It has always escaped my grasp why menstruation has been painted as a vile and unpleasant biological process that merits a certain degree of shame.
Sure, by the books people claim no one is shaming us for a process over which we exercise no control, but in reality, you’d be lying if you said you didn’t go to a public bathroom with a sanitary towel and try to open it ever so gently so as not to rouse any attention to the fact that you’re on your period and are changing your pad.
You’d be lying if you said that that one time your pad fell out of your pocket or bag in public it wasn’t the most embarrassing day of your life and you felt like you’d never recover. You’d be lying if you said you haven’t kept a used pad to dispose of it when you got home because you couldn’t dispose of it where you were because you were embarrassed that someone with whom you were not comfortable might see it.
Tell me you don’t ask your friend to check if you have a stain when you stand up during your period to save you a great deal of embarrassment. That’s the reality we live in every single month when it’s that time, people KNOW what’s happening but we still feel this INTERNALIZED shame that makes us think we should hide any evidence of what’s happening.
No one outwardly tells us to hide these things, but we do, because if we don’t we’ll be viewed as disgusting to say the least. Because against our better judgement, even if we don’t feel that way, the people around us do, our mothers taught us as they were taught by theirs to hide themselves in this manner.
But why? It’s JUST blood.
Why is it considered more unsanitary than blood from my arm?
Because our periods came from our arms, if our arms bled once a month every month, I’m quite certain there wouldn’t be half as much shame in it,but because it’s coming from the vagina, suddenly it’s not JUST blood, it’s blood that needs to be hidden, it’s blood that when seen causes immense embarrassment, it’s blood that some consider unclean.
I took it upon myself to ask some of my male friends why they feel uncomfortable with the fact that our vaginas bleed, why they felt it was a cause for disgust. Most of them couldn’t answer because there is no black and white answer, but a few of them raised concern over the fact that a girl on her period “smells weird.”
And I had to take a step back.
Of course if one has poor hygienic practices there’s bound to be a foul smell emanating from them, gender notwithstanding.
But my darling boys, the thing is, it’s BLOOD, it’s not going to smell like Victoria’s Secret vanilla scented body mist, it’s going to smell like blood. Blood in itself has a distinct and different but not particularly foul smell. That being said, imagine now said blood, gushing out constantly without a break and being collected by a material which will hold and contain it for more than an hour or so before being replaced.
Of course it’s not going to smell like a field of poppies. And it’s sick that this is an issue that’s hardly ever addressed, the fact that when one is on their period they’re not allowed to smell like they’re on their period lest they get called out for being unclean is just utterly preposterous!
It is these misgivings that lead women and girls to pursue things like “vajacials” (a facial for the vulva) or scented vaginal soaps or washes or sprays that are meant to make one’s vagina smell quite literally,like roses.
The thing most of them don’t realize in this pursuit is that anything scented irritates the vagina and vulva. The vagina itself is designed to be “self-cleaning“. Yes, it cleans itself, it is acidic with a PH of 3.8 to 4.5 varying with each female.
This is fundamental because it optimizes the vagina to protect itself against the growth or festering of disease causing microorganisms, what a brilliant organ! Most of the products ie the soaps and sprays are basic in nature, when introduced to the environment of the vagina, they throw off your PH balance. This leaves you vulnerable to yeast infections and other such complications, not to mention, as the vagina is trying to restore its PH balance it may expel an odor, and that’s never good news. So while trying to get your vagina to smell unnaturally good, you may end up risking your health.
Let’s talk about vaginal discharge…yeah, that substance with a gel-like consistency that when you first saw you thought meant you’re an alien excreting otherworldly fluid. That one that thickens when it’s almost that time of the month. That one that no science text book ever taught us about and that no one ever talks about until you get it and you just have to figure out on your own that you’re not dying and it’s completely normal.
Discharge comes in all consistencies and colors, sometimes it’s thin and clear, sometimes it’s thick and has a brownish tint, for the most part it doesn’t smell like anything and you don’t notice it.
But when it’s greenish/yellowish/greyish or looks like pus and has an odor, that’s when you need to call your doctor.
Discharge is otherwise a sign that your vagina is healthy, not only is it healthy, it’s cleaning itself. It has several purposes apart from cleaning the vagina and fighting infections. Discharge also moisturizes your vag , and you’ll find that during or before sexual intercourse, production of vaginal discharge increases to act as a lubricant and moisturizer during intercourse.
During the different stages of your menstrual cycle it changes, normal discharge should be somewhat thin, sticky and elastic or thick and gooey. It should either be clear, white or off-white. It is perfectly normal for some women to have more discharge than others in which case it may be compulsory to keep a panty liner handy.
When I started writing this, I couldn’t understand why there was so much shame shrouding menstruation, I mean, you’d think we’d be used to it by now. As I make my conclusion, I STILL don’t understand why. But I do know we need to have more conversations on the topic of period shame, we need to defame the myths and prejudices that surround it, we need to normalize NORMAL smells and dethrone the idea that FLORAL scents should come from HUMAN bodies because I don’t see any flowers being pressured to smell like humans.