New research from Anglian Water and FabLittleBag with Mumsnet users reveals a surprising range of attitudes and experiences about how women handle their periods.
The respondents were asked to sum up how they felt about their periods. 61% expressed negative feelings, with comments such as “absolutely sick to death of them” and “It can be utterly grim some months and that’s my normal”.
A third of women felt neutral about their periods, saying they feel “philosophical” and “it’s just part of life as a woman”.
Just 6% felt positive about their monthly experiences, saying “I try to see it as a period in the month where I can (must) take some much needed rest” and “I like experiencing the changes in my cycle, women’s bodies are amazing really”.
When asked whether periods are still a taboo subject, a resounding 75% felt that they weren’t taboo for them personally, although many of those women still observed some privacy around the topic. One commented, “I don’t brandish my tampon around the work place like some light sabre, but if I have no pockets I’m happy to just carry it in my hand”. Another says, “Weirdly, I still get embarrassed buying pads in the supermarket.”
For those who do feel it is a taboo, this is much resented, with one commenting “Yes I do think they are a taboo topic… I hate that people snigger about women who menstruate for being unclean… Periods should be spoken about more openly and not in a man-safe way like in sanitary product advertisements”.
Conversations with men about periods are considered the most awkward, with comments such as “It’s not mentioned around the men folk” and “I wouldn’t discuss them with my dad or another guy” and “men tend to be a bit squeamish”.
Despite the majority of women not considering it a taboo subject for them personally, there was little knowledge of their friends’ practices when it comes to disposal, with 76% not knowing if their friends were flushers or binners, or even that different practices existed.
One woman says, “I had no idea anyone would flush sanpro”. Over half of the respondents were concerned about their sanitary products causing blockages or beach pollution, but many were surprised by the question: “I hadn’t considered beach pollution”.
For others, they know not to flush but dislike the alternatives: “Bins can smell disgusting of old blood and also I don’t like to lift the lid on the bin and see old used products”.
12% of women overall had experienced a blocked toilet, rising to 23% amongst those who flushed their sanitary products. Often the blockage triggered a change in behaviour: “It was only when a plumber was called out that [my friend] appreciated the problem was of her own making”.
The majority of women (62%) revealed that having periods limited their lifestyle for the duration.
“I normally stay in on day 2 and day 3 of my cycle due to bad cramping… We try to avoid being on holiday during my period as well”. One sufferer of problem periods said, “I wouldn’t sleep as the floods would wake me up and I’d have to get changed, and change the bath towel I was sleeping on”.
It even affects fashion choices: “I don’t own a single pair of light coloured trousers”.
Martha Silcott of FabLittleBag says of the research, “Women are often surprised to learn that other people’s periods are so different. By not discussing the subject, we perpetuate the taboo and ignorance around periods and important issues like disposal.
“The ignorance has direct eco-consequences with beach pollution caused by flushers, but also emotional consequences, such as embarrassment caused by a blocked toilet or no bathroom bin.
“It’s such a pity that men are kept out of the conversation too. This is particularly important for fathers, who by treating periods as an ordinary, natural process can avoid any shame and awkwardness being passed on to their daughters.
“It is moving to hear of how periods can be so challenging for some women. With FabLittleBag we hope to make the experience less of an ordeal by offering a reliable and hygienic option for disposal”.
Rachel Dyson, Programme Manager at Anglian Water and Chair of the Water UK Sewer Network Abuse Prevent Group says, “Flushed sanitary products cause sewer blockages, flooding and pollution so we are urging households to please only flush pee, paper and poo”.
Anglian Water is offering households a free sample of FabLittleBag on request (text 4FAB to 88802 with your name and address – 1 per household while stocks last), to help in the battle to keep sewers flowing and keep our beaches free from pollution.
Research was with 303 Mumsnet users in July-August 2017.
FabLittleBag costs from £1.99 from Waitrose, Ocado, Amazon, Whole Foods, Ethical Superstore and FabLittleBag.com