Interviewing Period Stigma Experts!

  • by Cindy Belardo

We recently interviewed femplify, a health communication research team whose research focuses on period stigma and science communication of female sexual and reproductive health issues!

Meet femplify

femplify is a health communication research team based out of the Haselton Lab at UCLA. The team is led by Sisi Peng (doctoral student in the Department of Communication). Their current team consists of three undergraduate research assistants: Elizabeth Orkeh (Psychobiology major), Alexa Mugol (Psychobiology major), and Kristen Fu (Cognitive Science major and Digital Humanities minor). Their research focuses on period stigma and science communication of female sexual and reproductive health issues! They wanted to say a special thank you to their faculty advisor, Martie Haselton, and lab member, Gloria Yang, for supporting their research :)

 

Q: What are the most common euphemisms used for menstruation?

Based on our original research collected last Fall from about 475 college students, the most common names for menstruation were:

  1. Time of the month
  2. Aunt Flow/Flo
  3. Shark week
  4. Cycle
  5. On the rag
  6. Crimson wave/red wave/red sea
  7. Period
  8. Bleeding/bloody
  9. PMS
  10. Flow

Q:  Where do you think the history of euphemisms regarding menstruation come from?

The use of menstrual euphemisms is tied to our society's lack of understanding and openness around women’s health. In the U.S. and other Western nations, women’s health has been historically overlooked due to women’s lower societal status than men. Purity culture and the politicization of female bodies further restrict conversations about sexual and reproductive health. 

In our research, we found that 29% of female participants agreed that it is uncomfortable to talk about their own periods and 42% of male participants agreed that it is uncomfortable for them to discuss the topic of periods. This highlights the taboo nature of menstruation, which contributes to hiding menstruation through the use of euphemisms. 

Q: Is all menstrual slang bad? What’s the harm in euphemisms?

There are pros and cons to menstrual slang or informal phrases referring to menstruation. While euphemisms imply that menstruation should be kept secret in public settings, the use of slang is better than the alternative of having no conversations about menstruation at all. Past research has found that euphemisms are used to reduce discomfort and embarrassment around menstruation. So, slang can actually help to open up discussions about menstruation!

It is important to use euphemisms that are neutral. For instance, “period” and “time of the month” are neutral ways of describing the cyclical process. However, any negative references that suggest illness, inconvenience, or distress are harmful, such as “sickness” or “the curse.” 

While there are many names for menstruation, normalizing the use of “period” in media and daily conversations could combat the stigma surrounding menstruation!

Q: Why should the media talk about periods?

Periods should be discussed in the media since these public conversations help to normalize menstruation and reduce menstrual stigma. Open and honest dialogue encourages greater awareness and knowledge about the menstrual cycle! Cultivating this type of environment allows for people who menstruate to share their personal experiences, voice any concerns, and seek support or medical advice if needed. Media could also help to counteract the spread of misinformation about menstruation, focusing on biological facts and sharing credible resources to learn more about the sexual and reproductive system. 

Q: How can the media normalize periods?

The media can normalize periods by using neutral or medically correct language when talking about menstruation as well as encouraging candid conversations that are free of shame and stigma. Not only should media portrayals of periods be accurate and informative, but they should also be diverse and inclusive. 

In particular, social media is an effective tool for social change by raising awareness, educating the public, and sparking authentic conversations. For example, Sunny’s TikToks share period information and facilitate conversations surrounding menstruation in an accessible, informal way. Discussing menstruation on social media makes it easier to talk about periods in real life and brings educational material outside the academic science world! 

Q: What is the typical perception of periods in mainstream media within the U.S.?

Periods are usually depicted negatively in mass media for adults. For instance, the most well-known film to show menstruation and the first to display menstrual blood on-screen is Carrie (1976). The iconic scene was gruesome and shocking, which highlights the typical perception of menstruation as gross and embarrassing. Periods in mainstream media are often treated with despair, dread, and disrespect.

However, media portrayals of periods have been shifting. Recent movies and television shows for younger audiences, such as Turning Red (2022) and Baymax (2022), have shown periods in more positive and neutral ways! 

Furthermore, advocacy efforts from the period positivity movement on social media have been committed to challenging negative perceptions and destigmatizing periods.

Interested in the UCLA femplify team’s research?

Check out their website here and join their mailing list to receive updates or get involved in their work!

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