Menstrual education in Sweden… Not as good as you might think!

How did we come up with our topic?

We are Olha and Lien and we met during our master’s degree studies and immediately became close friends. From time to time, we would talk about our periods. We both felt better after sharing our own experiences, struggles and concerns. While brainstorming topics for our master’s thesis, we jokingly started talking about doing our research on the topic of menstruation. We let our imaginations run wild and wrote everything down on a paper napkin. The longer the conversation went on, the more passionate and enthusiastic we both became. When the whole idea was written down, we looked at it and were absolutely convinced. We wanted to find out what role do knowledge, education and experience play in girls’ menstrual attitudes and how do these affect their period product choice?

 Our research

We did our research in Sweden, on the beautiful island of Gotland. Sweden was among the first countries worldwide to introduce sex education in schools. Since 1955, sex education has been a mandatory part of the Swedish school curriculum with the main purpose of promoting gender equality, eliminating societal gender stereotypes, and creating an environment for students to learn more about sexual health, puberty, and human relationships. Therefore, it was interesting for us to find out to what extent the stigma around menstruation is present in such a progressive place.

We focused on high school girls. We wanted to hear what they really thought and felt about menstruation. To make the research feasible, we organised three focus groups of three to five cisgender girls each, all aged 14 to 15 years old.

Our findings

Talking to the girls and listening to their personal stories was both inspiring and worrying. It gave us many interesting insights. Through our conversations, we could clearly see how menstrual stigma continues to encourage the concealment of the girls’ experiences. They feel the need to completely control their periods, adjust their bodies, and hide their emotions and menstrual pain in public to feel ‘acceptable’ to the people around them.

“I feel like I don’t want to be angry in school*.”

“Sometimes you have to pretend that you don’t have these feelings…” 

The culture of silence around menstruation results in girls not being used to talking about their feelings and experiences. This results in negative perceptions regarding possible reactions from male classmates or a male teacher. The girls were even afraid of being on their period, in case someone else (particularly boys) would notice. They expressed being constantly worried about ‘leaking’- bleeding through clothing, feeling embarrassed if anyone noticed their pads, and how some male classmates make fun of PMS. This all put the girls under constant stress in school.

“…If they [boys] say something like “Oh, you’re on your period!”, they don’t know what the cramps feel like and not what’s going on inside your head. Like we feel insecure and stuff like that…  I think they should learn more.”

It is well established that menstrual education is important to eliminate this stress, reduce shame around periods, and to increase girls’ self-esteem. Therefore, starting sex education before girls get their first period is crucial to prepare them and positively affect menstrual perceptions. The girls in our study pointed out that Swedish high-school education does not adequately address issues such as period pain and how to deal with it, how periods may affect our everyday lives, Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), and the fact that each person’s experience is different.

“…When I started my period, I didn’t know that you would feel… I didn’t know that you would have cramps and like PMS for your period…”

We can ask our mums but who taught them about the menstrual cycle? Image: Pexels, Irina Demyanovskikh

Luckily, the girls said that they feel comfortable talking to female family and friends- especially their moms. Additionally, they found more information on the internet and social media (YouTube and TikTok).

“I learned something from school, like not very much. I [googled] a lot. And when I got it, I talked to my mom. Yeah, but not really before. But now I feel like I can ask her anything.”

However, we found out that the girls lacked knowledge of period products. Some even thought that contraceptive medications counted as period products. The only products used by the participants were disposable pads and tampons. Their environmental impact had never been considered by the girls. Reusable pads, period underwear, and menstrual cups were not very well-known or discussed by most of the participants.


An array of tampons and a menstrual cup

Cups, tampons, pads, & pants… You need to know about all types of period products!

“Tampons and pads. What else can you use?”

At the end of our interviews, we always asked the girls for feedback and how they felt during our conversations. It turned out, they appreciated the safe and comfortable environment where they were able to share their experiences. The girls emphasised the importance of talking more about menstruation.  One of them said:

‘It feels good to talk about it. It’s important to talk about it sometimes. I’ve never had like a conversation with anyone about it, just … asked my mom a few questions. She told me about things but never really like this.’

Hearing this feedback was extremely rewarding.

What can we do today to get rid of the stigma?

Our research has shown that teenagers are open to sharing their personal experiences around menstruation. Despite feeling awkward sometimes, they should be taught why we have periods, how to manage cyclical changes, the wide range of period products available, and what’s ‘normal’ or may be the sign of an underlying health condition. The culture of silence that has been created around menstruation just makes it difficult to start those conversations, reinforcing negative perceptions and stigma.

We should all ask each other questions and express more support for each other. Giving space to teenagers to open up is important, because they might not feel able to start the conversation themselves… Even in one of the most gender equitable and progressive countries in the world!

** Editor’s note: The myth of the hormonal/ irrational female might have influenced some of the participant quotes in this study. For example, the idea that the menstrual cycle ’causes’ anger is not true- we may become irritable due to the inflammation/ blood loss we experience around our periods but this is very similar to the irritability associated with hunger, tiredness, or pain (which boys/men also experience). Anger, rage, or very low or anxious moods are usually a sign of underlying emotional distress triggered or worsened by the menstrual cycle- and may indicate a diagnosis of PMDD (Premenstrual Distress Disorder), anxiety or depression.

Link to the thesis:


Boiko, O., & Carrez, L. (2022). The Bloody Stigma Is Still Here, Period. (Dissertation). Retrieved from


Olha and Lien are recent MA graduates in Sustainable Management from Uppsala University. They are passionate about sustainability and women’s empowerment, which brought them together to write their thesis about menstrual stigma. For questions or collaboration, you can contact them via LinkedIn ( &

Categories: Menstrual education.