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How to destigmatize periods without stepping on cultural practices?

By Inner Cycle Members + Interviewed by Claudia Ovejero Pham (she/her) | 8.23.2022

Period shame & stigma is a universal experience – just ask our community members from 59+ countries around the world.

When we started welcoming people into our virtual homebase on Geneva, we thought the conversations would mostly revolve around cramps, cravings, and brainstorming how to make more sustainable period care in the form of liners, pads, and tampons.

We never thought we’d be having such insightful conversations about how cultural practices impact period shame and stigma – let alone with members from (literally) all around the world.

We’re so thankful to continuously be learning so much about how periods are talked about on an international level.

Recently, we facilitated a community reflection about How Cultural Practices Can Affect Period Stigma. Now, we want to offer some tips, provided by actual community members of ours, on how to destigmatize periods without stepping on cultural practices.

Here’s some advice from a collection of both menstruators & non-menstruators about destigmatizing periods while being mindful of religion & culture…

“I have looked at periods in a biological way and not in a religious way.”

Anannya Poddar (she/her):

Honestly, I have my individual opinions which go against all the myths and taboos in my culture.

I have looked at periods in a biological way and not in a religious way because, the first time I learned about periods, that was in my biology textbook. So it’s a normal biological function and it’s nothing to create fuss about.

My family is also very well aware that it is a biological function and it’s a sign of growing up! I’m a proud daughter because I can talk about periods very openly in my house.

I know it’s hard to change people’s mindsets but the stigma is going to end progressively. And progress can be seen in the past few years.

I’m really grateful to everyone who raised their voice against period stigmas and taboos related to it.

Sophie Chai (she/her):

When learning about reproductive health in school or in religious settings, it felt like there was shame in being sexual or just wanting to understand how your genitals work.

From a former Catholic (now atheist) standpoint, we learned that sex was only for reproduction, only for a female and male to do together and most importantly, only after-marriage. Unlearning this has been a process that will continue as I complete my four years at a Catholic secondary school.

Finding people to share with, such as a menstruating friend or family member, or communities like the Inner Cycle, can tremendously help your process of learning, but also unlearning if your upbringing was similar to mine in a Catholic school.

I just wanted to express how lucky I am to be a part of the Inner Cycle. The people within that community have taught me so much and I am so grateful for it!

“I hope if you are reading this you are proud that you menstruate.”

Mandi Stevens (she/they):

People made me feel ashamed of having a period, so that’s why I joined August:)

Marie Cox (she/her):

Growing up, I was always terrified of my period.

I had irregular periods (very heavy or only bleeding for a day or two). I would be so bloated and in so much pain – everyone just thought I was exaggerating.

My parents were great in the sense that when I asked, my mom would help me and explain what was going on. But the church never did that. The church just brushed things aside.

They never had menstrual products at church and if you started your period you’d have to go home. I would always ask why I was a girl. I hated that men didn’t go through these struggles like us and I was told it’s because “Eve ate the fruit and God cursed the woman”.

I wish I could hug you all! I hope if you are reading this you are proud that you menstruate. I hope you know how strong you are and how loved you are.

Periods may be painful and annoying but they can be so helpful too! Learning about my menstrual cycle and how my body works has really changed my outlook on life, especially with my PCOS.

Olivia Varney (she/her):

It’s okay to have your period. Embrace it!

It means you are growing up & becoming a better menstrutor!

“Do what feels right for your body and your health.”

Dalanee Grant (they/she):

If you have none to talk to google [or, the #AskAugust database] is your friend.

Also, don’t listen to other’s opinions about your period. I hope everyone is confident on their period and wears the period products that work for them.

Julianna Woodland (she/her):

Do what feels right for your body and your health. Listen to your body. Heal from the inside too. Get a second opinion if you need to.

There is no right or wrong way, just your way!

“There’s nothing more beautiful than discovering other menstruators' stories, some of them similar, others different.”

Martin Piggie (he/him): I am not sure how to answer this, because I am a non menstruator… but if a menstruator talks to me about their period or some needs and/or problems with their periods, I certainly try my best to support them.

I listen to them and only answer them when they ask me something. I try to be nice and respectful with my answers. Because in that moment, the menstruator is showing me, a non-menstruator, a lot of trust, which I am always thankful for.

Diana Rodriguez (she/her): Embrace, love and share about your periods. There’s nothing more beautiful than discovering other menstruators’ stories, some of them similar, others different. We all come together and support each other throughout our period journey.

Don’t be ashamed of a stain or to bring the topic to the table. Periods are normal and a topic that needs to be spoken about. Be the change, be you and do you.

If you ever feel like you are not understood and/or that you are alone in your period journey, join the Inner Cycle team on Geneva. Trust me, you will feel like you belong somewhere and everyone is going to support you always no matter what.

“Be proud of it, don't try to hide your products or let anyone put you down for it.”

Tanya Bedi (pronoun fluid):

I was super embarrassed to be a menstruator for a very long time. It was super hard for me to ask for help too.

The first 3 years I had a period I almost exclusively used toilet paper as a pad. I was so worried about people seeing me differently and treating me differently (negatively) and I also felt bad because I saw how expensive period products were and since I didn’t grow up with much money I didn’t want to put my parents out.

If you have the privilege, help a friend that may not have the same support as you. Thank you to my friends in high school that would pass me tampons because they knew I had none of my own.

You are beautiful and periods are beautiful!! You can literally create life if you want to and that’s a super power. Never be ashamed of your body. If you can’t ask your parents, there are still other resources there for you!! Find your #InnerCycle.

Middian (they/them):

Be proud of it, don't try to hide your menstrual products or let anyone put you down for it.

If you're young just know that the immaturity of others is not forever. The jokes, names, and whatever else don't define you. Be proud.

Throw a period party if you didn't get to have one. You're celebrating life.

“The best advice I could give is to not be afraid to ask the basics at all.”

Kimberly Vasquez (she/her):

My culture made me resent my period and not speak out about the pain I had or the fear I had every time I had a period.

I wish I could have had someone to guide me through those tough years which is why I’m so open about August and how they are trying to break the stigma. We need more young menstruators to see and hear they are not alone and guide them through this journey. I wish I had this resource when I was younger.

I want to let other menstruators know that you’re not alone. This can be such a scary and lonely time for those with a culture who resents periods for the comfort of those who don’t experience them.

The best advice I could give is to not be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask the basics at all. If you’re not allowed to research these types of questions you can always ask a reliable adult who goes through the same things. And no, tampons do not make you lose your virginity.

Please help break the stigma. Please talk about period and normalize talking about period because others don’t have the right people around them to guide them. It can be such a scary time for those who have to think of others before themselves.

Thank you to everyone who shared their experiences <3

Next up on your #AskAugust reading list: How can Cultural Practices Affect Period Stigma?

And if you’re looking for community that will support you and your unapologetic questions about periods, join our Inner Cycle community <3

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