This is something that does not receive near enough discussion, nor acknowledgment in our culture. In fact, it doesn’t receive hardly any at all.
Instead, periods are icky. They freak us out. We whisper about them-as though a big, shameful, dark secret. As if every single woman doesn’t experience this every single month.
We hide tampons in our shopping carts, making sure to bury them as deep as possible. We do not talk about the symptoms that come to many of us, every single month, for a handful of days. Some of which seriously impact our daily lives.
Instead, the male body and men’s experiences still frequently dominate and are treated as defaults for what constitutes “real” in terms of medical symptoms or ailments. This bias of broad male centeredness reaches a particular height with regards to periods.
While 1 in 5 women have menstrual pain severe enough to interfere with their normal lives, there is still little to almost no recognition of this pain as legitimate or as deserving of discussion or attention.
Period pain is often treated as either a contagious disease or a minor irritation that women should shut up about.
Further, period-pain stigma is pervasive. 45% of women who participated in a 2017 Australian survey reported they lie about period pain and, when bad enough to affect their work, provided another reason for being “sick.”
This is both because of the shame associated with periods, as well as knowing that much of the time, we wouldn’t be taken seriously in attributing period pain as an issue. It wouldn’t seem “real” or “serious” enough.
On a grander scale, this can result in major life detriment. Doctors who gloss over women’s menstrual and abdominal pain also frequently fail to examine women thoroughly, dragging out discomfort and even resulting in frequent misdiagnosis.
In a recent survey of more than 2,500 women in the U.K, 40% of those diagnosed with endometriosis (a painful disorder in which the lining that normally grows inside of your uterus, instead grows outside of it) reported being evaluated by doctors more than 10 times before the disease was identified.
Ten times. That is hours and hours of time. Months and years spent in the dark, and in agony. It’s numerous visits, money shelled out, and time lost in which this woman is still in horrible pain.
Women’s pain in general, including period pain, is often not taken seriously, is downplayed, or even dismissed altogether.
We need to talk about PMS for several reasons. Periods are not gross nor something to be ashamed of. They are a given aspect of the female body. Continuing to shame women about such is a hateful indignity.
In sharing and discussing the ways that periods can cause strain to our bodies and emotions will help others (namely men, but also those lucky women who do not experience such symptoms) consider what it can feel like to walk in our shoes, and the ways in which we may be feeling for a few days every month. It helps our loved ones, as well as friends and even colleagues, to better understand us, as well as invites in a sense of empathy and clarity.
We also need to discuss PMS because it’s an incredibly common issue which affects millions of women.
When something that affects the lives of half our population continues to go whispered about, though largely dismissed and not discussed, this means that half the population continues to live in pain and challenge, where they might not need to if more attention, interest, and care were given to considering, as well as talking about it.
There needs to be more of a conversation about, as well as a sense of support and empathy for those who struggle with these very real symptoms monthly. PMS should be treated as a valid and serious thing, because it is. Science has shown it, many times over.
It’s blood people. And an incredibly small amount of it. It’s not a disgusting, nor truly repellent thing. We need to relax, as well as mature. More importantly though, we need to make a priority of women’s health, and this includes PMS.
It’s especially important, given that it affects a majority of women and their lives every month. We need to care and give attention to the female humans in our culture. This means talking about PMS.
Quickly, PMS, what is it? It’s a combination of symptoms that women get (about 90% of women, to be exact) roughly a week prior to their actual period. This can include, though is not even close to limited to, bloating, headaches, and mood disturbances.
For some women, these symptoms are so severe they must miss work or school. For others, they are not as impacted by the symptoms.
And for a smaller subset of women, they have symptoms so severe it’s another condition entirely, called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). For these women, they may experience depression to the level of feeling urges to harm themselves or others, in the days leading up to their periods. This is a rare condition, though it does affect some and is a serious one.
Though technically the exact cause of PMS is still unknown, these varying symptoms are thought to be due to the hormones in our bodies during the lead-up to our periods.
A more in-depth list of symptoms women can experience:
Physical can include swollen/tender breasts, constipation or diarrhea, feeling bloated or gassy, cramping in the pelvic area, fever, headache, backache, clumsiness, lower tolerance for noise and/or light.
Emotional symptoms can include: irritability or hostile behavior, feeling exhausted, sleep problems (sleeping too much, or having trouble sleeping), food cravings, trouble with concentration or memory, tension or anxiety, mild to moderate depression, mood swings, less interest in sex.
It’s important for men to have more of an education about this issue, so that they might better offer support, caring, and additional empathy during this time of the month, for the women they love who struggle with and experience it. As well as, merely opening their minds towards the experiences of women in general.
It’s also an issue that workplaces should consider seriously, as millions of women experience symptoms enough that it hinders their ability to work for a few days productively.
This is not the woman being a wimp, or doing anything wrong. It’s an aspect of and side effect from her body, over which she does not have much control.
If our culture weren’t so squeamish, dismissive, or disinterested in this real health issue which affects millions of women regularly, or further, in women’s pain and health in general, we might offer a far more appealing, kinder culture of support and flexibility with regards to women who are affected by this body issue.
With that said, for women who do suffer from PMS, some things I have found helpful in dealing with it:
-a hot water bottle, lain on my pelvic area. This does wonders for dulling the pain.
-taking 2 Alleve.
-reading and relaxing, with said hot water bottle on me.
-though science says one should avoid sugar and caffeine leading up to their period (as this can make cramps more painful), personally I find a heaping spoonful of peanut butter that’s been dipped in chocolate chips mouthwatering and very necessary.
-lying down and keeping moving around, at least on Day One of my period, to as minimal as possible
-for a while, I was researching various vitamin and supplement combinations to help with minimizing the mood disturbances I experience during PMS (mild depression, moodiness and such). However, I realized after a time that instead, marking my calendar was more helpful. Making myself more aware of the days on which I would be struggling emotionally, by no fault of my own, was a game changer.
There was a widely discussed article written on PMS by Frank Bures in Slate some time ago, which claimed that instead of PMS being a biological symptom, that it was a cultural one (aka, all in our heads and dependent on where we live).
This article, naturally, was written by a man. One who has never experienced PMS and knows little to nothing about it (aside from whatever biased and inaccurate information he read to back his flimsy viewpoint- as we can always find absurd and incorrect information to support any faulty opinion we might have. Behold, the internet).
Why do men continue to declare what they decide as truth about women’s bodies? When they do not live in a women’s body and thus, know nothing at all of what that experience is like.
At the least, this is a continually insulting, exhausting, silly, and angering cultural issue. Men continuing to make claim to what “they know is right, accurate, or best” with regards to women, our experiences, our worth, our bodies, and our health.
Men and women need to talk about PMS, as well as women’s health in general. Why?
Because these are real issues that affect the lives of half our population. Because to date, we do not talk about these issues nearly enough, if hardly at all. Because they affect the daily experiences of women whom you care for and love. Because they can hinder and even harm those lives, when not talked about. And because it’s time women were given more care, attention, and empathy with regards to their experiences, well-being, and lives, including acknowledgement, discussion of, and care towards their periods.