Some menstruation stories of interest....

by Louise Livesey // 26 January 2009, 18:40

It might be cool to be a woman cartoonFirst off, XKCD get it wrong, or is that

My first response to this was annoyance that menstruation would be described as freaky but my second response was that XKCD have hit the nail on the head that this is how most men and many women are socialised to think of it (remember that choice line "never trust someone who bleeds regularly and doesn't die"?). For some reason we're trained to think of it as so abhorrent that in an age when almost anything goes in advertising, menstrual blood is depicted as blue water - just like babies urine is in nappy adverts. In fact this strange suggestion that menstruation is like uncontrolled urination (see blue water also used in adverts for incontinence products!) is somewhat perverse - menstruation is an absolutely natural event for most women. It's absence is seen as a medical and social problem (as absence of menses means a woman is generally infertile). And yet whilst we can show bacteria in toilets and our guts and sneezes we refuse to contemplate making the demonstration liquid any more realistic than blue water (a recent ad campaign takes it a step further by making that blue bumper cars doing synchronised dancing). Why the unreality? Why the need to deal with it so euphemistically? (I'm not suggesting adverts should wave used tampons in viewers faces but surely we can get a bit closer to the truth without making "Outraged of Slough" apoplexic?)

Thoughts people please!

On a very much related note, Women's Space are asking about green menstruation products (not as in the colour, as in the environment!). Some statistics bring into close relief why we need to be thinking about these questions:

Conservative estimates are that the average woman disposes of between 10,000 and 15,000 tampons, pads and applicators in her lifetime. That's about 250 to 300 pounds of waste per woman.

In the UK the Women's Environmental Network has a useful factsheet about the same topic.

Comments From You

Ruth Moss // Posted 26 January 2009 at 19:02

Have always found the tampon / sanitary towel adverts unintentionally hilarious. Surely it was Picasso who was famous for his "blue period"?

Used a mooncup prior to pregnancy & birth, and although tried the larger size afterwards, had pelvic floor & other problems so now use cloth sanitary towels. Already using cloth nappies (for baby!) so it's hardly a stretch of the imagination.

Didn't have a period for a year after giving birth (frequent breastfeeding; periods returned when I breastfed less often) and although I thoroughly enjoyed the break, I can't say I was too disappointed to get them back. They help me feel in tune with my body - if that makes sense.

Posie Rider // Posted 26 January 2009 at 19:28

I totally agree. What's more there are actualy some intentionally OFFENSIVE images of the period in popular culture. One 'comic' example is an faux 'tampex' advert showing a picture of two (scantily clad) girls kneck deep in sqashed tomatos in barcelona. Beneth reads the tag line:

'So you can feel safe even on those problem days'.

You can look at it on my facebook group called 'Blood soaked tampon et al'. PLease join! We have to fight these kind of images - it does women no favours. Don't forget everyone: no period, no (wo)mankind!

(btw LOVE the picasso gag Ruth- you really put citroen in it's place! Sing on sista!)

Anna // Posted 26 January 2009 at 22:45

I looked at the FB group but it seemed more geared towards being happy about periods than advertising, and the only time I'm even remotely happy to have my period is when I'm having a pregnancy scare. And even then, not much. It's extremely painful, it's very messy, it's erratic and I go insane a week before. Sometimes. Then again, sometimes I don't, so I don't even have a tiny indication of when it's about to start until I'm somewhere fantastically public and have stained the seat of my jeans red. If periods were the baby blue they seem to advertise it with they'd be so much easier to cope with!

I hate my period. Absolutely despise it. If there was any way I could get it to stop I would. Sadly I'm far too young to consider a hysterectomy.. but honestly, if I could, I think I would.
Argh. RAGE.

Samara // Posted 27 January 2009 at 00:23

I have to give a big thumbs up to the Mooncup. Insertion and removal can be uncomfortable at first - when I first started using it I kind of felt as if I was trying to give birth to a rubber chicken - but once you get used to it you'll never look back. It's SO much more hygienic and comfortable than tampons or towels, saves you a lot of money in the long run and is much better for the environment.

Redheadinred // Posted 27 January 2009 at 04:09

I hate the way periods are advertised - I wonder if men direct the adverts? Either way, it's patriarchal. Now, I'm sure no one wants to see lumpy red goo on a tampon, but water in any colour is not enough to convince me to buy a product - it's not that consistency in real life! But people are so squeamish about menstruation that you can get the most macho man to curl up in fear by mentioning it 'Ewww, too much information!'. And it's so true that we can show pretty much anything on TV EXCEPT yucky 'women's troubles'. What is this, the 1950s? Oh no, wait, it's just a patriarchal advertising system.

And I will look for that facebook group... :)

Eevoid // Posted 27 January 2009 at 05:15

Blue periods. Totally ridiculous! Apparently periods (and vaginas) are still considered dirty, and something that should be hidden in shame. Using blue liquid and not mentioning blood, leakage and stained knickers keeps it ungross... right? It's funny though, because when selling products that are alleged to improve women's physical appearance, it's totally appropriate to go into the 'science bit'. Women and men benefit from women looking 'better', but only women benefit from a good range of menstrual care products.

Kez // Posted 27 January 2009 at 09:06

The ads I remember best are from the teenage magazines of my youth (it's going back a bit...) which invariably depicted manic-looking young women jumping out of aeroplanes or participating in similar energetic pursuits while wearing ecstatic smiles (and tight pants). This somehow conveyed the impression that menstruation was invariably accompanied by a sudden burst of energy and desire for adventure.... not my personal experience! Any representations of the actual product were conspicuous by their absence. In fact if you weren't familiar with the brand name, you could be forgiven for not knowing what the ads were for at all.

So I suppose today's adverts, ridiculous blue liquid notwithstanding, are a slight improvement... at least they don't pretend to be for something completely different. I remember when ads for sanitary products first appeared on TV (at least I think I do, I might be imagining it) and there was a certain amount of outrage that such disgusting things could be advertised at all... So there has been some headway. Not much, but some.

Ruth and Samara, I really wanted to use a Mooncup, but I tried and tried and couldn't get on with it at all.... Maybe I need to give it another go.

Hazel // Posted 27 January 2009 at 09:47

I love my Mooncup. It has drawbacks but certainly no more than towels. I just wish I had started using one before I hit forty. I shudder to think of the waste I have left behind.

Ruth Moss // Posted 27 January 2009 at 11:39

Kez, have you tried cutting the stem right back? That was the best way for me, I found, when I wore one.

chem_fem // Posted 27 January 2009 at 12:00

Anna, have you considered a Mirena IUS?

Ask your doctor about it (they never offer these things up to young women) and see if it is for you. I too have hated my periods ever since they started, but I only have a bit of spotting occasionally now. I know it's not for every woman, but if you hate then give it a try.

I'm not sure if I have worse periods than most women, or if I had the same and didn't like them, but no sanitary product seemed to really work for me. I always leaked during that time of the month and it was always a huge pain (literally).

Jessica Burton // Posted 27 January 2009 at 12:10

I actually wrote my 16,000 word dissertation on this very subject last year. From my research I found that yes, these adverts are directed by men. I looked at historical adverts to trace the course of advertising menstrual products. See and click on "Personal hygiene" section - its an amazing database from 1920s-1950s of old print adverts for "napkins".

They are basically completely shocking in their portrayal of menstruation and its effects, also advocating scented products because of "that smell" that have of course now been proven to be damaging to the natural envronment of the vagina.

In my essay I argue thesee adverts changed very little in their tone/impression about menstration, ie it smells, its disgusting, it has to be "managed", it must be completely hidden both by using "protection" and also by your outward demeanour, that its unhygienic to not use sanitary products (sanitary??? so periods are un-sanitary???), that you must be "fresh" and no-one must know, that its not a big deal as long as you have the right pads... (meaning right *brand* of pads)

Not only that but I believe that, because the first ad was on 1923, ads became a way to have the "mothers talk" with daughters and the idea of the "pamphlet" to explain menstruation was invented by the same advertising companies. They portrayed the same subtly negative messages and their (often incorrect) advice, dressed up as scientific, has been copied over and over, even by non-commercial organisations, down to this day.

Mothers these days let schools give out commercial pamphlets and basically leave their kids to it. In this way, since our culture never mentions menstruation anywhere else, both young women and importantly young men have only had these biased ads to guide them about what menstruation is about, for at least the last 4-5 generations.

I believe every woman has to have a strange experience for many years of culture saying one thing about periods and her body perhaps saying something else. It's also important how we socialise sensation - remember when a scab gets itchy and your mum says "don't scratch it, that means it's getting better". Finally the scab comes off and its all better underneath. Imagine if your mum told you, "oh my god, that means you're infected!" What kind of reaction would you have to what is the exact same sensory stimulus?

I personally advocate the moon and diva cup - how amazing and eco-friendly! But I also personally encourage people to experiment with not wearing sanitary protection at all. Many women didn't before 1900. I did it, using just black knickers to catch the flow and wearing black trousers and occasionally mad use of some tissue and it was fine! The smears on my legs just "disappeared" by the end of the day (sweat/rubbing on clothing) and a 40 degree wash made everything clean. It was a massively empowering experience and if you have a light period or a few days off work I highly recommend you challenge your preconceptions about your "dirty" period and give it a go! Good luck!

Anna // Posted 27 January 2009 at 13:20

Yeah, sadly I've been on levonorgestrel medication before - the progestrogen only pill, injection and the implant and they turn what is possibly bipolar II into a complete pit of dysphoric, screaming despair - not to mention they make me bleed even worse for some reason, when I was on the implant I bled for about six months and when I was on the POP it was about 12 weeks. It's horrible, I'm completely enslaved to my period - it's completely erratic (this month was brilliant, 12 weeks without a period and only 2 weeks on, admittedly a very heavy, nasty, painful on, but worth it for the 12 weeks without). Sometimes it comes on for a month with only a week inbetween, sometimes it won't pop up for two months and only be a few days on.. but a lot of the time there's no warning, which has led to horrible days out and in the workplace where I've completely embarassed myself. They won't put me on the combined pill because I smoke - only 10 a day now if that, and I've got no other risk factors but they won't do it - and all other hormonal contraception fails miserably. I've tried speaking to doctors about it but it's just been written off as 'womens troubles'.. having said that I have got a nice new GP so I'll try and mention it to her, as I googled her and her special interest is 'womens health', so it looks a bit more hopeful.
Bleh. I just hate my periods. Too many memories of weeks I've been confined to bed, or should I be forced to go to school curling up in a corner of the common room in tears doped up on co-codamol. People say I'm exaggerating, they deal with it so why can't I.. and maybe I do deal with it badly, but they are excruciating; I get feelings like someone is pushing a razor blade up my vagina and I can't stand up a lot of the time.
Stupid periods.

Maia // Posted 27 January 2009 at 13:26

I fear that women's choices of menstrual wear has become yet another stick to beat them with. I don't agree that the Mooncup is more hygienic and comfortable. And I do NOT want to bother with the messy and time-consuming hassle of soaking bowls or buckets full of re-usable towels every month. It seems to me that time is a big issue here and it's just being ignored - because of course women are supposed to have lots of time for doing shit like making, soaking and washing their own menstrual wear, aren't they?!

WEN assert that they're trying to give women information and more choice, but to me they just come across as bossy and guilt-inducing.

Sabre // Posted 27 January 2009 at 15:32

I've just started a new pill and my period is a week overdue (no, not pregnant!) I actually miss it, so agree with Ruth Moss that it does make me feel more in tune with my body. At least when it comes I know I'm not pregnant.

The blue liquid in adverts is annoying. It's because blue is meant to be a sanitary, clinical, clean looking colour. (That's why the best-selling colour for toothbrushes is blue btw.) I wouldn't advocate having a red liquid, purely for children. I know before I got my period I found the whole concept alarming and to see an ad with blood wouldn't have helped. Maybe a purple liquid, or tiny red bead-like things... I'm sure the creative minds could come up with something more realistic without being too explicit, if they felt like it.

There is a problem in that people are SOOO uncomfortable talking about mestruation, but I don't think it's mostly because of adverts. It's all part of a wider culture that believes womens bodies to be dirty. And by culture I'm including religions e.g. Islam, where a menstruating woman is 'unclean' and not allowed to touch the Qoran or fast if it's Ramadan. (I used to constantly question my mum about why this was so, until I realised she didn't have a good reason either) Also Judaism I think has some similar construct (but I'm not sure). Basically this belief is held by lots of people around the world.

I recently saw adverts for sanitary towels that have deodorant in them - how infuriating! So we've come a long way, but clearly not far enough.

aimee // Posted 27 January 2009 at 15:54

It's a whole anti vagina culture! Our front bums are constantly censored. It's the same as those awful "feminine hygiene" adverts, so you can be "confident"... never does it actually mention "vagina" or any other vagina related words. Everything that has to do with vaginas has to be sanitised and desexualised - we all menstruate slightly floral smelling, distilled blue water.. like the kind you get in those fancy toilets. Because we must always, always deny our vaginas, and deny our sexuality.

Danielle // Posted 27 January 2009 at 16:05

So now women are going to get picked on for the kind of tampons and towels they choose to wear! like most women have a choice about wearing them anyway. And the estimated 250-300 pounds of 'waste' per woman over their menstrual life is not nothing, but it is pretty miniscule given the amounts of waste generated by big companies who regularly pollute the environment and get away with it.

And if anyone (including a WEN "Matron") thinks they can tell me I should make my own menstrual pads (I get to choose the colour, oh great!), soak and wash them, they can sod off. That's even more annoying than the blue water tampon ads.

NorthernJess // Posted 27 January 2009 at 16:18

Anna-get the implant. It is amazing, I haven't had a period (well, nothing more than a couple of days of light bleeding that there is no need to do anything about- you are right Jessica Burton it IS empowering, if slightly odd at first) in months, no mood swings, nothing. I know it is completly normal and natural and blah blah blah and that me putting chemicals in my body through my choice is some sort of massive betreyal of the sisterhood-but periods suck and having to have five days off every month is seriously hampering (you cannot do everything on your period like the adverts suggest when you have them like a used to, evil things that they are). The implant lasts for five years and goes in your arm,but you can get it removed whenever, is completly unnoticeable, but also a great party trick (always interesting to find out who is freaked out by the lump) and I have had no side effects- of course every woman is different.
Mooncups I have no problem with whatsoever but how do you clean them in public loos? There must be some occasion when you have to? I suppose it is empowering too, but I personally find a great way of breaking the ice with other women is to ask them if they have a spare tampon, we all do it, and it usually makes other women a bit more friendly.

Mark // Posted 27 January 2009 at 16:49

Sorry if this is a bit tangential, but years ago I did some research on this subject and read that, because the 'pill' mimicked pregnancy, it was quite possible to completely stop menstruation. However, in order to 'reassure' women that all was still working well, they recommended either stopping for 5 days or supplying placebos for those 5 days, so women would still menstruate, albeit usually lighter than normal. Have things changes? Has my memory played tricks on me?

Saranga // Posted 27 January 2009 at 16:57

Mark: I believe you're right.

Anna // Posted 27 January 2009 at 16:58

Jess - had that, made me bleed for six months! ..and somehow despite being clinically underweight managed to get pregnant and miscarry on it. Getting them to take it out was a nightmare; got to the point I was sat in the doctors threatening to buy some lidocaine off the internet and scalpel it out myself before they finally gave in on it. Christ.. me and contraception. Just all round badness! Hence the desire for a hysterectomy.. I know it's a massive step but sadly it's not one I'll be able to take for oh, the next 20 years. Oh god, that sounds so depressing in print..

Maia // Posted 27 January 2009 at 17:11

Mark, yes, I've heard that too.

I once got caught short, menstrually speaking, and asked a colleague if she had a spare tampon or pad. That didn't lead to a bonding session in the way that Northern Jess (and I) might have hoped, because she just said no, looked at me pityingly, then proudly informed me that she took the Pill permanently because she refused to put up with periods. She said she'd been on it for about twenty years. I was a bit shocked.

Sabre // Posted 27 January 2009 at 17:22

Mark, I think you're right. Currently the combined pill has 7 'days off' where you menstruate. Inconvenient thought it is, periods are a good check to ensure you're not pregnant!

Saranga // Posted 27 January 2009 at 17:35

@ Anna: Have you tried the Family Planning Clinic instead of your GP? I recently went to see them because of a coil problem, and I found them much much more understanding, sympathetic and informed than any GP I've been to.
Maybe they wouldn't be as dismissive?

Anna // Posted 27 January 2009 at 18:17

I have, and they are lovely; but they can't suggest anything further as they are unhappy about prescribing the combined pill to someone who smokes and I just don't get on with the POP, sadly. Other than the periods being a nightmare, it's not an issue contraceptive-wise as I'm not really having sex at the moment, so just learn to live with it I guess. Almost as if this conversation were a cue, my period has started again after 2 weeks off. It really does feel like it does it to spite me!

Kath // Posted 27 January 2009 at 18:32

I definitely recommend Mooncup. They don't dry me out like tampons, or leave me sitting on a damp, unhygienic pad like towels (made my eczema a lot worse). And they are much better for the environment. I'm sure they don't suit everyone and everyone has to find the method that's most comfortable for them. Pointing out environmental benefits is not about trying to make women feel guilty for their choices but yes, we all do bear responsibility towards the environment and this may be one thing some of us can do. I don't think reusable pads are particularly difficult either - just stick them in a bucket to soak then in with the normal wash. It doesn't matter if they're stained - no-one's gonna see them!

Mark - you are right. I sometimes run packets of the pill together and skip my period but I find I can only do this once or twice in a row without getting 'spotting' (blood loss between periods). Also it's generally reassuring to have a period to know you are not pregnant, which is a small risk even on the pill.

Kate // Posted 27 January 2009 at 19:23

I, too, had no success with the Mooncup (the website says that 11 year olds can use it, dies laughing) and the day I feel guilty for 250lb waste over my lifetime is the day that I start using moss or washable rags instead of Andrex. I don’t see anyone saying “Men! Your morning crap wastes X lb of trees in your lifetime. Make your own re-usable bog roll, just cut to size and boil wash. It’s so convenient and hygienic, and you're in touch with nature, too!”

Anna, you have probably tried this too (sounds like you have a rotten time – so sorry), but in case you haven’t, ask your GP about prescription NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – not bog-standard ibuprofen). There are several different types – I started on mefenamic acid, but the effect wore off. I then tried different ones until I found one that suited me (with occasional co-codamol at the same time when it wasn’t enough*). It helps the pain a lot, and also if you take it a few days before your period is due, then it reduces the amount of bleeding. It doesn’t sound as if my periods were as bad as yours, but certainly my current ketoprofen has got me into work on days when I woke in the night and had to crawl to the bathroom because I couldn’t walk.

*And when I was asking about co-codamol she said she could prescribe me something stronger if it wasn’t enough.

JenniferRuth // Posted 27 January 2009 at 19:49

Mark -

You are right. The pill I take, microgynon 30, has 21 in the pack. I have always been advised by doctors to take a 7 day "break" inbetween packets. I know that I don't have to do this (and I have friends who don't) but I do anyway. To be honest, it *does* reassure me that everything is still working correctly - irrational that may be. But that is just me!

Beth // Posted 27 January 2009 at 19:51

I've got the implant and have fairly mixed feelings about it. My periods are completely unpredictable but usually fairly light, so I often don't use any product at all and keep a couple of tampons in my bag just in case. I wear black underwear so it's not really a big deal. In fact I'm a lot happier since I stopped worrying about it.

The problem I've had is that the implant has decimated my sex drive. It's gone almost completely. That would be fine if I was single, but it means my poor boyfriend suffers. Why is there no catch-free form of contraception???

And yes, blue water is crazy. Although the Vagisil adverts crack me up the most.

chem_fem // Posted 27 January 2009 at 20:07

Sabre - Inconvenient thought it is, periods are a good check to ensure you're not pregnant!

I had read somewhere (as you do) that the period you have when on the pill, was a 'fake period' and that it came whether you were pregnant or not.

@ Anna -

annlondon // Posted 27 January 2009 at 21:12

"That’s about 250 to 300 pounds of waste per woman."

now, that was sexist for me. as if men do not have their own waste.
i'd possibly go for the mooncup, heard about, but never actually seen one.
for the washable pads, i do have a thought:
what about the extra water you'd be wasting to wash it?
tampons are flushed in the toilet water that would be flushed anyway.
think about it.

Fran // Posted 27 January 2009 at 21:40

'I had read somewhere (as you do) that the period you have when on the pill, was a 'fake period' and that it came whether you were pregnant or not.'

It is sort of a 'fake period', but I believe (and was told by a nurse) it probably wouldn't come if you were pregnant. Since the pill mimics the state of pregnancy, which is why you don't get periods on it, I don't think you get a period on the 'break' if you're pregnant because your hormonal state hasn't really changed, whereas if you aren't pregnant it has. However, I'm far from being an expert so please take this with a grain of salt!

Ruth Moss // Posted 27 January 2009 at 21:45

Annlondon: "for the washable pads, i do have a thought: what about the extra water you'd be wasting to wash it?"

I just put them in with my usual wash load.

The water I've used to soak the reusable pads in, I then use to water the plants. The blood is a fabulous fertiliser.

I always find this is an interesting dilemma, although I've more often heard it relating to reusable nappies. The extra effort taken to clean and dry and care for them is usually done by women. So surely disposable nappies (or tampons, or towels) are liberating, in that sense? And yet they stuff up the environment. So what to do?

I guess the answer might be a menstrual pad laundry service, like some councils have with cloth nappies (not mine, sadly). But whereas people are prepared to collect bundles of baby poo, I can just imagine the response to being asked to collect menstrual rags. Strange really, as I would have thought blood was *less* unhygienic than poo?

Ruth Moss // Posted 27 January 2009 at 21:46

Sorry, meant to add, that even that idea (the laundry service) is problematic, because I would bet you the vast majority of the people who staff the service are women... so that could just be another case of women getting poorer women to do the "dirty work".

Posie Rider // Posted 27 January 2009 at 22:33

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Said the chauvinist Hamlet. I think we can all learn something from that girls. This has gone far enough: a head for business, a body for sin and now an electric robo-arm for birth control?

I first started my period on a school trip to Alton Towers when I was twelve. I was taking a ride on ‘Nemesis: A Roller Coaster’ when it started. When the attendant lifted me out of my seat at the end he thought someone had died- I was so embarrassed.

I didn’t go to school for weeks and all through my teens I wore plastic knickers and tena lady in case I leaked again. But do you know what? Those knickers were designed for 80 year old women and I am fabulous! I AM A WOMAN. Jessica’s got the right idea- I often go commando nowadays.

All this fear about your period- that’s the real ‘Nemesis’ here. You need to think your way out of this hole you’ve stuck yourself into, just like a tampon. ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, said another chauvinist.

You can’t escape who you are. The period is the reason for existence, it is the source of life running through you each month. Men will never know what that is. I implore you all to treasure it; it won’t last forever.

Mephit // Posted 27 January 2009 at 22:33

@ Annlondon - Well, men do make their own waste, but I can't think of a specifically male item that is comparable to disposable sanitary products. As for the washing and water cost to the environment, it's not as though you would need a separate wash from your normal clothing washes; it wouldn't be a particularly sizeable addition to your laundry.

I think that if/when I give up the mirena coil, I'll probably try the mooncup. The youtube instructional video ( on the article cited in the blog-post reassured me on a number of worries, and it does seem a logical choice, given the expense and ecological impact of disposable sanitary products.

Posie Rider // Posted 27 January 2009 at 22:59

BTW- Fascinating idea for a dissertation Jessica: sounds tamponlicated!

I think you've got just the right idea about the period. My cat, Emmeline Pankhurst, used to have her period all over the show- she was white and it all came out in the end.

Keep up the good work!

Harriet // Posted 27 January 2009 at 23:30

Jessica: Your dissertation sounds really fascinating. Is it published anywhere as I would be really interested to read it. Or any books/articles you found interesting when writing it that you could flag up?

I had a look around the archive and I was shocked initially at how candid the 1920's ads were but then with the dawning realisation that they only seemed that way because we are STILL using the same codes and metaphors to talk about what is delightfully refered to in one Kotex ad as 'Women's Oldest Hygenic Problem' has there really been no change or development in menstruation advertising since 1920?! The mind boggles!

It all reminds me of that hilarious clip from Goodness Gracious Me where male execs discuss selling tampons in India. It is just shocking that they are not so far off the mark.

Rose // Posted 28 January 2009 at 00:53

I personally found periods disgusting, humiliating and degrading. I hate seeing adverts for them on TV, because I hate them being mentioned, even though I haven't had one since I was 16, (thanks to the coil- like chem_fem mentioned).
Sure its natural, but so's constipation, and frankly, I've never heard anyone convincing describe biological filth seeping out of bodies as a good thing.

Am I turning my back on part of being female? I think not.
To me they are more an avoidable cost, pain and suffering of motherhood - and I never want to be a mother.
Maternity and femininity are very different things, to me.

Anna // Posted 28 January 2009 at 11:22

Kate, I have not - but it sounds absolutely fantastic, thank you!

Louise Livesey // Posted 28 January 2009 at 12:55

Hi Rose,

I think there is a core difference here that constipation is what happens when things go wrong in a body, menstruation is not.

I think it's really sad you find them "disgusting, humilating and degrading" (not in a tree-huggy, taste your own menses way) but because it's just a part of being female. I guess you've have some really bad experiences in the past however I certainly don't see (and can't agree with the idea of) menstruating as "biological filth" and actually find that phrasing really problematic. Menstrual blood is not dirty or disgusting, it's just menstrual blood and the whole culturally ingrained revulsion to it is just a way of re-emphasising (for me) that it's assumed that male=normal=good and therefore female=abnormal=not good.

I certainly wouldn't say that menstruation is necessary to be a woman or female as I don't believe that biology determines that much - however for those of us who do bleed I think describing is as "filth" is really quite difficult.


Posie Rider // Posted 28 January 2009 at 13:24

By the way, did you know that scientists have suggested that women live on average longer than men because during menstruation we release iron in the blood, iron which contributes to aging! Check this out from

"With the monthly shedding of the uterine lining, premenopausal women typically have a significantly lower iron load in their bodies than men. Since iron ions are essential for the formation of free radicals, a lower iron burden could lead to a slower rate of aging, reduced cardiovascular disease, and decreased susceptibility to other age-related diseases in which free radicals play a role."

Seeing as so much advertising and manufacturing of beauty products is geared towards anti-aging products and their false promises, maybe a new Feminist way of spinning this would be to promote the period as a way of combating aging! I say if you can't beat them, so what they're doing in a much better way!

Rachael // Posted 28 January 2009 at 13:27

Obviously periods can be inconvienient at times - and a little messy. Many is the time I have had to wash clothes from surprise one, I admit!

But I think that for me - they are also kind of cool. Men cannot give life. This makes me feel great once a month.

Also - they are not just handy for knowing whether you are pregnant or not. They are a kind of mini-barometer for your health.

When my period comes, I know that I am healthy and that feels great! I spoke to my best (male) friend about this - and he agreed that men have no real physical indicators of health.

Think of it like this - if your period comes regularly you are much less likely to suffer osteoporosis later in life.

I have even heard of some women who have early-onset osteoporosis because of irregular periods.

I went on the mini-pill for a few months. Quite apart from it giving me weird side-effects - I also missed not having my period.

I constantly worried about the effects this would have on my overal health, so I stopped it. Not to critisize any woman who does take the pill.

I just know that for me - the fact that my period helps me to stay healthy...and also is a small reminder of the power in my amazing.

Fran // Posted 28 January 2009 at 14:12

Having had some bad experiences with menstruation growing up I can sympathise with those who don't like having periods. Thing is, learning that menstrual blood isn't dirty or disgusting was hugely important to me as it allowed me to come to terms with my periods and my body in general. I'm still happy to be on the Pill, as it makes them lighter and less painful and generally easier to deal with, and certainly wouldn't condemn people for using coils etc. to stop their periods or make them lighter, but using language like "biological filth" really makes me feel uncomfortable, and as Louise said, only serves to reinforce the notion that women's bodies are disgusting.

Rose // Posted 28 January 2009 at 19:16

Louise - I think many things about human bodies are disgusting, lets face it, internal organs aren't pretty. Frankly, for me, anything that gets dealt with in a toilet doesn't make 'dinner-time' conversation.

I personally disagree that my take on periods is derogatory towards women, or in any way makes guys look better. Surely noone finds the term 'sweaty ball-bag' appealing? I was simply talking about womens issues without reference to men.

As to my use of the term 'biological filth', Im sorry if anyone found that offensive, in explaination, to my mind it is (clearly biological), human waste, which is above (in other people comments) compared to feaces (in talk of how to dispose of said waste).
I don't mean filth as an emotive term, just practically speaking.

Kate // Posted 28 January 2009 at 19:40

The fact that my nose produces snot, my bowels faeces, my bladder urine, is proof that my body functions, although not necessarily that it is optimally functional. But these are still waste products (albeit urine is usually sterile until it is contaminated by bacteria on leaving the body), and it is perfectly reasonable to see them as such, along with menstrual blood. I don’t feel obliged to consider these functions as more than the necessary elimination of waste products, and if I have sinusitis, a bladder infection, or constipation, I attempt to remedy this and no-one says that I could cure the problem by just accepting it as part of the marvellous power of womanhood (wear your mooncup and you’ll never have period pains again, oh give me a break), and no-one attempts to claim a moral high ground by saying that my faeces are not dirty and that if I just wear dark trousers I don’t need to wipe my bum. We don’t generally these days consider the fact that humans shit a sign of our dirty and disgusting sinful nature, and we shouldn’t consider menstrual blood a sign that women are dirty and disgusting, either. But menstrual blood _is_ a waste product and considering it primarily as such that must be dealt with as conveniently as possible does not mean that one is not in touch with one’s essential femininity. TV adverts for toilet roll are pretty euphemistic, too. We really don’t tend to talk about the elimination of bodily waste in mixed company.

Kath // Posted 29 January 2009 at 01:49

Posie Rider - it sounds like a nice concept but as a scientist, I have to say, it also sounds like a load of pseudo-scientific bullshit! Oh well..

HCR // Posted 29 January 2009 at 17:06

I have been "going commando" for the lighter days in my period for a LONG TIME now. If I have a heavy day then I'll use tampons but I'll try and go without as much as possible.

I'll even "go commando" if I'm at work or uni - the blood never seeps through my jeans as well as my underwear so so far I've been OK.

It does however get annoying if you misjudge it as a light day and you end up with blood soaked knickers for the whole day...

Oh well, anything to avoid those tampons and pads!!

I may investigate the mooncup. I worried about how I would clean it in a public place?? I would imagine it would need sanitizing before I stick it inside my vagina and I'm not sure the other women at school wish to see me washing it under the taps. :)

Any help would be appreciated re: using the mooncup when at work or in public and changing it!


Ros // Posted 29 January 2009 at 17:59

I am slightly surprised that no one has yet mentioned the worst ads ever. I would like to meet the man who came up with 'Have a happy period' and personally slam my fist into his face.

Katherine // Posted 30 January 2009 at 00:01

Speaking as someone who has suffered from irregular, and extremely heavy menses (monthly, my left testicle!) since the tender age of thirteen when first I bled all over the dentist's chair, I have often awoken in a large, sticky, mattress-staining pool of my own blood, and have been no stranger to incredible pain. I have been on the pill, I have been off it. It made no discernable difference in the end, as my body absorbed the chemicals, rebalanced itself, and continued to haemorrage whenever it felt like it. Curiously, the only form of pain relief I have ever found to be remotely effective, is heat. Over the years, even intravenous morphine (not administered for period pains, I hasten to add), has had bugger all effect on my pain receptors, (though it did cause me to throw up quite spectacularly over one unfortunate young doctor), however two hot water bottles, strapped on fore and aft, or sitting, back against the radiator, can make a considerable difference.

As regards flow, there is little point in my even considering a tampon, a mooncup, or anything smaller than a pudding basin, as the crimson tide, when it deigns to show itself (thankfully only a few times per year) sweeps all before it, to the extent that I could compare my experiences 'surfing the crimson wave' to a tsunami... I have long been amused by the genteel blue balls rolling around the nappy, the vases of blue fluid effectively stoppered by judicious application of a small cotton plug, and, more recently, the mooncup stickers on the back of stall doors in various workplaces. None of these seem particularly applicable to my internal tidal system, which could probably do with something a bit closer in engineering terms, to the Thames Barrier. As I once remarked to my mother at the solemn age of fourteen, having worn three jumbo sanitary towels at once, and still managed to bleed all over the car seat and my school uniform, 'I thought the idea was that we stopped wearing nappies when we learnt to walk...'

Perhaps some of the scientists might like to take a break from developing fragranced moist towelettes lovingly injected with 'soothing aloe vera', and do a little more research into fitting solutions to a variable problem affecting half the population for most of their working, tax-paying, voting lives...?

annlondon // Posted 30 January 2009 at 01:08

well, i just refuse to feel guilty for producing 250 to 300 pounds of waste in my lifetime. i still find the statement overly sexist. and it's needed extra water for the washable pads because, blood stains, you cannot just put those pads in a washing machine with other clothes, you need at least to rinse that blood off. and that's extra water, and i am the type of person that cares a lot more about water than anything else.
and regarding creativity, i think we have better uses to menstrual blood that using that water to the plants...

Emme // Posted 30 January 2009 at 13:26

I haven't had periods for several years now, since I started on the minipill, which is different from the usual pill because it doesn't conatin any eastrogen.

Secondly, I have to point out that about ten years ago they changed the "blood" on TV adverts in Sweden from blue to a pinkish red. Hasn't made the adverts any less crap though.

Alex T // Posted 01 February 2009 at 13:24

I'm quite fond of the Kotex packaging - it's white with bright red pictures on it (of poppies, high heeled shoes etc). It's as though they really wanted to acknowledge that we are dealing with red blood, but that packaging regulations wouldn't let them openly admit it, so they found a way round it.

(At least, I think that's the packaging they come in, I'm 5 months pregnant so haven't bought any in a while - correct me if I'm wrong!)

Lisa // Posted 04 February 2009 at 02:13

Hello all,

I get my F-Word blog links each week (or so!) through Facebook and I read any stories which particularly interest me.

I have always had problems with my periods. You all have your own stories, so I'm sure you don't need to hear mine, but I have found one thing, which hasn't been mentioned here, which might help some of you.

Vitex: Agnus Castus.

It has been used for centuries to treat different things, but is currently used to help women for issues such as irregular cycles, period pains, heavy periods. For myself, it definitely has regulated my cycle. Where before my period could start at any point in the month, it is now every 28 days, like clock work! I have to admit that it does little to stop the pain, but I have a friend who takes it for that reason and she swears by it (it was she who recommended to me after many days off sick from work).

The only other advice I can give on the Vitex: Agnus Castus is that you should take it for at least 3-4 months to see how it works. Please don't give up, as it might actually help!

As another comment, I am seriously considering using both the Mooncup and / or re-usable pads for the environmental reasons. I'm a firm believer that if you are exposed to something often enough (i.e. menstrual blood), it stops being an issue.

Once again, thanks goes to Louise for the article, and all other writers who have intrigued and informed me through F-Word!

maggie // Posted 04 February 2009 at 21:03

When I was menstrul and in my twenties I had a conversation regarding periods with older feminists. They were talking about the relationship between periods and the cycle of the moon and how they felt a connection with it. It made them feel impowered that they had this connection. It was as if their monthy cycles simulated the waxing and waning of the moon and there was a connection with earthly orbits and how this made them feel special.

I know this sounds like airy fairy stuff but it made me think differently about my periods. Since that talk I always felt better about them.

Just though I'd share that with you.

Jessica Burton // Posted 10 February 2009 at 13:11

bit of a late reply but my dissertation is not published anywhere at the moment, I must get round to sending it to appropriate places. If anyone is interested you can e-mail me ( and I'll e-mail the .doc file to you. Nice to hear someone would like to read it - all my female friends took a copy and then never read it :-(

Just quickly: menstrual blood does not have to be figured as a "waste product" necessarily, that's just the term thats been used in "educational" sources (is sweat a waste product? or just a necessary excretion?) But that aside, menstrual blood is not like faecal matter, faeces is dangerous and transmits disease. Menstrual blood is just blood.

I know when I cut my finger and "waste product" blood drips out, I don't hesitate to stick it straight in my mouth and give it a good suck!

Shea // Posted 10 February 2009 at 17:23

@ Jessica- sorry to be pedantic, but menstrual blood is not "just" blood. It contains epithelial cells from the lining of the uterus which ordinary blood does not. This always used to puzzle me as I would think, "well I know there is a shortage of blood for transfusion - why don't they just use menstrual blood (apart from the impracticalities) ?"but that is why.

Shea // Posted 10 February 2009 at 17:58

I also have a problem regarding menstrual blood as a "filth". It isn't. It's no more "dirty" than skin cells or blood plasma are. It is a natural, cleansing, cyclical process completely different to defecation. Its one of the most important and protective actions a healthy body can do.

I am a MASSIVE fan of the mooncup. I have had one for two years now. You need to trim the tail part of it, to make sure it fits properly. Inserting and removing it can be a little tricky to master, but its far easier than a tampon.

Its also much healthier, it doesn't "dry" your vaginal secretions out or have the risk of TSS like tampons do and from a personal perspective it has reduced my menstrual cramps by about 60%. (I'd also go with the hot water bottles, but also just going for a walk seems to help too). I boil it for about five minutes before and after my period, and occasionally sterilise it using Milton (or very dilute bleach- make sure you clean it thoroughly after).

When out an about I just clean it in sink, if the toilets are empty-- or I just pee on it to clean it (!). This is actually one of the best ways, because you are using sterile solution to clean it. (That's right- piss is sterile, if it has bacteria in it, you have a urine infection which needs treating). It means I can travel, camp, whatever without having to take a wadge of sanitary products with me.

The only let down is that its not so great for sports. Running & walking are fine, but forget swimming or yoga in it. I found out the hard way.

Anne Onne // Posted 10 February 2009 at 18:09

I can see why people use 'clean', non-biological-looking liquid in adverts for nappies, sanitary towels et al. Most people are quite leery about having bodily fluids on TV when they may be having their dinner or something. Even though blood and guts doesn't bother me personally (operations on TV, yay!) I can see why menstrual blood would not be what some people call 'ideal viewing'. It's lumpy, full of bits of uterus lining, and nothing like the cranberry juice/red wine people imagine blood to be like. It's cool, and it's NOT anywhere near as rife with bacteria as faeces, but like urine it's something we're socialised to avoid.

Not to pathologise menstrual blood, because I don't believe it should be scary or seen as particularly 'dirty' because it isn't. It's just not the same as the blood circulating the rest of our bodies, by virtue of it being a whole host of tissues coming from and passing out of a completely different environment (the finely balanced bacteriological haven that is the reproductive system). But it's a good point otherwise about it 'just being blood', because in most parlance, I can't see why we can't be a bit more open about it. I don't necessarily think adverts are where I'd pitch my battle, because I'm more concerned with other ways in which menstruation is painted as 'weird' or 'dirty', and it's not portrayed any more clinically and euphemistically than diarrhoea, vomiting, urine or any other body fluid in advertising. Sperm is special in that it gets to be alluded to in various ways in adverts that are nothing to do with semen because it's just so darn special...

I suppose we could use someone spilling a wine glass over a sanitary towel or something, but I can't ever see it or the real use of nappies being advertised remotely accurately.

I'd be happy if we didn't euphemise everything. It's getting better, I actually heard the word 'vagina' in an advert for canesten or something, and was happy. Not being up front about what they're selling or treating is more worrying to me, because it implies that medical terminology is inappropriate, when it's really not like they're shoving pictures of genitalia in someone's face by using the word 'vagina'.

I'm more irritated, personally by how mensturation is seen as 'weird' and 'disgusting' in other things than advertising. Sure advertising is meant to be vague and not show actual body fluids, but comedy? People freely accept jokes about flatulence, semen, blow jobs, masturbation, men urinating (how many scenes has everyone seen set in a men's bathroom where characters are talking as they urinate?), urine and faeces as well as anything 'gross' as long as it's about men. They're considered the default and as long as someone's a man, they can talk all they want about their sex organs or body functions.

Come someone without standard XY kit, and suddenly all the whining about 'women and their menstruation talk' starts. Because if women talk about something that 50% of the population may experience, it's suddenly something 'nobody' wants to hear about, though it's no different to talking about any of the other bodily functions.

Natalie // Posted 10 February 2009 at 20:40

In reply to HCR’s concern about cleaning a mooncup in public places:
This is something I worried about when I first started using my mooncup. In fact, it has never been a problem. I’ve found there is nearly always a disabled toilet available so there’s sink inside the cubicle. On the rare occasions this hasn’t been an option I just empty it down the toilet and give it a wipe with toilet paper. It’s handy to have a bottle of water in my handbag, but not essential… Lisa: you’re right, the more I’ve used it the more comfortable with it all I’ve become.

weeza // Posted 11 February 2009 at 12:24

I've used a mooncup, and if you need to empty it in a public loo during the day, you just tip the blood out of it, give it a wipe with loo roll and put it back in. I recommend being very familiar with getting it in and out at home before attempting this, though. Ask me how I know.

Siany // Posted 12 February 2009 at 00:33

Mostly I like the mooncup. I was a bit sceptical at first, but after a friend raved about it I gave it a try.

I found it really difficult to get to grips with tampons at first, so it hasn't been a problem that it required a bit of trial and error at first.

I liked not having to carry a handbag full of tampons or pads around with me. It also made me realise that I wasn't bleeding as much as I thought and it made me feel a bit more familiar with myself.

It was interesting that the idea of tipping it out and wiping it with loo roll, then sticking it back in seemed so outlandish and unhygienic at first - as though cocks are sterilised pre-entry...

It was all going brilliantly until I dropped it down the loo!

Luckily, I was near the end of my period, so the bleeding was pretty light and I didn't really need to put it back in as it was near the end of the day.

This was a couple of periods ago now and I confess it's only tonight I've tried it again - even sterilised in boiling water for 10 minutes it was a bit of a step to put it back in...

So, my advice is, the mooncup can get a bit slippery, so, if your period is heavy, have a back up handy, just in case of clumsiness.

Laura // Posted 12 February 2009 at 01:41

How do you know?

thegirlfrommarz // Posted 16 February 2009 at 11:18

Fascinating discussion! Since quite a few people have talked about very painful periods, I wanted to mention endometriosis as a possible cause - it's definitely worth raising with your doctor. I was diagnosed with it about 5 years ago and had two operations, but have been asymptomatic for four years now. Endo is fairly common amongst women, but sadly it takes an average of 8 years to be diagnosed - so even if you've seen your GP about painful periods, it may not have occurred to him/her that endo could be the cause.
Symptoms can include painful periods, mood swings, bowel problems (it is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome), sub-fertility/infertility, fatigue and lowered immune system (I got ill ALL the time, and got the worst form of every cold going around).
NHS Direct page:
Endometriosis UK:

Roz3 // Posted 25 February 2009 at 16:16

A bit away from mooncups - I am interested to know how everyone disposes of other female sanitary products and why they dispose of them the way they do?

Studies have indicated that in the Europe and US there is a culture of domestic "discreet flushing" which is more acceptible socially than placing the used product in with the solid waste.
Just wondered what your thoughts were on this and whether it's perceived that we need to take steps to make large-scale social behavioural changes so we have sustainable sanitary waste disposal.

There has been a few studys conducted and apparently we see it as embarrassing to have a disposal bin in the bathroom - it's also perceived as a health risk.

Welcome your comments...

Anna // Posted 25 February 2009 at 16:34

I always put them in a sanitary bin, or wrapped in nappy bags in my bin at home (which is emptied daily when I'm on my period). I'm sometimes tempted to flush, but have horrible images of said waste products floating back up and have to be fished out.. plus iirc it's pretty terrible for the environment. Someone in school told us they got stuck to fish, which disturbed me greatly, as I had images of fishes swimming around covered in used sanitary towels.

Have Your say

Latest Comments

Reclaiming The F-Word

Founder of The F-Word, Catherine Redfern, has co-authored a new book with Kristin Aune. Find out more at the Reclaiming The F-Word website.

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word Feeds
  • #
  • #