Period: all you need to know… history, tax and why we need to talk about them!

PERIOD or time of the month, aunt flo, the painter are in- however you like to refer to them.
 
Why are we so ashamed to speak of something that occurs to half the population every month. This isn’t like your Netflix subscription that you can’t switch it on or off, in your lifetime you will have around 400 hundred periods…I know breathe.
 
400 periods, that is roughly an average of 3000 days which is approximately 8 years that you will be menstruating.

But how much do you know about them? About the products you use- are they are plastic? Are they harming the environment? Also about the silent suffering that many women in the UK go through which can be because of diagnoses or something as simple as not being able to afford products.
 
Not talking about them means that girls and women around the world are being stigmatised and isolated for something which is completely natural. Let’s be honest ...We have spent too long hiding them.
 
This is a conversation that should not just be for women, without periods none of us would be here. You will have a sister, daughter, maybe a wife or two and if none of the above you will have a mother, therefore there is someone that you love that menstruates so shouldn’t we all know about them?

We don’t even know what to call it, 60% of women are unable to identify the Vulva, and I am sure that some people sitting here probably are unaware of what one is. Your Vulva is wrongly called your vagina, it is all of your external sex organs whereas the vagina is the passage connecting them with the womb. The vagina is used incorrectly so often, even in feminist texts and artwork like the The Vagina Monologues and The Great Wall of Vagina.
 
Throughout history menstruating women have been blamed for just about every misfortune going. They apparently cause rivers and wells to dry up and pickles rot. In different cultures and religions periods are considered unclean and families inflict certain rules to the women menstruating. Some women aren’t allowed to cook or come into contact with food as there is the fear that they it will become contaminated-some homes they are sent away. I recently read an article on the HuffPost where the headline was ‘ At 36, I still struggle to believe Periods aren’t impure.’ The journalist was from Nepal and moves to the US to study at the age of 18, with her traditional upbringing she was taught that during the days she was bleeding she would be asked to eat alone and not touch anything, she wasn’t even allowed to enter the temple where she prayed. In the UK almost 70 per cent of girls aren’t allowed to go to the toilet during school lesson times, which results in 16 per cent of them missing school because they’re worried that they won’t be allowed to use the toilet. Of those that do attend their classes, almost two-thirds worry about leaking. Most people believe that these problems are just ones that are international but they are happening on our door step but are not widely known due to the stigma surrounding them.
 
Sex education has been part of the National Curriculum in UK schools since 1993. However we don’t seem to be taught much about the female body parts but I am pretty sure if you saw a diagram of the men’s genitalia you would be able to identify it within seconds. I am not a gynaecologist, so this talk won’t be an in-depth education session on your Vulva but if there is anything that you take away from today please, google and research it- let’s not be held back by our biological nature. It’s clear that in sex education classes and in the media, girls are repeatedly handed down inaccurate information, our education system let us down but you change that.
 
If I could do one thing I would like to generating a conversation around periods. Most questions that we get asked or emailed at Albany Mae usually go along the lines of:
 
•             Why is my period so painful? Light? Long? Irregular or frequent?
•             Why have they stopped?
•             Why do I feel great one week and then bloody awful the next?
•             Why am I always tired?
•             Why am I so bloated and have jumped three dress sizes?
 
All of these questions can be answered with one word, it is your hormones. Throughout your monthly cycle- which is on average 28 days (however don't panic, anything from 21 to 40 days is also considered to be ok)- the change in hormones can contribute towards the variations in energy, mood, sexual desire and changes to your body and behaviour.
 
Throughout our cycle we have four phases, the menstruation phase, the follicular phase, the ovulation phase and finally the luteal phase. With cycle awareness you can start to learn your body and what to expect throughout the transition into the different stages, it can bring you into a more intimate relationship with yourself. It can also help pre-planning for when you are going to want donuts for dinner or even plan for those days when you want to retreat and have some alone time.
 
The menstruation phase, this is the first day of your period and when you bleed, it usually lasts for 4-5 days. To put it simply your uterus is shredding, and despite what Donald Trump may believe- blood does not come out of everywhere and especially not your eyes. you will secrete around 30-40ml of blood over that period of your cycle. During this phase you will probably have low energy, feel vulnerable, anxious and want to retreat. Your hormones have collapsed to their lowest levels and if there is any solace at this time, always remember you are not alone as there roughly 800 million that will be bleeding with you around the world.
 
And this phases doesn’t last forever, the next phase that overlaps, is the Follicular Phase which is from day 1-13. This is when your body is starting to develop and produces the new eggs, pumping out high levels of oestrogen. Your lining starts to rebuild and you feel at ease, and realise that having a conversation with someone other than your hot water bottle isn’t going to kill you.
 
Then into the ovulation phases, that spring in your step has now turned into a strut, your feeling fantastic. Welcome to day 14. Scientifically this is when the ovaries are realising the dominant eggs into the fallopian tube where they have a 12-24 hour period to be fertilised.
 
Unfortunately this doesn’t last forever and we soon enter the Luteal phases, which is day 15- 28, now ovulation is over, the cells supporting the egg start to produce a hormone which causes the lining of the uterus to thicken and become ready to receive the fertilised egg. Most women find that during this time they start to have break outs, feel tired and this will occur until they reach the menstruation phase again.
 
Understanding where you are in your menstrual cycle can help you to plan your life better, obviously some days you are just going to have to suck it up. But for those big weekends, meetings or life events when you can avoid days that you know you are going to feel bloated and the thought of getting out of your pj’s can send you into a total melt down, can surely be an improvement. In the weeks leading up to Women’s Football World Cup, the UK and US team players were tracking not only their diets and workouts but also their period cycles. Personally I can’t see anything negative about being ahead of your emotions but if you are tech savvy and like apps be careful about the one you pick- some use your data to sell to corporations so when you are craving sugar  you might just see a few more adverts for Cadburys popping up on your webpages.
 
Talking of advertising, we've only been able to see advertisements for sanitary products for less than a century, due to concerns about "public decency." It took us until the '90s to actually say the word "period" or mention blood in most ads. A large proportion of adverts use euphemisms and feature women riding horses along the beach or twirling in fields of flowers, while voice-overs assure that the products will instill “confidence” and “freshness.” It is laughable and doesn’t reflect a realistic experience of what women go through.
 
Something else that is completely unjustified is the tax that is associated with sanitary products, we have a 5% tax that we pay on every product we buy. This was most recently highlighted when the ‘Stop taxing Periods’ campaign raised enough signatures that it successfully pressured the former Chancellor George Osborne into debating the tax in parliament. It simple should never have been implemented. Jaffa cakes and razors are seen as necessities and we don’t pay tax on them, yet sanitary products are classified as a 'luxury' item. When this was debated about in the Government committee, David Gauke said that the government anticipated zero rate being in place by 1st April 2017 - this hasn’t been achieved. The only change that has occurred is that the money from the tax- which to this date is roughly 47 million- is distributed to women charities.