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is it okay: to talk about your period?

It’s awkward when people actually come round to paint your house because euphemisms die a hard death. Ditto when your Auntie visits or when you find yourself standing on a rag.

Talking about periods sometimes makes me feel weird and makes me feel like I’m making other people feel weird and then everyone feels weird and starts talking about The Shining. Then they realise why, and the weirdness brandishes its ticket to the conversation graveyard and declares that it is there to stay.

While of course this isn’t the case for everyone, I’d venture to say that the majority of people don’t like either talking or hearing about it. There are various reasons why. In a brief straw poll, responses ranged from ‘it ruins a thing I like!’ to ‘it’s just a bit too private.’ Most people aren’t going to talk about their haemorrhoids or their current urinary tract infection. Periods get lumped into the same social taboo.

It hasn’t always been this way. Theories about menstruation have gone from the logical (a sign of fertility) to the bat-shit crazy. Pliny the Elder, a naturalist from the Roman empire stated categorically that ‘contact with the monthly flux of women turns new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze, and causes a horrible smell to fill the air. Dogs who taste the blood become mad, and their bite becomes poisonous as in rabies.’ Thanks for including my name in that Pliny.

Incidentally, he died in Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted. There was probably a menstruating woman nearby.

There is nothing wrong with actually having your period. Shunning women for being “unclean”, or segregating them for the simple fact that a normal biological thing which allows for the propagation of the human race is happening to them is ridiculous and people who enforce this should be repeatedly kicked in the shins as The Ketchup Song plays.

In our society, I think we have just been trained to be squeamish. Things coming out of your body are not things to be discussed at the dinner table. Diarrhoea talk over your chocolate pudding is a no. Ditto discussing haemorrhoids whilst blowing up balloons. People don’t like blood, mucous, poop, or urine. Simply mentioning these words makes small children giggle and adults get a micro-flinch.

This squeamishness in turn goes on to breed awkwardness. One of the main problems, at least for me, is that I visualise everything people tell me. If you say you went to a really nice breakfast place, I’ll picture you eating a big pile of scrambled eggs or avocado on toast. If you tell me that you’re going to see Cabin in the Woods, I’ll imagine you wearing a Whedon 4Lyf t-shirt whilst basking in a glow of awesomeness. If you tell me you’re on your period … OH NO, MY MIND’S EYE.

I will feel like I’m invading your privacy and then get really awkward. But that isn’t period-specific. The same thing would happen if you told me you took a dump this morning.

Please don’t tell me about the dump you took this morning.

The main difference is that while things like diarrhoea and super-phlegm attacks are transient, periods happen once a month, so the awkwardness is a regular thing. When it first happens it is mortifying. You’re 12, your abdomen hurts and you don’t want to tell people why. Swimming carnival rolls around and in between all the awkwardness you’re already feeling about things looking different, Carrie isn’t so far-fetched. It was a thing I only told my closest friends, and felt genuine fear that others would know about it. At the supermarket I’d quietly try and slip in the “special groceries” under the cover of Dolly magazine and milk. Dad, sensing my furtiveness would then respond loudly, ‘PADS!’ The horror.

Twelve year old me would probably disagree, but I think he had the right idea. If people were less squeamish and more blunt I suspect life would probably be better. We could live in a magical place where people speak freely of the substances moving freely through them. Men and women would speak happily of their venereal diseases as they eat spotted dick, the phrase “under the weather” would give way to “pooping furiously” and the word period would no longer acts as its name’s grammatical equivalent in conversations.

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