vagina and/or ovaries should schedule regular appointments with a gynecologist, regardless of their sexual activity or menstrual cycle regularity.

If I am being honest, the main goal of this column is not to educate you about periods. Although that is important, the main point is to normalize conversations about periods. We should be able to talk about periods in public without shame and without using strange euphemisms. Sure, there are places where talking about periods is probably not appropriate, but that list should be a lot shorter than it currently is. Of course, there are times when talking about periods can make people uncomfortable for reasons like gender dysphoria, and we need to respect those boundaries.

Normalizing conversations about menstruation can only lead to a more just society. In order to understand what needs to be improved in public policy and education, we first need to be able to have open, honest conversations. I hope that we are on that path, and I hope you will join me in talking about menstruation without shame.

Isabelle Beauregard is a sophomore majoring in political science and African-American studies. Her column runs biweekly.