For a lot of people, there’s a certain icky feeling that comes with hearing words like ‘vagina’ and ‘uterus’ and… *gulp*... ‘clitoris’. ‘Period’ tends to do this too, despite being a monthly occurrence for half the population of the planet. Instead, throughout the ages we have turned to euphemisms to describe it to others; the clever, the funny, and the… weird.
When researching for this blog post, we turned to social media to ask what euphemisms people had heard used over the years, and the responses poured in. From fun ones like ‘painting the town red’, to mysterious ones like ‘a visit from a friend’, to more graphic options like ‘surfing the crimson wave’, ‘on the blob’, ‘the red zone’, and ‘shark week’. A popular favourite was ‘Aunt Flo’, which we quite enjoy as it conjures up images of a comforting, motherly figure ready to help us through this crampy time of the month.
The historical taboo of periods
Periods have always been seen as ‘unmentionable’, and in some parts of the world, still are. In the Bible, periods are constantly referred to as unclean, and this extends to the women who are having them. As far back as the seventeenth century, private journals kept by both men and women described periods as “Eve’s curse”, which, it’s safe to say, had hugely negative connotations. With menstruation always viewed as something shameful and impure, euphemisms have long been the only way to openly discuss them.
What’s the problem?
Despite the title of this post, we’re not denying the funny nature of period euphemisms. Heck, we’d be lying if we hadn’t used a few euphemisms ourselves! After all, it’s a lot less awkward to tell people that the ‘painters and decorators are in’ than tell them you’re, erm, bleeding from the vagina. The point is less about stopping all use of code words when it comes to menstruation, but rather, being conscious about when and where we use them. And of course, acknowledging how they can be problematic.
For a young girl, hearing nothing but euphemisms about periods could lead her to believe that she, too, must keep schtum while she’s menstruating. No talk of periods, no discussing your symptoms, no visiting the doctor when necessary. This all feeds into the shame cycle that continues around periods, even in modern and seemingly forward-thinking societies.
In some parts of the world, periods are even considered so shameful that girls will miss school days because of them. This, of course, affects their education. It’s not OK, and until we all start talking openly and honestly about periods - around the world and here in the UK - this can’t change. Simple things like acknowledging the need for girls to go to the bathroom regularly, to carry menstrual products, and to take it easy when dealing with period pain can all help make it easier for girls and women alike.
How can we change the way we discuss periods
By changing the language we use, we can start to lift that shame cloud for the next generation. In recent years, there has been a push to include more period related emojis on the Unicode keyboard, and while this has been a positive move for helping young girls communicate about periods, it still encourages an air of secrecy around the subject.
Instead of racking your brain for a clever euphemism that would make telling your boss about your period pain less embarrassing, take a pause and consider whether it’s actually embarrassing at all. In many cases, we can simply say ‘period pain’.
We can’t help but hope for a day when, instead of a blood droplet emoji, we can all speak genuinely in any conversation - at home, at work, with friends, with men, with other women - when we’re on our periods. Every woman should be free to be direct when she feels bloated, when she has leaked, when she has cramps, when she has PMS, and most importantly, when she feels down and needs to talk about it.
How do you feel about period euphemisms? Let us know over on Instagram @itsyoppie!