Negative assumptions and misconceptions about menstruation persist in todays culture. Myths and taboos about the menstrual cycle are likely causes of the shame that many women feel about this natural process. Adverts encouraging women to purchase products to avoid or manage menstruation only add to this problem. The external perceptions of menstruating women, such as their being less sexy, more irritable, and more motherly than non-menstruating women, can only enhance these feelings of shame.
A survey conducted on teenage women in Australia in 1985 found that 80% considered menstruation to be inconvenient or embarrassing, and the majority lacked sufficient information about menstruation and ovulation(1).
A more recent US study of 167 female students(2) between 18 and 24 years old was conducted to analyse how they felt about their bodies, and their attitudes towards menstruation, breastfeeding, and giving birth. Students were asked to complete a series of questionnaires, the results of which were analysed by psychologists at the State University of New York.
This study found that women who held stereotypical beliefs, or felt shame about menstruation, were also likely to think of breastfeeding as shameful. Women who felt embarrassed about their bodies tended to feel shame about menstruation and breastfeeding, though they did not consider sexual activity during menstruation to be shameful.
It was recently reported that little support is provided to girls living in poverty in the USA as they reach menarche, and many have negative experiences which can be associated with depression, delinquency, and substance abuse(3). The authors of this report also indicated that gaps in puberty education can have serious consequences for adolescents’ decision making about sex and family planning. In lower-income countries, girls face considerable challenges to managing menstruation during school, with some even resorting to transactional sex to purchase sanitary products(3).
Since mothers are a key source of information for young girls when they go through puberty, it is likely that women who feel shame about their reproductive functions pass this attitude on to their daughters. Therefore, the education of men and women of all ages is an important goal to overcome the menstrual shame felt by women around the world. The Empowerment Cycle is an online program created by Emgoddess which may be able to encourage healthy, positive views of menstruation and breastfeeding, by debunking myths and discussing women’s concerns about their reproductive functions. In addition, this program can educate mothers and teachers to ensure that the right messages are getting through to children. Contact me to find out more information and how you can start the path of discovery towards menstrual health empowerment.
1 Abraham S et al. Med J Aust. 1985;142:247-51
2Johnston-Robledo I et al. Women Health 2007;46:25-39
3 Sommer M et al. Lancet 2019;393:2302