Are guys in North America cooler with periods than we think?

In a conversation with a friend the other day, I brought up the well-agreed-upon-by-young-women fact that men should have to listen to us complain about our periods without making us feel uncomfortable for it. It’s not the first time I’ve brought this up — it comes up, interestingly enough, around the same time of the month.

Why should women have to cover up our periods just to make men comfortable, when we’re the ones who have to deal with it?

Why can’t I just yell about my period without worrying about what men think? Why can a man watch a two-hour-long movie with blood and gore, but cringe when I mention the blood coming out of my vagina?

My most recent conversation about this topic turned out to be a bit different, however, as some of the guys around us piped up and mentioned that period talk didn’t bother them. My first instinct was to roll my eyes at the #NotAllMen narrative, but then I took a step back and got to thinking… maybe they were being genuine? Is it possible that there has been a positive shift in the right direction here?

According to Metro UK, as far back as ancient Rome, women who had periods were considered to be “dark witches.” In Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, he claimed that women who bled could kill bees and even stop hailstorms. In both the Bible and the Quran, women who are menstruating are considered unclean and unable to even be touched. According to Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth’s book The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, the French used to believe that having sex while on your period would create blood monsters. In the 1920s, scientist Bela Schick claimed that women who were menstruating released toxins that could kill crops.

Even today, in certain parts of the world, women who are menstruating are sent away to huts to deal with it alone, while others are not allowed to sleep in the same bed as their husband for fear of “infecting” him.

It seems the fear and subsequent taboo around menstruation is evident around the world. 

So is this really still the case in 21st century North America?

Feeling curious, I conducted a bit of “scientific” research this past week. I asked a bunch of guys I know the same direct, simple question:

Does it make you uncomfortable when women talk about their periods around you? 

These are guys from all different backgrounds, ages, and disciplines. And I’ll be honest — it really shocked me how easily the answer seemed to come to them.

  • “No,” said Guy #1 (history major). “There are ways to talk about anything and make it uncomfortable, even something mundane. But I’ve never been in a situation where a woman is trying to make me feel uncomfortable, and there is nothing inherently wrong in talking about menstruation.” (My first reaction to this answer was: “He said menstruation and didn’t even flinch!” One for one!)
  • “I don’t,” said Guy #2 (geography major), though he admitted that most of his friends seem to. “It seems pretty immature to get uncomfortable about something so common and normal.” (We are two for two, folks!)
  • Guy #3 (history major): “I would say that I’m not uncomfortable with the topic of periods, but I could see myself getting uncomfortable if someone I didn’t know well brought it up.” (I still count that as a win. Three for three.)
  • “Nope! They can go wild,” said Guy #4 (human kinetics major). “It’s not uncomfortable, for sure.” (Four for four? We are WINNING!)
  • Guy #5 (history master’s) hit me with a simple: “No.” When pressed further, he simply said, “Because it’s a normal thing, I guess?” (Five for five. Nice.)

Conclusion: there’s a bit of discomfort here, but it appears that most of my guy friends, at least, don’t seem to have as much of an issue as I thought they did.

So maybe it’s time I admit that I’m semi-wrong about this. The more I think and talk about it, the more I realize it’s mostly older men I have to be “careful” around when talking about my period — and it’s actually often the older women in my life who are reminding me of it. More often than not, it’s my mom or my grandma telling me to not talk about it. It’s not their fault, it’s just how things were for them growing up, the way it’s been for years. It’s generational, as are most things that us millenials are slowly learning to discuss. The good news here is that it appears that men of this new age aren’t all wimps when it comes to period blood.

DISCLAIMER: I know some people who get periods don’t feel comfortable talking about these sorts of things with anyone, and that’s fine. My hope is that you learn to embrace what your body is doing because even though it sucks, it’s a part of us and it’s happening. If you don’t want to scream it from the rooftops, that’s fine — but you should be able to talk about it with those close to you. My conclusion here is that if people you’re seeing make you feel bad for talking about your period, their going to have to learn to deal with it. If they can’t, they’ve gotta go. It’s your body, and if they want some of it — they have to deal with all of it. 

Photo courtesy of  Tumblr via CC0

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