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School pupils Irene and Winfred from Uganda, in front of a sign saying 'menstruation is normal'.

It's time to stop the period euphemisms

Shark week. The painters have come to town. Aunt flo has come to stay. On the blob. The time of the month. Why can’t we just bloody say it? We’re women. We bleed. Every month. We have PERIODS.

Shark week - a common euphemism for periods

We’re all in this together

Women’s bodies are beautiful. A message that (thankfully) we see is being enforced by brands and media more and more these days. It’s as if we are waking up to the fact that there is no ‘perfect body’. We’re realising that women are all completely unique and that perhaps different shaped bodies should be represented more.

As we’re celebrating our shapely diversity, are we talking frankly enough periods - something that unites women? Mention the word menstruation and here comes the scrunched up faces, the tampon shoved up the sleeve, the ‘women’s troubles’ eyeroll. We’re all just a little bit embarrassed by it.

And it seems the issue stays close to home. We’re seeing a positive shift as periods are getting discussed openly in social media, institutions and even the government. This is great, so why are we still so secretive in our day to day conversations?

A sticky stigma

Whilst some euphemisms can be funny to use, it’s important to stay straight-talking when it comes to our most natural bodily function. Making light of the matter can add to the misconception that periods are a ‘dirty secret’. Menstruation should not be a shameful secret belonging to half the human race. We need to be more open - especially with younger people where the facts can be a little hazy to begin with. Many parents don’t feel confident enough to discuss periods. The survey also revealed that we think schools don’t always give the most comprehensive education on menstruation to girls AND boys.

In a recent survey carried out by WaterAid, 2,000 adults in the UK were asked about their attitudes around periods. 38% of people feel awkward or embarrassed to talk about periods to anyone at all. This raised to 47% among the younger 18-24-year-old age group.

A quarter of those surveyed said they use a euphemism to avoid saying the word ‘period’ or ‘menstruation’ and ‘time of the month’ is the most used saying, with 58% of people saying they’ve used it.

What do vampires and ketchup have in common?

The period perversity doesn’t end in the UK. Here are some of the strangest sayings from around the world:

  • Germany - Erdbeertage - Strawberry week
  • France - La semaine Ketchup - Ketchup week
  • China - 紅茶 - Red tea
  • Japan - 血祭り- Blood festival
  • Italy - Palloncino rosso - Red balloon
  • Spain - El Vampiro - The vampire
  • Portugal - Monstra - Female monster

Take the WaterAid period quiz to test your knowledge on even more weird ways we avoid saying menstruation.

Strawberry week - another common euphemism for periods

Let’s spread the word. The right one.

Actress and TV presenter Nadia Sawalha is supporting the #periodproud movement by starring as the leader of the Period Gang in WaterAid’s new film ‘Peaky Bleeders’ to encourage people to talk more openly about periods.

Watch the film >

Nearly half of Brits think we need to talk more openly about periods to end the stigma, while 39% think we should improve information and education at school. So let’s start by just bloody talking about it.

Thérèse Mahon, WaterAid’s Menstrual Hygiene Management Specialist, said:

“Whilst some of the euphemisms used for periods around the world are quite amusing, the more people use them instead of speaking openly about menstruation, the more girls and women believe that this perfectly natural phenomenon is something to be ashamed about.

So WaterAid challenges everyone – from brothers and fathers, sisters and mothers, teachers, doctors, government officials to prime ministers and presidents – to bring periods out of the closet in order to make sure that every woman and girl has the sanitary products and toilets they need to live every week of every month in dignity and comfort.”

So whilst we don’t necessarily need to shout it from the rooftops, let’s try and be a bit more straight talking. It's OK to say that you have period pain, not ‘women’s trouble’. It’s OK to say your period is here, not ‘aunt flo’. It’s OK to acknowledge that women menstruate and don’t have ‘painters in’. As a mother of two daughters, Nadia Sawalha, sums it up brilliantly: “Let’s celebrate periods. After all, where would we be without them?”
June 05, 2019 — Team Fempowered