Words: Lucy Snow (She/Her)
Periods are experienced by half of the population, yet it is hush hush. Society neglects those experiencing extreme pain and enforces the ideology that bleeders must face this monthly burden alone. Menstruation etiquette is the unspoken, expected courtesy of people hiding their pain, mood swings, hot flushes, nausea, foggy brain and insomnia under the trickery of happy smiles and ibuprofen. Only when this mask falls and the charade stops, the GP hails the solution as the magic contraceptive pill. This pain begins to subside, blood flow is lower, and the doctor visits stop, but is the problem solved?
Ultimately the primary creation of these pills was to stop pregnancy, not offer pain relief. Also, ironically, these drugs that stop period pains often result in a plethora of new issues. These pills are suppressing the entire cycle of natural ovulation, adaptation, and menstruation, which many bodies were built around. What’s more, with so much change inflicted, the side effects can be severe, ranging from depression, increased chance of breast cancer and the risk of blood clots, and cysts on the ovary. Of course, these safety points are listed off to young people alongside statistics and warning signs, but this is always in conjunction with an attitude of ‘this is what you must accept and tolerate’. Who knew such a small pill could evoke such a potent blend of fearful dread and passive acceptance?
The neglect of appropriate sexual health education among young people only exacerbates these issues more. Young men don’t always know what menstruation is, the effects of different hormones on the body and how this can affect people – so, of course, insensitivity arises. Furthermore, the only consistent message to young people is ‘use contraception’, leading to people taking these pills in trust and with very little understanding of anything else. Is this trust misguided? These drugs are numbing pain potentially caused by endometriosis, PCOS or IUD insertion. Insufficient education on these common conditions means young people in pain just willingly accept oral contraceptives without any awareness that it may not be appropriate. More appropriate solutions might include different medications designed to reduce muscle contractions, adjustments to IUDs or even surgery – but ultimately, surely there should be investigations into what is the cause of these pains?
A question that we must ask ourselves is this: is the contraceptive pill helping these underlying issues inflicting pain, or is the contraceptive pill working just enough to stop women from complaining? I personally think the latter. One of the systemic implications of a patriarchal society is the dismissal of women’s needs and rights. Perhaps this hope that women’s health needs are made a priority in medicine is naive, particularly when the primary discussion of periods is in sexist jokes mocking menstruation symptoms.
‘What’s wrong darling? Your time of the month?’
Ignorance of periods is seen all around us: sanitary products using purple liquid instead of a blood-like alternative to make advertisements more palatable, these same advertisements showing women menstruating playing active sports instead of grasping a hot water bottle, 130,000 girls a year missing school because of period poverty (but thank you Nicola for introducing free sanitary products in Scotland) and work-places disregarding menstruation symptoms as reason enough to have a day of sickness. Just because everyone does not have a uterus does not mean periods are illegitimate forms of discomfort, and this needs to be normalised.
Young people have had enough. We should not have to beg health practitioners to take menstruation pain seriously. We should not have neglected women in poverty missing work because they cannot afford sanitary products or pain killers and we should not be dependent on drugs altering the foundations of our bodies.