Blood, Sweat and Teens

This year Woman Up is delivering interactive workshops to engage young people in education about periods to reduce stigma and empower students with more information about their own bodies.

We have opened a tin of period worms. By talking openly with people of all ages about their menstrual cycle, we have unearthed a whole host of experiences, difficulties and concerns tangled with shame and mistrust and patriarchy. As we (at Woman Up) launch our Blood, Sweat and Teens project, we will be engaging with young people to talk openly about the myriad of ways people experience periods and ways to foster a positive relationship with your monthly cycle.

Menstruation, of course, is essential to human reproduction and therefore survival. From menarche to menopause, menstrual cycles are a reality for people with wombs – that’s half of the population. Each period is just a monthly shedding of the bed that would normally nourish a developing embryo. It is a normal and healthy part of life despite it still being shrouded in mystery and unease.

As I write this, I bleed. I shed. I release up to 30-50ml of it each cycle… so the internet tells me. In reality the research and information available about menstrual blood loss is confusingly varied. I’m certain my typical loss is more than what I’m told by NHS Direct. In fact, I’m measuring it. Day 2 of my bleed and I’m already measuring 120ml from my moon cup. I feel smug that I’ve debunked the internet information before my bleed has even finished.

unwavering negative messaging. Language used remains stigmatised with terminology focused on feminine hygiene and sanitary products suggesting periods are dirty, unhygienic and need cleaned up. It is shockingly apparent that clear, factual information and much more research about periods is needed. It may seem understandable that menstruation is not such a research priority as life-limiting disease and illness, nor is erectile dysfunction which has received considerable investment in previous years.

Period disorders are incredibly common. Some studies suggest 91% of menstruators report at least one menstrual problem: some got their periods irregularly or not at all; others reported excessive levels of bleeding and pain. Different studies show that as many as 1 in 5 women experience menstrual cramps severe enough to limit daily life.

About one in 16 worldwide suffer from endometriosis, a disease where menstrual blood and tissue migrate outside a woman’s uterus and form painful lesions in her pelvic cavity. And one in ten menstruators has polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that disrupts a woman’s cycle and is a leading cause of infertility.

In addition to the physical symptoms, normalising how our cycle continually influences our thoughts, feelings and actions throughout our cycle is overlooked. Tuning in to our bodies and recognising the shifts in energy and emotion is empowering. It can be a bit of a secret weapon, where aligning with your monthly cycle helps you to feel and respond to your personal changes while also encouraging self care and awareness. Medical researchers are starting to understand the menstrual cycle can be used as a fifth vital sign when evaluating our health. A monthly map can gently highlight your personal pattern of feelings and emotions so that you better understand yourself and can anticipate what you need at different times within the month.

Our team at Woman Up feels passionately about better informing our young people. Equipped with knowledge, young people can better understand their bodies and minds. Through our pilot project, funded by Cumbria Action for Sustainability, we are delivering period workshops with young people in schools and community spaces. These workshops will make way for conversations which shape the narrative, reduce shame and normalise periods. We challenge the mainstream notion that disposable pads and tampons are the ‘best’ way to manage a monthly bleed.

With 2 billion menstrual products flushed each year in the
UK and the high bleached plastic content of non- breathable menstrual pads (which are placed next to the most absorbent tissues of the body), we educate young people about the options available to them.

We have partnered with the incredible charity, Hey Girls, to offer reusable period products for those who may struggle to access them otherwise. In school classrooms and in many modern families, there is still not sufficient awareness or discussion around menstrual cups, sustainable plastic- free period products and the long- term impact they can have on an individual in terms of their budget, their well- being and the planet. Many campaigners argue that a limited understanding of menstrual products compromises individuals’ ability to manage their periods to enable full lives.

Thankfully, menstrual activism has grown radically in recent years. Questions such as ‘why do we pay tax on tampons but not on jaffa cakes or Viagra?’ have sparked change. But this is all relatively recent. It wasn’t until 2016 that Bodyform became the first to show an actual pad in their advert and demonstrated absorption using red liquid rather than the confusing blue ‘blood’ we’d become accustomed to viewing. In 2021, tax on menstrual products in the UK was removed and from 1st of January 2024 tax on period pants was scrapped.

We must continue the conversation and feel able to talk about our unique menstrual experiences and support others to do the same. So grab your Mooncup, speak out and honour the flow.

Words by Sam Massey @ukwomanup / @heygirlsuk / @cafscumbria / @rubycup @beautifulbeginningsyoga