We need to normalise talking about our periods

A little over half of the UK’s population have had or will have experienced a monthly period. One would think that it can only be viewed as a healthy, normal and natural part of a woman's life. Nevertheless, it’s still a taboo subject for many people, which holds true in the experience of trainee menstrual cycle coach, Roxy King-Clark.

Experiencing a monthly cycle shouldn’t be seen as a shameful thing to talk about or to discuss openly in the 21st century. Gone are the days when people cower and hide or make squeamish face gestures when someone even mentions periods or menstrual cycle blood. Or so the world hoped.

King-Clark, 35, began her journey in becoming a menstrual cycle coach nearly three years ago, and it’s a pursuit that she’s felt passionately about ever since she first started.

Having been put on the birth control pill from the age of 18 to well into her early thirties, she knew nothing else. She later realised it blocked so many things and caused more problems than necessary.

She strongly feels that changes in lifestyle could alleviate the cycle signs without the horrific health ramifications she experienced with birth control by following through with tweaks to her lifestyle that ultimately led to almost no symptoms at all during her period.

"We’re not given many solutions other than, oh you’ve got a heavy bleed, painful bleed, or acne - here’s the pill. Go on that. That’s the only support modern medicine has for us - which is just shocking really," she says sadly.

The oral contraceptive pill is one of the most common forms of contraception and can be used for regulating periods, however it also has the most side effects. Although effective, it can cause long-term complications such as blood clots, anxiety, depression, hair loss, weight gain, mood swings, and can even cause osteoporosis.

King-Clark expresses that going through hormonal body changes during period cycles, whether that be pain or mood swings, can be a symptom of something going amiss in the body, and it shouldn’t be easily dismissed or masked by a pill.

"Taking a contraceptive pill to mask all these things - the problem is still there, we’re just blocking out the signs that something is wrong rather than actually just dealing with the root cause. The challenges would disappear if we dealt with the root of it," she explains.

While on her course to be a menstrual cycle coach, she’s learning that lifestyle and stress is a huge factor on how it affects menstrual cycles as well as what we eat and our exercising habits. As an example, she adds various sorts of seeds to her morning smoothie a few days from when she is due to have her period. She explains that doing that helped her alleviate many of her period symptoms. "Just a simple change like that can make a huge impact," she says.

If she goes running or does an intense workout session the week before her cycle, she’s likely to have awful period pains. On the other hand, lighter exercises right before have helped her not experience any period pain or cramps at all.

King-Clark believes that people need to have more awareness of how their menstrual cycle impacts all aspects of their lives. And more importantly, their menstrual cycles can be a good and positive thing for their bodies.

Unfortunately, King-Clark was raised in a home where periods weren’t really discussed or freely spoken about.

"I couldn’t even say to my mom: 'Hey, I’m on my period'," she says. "I couldn't use those words. I would just say it's 'that time of the month'. It’s just not spoken about."

In addition to not speaking about it freely, many women in the UK have felt shame about their periods and even experienced bullying because of it.

In the last few years, it was found that more than 1 in 3 of UK women experienced period shaming through either bullying, isolation, or relentless joking about it. It happens at home, work, or in schools according to UK charity, Action Aid, which commissioned the study in order to explore women's feelings about their menstruation.

Over half of the women surveyed said that they would hide their sanitary products in public while going to the toilet in order to avoid embarrassment. Action aid helps the most vulnerable women and girls by giving them access to clean sanitary products and providing them with free education about periods, sex, and pregnancy.

Talking about it freely would lift the shame and taboo surrounding monthly menstrual cycles, and the misunderstandings about it. Something so normal and natural shouldn’t be a taboo subject or shunned.

"We’re taught as women that suffering due to our menstrual cycle is just part of being a woman and there’s nothing we can do about it. And we definitely shouldn’t talk about it," King-Clark says. "But we don’t need to suffer. We can help ourselves. We can learn to embrace our cycles and see it as our superpower. And we definitely shouldn’t have to stay quiet about our experiences."

King-Clark has two young boys and runs her own business, she emphasises that knowledge is power and the more people are educated about this topic - both boys and girls, the better.

Women make up over half the population in the UK, so empowering them with knowledge and positivity about a natural process in their bodies would not only help and positively affect them, but also positively affect their communities. As a whole, everyone can gain a deeper understanding and compassion for menstrual cycles, the importance of having them, and lastly, to treat each other kindly.

She expresses that teaching about menstrual cycles should be mandatory in schools, to lessen the shame and stigma and to offer more knowledge on the topic.

She fervently says: "Even if the schools aren’t keen for me to go in, I’m just going to offer it up to young girls to come and talk to me free of charge. I think it's so important that they have that knowledge and start their menstrual life with that knowledge. It’s just so important."