Here are some of the people trying to fix period education across North America

True or false? People who get periods can sync up their menstrual cycles with their friends. 

“True,” said Toronto resident Sarah Hall.

“I think that’s false,” said Tovan Lew, another Torontonian. 

Period syncing isn’t real. Experts have pointed out for years that there’s no biological evidence for it. 

“If it were true, I would tell you,” says Dr. Jen Gunter, a Canadian American gynecologist whose recent book Blood looks at the myths and shame around menstruation. “That’s something that really rocks a lot of people’s worlds.” 

In fact, anecdotal experiences of cycle-syncing likely boil down to math: If one person gets their period every three weeks, while another gets theirs every five weeks, there will eventually be overlap in the cycles.  

It’s just one of dozens of period myths circulating online. Many such myths have been around for ages. But platforms like TikTok and Instagram are causing them to spread faster and reach a wider audience. A quick scan on the app will pull up videos of young women telling their audiences that papayas induce periods — one video has over three million views — even though there’s no evidence backing that claim.

WATCH | Is cycle-syncing real? What people in Toronto think: 

Is ‘cycle-syncing’ a real thing?

CBC talks to people on the streets about ‘cycle syncing’ — the idea that women’s periods will sync if they are in close quarters to each other — to see how widespread this belief is.

Or that organic tampons, while pricey, are safer than regular tampons. (Experts say they are about the same, safety-wise.)

From new books to university groups and OB-GYNs appearing on social media, a movement of people is trying to change how we talk — and learn — about our periods.

“Why are our schools not teaching people basic biology? We need to do a better job at a public health level, teaching people the basics,” said Gunter.

Why myths are harmful

Another corner of social media advocates for “free bleeding,” where people toss away their period products — tampons, pads, menstrual cups — and let the blood flow. Some influencers say free bleeding lessens cramps and can shorten periods.

“We have no data to say that menstrual products cause pain or cramping, or they increase your flow. That is all completely made up,” Gunter said. 

“The harm is people thinking that if they don’t use menstrual products, that their terrible cramps are going to go away, and so they sit at home bleeding as opposed to getting medical care,” she said. 

Pads and tampons are seen on a red background.
Women’s health research has long been underfunded, and the science behind periods can seem particularly thin. Many experts have been calling for a fundamental change in how this research is funded. (La corneja artesana/Shutterstock )

Women’s health research has long been underfunded, and the science behind periods can seem particularly thin. Leah Hazard, midwife and author of the book Womb, told the New Yorker that during a review of scientific studies she found about 400 studies on menstrual fluid — compared to more than 15,000 about semen. She blamed the period “yuck factor” for dissuading related research. 

That’s one reason why period myths can be harmful. And there’s more. Myths can mislead people into purchasing expensive, unnecessary products or, in the case of free bleeding, to avoid much-needed products altogether. They can even encourage risky behaviour: It’s not hard to find social media videos that falsely claim women can’t get pregnant while menstruating. 

Gunter has long been campaigning for better research and education around women’s health, and she says that the increasing use of social media is making this task even more urgent. 

Gen Z students are teaching Gen Alpha the truth about periods  

The Menstrual Society at the University of New Brunswick was created in 2022 to try and improve period education in their community. 

Club co-founder and future medical student Kate Palmer, 22, says the group’s original goal was to make period products accessible for students on campus, but they’ve since expanded to include workshops for students in elementary, middle and high school. 

WATCH | The differences in how people experience periods: 

It’s not ‘just’ a period: How people experience menstruation differently

Once a month, some people have a period — the shedding of the lining of the uterus. But depending on a few factors, periods can be very tough for some.

“I didn’t take away very much from what I learned in school,” Palmer says. “We knew that the only way to increase conversations and start reducing stigma was to start at a young age.”

So, Palmer and her team started introducing young students to the ins and outs of periods. The point, she says, is to teach kids about periods — what they are, what they can feel like — and to de-stigmatize them. They’ve hosted 47 workshops, with more in the works.

Notably, the workshops are for girls and boys. 

“Every person who doesn’t have a period is going to have someone in their life who has a period,” she said. “Obviously you have mothers, you have girlfriends, sisters, friends — anyone. So not understanding what’s going on in their life, you’re not going to be able to support them.”

WATCH | Dr. Jen Gunter on organic period products: 

Organic period products aren’t better, says doctor

Experts are busting the idea that organic period products are better than the non-organic. Dr. Jen Gunter says this belief is brought to you by ‘people who want you to pay more so they can make more money.’

A growing period education movement

Palmer and her team are part of a growing trend. 

Students, experts and politicians all over Canada and the U.S. are introducing initiatives that normalize periods and period talk: This year, Washington, D.C., introduced mandatory period education in its classrooms, and several doctors, including OB-GYNs, have viral social media accounts that debunk all sorts of women’s health myths, including those centred around periods. 

WATCH | More on Gunter’s career and her book, Blood: 

Destigmatizing menstruation and women’s health

Canadian gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter discusses her career, destigmatizing women’s health and her new book, Blood.

But separating fact from fiction can be difficult, Gunter says, so it’s important to know what to avoid. 

“You should never get health advice from anybody selling a product,” Gunter says. “Block them. They’re there to make a sale.” 

 Gunter also advises people to follow experts with appropriate credentials.

“People don’t deserve your time. They need to earn it.

“Are they an OB-GYN? Are they a family physician? Are they somebody with expertise?”

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