I grew up in a house where we all talked about our periods, whether or not my dad was in the room. Even now, we often announce the start of our cycles in the living room, warn each other when we are feeling sensitive from mood swings, and share what snacks we need to make it through the week. And whenever any of us complains about the processes of menstruation to my dad, sometimes all at once, since we often sync up, he replies with endlessly attentive compassion: “Oh my gosh!” “I’m sorry, that sounds awful.” “How can I help?”
But this isn’t what everyone is used to.
I realized this vividly when I started dating my boyfriend and talking with him about my period. He didn’t grow up in a household like mine, so he never heard his family members talk about their periods. He finds it hard to relate to an experience he has never had and never will have, and he doesn’t understand why I insist on talking about my private bodily functions. When I told him that I was writing a blog post about menstruation, he wasn’t excited about it. But as I explained to him why I was so passionate about the subject, it was easier for him to see why eliminating the stigma of discussing menstruation in mixed-company is so important.
Menstruation is a Health Issue
Menstruating is often painful. About 80% of women experience painful periods, about half of whom also have painful premenstrual symptoms, and for 1 in 10 women the pain is so significant that it disrupts their daily lives.
When we are sick or injured, telling our family and friends about our pain often helps to ease it, whether they can offer material assistance or emotional support.
But when menstruation is stigmatized, people are left to bear their pain in silence every single month, without the care of the people closest to them.
Christian community is marked by the sharing of joys and sorrows (1 Corinthians 12:26), and the stigma against discussion of menstruation means that the regular distress of people with periods is ignored or even reacted to with disgust. Instead, the toll of menstruation should be recognized and responded to with compassion.
Menstruation is an Education and Employment Issue
As we discuss factors influencing inequality in women’s education and employment, menstruation is one small but important piece of the puzzle.
The pain of menstruating can also impact a person’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school or work. In one study, 40% of women had so much menstrual pain that it led to them performing more poorly in school, and 30% had pain so intense that it could force them to be absent .
The impact on education and work is even more serious for people who lack access to sanitary products. In rural Uganda, for example, girls miss about 10% of school days from being on their periods.
Lack of access to sanitary products is also a particularly grievous problem for homeless people who menstruate.
Menstruation is a Gender Issue
We often associate menstruation solely with women, but the reality is that not all women menstruate, and not all people who menstruate are women.
There are whole varieties of reasons that a woman might not menstruate, whether permanently or temporarily: primary amenorrhea (not ever getting a period for a variety of reasons), pregnancy, menopause, birth control, weight changes, having a hysterectomy, being trans (although some trans women still experience hormonal cycles and associated pain), etc. There are also some transgender men and non-binary people who do menstruate.
Menstruation is not always connected to gender, and it is important to recognize this variety of experience.
Assuming that a person does or doesn’t menstruate based on your perception of their gender is a misguided approach, and it is important to remember that menstruating doesn’t make a person feminine and not menstruating doesn’t make a person masculine.
Menstruation is a Biblical Issue
If we read our Bibles, we will find that menstruation is discussed in a variety of ways in this text.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus heals a woman who had suffered for twelve years from an issue of blood.
In a story in Genesis, Rachel amusingly uses her period as an excuse for why she can’t stand up (she is really hiding something under her seat!).
Also in Genesis, Sarah’s menopause is recognized as leading to her lack of menstruation and fertility.
Leviticus includes laws on menstruation, and while we can discuss and debate how best to understand what can often sound like negative rules, it is clear that menstruation is recognized as more than a private bodily function, but as something that impacts people who menstruate as well as their community.
The prophets in Ezekiel and Lamentations discuss the symbolic value of menstruation and menstrual products, and again we can think about how to view these negative significances, but we cannot deny that menstruation was an experience rich in significance for the whole community.
The Bible is a text that we use for public readings in formal spaces with mixed audiences, among other contexts, and its inclusion of menstruation as a topic can be read as an affirmation that it is worth communally discussing issues of blood.
Haley Gabrielle is a final year, graduate student of Master of Arts in Religion with concentration in “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies” at Yale Divinity School. She hopes to pursue a PhD program in New Testament. She is a non-denominational charismatic Christian and a biblical equality ally who is currently part of both a Vineyard church and an Episcopal church, .