The embarrassment factor of menstruation…

7 July 2017.

I want to share my experience of a taboo within a taboo. Because we already know that the menstrual cycle is taboo (we can’t talk about it, it’s seen as ‘dirty’, or somehow ‘immoral’, even though it’s actually a sign of health and fertility). But having an ‘accidental leak’ during menstruation is another level of social shame…

I am now in my late 30’s. My menstrual cycle started when I was 11. No one sat down and explained it to me. I remember reading the advice pages of teenage magazines (the source of information when I was growing up) and an expert had written that a ‘normal’ bleed would be the equivalent of two eggcups of blood. Already I was confused; I had only ever used an eggcup when eating boiled eggs! My family never discussed menstruation with me, probably because no-one had ever discussed it with them. And also probably because it’s a social taboo, despite it being something that all people with female reproductive anatomy will likely encounter.

During my teenage years and 20’s, my periods were seriously heavy. I was using night time towels during the day, and could easily get through 5-6 towels in a day. This led to many accidents. I won’t go into detail, but you’re sitting down, and suddenly aware that there has been a leak, and if you’re in a public place, you start panicking- ‘how am I going to leave without everyone seeing what has happened?’

At times, I needed to change pads every 20 minutes. I’m sure we have all experienced the sub-standard quality of public toilets, if they are even open! Many a time, I have been that annoying person who stands on a bus or a train when there are plenty of seats, because I do not want to have an accidental leak. I have made convoluted trips at work to different lavatories, so as not to arouse suspicion as to why I am so frequently using the toilet. I have sat awkwardly and uncomfortably at work and social events so as not to have both legs fully on a chair, to avoid leakage. Over the years I have been seemingly antisocial – declining events, just because the only clothes I can wear are unattractively black (with black shorts underneath, just in case), or I do not want to go to a public event with poor quality toilets, or stay overnight somewhere, in case there is an accidental leak.

But leaks do happen! I have woken up to go to work and had to spend half an hour washing my bedsheets because I have bled through onto them. I have thrown away so many pairs of underwear, some of my favourite clothes and countless bedsheets because of such accidents. All of which isn’t great for a person’s confidence or self-esteem.

I write this because it is 2017, and still no-one ever talks about these things. In fact, I am still not sure if I am the only person to ever go through some, or all, of this? If any of this does resonate with you, it will be a relief to me that I am not on my own, and hopefully of some small comfort to you…

– Anonymous, UK

[Ed: Menstrual Matters has contacted this contributor to enquire if they have ever been examined by a doctor, since such heavy bleeding is often associated with fibroids– non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb (uterus)]