"We need to rewire our brains to change how we think about periods" 1 month ago

"We need to rewire our brains to change how we think about periods"

"Yes, we can learn shame. But we can unlearn it too."

A few weeks back, people complained about a tampon ad. Then, people complained about the people who complained about the tampon ad.

They took to Twitter, they took to the airwaves, and they took to Jenny Keane's DMs.

A holistic sex educator and period power advocate, she was inundated with messages from people who couldn't believe that an advert about correct tampon usage had been deemed offensive. 

Having been involved in a broad range of holistic and sexual health workshops over the years, Jenny was aware of the issues that many people still face when it comes to their bodies - and how little they know about them too.

“I found that I was working with people and a lot of them didn’t have the basic information needed to address their issues," she tells Her.

"People are really uninformed about their bodies, they’re mystified."

This lack of education came to the forefront when the aforementioned tampon advert was banned due to the "widespread offence" it caused.

The ad was mildly cringey, sure, but it was lighthearted. And most importantly, it was educational - encouraging tampon users to "get 'em up there girls!", a point that desperately needed to be made based on the numbers of women who still report discomfort while wearing a tampon incorrectly. 

84 people complained about the Tampax ad. Enough by ASAI standards to have it taken off the air.

Following the news, the presumption was that the complaints came from a majority male viewership. 50/50, at the very least.

That was until the ASAI revealed that 83 percent the complains actually came from women - a breakdown that is surprising... Right up until the point that it is not.

“Shame is a powerful master emotion that governs us in ways we’re not even aware of," says Jenny.

"It’s always in the background and it thrives on the fear that we’re not good enough. It’s everywhere, but it’s not inherent to our nature.

"If you look at kids, they rarely have shame around their bodies, they are fully confident. It’s a learned process, but it’s a very powerful process too."

 

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As we get older, says Jenny, we learn to become ashamed of our bodies. Being told to look a certain way, being told to cover up, being told that your own body is not good enough. "It's self propagating," says Jenny. "It's ingrained."

"We start to think that there’s something wrong with us," she says. “If we look at the way we talk about menstruation, we tend to use euphemisms like 'shark week' or 'on the rag.'

"We need to look at why we’re using those terms. They perpetuate the idea that our bodies are a burden, but really that’s an idea that has been given to us.

"Yes, we can learn shame, but we can unlearn it too."

Jenny uses her workshops to educate, but also to shift the ways we speak about - and in turn, think about - menstruation and sex.

Instead of avoiding discussing our sexual health, we should embrace it. Instead of using euphemisms for periods, we should call them what they are. Instead of describing pads and tampons as "sanitary products," we should use the term "menstrual care products."

"We need to rewire our brains to change how we think about periods," says Jenny. "Calling them 'sanitary products' gives the impression that periods are dirty, that our bodies need to be cleaned up and hidden.

"Take pride in your body. We all grow up with the idea that the menstrual cycle is something that happens to us and that we’re the unlucky ones and we just have to put up with it.

“Young girls who are educated and informed about their periods are excited to get them. Girls who aren’t told are terrified. If we were all taught properly about menstruation in sex education classes - not as something to be feared but as a cycle that is a powerful indicator of your health for the rest of your life - things would be different."

 

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And they could still be different, too. It's nobody's fault that we've be taught to think about our bodies this way, says Jenny. This is our society and this is how it operates.

Slowly but surely, more and more people have started speaking openly and honestly about their bodies, their sexual health, and of course, their periods.

Where we once hid our tampons up our sleeves, we now display them prominently on the way to the bathroom. Where before we were terrified someone would hear us opening a pad in the stall, we now rustle without fear. Where we once were ashamed to talk about periods, we now speak freely.

The above is at least true for some people - those who have sought out education and allowed themselves to unlearn the shame they had been taught.

But what about those among us who aren't quite there yet? Who are unsure, who feel weird about it, who just don't get it?

Jenny says that while you can't force someone not be offended by an advert, you can tackle how you feel about it first. It's not worth focusing on the people who don't get it, but those who might be able to soon.

“When we feel uncomfortable or nervous about something we need to ask, what am I being repelled from? Why am I moving away from that topic?" she says.

"It’s difficult to break a habit or pattern, but if you commit yourself, when the opportunity arises you will be able to open up what might have been previously shut down.

"These small conversations can happen in your own friend groups, but slowly they’ll give other people the confidence to open up. Saying something as simple as 'God I’ve been floored by my period this week' or 'Do you have a tampon?' without hiding it can make all the difference.

"If you’re talking to somebody who is so anchored in their beliefs, maybe even if they don’t get it right away, a seed has been planted. And that seed can grow. There were 84 complaints, but how many people didn’t complain? We need to start somewhere."

You can follow Jenny on Instagram and find out more about her sexual health and menstruation workshops here.