Prudish about periods: New survey reveals nation’s awkwardness around periods as WaterAid launches #NoShame campaign

26 May 2017
United Kingdom, Girls and women
A still from the #NoShame film.
Image: WaterAid

Two-thirds of women feel uncomfortable openly carrying their sanitary products to the toilet in public, and around half wouldn’t feel confident to tell their dad or a male boss about period pain or PMT, according to new research released by WaterAid.

The international charity asked over 2,000 women aged 18 and over from across Great Britain about their attitudes towards menstruation and the results show that even today when so many other taboos have been broken, the majority of women feel uncomfortable to be open about periods. Based on the results, the charity has produced an undercover film capturing the public’s awkward reactions to people talking about periods.

WaterAid has launched its campaign saying there should be #NoShame in periods to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May and confront taboos around periods as well as highlighting the issues faced by the one in three women worldwide who do not have access to a toilet during their period. WaterAid is calling on people to sign its Water Fight petition to ensure all schools have toilet facilities, helping keep girls in school.

The survey shows that hiding tampons up your sleeve or taking your whole bag into the toilet at work is probably common for Brits as 65% of women say they would feel uncomfortable carrying sanitary products openly to the toilet. And whilst younger generations may have shed other hang-ups of their parents, they are still as coy about toting tampons or towels with 63% of 18-24 year olds saying they would feel uncomfortable compared with 65% of 45-54 year olds.

Nearly nine in ten (87%) British women would feel uncomfortable putting a sanitary product on the table in a work meeting. In fact, women feel so uncomfortable periods, that 62% would rather attend a formal occasion with a large coffee stain on themselves than carry a sanitary product.

Nearly half of women (47%) would feel uncomfortable talking to their dad about period pain, and 49% wouldn’t feel comfortable confiding in them about pre-menstrual tension (PMT). The younger generation is slighter less embarrassed about confiding in their fathers, with 40% 18-24 year-olds saying they would feel uncomfortable talking with them about period pain compared with 48% of 45-54 year-olds.

The thought of telling a male boss is even more daunting, with 55% of women feeling uncomfortable with the thought of telling a male boss about period pain, while 58% wouldn’t feel confident to tell them about PMT. Sadly, one in twelve (8%) of women would even feel uncomfortable telling their doctor about period pain.

Whilst more than half of women (53%) are confident to ask the occupant of the next-door toilet cubicle for some toilet roll in time of need, only 16% of women would do the same for a spare sanitary pad or tampon. Nearly a third (29%) of women have felt embarrassed buying sanitary products. Younger women tend to find it worse, with 44% of 18-24 year-olds saying they have been embarrassed.

Men are maybe not as abashed about periods as one would imagine. The survey found that 67% men would feel comfortable buying sanitary products for a partner of family member, but only 46% would feel OK asking a shop assistant questions about them. Only 14% of men would feel uncomfortable seeing a female friend or colleague carrying a sanitary product to the toilet in a public place.

However, 64% of men would leave a sanitary product on the ground if they saw a lady drop it in the street; 36% of men would pick it up and run after the lady. Younger men are more likely to retrieve a dropped tampon, with 41% 18-24 year-olds saying they’d pick them up compared to 33% men aged over 55.

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid's Chief Executive, said:

“Every day, 800 million women around the world have their period, yet most of us consider it embarrassing and taboo. Unless we can all talk about periods openly whether we are a teenage girl in Nepal or a government minister, we won’t be able to make sure that women and girls have the decent toilets and sanitary products they need. And the superstitions and taboos that mean too many women and girls live a half-life during their periods will remain unchallenged.

“One in three women around the world do not have access to a toilet during their period. When there are no safe, private toilets in schools, girls often skip school during their period, or drop out of school altogether once they reach puberty.

"We need to talk openly about this issue to remove the silence and stigma that surround periods and help enable all communities and service providers to have the right understanding of good menstrual hygiene practices. Most of all we need to ensure that every women and girl has access to water, safe toilets and somewhere to wash by 2030.”


Watch the film >

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