As you read this article, 800 million women in the world are menstruating. This biological phenomenon, thanks to which a person lives and reproduces, however, is still considered taboo. “These days”, “demonstration”, “red Zhiguli” and “monsters” — these words in ordinary speech are used to replace the recognition “I have my period”. On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, MedAboutMe understands why this happens and the dangers of not knowing girls, women, and the strong half of humanity about the peculiarities of the menstrual cycle.

Gather to Oklahoma and howl at the moon

Gather to Oklahoma and howl at the moon

Compared with other developed countries, Russia is one of the leaders in terms of the scale of the taboo on the topic of menstruation. Patriarchy and shyness extends to everything connected with the genital organs and, in the truest sense of the word, the ensuing consequences of their functioning. Forbidden topics close the mouths of mothers who put off talking “for later”, this topic is not discussed in schools, and girls with menstruation quietly report “their days” to the teacher, receiving a “VO” mark in the physical education report card and embarrassed by this fact, as classmates find out reason for the absence.

Personal experience

Brandon, 22, student, Belgium

How did I find out about menstruation? I don’t understand the question, to be honest. When my girlfriend is having her period, I know from her, it’s the time when I try to be less sarcastic and more considerate.

How did I even know about menstruation? Well, I grew up with a sister 6 years older than me, so first in the family, I don’t remember when. Then — in biology lessons, how the female and male reproductive organs work, what stands out for us, what for girls. There was no hesitation in the discussion, no. In fact, here are the prevention lessons, when everyone puts condoms on wooden imitations, passed with laughter and embarrassment, and menstruation — well, menstruation. We had wet dreams and other discharges.

With the seeming openness of information, there is, of course, confusion in Western countries. They still remember neologisms like «howl at the moon», «gather to Oklahoma», «girl’s cold», «back in the saddle» and other substitutes for the topic of menstruation. So, in the documents left by the pioneer women who left in the 19th century to conquer the expanses of North America, there is not a single mention of menstruation — neither in letters, nor in lists of everything necessary for the move, or even in personal diaries. Some people still believe in the «curse of menstruation» and «menotoxins», that a menstruating woman can make meat rotten, her ham will not ripen, perm hair will not work, and flowers picked during the «period» will instantly wither.

However, for example, in the United States back in 1946, a cartoon by Walt Disney Studios was released. It told the story of menstruation, its causes, the girls were officially allowed to take a bath these days, ride horses and dance. And for the first time they said the word «vagina».

True, this very word was banned in 2010: in television advertising for tampons in the United States today, again, you cannot say either “vagina” or “down there.” And, like all television screens, a blue liquid is poured onto the gaskets.

Attitudes towards the «forbidden» topic are changing, although not so quickly. For example, Chinese Fu Yuanhui, in an interview after the 2016 Olympic swim in Rio, mentioned that she was now on her period. What surprised some of their fans a lot: it turns out that a woman during menstruation can also swim and even set records. But in 2017, Evan Davies, a BBC program host, sarcastically wondered why anyone would create a delivery service for hygiene products, «which only half the population uses.»

Historical facts also speak of the insignificance and closeness of the topic: for example, the glue that allows pads to stick to underwear was invented in the same year when Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon. Half of the female population of Russia still perfectly remembers how they lived without modern hygiene products.

Bleeding: menstrual or abnormal?

Bleeding: menstrual or abnormal?

Even if the topic of body care during menstruation is rather taboo, what can we say about possible deviations and pathologies associated with bleeding from the vagina? Meanwhile, abnormal vaginal bleeding is far from uncommon. And if an older woman, by experience, can understand the difference between menstruation and a symptom of an illness, then girls and girls not only do not know what the menstrual flow should be, but they also do not know with whom and how to talk about it.

Expert comment

Kamil Rafaelevich Bakhtiyarov, obstetrician-gynecologist, MD, professor

Menstruation or juvenile uterine bleeding: how to distinguish one from the other? The question is important, because in adolescence, when the cycle can still only “settle down”, it is difficult to understand where the norm is, and where the pathology is, and when you need to run to the doctor. Girls are poorly informed, sometimes they do not share their problems with their mothers, and as a result, complications may develop. I will try to explain the difference between these two states.

Normal menstruation

  • Occur every 21-35 days.
  • The nature of the discharge is increasing in the first three days and then declining until it disappears completely on the 5th-7th day.
  • Change hygiene products no more than once an hour or two.
  • No intense pain.

Juvenile uterine bleeding

  • Characteristic for girls who have not yet reached puberty (begin at about 13-16 years).
  • Occur, as a rule, in the first 2 years after the first menstruation.
  • The risk factor for the development of such bleeding is stress, and the cause is the insufficient formation of the reproductive system of the girl. Stress can lead to disruption of hormone production, which is why ovulation does not occur, and cysts and polyps can form on the uterine mucosa.
  • Severe blood loss, much higher than normal menstruation, which lasts more than 7 days, changing the pad is required more than once an hour.
  • The cycle may be short, or bleeding occurs between periods.
  • The duration of bleeding from a month or more.
  • Pallor and dryness of the skin, weakness, pain in the lower abdomen may be observed, there is a risk of developing anemia.

To understand the cause of bleeding and the state of the girl’s reproductive system, it is necessary to perform an ultrasound scan, conduct a gynecological examination, take smears, as well as analyzes for hormones: sex, thyroid gland. Other studies are performed as needed.

When silence is not gold, but an unjustified risk

When silence is not gold, but an unjustified risk

According to British researchers, more than 44% of girls worldwide learn about menstruation at her first episode. Which, of course, confuses them, scares and causes panic. And half of these frightened girls have no one to share their experiences with, they are afraid to tell anyone close to them about this event.

It makes no sense to wait until the taboo of the topic changes, in Russian schools girls and boys will be openly told about the details of physiology, and the “Menstruation Fairy” from the Disney cartoon will get to us. Changes, perhaps, will come tomorrow, but health, physical and mental, must be taken care of today, and you must start with your family, husband and children.

Expert comment

Ekaterina Safonova, psychologist of the portal «I am a parent»

It would seem that in the 21st century it is time to abandon stereotypes and taboos, but there are still topics in society that are considered indecent to discuss. One such topic is menstruation. Between themselves, women call it “these days”, advertisements for panty liners even show blue liquid instead of blood, and in physical education girls say that they have a “temporary release”.

Such a taboo topic, in fact, is fraught with very sad consequences. Mothers often postpone the dialogue with their daughter “until later”, and as a result, when the girl begins her first period, the child experiences fear and horror, because most simply do not assume that the appearance of blood does not always mean injury or illness. Parents do not consider it necessary to talk about this topic with boys at all — after all, menstruation does not threaten them. A boy — yes, but after all, later he will have an intimate relationship with a girl and may be shocked when he suddenly sees blood on the bed.

Of course, a dialogue about such an intimate, but completely natural topic as menstruation, should be held by every mother with her child. This dialogue, taking place in a warm, trusting atmosphere, should be educational in nature. It is extremely important to discuss what is normal and what is pathological. Girls from an early age need to instill the habit of monitoring their menstrual cycle, counting days, because a failure in menstruation may indicate pregnancy or illness. It is also necessary to discuss the possible pain symptoms that often accompany menstruation, and the instability of the emotional background. Mothers should teach future women how to use pads and tampons, and girls should not be afraid to ask their mother a question on this topic.

Menstruation is a natural process that should not be embarrassed or ashamed, because we are not embarrassed by a runny nose or the need for food. Many women find it difficult to start a dialogue with a child on this topic, and in this case, I recommend visiting a psychologist to cope with embarrassment and shame. In the most extreme case, you can ask your gynecologist to conduct an educational conversation with your daughter, but it should be borne in mind that visiting a doctor is a stressful situation for a child, so this should be done as carefully and correctly as possible.

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Obstetrics / Ed. Savelieva G.M. 2000

Clinic, diagnosis and treatment of dysmenorrhea in girls / Uvarova E.V., Gainova I.G. // breast 2002 T. 10 No. 8