By Kath Clements
As the Mooncup® stall hits the festival circuit every summer, we have the privilege of talking to women from all over the country about one of the last taboos…periods.
In spite of huge progress in women’s rights, periods are still often associated with shame, secrecy and embarrassment: ‘the curse’.
With periods a monthly reality until menopause, surely it makes sense to reclaim menstruation and work towards a positive experience of periods.
Menstrual Wellness advocate, Hester Philipps, suggests a different approach to help us to do just that.
Despite the negativity that surrounds menstruation in our culture, for many young girls, the anticipation of menstruation stirs feelings of excitement and expectation. Menarche (the onset of menstruation) signals their transition into womanhood, and it bestows upon them a very special kind of power, the power to give birth.
One step towards menstrual wellness is to begin re-envisioning menstruation in a similar way to these young women. Another way is to contemplate the women who have gone before you, from other cultures and times, cultivating the power of that shared experience.
Awareness and valuing your experience
Many of us have experienced the relief that comes from realising the anger, depression or lack of energy we feel can at least be partly explained by the fact we are about to menstruate. Valuing your menstrual experience doesn’t mean pretending that you love pre-menstrual tension! It does mean not dismissing intense feelings as ‘just PMT’ and enquiring into what those feelings may be telling you about things that need changing in your life.
Alexandra Pope, menstrual health educator and psychotherapist explains:
“We’re not meant to suffer when we bleed. Our menstrual suffering, that’s so often passed off as ‘normal’, is neither normal nor our lot. The menstrual cycle is the ‘stress sensitive system’ in women. When we experience distressing symptoms, it’s a signal to attend to our overall health and place in the world.”
To help us to listen to our bodies, it is important firstly to simply observe your cycle and how you feel at different stages.
Most women report, for example, that they are more outward, focused and linear in their thinking from the onset of menstruation through to ovulation, and at ovulation they begin to journey back toward a more introvert, emotional and dreamy state.
Of course, in an ideal world, we could go along with being dreamy and creative when the urge took us, then be more proactive and social when that felt right. In reality, other responsibilities and pressures often take precedence over our internal promptings. Still, it can be empowering to just acknowledge how we feel and consider ways to work with our changing cycle.
Re-evaluating what menstrual products we use
In the UK, television advertising of sanitary products was forbidden until 1986.
Since then, there has been an explosion of ‘necessities’ in ‘feminine hygiene’- from dry-weave top-sheets, wings, intimate deodorisers and feminine wipes, to panty-liners for every day of the month. Lybrel, the contraceptive pill that is taken 365 days a year, even offers us a get-out-clause. No more periods.
Still, many of us don’t consciously consider our sanitary product choice, and reach for the same brand of tampons and pads we have used since we started our periods.
It’s interesting that we spend more time researching, say, our babies’ nappies than something that we use internally for the equivalent of 6 1/2 whole years of our lives! What if we considered whether the cotton of our tampons had pesticides or bleaches in them? Do tampons just absorb menstrual fluid, or do they absorb vaginal moisture too? And where do all those tampons and wrappers end up every month?
Making an informed choice about your sanitary product can be tremendously liberating.
To find out more about menstrual health and the Mooncup; the healthy, green alternative to tampons; visit www.mooncup.co.uk