Beyond Taboo, Normalizing Periods

by Kate Hofmann

Taboo (adj.): prohibited or restricted by social custom.

We have used this word traditionally as a placeholder for all subjects we deign to be too vulgar or inappropriate to discuss in so-called “polite” society. Reducing a wealth of important subjects that may not always be comfortable to discuss to a single word further stigmatizes and separates the subject matter from the rest of society. Subjects like sex, racism, sexual orientation, and of course, menstruation have all been the victims of this harmful censorship.

Nowadays, when we refer to a subject as taboo, it often shows how a topic was viewed in the past. In that sense, it seems rational to refer to these subjects as having been “taboo.” While it is essential to know our history and never forget how far we’ve come, it is vital that we move forward and beyond past associations. The time is now to start normalizing menstruation and all the “gory” details. But how do we reach that point if so many still think of menstruation as something gross?

We’ve already made great leaps in educating and informing others about menstruation. Periods have been steeped in gendered normativity for so long that it can seem like a hefty task to undo. We can take some steps to start breaking down these barriers and make menstruation an easier topic to discuss openly.

People tend to think that periods and period culture are exclusive to only cisgender females; this completely eradicates transmen and nonbinary people from the conversation. Anyone who has a vagina has experienced the highs and lows of the menstrual cycle. Limiting these conversations to only include cis-females restricts progress for period culture.

Why do people think periods are so taboo in the first place? For most of history, the menstrual cycle and any conversations surrounding it have been simply about reproduction. To start normalizing periods, we have to remove the sexualization and the clinical ideal that menstruation is strictly about reproduction. There are plenty of menstruators who either can’t or don’t want to reproduce who should be included in the conversations.

Younger generations have been trying to destigmatize period culture by talking openly about it via social media and through mediums like television, film, and other art forms. This approach normalizes period culture by bringing it to the forefront of our consciousness. Making Instagram pages dedicated to menstrual art or menstrual activism helps involve others in period culture in an easily digestible way.

Social media, traditional media, and art are methods through which we can comfortably package topics like menstruation, gender, sexuality, activism, and other subjects that have traditionally been thought of as “taboo.” People are more likely to listen to your message if you can condense it into something they can relate to. The short answer to normalizing periods is, simply, to humanize them.

The commonality of period culture should be what helps normalize it because the base of the subject is a living, breathing human. Normalizing periods and period culture start with respecting the individuals that menstruate and making them feel like their bodies are accepted and included. Periods aren’t shameful, so let’s stop shaming them.