“There’s a societal problem that almost all women, girls and families will face at some point in their lives. This problem is the period taboo. Recent studies have shown that the period taboo disrupts the education of our girls, dents the body confidence of women at all ages and jeopardises the health of the tens of thousands of women and girls in period poverty across the United Kingdom. It’s an important taboo to dislodge. Here’s more on why and how you can help do just that.
For many ridiculous reasons, periods are embarrassing. I know that when I was growing up, whenever I went to the bathroom with a tampon I would shove it up my sleeve so that nobody would see it. When I had period pains I was too embarrassed to talk about them or ask for advice about dealing with them. I’m still shy sometimes about the issue now, although I try hard not to be. The taboo is not just annoying. It’s damaging. Recently, I’ve realised that the period taboo expands to include all things ‘vagina’ related. A recent article published by The Daily Mail covered some amazing research produced by a charity very close to my heart, The Eve Appeal. Their study showed that half of men do not know where the vagina is on the female body. This means that subsequently, they will not be able to help spot unusual signs of health problems such as gynaecological cancers in their daughters, partners or other close relatives. When it comes to most health issues, including gynae cancers, early detection is crucial. Knowing the warning signs is hugely helpful to ensure anything potentially harmful is spotted as soon as possible. These things are important for everyone to know, and not just women.
This research is shocking. But it isn’t the most surprising part of my story. The comments are. Thousands of comments left at the end of the article declared that men simply do not need to know anything about vaginas, let alone unusual symptoms of wider health problems. A huge proportion of comments reduced vaginas to sexual objects. Many compared females to ‘fish in fish markets’, proclaiming no education was necessary. Now, fish are also complicated beings! So this was factually incorrect on a number of levels… On a serious note, the intensity of hate and mockery in these comments showed not only that we do not know enough about gynae health, but that many of us do not want to know about gynae health in the first place. For me, this is down to the vagina taboo. The period taboo is inextricably linked. Both need to end. Period!
Athena Lamnisos is CEO of the charity The Eve Appeal who published the shocking research. She wrote a very interesting article to combat the comments left in the Daily Mail piece. In it, she talked about a similar study that she underwent about prostate cancer. When quizzed, around 95% of those involved knew both about prostate cancer and were aware of the signs and symptoms. When she asked similar questions about womb cancer, only 5% knew a similar amount. While she found this comparison worrying, the 600 comments she woke up to following the launch of her research was something else entirely! She found the attitudes towards gynae cancers “shocking” and explained that the comments proved “lifting the taboo is crucial”.
“Quashing the vagina taboo and its many cousins (including the period taboo!) isn’t just a political initiative. It’s a bold move to bring down an obvious and destructive health barrier. To help do both of these things, get talking!!! Don’t shy away from discussing the topic with siblings, friends, family or even strangers if you’re feeling confident! Blog, tweet, and sign our many petitions tackling fringe issues such as tampon tax, period poverty and period prices. By doing this, you become a hero!”