Let's talk periods.

Now before you think "Periods? TMI. Gross" and click away, just bare with me for a moment please. This isn't one of those, oh wow look at how we're all syncing our cycles and craving chocolate L-O-L period posts.

Today I'm getting serious because I want to talk about period poverty. Yep, this is a real thing and it's happening right here in the UK - in Brighton of all places. How can there be girls and young women without access to basic health products right here in our affluent city?

I don't know about you, but I think it's unacceptable that there are girls in this city - this country - the world! - without access to sanitary products. It's time to get serious about ending period poverty.

Did you know that 15% of girls in the UK have struggled to afford menstrual sanitary products, and 12% have had to improvise, using other products to act as towels and tampons? And 14% said they didn't know what was happening when they started their periods.*

Personally, I found these stats completely shocking. Maybe I'm naive but until recently, I had no idea this was such a big issue in this country.

Think back to when you started your period, and imagine how it would have felt to not be able to afford tampons and have no-one to talk to about it. And then imagine feeling like that every single month. Think of the affect that would have on your mental health.

I didn't get my period until I was 16, so I was fully aware of what to expect and prepared with a stash of products. But even I still suffered from period shame. I was a 16-year-old girl and all my friends had their periods already, even my younger sister had hers, so where was mine? Add to that the bee stings under my vest which caused all the girls to ask me if I was 'ever going to get boobs' and you can see why I spent my teen years worrying that I wasn't 'normal' and feeling completely embarrassed by my body. I remember wishing and wishing for my period to come - now, of course, I wish it would bugger off!  

The thing is, periods are a bit like sex: if we don't talk about them openly and discuss how different everyone's experience can be, then they'll remain clouded in mystery and young girls will assume they're something to be ashamed of.

Of course, it doesn't help that the government deemed sanitary products to be luxury, non-essential items when they passed the Tampon Tax. For anyone who's ever experienced a period, I think we can all agree that a luxury it is not. The lining of your uterus seeping out of your vagina is one thing, but don't even get me started on the mood swings that have you crying at detergent ads, the cramps that have you bent over in agony and, of course, the fashion limitations - white is a no go if aunt Flo is in town. No, periods are no picnic. And nevertheless she persists. Because that's what we have to do. We have no choice but to purchase these items every month and go about our lives in spite of our periods. So, quite rightly, the Tampon Tax left us feeling somewhat aggrieved. I suppose we can at least take comfort in the announcement earlier this year that money from this tax will be spent on causes trying to end period poverty. But the truth is, ending it and fighting the stigma around periods shouldn't be the women's burden.

Not only is the lack of access to sanitary products dangerous to a girl's health, but the effects of being bullied and so embarrassed that they feel they have to miss school, is also dangerous to their mental well-being and their education. So what do we do to end this? 

We, personally, can start by ending the stigma around periods so young girls don't feel embarrassed to talk about what is happening to their bodies and ask for help. We can begin by talking more openly and honestly about periods. Remember that viral video titled If Men Had Periods? In it men were openly discussing their time of the month and clearly had no shame - it was just a natural, normal part of life. That's what we need to do, we need to own the period conversation and stop the stigma defining us when we're on.

We can also demand more for girls in our areas. I recently came across this e-petition to implement free sanitary products in schools to counter period poverty in Brighton & Hove. If you'd like to support this petition, please click here. Look out for petitions in your area - or start your own! Demand that the government takes responsibility for this issue. 

Girls and young women should not be ashamed, held back, or at any sort of disadvantage, simply because they are female. Period. (See what I did there!)

*Statistics found on the council's e-petition page here.

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