Hello! Are you having a bloody good day? I'm having a bloody great day. Here's a fun bloody fact: in our lifetime, on average, we have around 450 periods, which equals around 3,500 DAYS spent menstruating. That's a lot of days, but today we will spend half a day talking about periods and that's a bloody good start.
I need to stop saying bloody. OR DO I?
Because it’s blood. We’re here to talk about blood. But that makes people feel icky.
We bleed every month. Every month, the lining of our uterus bleeds out. And I spend an unacceptable amount of time thinking about what it would be like if it wasn’t blood. Like, if it was something else.
What if we emitted a coloured gas for a week? Or 3-5 days of sporadic glitter explosions? What about a personalised tune singing from our vagina. I could be sitting at my desk and all of a sudden the Macarena starts playing from my lap.
If you look at it that way, blood isn’t that bad.
But it makes people uncomfortable. Why is that?
Maybe it’s because blood has negative connotations and is connected with pain, injury or loss.
Maybe it’s because the tv only shows blue liquid in ads for period products so we learn that blood is unpalatable.
Maybe it’s the patriarchy.
Even the word 'period' is taboo. We whisper it. We hiss, 'I’ve got my prrrddd.'
Did you know, there are 5000 euphemisms for periods but I am not going to tell you any of them, because they are stupid and we are in 2023 and why should we be tiptoeing around something that is experienced by 50% of the population but impacts 100% of us?
In fact, when I started to write this little talk I thought, 'this is hard, I’m gonna see what the robots have to say,' so I asked ChatGPT to write a humorous speech about period stigma. And, despite the fact that there are 3,905 million people who menstruate in the world, or that periods have been written about since roman author Gaius Plinius Secundus wrote in 30 AD that periods were some kind of magic sorcery and that anyone menstruating could kill entire fields of crops, cause bees to leave their hives, and control the weather, and despite there being 1.13 billion websites on the internet, the only thing ChatGPT could come up with was, and I quote.
'Why is there so much stigma around periods? Why do we act like we're on a top-secret mission to hide the fact that we bleed once a month? It's not like we're secret agents working for a global espionage organization called "The Menstrual Mysteries"!'
I’m not done.
'Let's put an end to this period stigma madness. Let's turn this elephant in our pants into a topic of conversation that brings us all together. Remember, when life gives you periods, make period-ade!'
Now friends, if this teaches us anything at all it’s that the robots should not be doing your homework.
It also tells us that despite thousands of years of perioding, we still haven’t learned how to talk about it properly.
Period stigma exists because of a lack of education.
Period stigma exists because of shame.
Period stigma exists unless we change it.
Period stigma exists because of ChatGPT.
Like many people in this room, I have endometriosis, which is a condition that affects one in nine people who menstruate. It’s a chronically painful, incurable condition where cells like those of the lining of the uterus that bleeds away in a period grow elsewhere causing inflammation, sticking things together, causing fertility issues for some, and lessening the quality of life for many.
I first presented to a doctor with symptoms when I was a 14. He told me he would put me on the pill to fix it but that would only encourage me to have sex.
The next time I went to a doctor I was 19. I told him my friend had endometriosis and maybe I did too. He said, “oh fun, and where did you and your friend get your medical degrees from?”
The next time I went to a doctor with pain so bad I passed out, he whipped out my perfectly healthy appendix.
The next time I went to a doctor they told me I was tired and anxious.
The next told me I was anxious and tired.
The next told me my pain was panic attacks.
The next told me I was trying to get attention.
And on and on and on until I was diagnosed with chronic pain and endometriosis at 36 years of age.
Period stigma exists because we are dismissed.
We are dismissed because period stigma exists.
Now I can turn to a doctor and say 'No. I know my body. I understand what is supposed to happen during my period, but what is happening is disrupting my life and that’s not right.'
But when I was a kid, we were taught about periods by an awkward young PE teacher we all had a crush on. We learned that periods are blood. Periods are pain. Periods are all about babymaking.
When I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis, I knew something had to change and I was lucky to be working in parliament at the time as a speechwriter. My boss, Tammy Franks MLC and I decided to move a motion to push for endo education in schools.
Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia wanted the same thing so I contacted them and asked if I could help. We made PPEP Talk because it’s crucial for young people to have access to real, engaging, honest and practical menstrual education.
My show Endo Days is a comedy cabaret about chronic illness and it has been the most therapeutic thing to do after being gaslit by medical professionals for 22 years before diagnosis. It is so much fun to do and is very endo-taining.
My book Endo Days is coming out any day now, and it tells my story and the stories of incredible people across the country who are fighting period stigma and working towards justice for menstrual health.
Writing and creating PPEP Talk was one of the greatest joys of my life and all of these projects gave me life through surgeries, trauma, loss and acceptance.
These are the things I'm doing about eradicating the period stigma I have seen all my life and that held me back from so many things.
Because when life gives you painful periods that change the trajectory of your entire life, make periodade.
So where to from here?
Days like this are a bloody good start.
You being here and listening is the key to ending period stigma.
You are changing the world just by just sitting here and also enjoying a lovely morning tea.
You are making it better for 14 year old Libby who, if she’d been diagnosed back then – or even learned properly about menstrual health enough to know that super painful periods aren’t normal – that Libby might have had a different future, a chance at having a baby, or a chance at living a life without the chronic pain that comes with a condition that wasn’t diagnosed for decades.
Without you, we’ll continue hiding pads and tampons up our sleeves when we sneak to the toilet because we’ve 'got our prrddd'. We’ll have to write our own speeches on period stigma because no one has told the robots that periods are normal. And we’ll spend the next 2000 years with roman authors thinking we’re sorcerers who can control the weather and kill the bees.
Period stigma ends with us. It starts by talking about periods like they’re no big thing. As if they’re completely common. Almost like there are 3,905 million people who spend 3500 days menstruating.
Almost like it’s normal. Because it is.
Thanks for being the future. 14 year old Libby and I appreciate you.
South Australia’s first ever Youth Period Summit was hosted by the Commissioner for Children and Young People on Tuesday 11 July at U City in Adelaide’s CBD.
Aimed at young people, educators, and community leaders, the half day Summit was co-designed by a working group of young people who are passionate about menstrual health and period justice. The working group chose ‘Periods. Everyone’s business’ as the overarching theme for the Summit, focusing on a message of inclusivity and de-stigmatisation of periods and menstruation across society.
For too long shame and embarrassment have been defining factors of periods for young people who menstruate. It’s time to change the conversation. Periods are everyone’s business.
Summit Speakers included:
Helen Connolly – Commissioner for Children and Young People, SA Eloise Hall – Managing Director & Co-founder of TABOO Libby Trainor Parker – Health Advocate, Speaker & Performer Dr Monique Mulholland – Senior Lecturer at Flinders University Kirsty Mead – Executive Director of Pelvic Pain Foundation