At 25, I’m Finally Meeting my Cycle

I started taking the contraceptive Pill at 15. At 19, I had an implant inserted. Earlier this year, a decade after starting, I stopped using hormonal contraception.

My decision was mainly based on my growing disbelief at how little I knew about my own reproductive health.

At 15, at 19, at 22, all I’d known was that I did not want to get pregnant. And all I’d had to do was make an appointment with my doctor, pick my poison from the menu of contraception on offer, receive no guidance, ask no questions, fail to read the leaflet handed to me, swallow a tablet I knew nothing about once a day and get on with my life. Easy.

I’ve visited a doctor several times with concerns that my contraception might be adversely affecting me. Each time, I was reassured that whatever symptom I was worried about had another explanation. Anxious? Exam stress. Overly emotional? Family stress. No energy? Life stress. I once summoned up enough courage to tell a university doctor I was worried the Pill was the reason I had no interest in having sex with my long-term boyfriend. She laughed, asked me which magazine I’d read that in and told me it was common for people to grow apart at my age.

Hormonal contraception is the only medication we take without being sick. It impacts our emotions, mental health, quality of life and long-term fertility. Yet we are not educated about it.

As I learned more about the impacts of artificial hormones on emotional wellbeing, it started to frighten me to think of how regularly women say “I didn’t feel like myself” when describing contraception that didn’t work for them. I worried that if I’d been using artificial hormones since the age of 15, they could be affecting or even creating parts of what I thought of as my ‘self’.

I’d also been in the dark about the extent to which hormonal contraception affects body literacy. If you’d asked at any point over the past few years, I think I would have said that I knew my body quite well. I’ve never felt too terribly uncomfortable in my body, but never really consciously comfortable in it either.

I’ve learnt more about my own body in the past few months than in the rest of my 25 years combined. Since stopping hormonal contraception I feel connected to my body in a way that I never have before. I feel like I’ve woken up. It’s an incredible and a terrifying feeling, because I’m so horrified to realise that I didn’t know I was asleep.

As I’ve tried to educate myself about natural menstrual cycles – which I’m now experiencing for the first time in my adult life – I feel more alert to the signs and signals my body sends me. I’m working on building my knowledge of what’s happening at different stages of my cycle, and I feel more able to listen to and respect what my body wants and needs at each.

I find my emotions have far less power to stop me in my tracks now that I can better pinpoint the reasons I might feel the way I feel from one day to the next. I feel more energetic and less anxious. I’m more motivated to exercise, my libido is higher, I’m less easily overwhelmed. My hair is thicker and shinier. I feel more confident than I ever have in my life.

It is essential to acknowledge that the Pill and other forms of contraception gave women unprecedented freedom and equality in the past and continue to empower women all over the world today. Access to contraception is linked inextricably with feminism and the fight for gender equality. Having grown up in Scotland, I am in a massively privileged position to have the access that I do to contraception, information and services. I also know that for many women with certain medical conditions, the Pill and other hormonal contraception are absolutely the best options.

My point is that, despite the layers of privilege within my own life, I didn’t know I had a choice. I didn’t know there was choice as to whether or not to use hormonal contraception at all. If we each have a right to contraception then surely we each have a right to make an informed choice about it. It’s not about saying one way is best, or telling anyone what they should or shouldn’t do. It’s about the basic fact that you should never feel powerless over your own body.

In the 1960s, the Pill was incredibly liberating for women. In 2017, not having to rely on huge pharmaceutical companies or damaging the environment to prevent pregnancy, and to know how my own body works? That sounds liberating to me.

However you choose to prevent pregnancy is entirely your choice to make. Your body is yours alone. But knowledge is power. It feels like I have a whole world to learn about, and I’m excited to be at the beginning of a long road to better understanding and appreciating my body. I’m excited to take control of, understand and demystify this cycle taking place within me every single month, and to harness the power within it.

If you’ve had your own experience of shifting from hormonal to natural contraception, or if you have suggestions of things I should be reading/following/researching – please feel free to share in the comments below!

5 Ways to Make Cis-Males More Comfortable with Periods

You’ve probably seen the tweet from the guy who thinks that you can hold your period in like you can your wee. Or listened to a boy telling some fantastical story of their period sexcapade in which blood covered them, from torso to toe, like a lava flow.

So, don’t get me wrong, sometimes cis-men like to talk about periods. However, what seems to result from these conversations is misinformed ignorance, and a lot of shaming towards the menstruating female.

If we want to eradicate period taboos and stigma, we’ve really got to get boys (and men) involved in the conversation. As a menstrual cup user and advocate, living in a house-share of mostly guys, Ive really learnt how to navigate discussions on my favourite subject – menstruation. So I now present to you my 5 stages of de-grossing those non-menstruating males in your life:

1. Talk about your periods all the time

And I mean ALL the time. This may be the most difficult step for any menstruator out there. After all, weve been conditioned never to discuss periods. But I promise, once you get over the first conversation hurdle, its not so bad.

The major point here is to be as honest and explicit as possible. Really, dont hold back. It is strange how open and direct we are when talking to female friends, but immediately close up when talking to men. Take that bluntness and direct it at your male friends!

Talk about all the things that normally embarrass you: leaking, brown discharge, accidental period sex. These are all natural processes and nothing to be ashamed of. Youll realise that once you start talking about them all the time, that clammy hand, anxious tummy feeling disappears altogether.

2. Educate, educate, educate

Once youve broken down that initial period-chat barrier, it is important to eradicate any ignorance. Cis-males often have this amazing ability to be self-assured about almost everything, including bodily functions they do not have. 

However, thanks to most schooling systems viewing periods as a ‘womans issue’, boys are very rarely educated about a womans cycle. 

If youre not confident about how your downstairs works – school up. You want to be as knowledgeable as possible, so that you can answer any question thrown at you. Once you become a menstruation knowledge queen, try dropping drop some fun facts into conversation. ‘Did you know that a menstrual cup can last ten years?’ is one that always baffles, leaving guys asking questions and getting involved.

3. Don’t hide your pain or PMS

My whole life I was told ‘keep calm and carry on’ in terms of period pain and PMS. Grab a hot-water bottle and some ibuprofen, and act as though your uterus lining is not shedding from your vagina.

Letting people know about the pain I had been suffering was the most empowering step for me. Granted, whining about it every 5 seconds is not going to make you feel better, but I could finally stop having to pretend everything was OK.

Informing the males in my life of my physical and emotional pain reduced the monthly stress of having to paint on a smile. It allowed me to cry and rage without feeling judged. Boys Im on my period, so give me some space, works a lot better than, THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME, I just want to cry at videos of puppies.

4. Give periods some comedic value 

Last Christmas, my group of friends were all set challenges. A male friends task was to deliver an engaging twenty minute presentation about menstrual cups (thanks to stage 2, he absolutely smashed it). What’s interesting is that he can still remember all of these amazing facts about menstruation, even candidly talking about them at the pub on a Saturday afternoon. It was the ability to make jokes about periods which engaged him with the issue.

Now, I’m not talking about the rage-inducing ‘joke’ uttered by many: “oh she must be on her period”. That’s not funny, we can all agree on that. But educated and informed jokes are a way to engage a male audience. Periods don’t have to be all doom and gloom after all. They can be funny (unless you’re on your period).

5. Pull your sanitary products out and shake the all about

For those who menstruate, the logistics of shoving a tampon/pad up your sleeve while you slide to the toilet will be entirely too relatable. We all have that sneaky way of hiding that were on our period. But guess what…we shouldnt have to! Next time youre menstruating, dont hide your sanitary items. Be proud and loud that youre menstruating. 

Once were comfortable speaking about periods with and around boys, periods become normalised. When theyre normalised, taboo and stigma cease to exist. Girls no longer feel dirty, ashamed, or embarrassed. Now doesnt that sound nice?

Denormalizing Female Pain

Every time I go home, my mother cooks me my favorite food. As she makes the saucy cauliflower Manchurian, I often notice burns and cuts on her arm. When I scold her about the scrapes caused while slicing a particularly slippery zucchini, or the recent burn on her index finger from flipping flatbread, my thin-framed mother jokes about its triviality, considering it nothing. When I touch it and ask if it hurts, she winces and shrugs it off, because the pain is expected – a routine and normal part of her life.

There is a telling story in my mother’s cuts and burns that is representative of the everyday female experience.

From a very young age, women are taught to withstand pain; a punch from a boy signals affection, and the cramps from a first period symbolize impending womanhood. Through small steps of socialization, we are led to believe that pain is a necessary component of our lives, that it makes us stronger and prepares us for more pain to come.

As we go through puberty, suffering from more stomach pains, and as we watch our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers, shrug off burns that must hurt, we learn to develop a threshold – a line that we are supposed to cross before the pain becomes more than normal.

Every month, when menstrual cramps make it impossible for us to get up, we are told to nap, and to embrace the pain, as a training session for childbearing. But as soon as the pain from the debilitating cramps tips over into fainting, we panic.

Why is it that we wait until someone faints or worse to take the pain from cramps seriously? Instead of teaching each other to embrace the pain as normal, why don’t we try to hear the stories of the cramps from the beginning and encourage solutions like OTC painkillers and heating pads?

This idea of assuming normalcy in pain doesn’t just impact the way we interact with each other on a daily basis. It translates to concrete consequences on our health as well. In 2014, over 90% of women in chronic pain felt that the healthcare system discriminated against them, and 65% felt that doctors took them less seriously, simply because of their gender. Women struggled to prove to doctors that their suffering was real, which delayed their proper treatment – by as much as almost 20 minutes in an acute emergency situation.

The more I read these studies, the more I realized that no matter what women do, their pain is discounted and largely ignored. And it is because doctors fall for the same stereotypes that we do. When I think of how women are considered to be more tolerant of pain, I think of my interactions with my mother, my grandmothers, my mentors, and my friends. I think about the times I have failed to notice the expression on my mother’s face as a drop of oil from the Manchurian accidentally hits a recent wound on her finger, even when she says it doesn’t hurt. I recall the number of times I, too, have shrugged off my friends’ complaints about their cramps, regarding them as exaggerating or being too dramatic for something that is totally “normal”, something that they should be able to bear.

There are many times I have unintentionally ignored the small calls from help that many women in my life have uttered – due to the stereotypes that have taught me to think of women’s physical pain as simply part of their lives.

Stereotypes, though, no matter how ingrained they may be, can be slowly chipped away. And that’s true for women’s pains as well. We, as women, can help each other by beginning to take others’ accounts and stories seriously. It can be as small as asking a fellow girlfriend about her cramps and making sure she gets a heating pad. Or offering a helping hand with cooking, when our mothers’ cuts and burns are especially visible, so that they can take a break.

The changes may seem minute, but every gesture matters. And if undertaken by many, they could lead to a world where women’s pain is readily believed, their care is fairly delivered, and their silent suffering is justly voiced.

Announcing the Winner of the People’s Choice Award!

Girls’ Globe is delighted to announce the winner of the very first People’s Choice Award in K4Health‘s annual Photoshare competition!

Congratulations go to Segawa Patrick and his team at Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) for receiving the highest number of public votes in the category of Sexual and Reproductive Health. Today, Menstrual Hygiene Day 2017, is the perfect day to share their brilliant winning photograph.

PHAU shared the inspiration behind the photo:

“Our source of inspiration comes from the fact that many adolescent girls miss school and others drop out of school due to lack of sanitary commodities. It’s for this reason that we launched a campaign called “Ensonga” (meaning “the issue”) which aims to improve menstrual hygiene management within schools in Uganda.”

And we asked voters to tell us why they chose this image as the winner:

“Stigma around menstrual hygiene wreaks havoc on girls’ education opportunities around the world in a way that most people in higher-income countries are not aware of. I think this photograph highlights serious menstrual hygiene issues in a fun and lighthearted way (and I love the faces, colors, and composition, as well).”

“Menstruation keeps many young women from attending school each month for several reasons including lack of proper materials for personal care as well as insufficient amenities at schools. Women should not have to sacrifice education because of menstruation, so I like that this image brings awareness to the issue!”

“I think menstrual stigma is a crucial issue that needs more discussion and awareness. It is a shame that girls have to miss school and be embarrassed for going through menstruation, which is a normal part of being a female.”

“It is an original picture. It captures an unexpected moment of an important and seldom talked about issue, while at the same time transmitting a lot of joy.”

To learn more about Public Health Ambassadors and their Ensonga campaign, you can find them on Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo.