Growing up, many women were told that that they shouldn’t talk about their period in polite company, or at all. It’s why you’ll hear your friend whisper, “Do you have a tampon?” with an embarrassed look on her face as she makes her way to the bathroom at work. But that’s totally ridiculous. Having your period is one of the most natural things our bodies does and it’s time to put an end to period shaming.
There are lots of ways people might period shame, and the attitude toward menstruation can be so drilled into our subconscious that we don’t even notice what we’re doing it sometimes. Period shaming can be obvious, too, of course. It’s shaming when someone calls period blood gross, when you point and make fun of a woman who might have a stain on her jeans, and when you talk about period sex as if it’s something disgusting. The list can go on and on. Once you start listening for it, you might be surprised at how commonplace period taboo is. Don’t worry, though, because there are many ways to shut down period shaming and thus change the world little by little.
Here are five tips for responding to people who shame you for talking about your period openly.
1Tell them the cold, hard facts
When someone reacts shocked or grossed out about a leak or getting your period during sex, just keep it simple and tell them, “It’s just blood.” If they aren’t into that, remind them menstruation is a completely normal, natural bodily function, like burping, pooping, and yes, even farting. Sure, people react differently to bodily fluids, but the person who cringes at the thought of period blood probably talks about farting and burping all the time like it’s totally normal. So your period blood shouldn’t be considered a gross topic.
2Encourage them to use the correct terminology when talking about periods
If someone tries to use some cutesy or offensive word to talk about your period, like Aunt Flo, shark week, or “on the rag,” shut that down ASAP. By using code words, you reinforce the idea that there’s something to hide. There’s isn’t. Your period is not some wacky aunt visiting you. It’s a normal bodily function that should be talked about maturely, so don’t let anyone else make you feel bad for using the proper terminology to talk about your own body.
3Stop hiding your tampons
The best way to stop period shaming is to be proactive. This means you have to stop hiding your tampons or pads like they’re contraband. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. If anything, carrying home a huge package of toilet paper and admitting that you poop is a little harder than acknowledging that you use a tampon or pad. Seriously. And the more we remind people — read: men— that tampons and pads are necessities, the sooner we can stop taxing them so much as “luxury goods.”
4Tell them period shaming has serious consequences around the world
Not talking about your period is actually holding other women back and adding to the wheel of period shame. There are places in India where women are actually banned from their homes, with nothing but a mattress pad to put on the floor, while they’re menstruating. They stay in huts called a “gaokor,” that are considered public property, so they aren’t very clean.
According to the Guardian, 98 percent of these huts don’t even have electricity. This is not uncommon in developing countries, and even if women aren’t cast out of their homes, access to pads and tampons is scarce simply because no one wants to talk openly about periods. Period shame has serious consequences for women everywhere, and every small step counts toward tearing down the taboo.
5Remind them how often men get to talk about their own bodily functions
Okay, we know that *life is’t fair* but the next time someone makes you feel like you can’t talk openly about your period, remind them that men get to talk about their bodily functions all the time, out in the open. They get to talk about it so much that there are ads everywhere on TV for erectile dysfunction, at all hours of the day.
Men get to joke about their bowel movements, burp, and even scratch their genitals in public. When you think about that — it just doesn’t make any sense. You’re talking about a stage in your ovulation cycle in which your uterus sheds it’s lining because an egg wasn’t fertilized. It’s not that big of a deal, so tell them that if men were able to menstruate, it would be all over late-night TV.
Of course, only ever do what makes you feel comfortable but remember this: your period is nothing to be ashamed of. Anyone who doesn’t understand why needs a biology lesson. And maybe a crash course in manners.