Talking about periods in North America is, at worst, embarrassing (which obviously needs to change), but it's not putting women in any danger.
That's not the case for women and girls in low and middle-income countries, where the taboo around vaginal bleeding is endangering their lives, according to new research.
A new study published in BMJ Global Health says that a "culture of silence" around vaginal bleeding, from getting your period to bleeding after childbirth to menopause to miscarriage, is putting them at risk for serious health problems, as many are unable to tell the difference between normal and abnormal bleeding.
"In many societies, cultural taboos frequently hinder open discussion around vaginal bleeding, restricting information and early access to healthcare," researchers wrote.
Women in these countries, according to the study, are afraid, embarrassed or misinformed abut vaginal bleeding. There's also limited access to clean water and sanitation.
"Yet societal taboos around open discussion of vaginal bleeding mean that many young women are not even told that they will have a monthly period, let alone be able to manage it hygienically and with dignity due to the absence of clean water, sanitation, and supplies of soap and sanitary products," said lead researcher Dr. Marni Sommer in a news release.
Societal taboos around open discussion of vaginal bleeding mean that many young women are not even told that they will have a monthly period.
"Sparse sanitation may make it harder for women and girls managing the range of vaginal bleeding, including monthly menstruation, to take part in routine daily activities such as participating in school or work, going to the market or fetching water."
The researchers suggest that countries improve their health systems to help girls and women understand the difference between normal and abnormal bleeding, as well as increase health promotion and improve the availability of safe sites for sanitation, clean water, and supplies.
Not having these things "may deter healthcare seeking when needed," note the researchers.
In many societies, cultural taboos frequently hinder open discussion around vaginal bleeding, restricting information and early access to healthcare.
Yet even in Canada, where we have access to free healthcare, and sanitary products are readily available, not everyone can afford the basics.
For homeless women (and trans men) and those with limited income, getting a period can cause additional hardship and stress.
According to research paper The State of Homelessness in Canada, 2016, as many as 235,000 Canadians experience homeless in a year, and women make up 27 per cent of that.
For those who get a monthly period, it can be expensive and complicated. As the Toronto Star notes, "it means that once a month the stressors of life on the margins —where to sleep, what to eat and how to stay safe and maintain dignity — are compounded by the challenges of staying healthy and clean during their menstrual cycle."