I got my first period when I was 12, and I felt I was ready for it with the branded pack of sanitary protection that had been bestowed to me during a talk at school. I'd read the booklets, read Just 17 articles, and thought I knew what was coming. What I hadn't been told though was how I'd actually feel during a period. I'd been told about mood swings and cramping; sure. No one told me how society would make me feel shameful, dirty and embarrassed every 28 days. It's taken a lot of my adult life to shake these emotions, which frankly is f**king ridiculous isn't it?
They still haunt me, these feelings of shame, and it seems I'm not alone. The recent pack of tampons I bought advertised themselves with "rustle free wrappers", because god forbid anyone hear us open a female hygiene product in a bathroom stall.
As I woman in her 30s, I may feel more at ease with my periods, but I'm still hiding tampons up my sleeve to take them into the toilet with me. It all gets much worse when there are men involved. This isn't helped by how many grown up men still seem pretty freaked out by the whole thing.
So men, this is what I'd like you to know about periods.
1. When I stay over at your house, and I'm about to be due on, I worry about your sheets. I am concerned the sneaky bugger will surprise me, and your mattress (no doubt without a mattress protector on it) will forever carry a memory of me. That blood is almost impossible to shift. I'd somehow feel guilty, even though I wouldn't should I accidentally bump my nose on a book shelf and have a nose bleed over your pillows. Odd that.
2. At school tampons scarred the bejeezus out of me (so many toxic shock syndrome scare stories floating about me) and I remember that the noise of pulling a sanitary pad away from your pants, opening a new one, and peeling the backing off was agonisingly loud. I somehow instinctively had a fear of anyone knowing I was managing my period. It felt ok to tell my friends I was 'on' but to actually deal with it in reality felt taboo. This feeling, although lessened, still hovers over me. So boys, if I'm using your toilet I'm painfully aware if you can hear rustling coming from behind the door. Again, I'll happily tell you that I'm on my period, but the physical reality of it still seems weighted with shame.
3. Guys, If I've successfully smuggled my period paraphernalia into your bathroom, and dulled the noise of the all the plastic it all comes supplied in, I now have to deal with the waste. There may be wrappers, plastic tubes and blood stained pads. Imagine having to deal with an open wound, and needing to regularly change its bandages. You're not too far from dealing with a period. If I had an open wound, I wouldn't blink before putting my old bandages in the bin after changing them. Period shame prevents me from doing this though, and I'm embarrassed that this is still the case. There is nothing embarrassing about dealing with something that is natural and normal. Note to self; nothing embarrassing.
4. My periods seem to have become lighter, and I've definitely moved into camp tampon after leaving my fears of TSS behind, but I remember that feeling as a younger woman of actually feeling like I was waddling around as if in a nappy when wearing sanitary pads. I'm not sure a lot of men fully grasp how much periods can impact our lives, and if we dare mention it we're shrugged off with a red face. Periods can get messy. It's not our fault. Sometimes the blood may leak out of our store-bought barriers too. I wish that this wouldn't feel like such a failing when it happens. If I had a massive cut on my leg, and blood seeped through the bandage, I'd blame the bandage rather than myself.
Most women have come to terms with the hassle of dealing with periods. We've figured out how to keep the blood contained, whether by a pad, a tampon or a mooncup. I'm just working on finally shaking the shame, I'm far too old to be carrying this baggage.