In this blog, Caitlin talks about PMS and sex education…
It is a Sunday evening and I’m sat on my sofa waiting for my weekly food shop to be delivered. The day so far has been very relaxed, a good day. However I keep getting waves of anxiety and sadness, sometimes bubbling over into anger.
This week is the week I commonly refer to as ‘crazy week’. It’s the week leading up to my period and over the years I’ve come to accept that I’m going to feel a little out of sorts during this time.
‘Out of sorts’ is perhaps an understatement for how I actually feel, have felt during this time. I have memories of crying on my bathroom floor because I feel ‘too fat’ to go out and see friends, standing at train platforms wandering towards and over the yellow line, sitting at work feeling completely incapable of making that client phone call.
PMS, premenstrual syndrome, the name for the physical and emotional symptoms that occur a week or two before a period, that’s what I’m talking about here.
I really resent referring to it as PMS because of the connotations that society has put on it; big pants, chocolate, an unpredictable temperament, a loss of control. The words that are whispered with a knowing wink when a person is acting ‘irritable’, “Psst, I think it’s their ‘time of the month’”. Everything about that makes me wriggle in my seat and clench my fist.
This is another example of how society puts people in boxes when there is an element of them that is ‘other’. To make themselves feel comfortable about it, they create a caricature of what a person on their period is like, poke fun at it and move on with their lives.
This is not enough. It can’t be. Statistically there are around 33 million people that have periods in the UK alone.
These people are parents, carers, civil servants, athletes, politicians, service people and they are dealing with psychological and behavioural symptoms on a monthly basis and we make no room for that.
A company in Bristol, Coexist, attempted to tackle this by introducing a ‘Period Policy’ which allows staff to go home when struggling with period symptoms, particularly physical pain.
Director Bea Baxter spoke about how we don’t fully understand the impact of periods and claimed that “When [women] are having their periods they are in a winter state, when they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies. The spring section of the cycle, immediately after a period, is a time when [women] are actually three times as productive as usual.”
Personally this rings true for me. However whilst it is refreshing to see a boss, albeit someone who experiences periods themselves, to attempt to make a positive change, I think this actually causes more discrimination and ultimately embarrassment.
We need to go right back to basics and change the way we talk about periods
Sexual education should be more than just about how to put in a tampon. Remember doing sexual education at primary school and being separated by perceived gender, taken to separate rooms and being told what puberty would be like for you?
I remember sitting on an itchy blue carpet staring up at my teacher as she told me about the different forms of sanitary protection and tentatively described how and where the hair would start to grow on my body. I don’t know whether this is actually the case, or if this is a fabricated memory, but I remember my teacher whispering these precious nuggets of information to me, as though it was a secret. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
Why were we separated by gender for these conversations? It would have been so much more helpful to understand what everybody would experience, remove the taboo, banish the embarrassment and lay it all out there.
I wish at that point, we had all sat in a big room together and were just told the complete truth. An open, inclusive conversation that covered both the physical and psychological impacts of puberty and being a human.
And what I wish most is that we were taught to respect one another and ourselves enough to feel that we never had to hide these symptoms.
I, for one, talk openly about my experience of PMS and I never hide my tampon up my sleeve when nipping to the loo in the office and that is what I will carry on doing to try and tackle this taboo in my own small way.
Follow Caitlin on Twitter: @Caitlin_AW
If you would like to contribute your own piece or share your ideas, let us know in the comments or tweet them to me: @maldrichwincer.