In Australia, there are more than five million women of menstruating age. So why are periods still such a source of embarrassment? I spoke to Elizabeth Chapman, Director of Lunette Menstrual Cups Australia, about why we need to break the period taboo and rethink menstruation.
Women menstruate from around the age of 11 until they're about 45 years old, with each period lasting from three to seven days. This means that women will spend about six and a half years of their lives in menstruation.
And yet, the word 'period' is often whispered amongst friends, attempted to be kept a secret from male friends or family members and tampons hidden in our closed fists as we scuttle to bathrooms to avoid the embarrassment of anyone knowing that we have a functioning menstrual cycle.
"I’ve noticed that a lot of women still see periods as ‘secret women’s business’. A lot of women don’t even call it their period, they’ll say something like 'Aunt Flow’s coming to town', almost like we have to use code to try and talk about it," Elizabeth says.
I'm not suggesting we change our Facebook statuses to 'I'm menstruating' each month, or let our bus driver know how heavy our flow is that day, but rather embrace menstruation as a natural and unembarrassing part of being born female.
Perpetuating a sense of shame and disgust about periods creates a dangerous culture of silence around women's reproductive health that isn't conducive to feeling in-tune with the delicate signals our bodies are constantly sending us, and viewing 'period' as a dirty word means that serious women's health issues like endometriosis and ovarian cysts are often dismissed or go undiagnosed.
Periods are a great indicator of our overall health, and we should monitor them as closely we would our breathing, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists even recommends that menstrual history should be viewed by doctors as a vital sign when evaluating the health of girls and adolescents.
One way to keep a closer eye on your menstrual cycle - and to save money, time and reduce your environmental impact - is to make the switch to sustainable menstrual products like Lunette's reusable menstrual cup.
Menstrual cups are bell-shaped silicone cups that give you a comfortable, safe, odourless and eco-friendly alternative to tampons during your period. But why should you make such a big leap of faith and stop using the sanitary products you've relied on for decades without issue?
One of the most obvious reasons to switch, says Elizabeth, is for the money you'll save. It's hard to believe, but the average woman will spend over $12,000 to $18,000 on menstruation-related products during her lifetime.
"You only need one cup for ten years, which is $55 for a decade, as opposed to nearly $2,000 for ten years' worth of tampons or pads," Elizabeth says.
Another - and the reason that Elizabeth says seems to be converting a lot of women to menstrual cups - is to help play a part in the war on waste. The average woman will accumulate one shopping bag of waste per period, which will amount to between 11,000 and 17,000 tampons and/or pads in their life. Products like Lunette are reusable, so you won't have to throw anything in the bin for up to ten years.
Menstrual cups are also incredibly convenient - you'll never have to make a mad dash to the shops or get one from a friend if you run out, and unlike tampons, you can safely keep them in for up to 12 hours. You can also measure how much blood you're releasing, which is helpful if you suffer from heavy periods and need to monitor them.
"If you’ve got a busy job or you’re a mother and you’re too busy to even pee, let alone manage your period, Lunette cups help you to get more playtime," says Elizabeth.
It's understandable if you're still hesitant to shake up a routine that affects one of the most intimate areas of your body and Elizabeth gets asked tonnes of questions from nervous women. One the most common being 'isn't it messy?'
"People just imagine that [removing the cup] is a big massacre," she laughs. "You just bring the cup out gently and slowly. If you take care with it, it’s really no different to pulling out a tampon."
You probably have a lot more technical questions, which I'll let Elizabeth and her team answer over in their FAQ section, but it's amazing to see the work that Lunette - and others - are doing to address the period taboo and move towards period positivity.
Free period-tracking apps like Clue and Eve can help you monitor your cycle, get personalised reminders about your period, PMS, ovulation and fertility and gain a deeper understanding into what exactly happens inside your body during each menstrual cycle. And let me tell you, it's fascinating.
Charity The Rough Period provides women sleeping rough in Sydney with safe and clean sanitary items, aiming to eliminate the impossible choice between food or essential menstruation items that homeless women are often forced to make.
Lunette - along with other sustainable menstrual companies - also launched their Sustainable Period Project this year, which aims to educate school children about sustainable period practices by supplying all schools in Australia and New Zealand with a free sample kit. The aim is to ignite conversations about sustainable menstrual options at a grassroots level.
"In classrooms, when kids learn about personal development, the boys are taken to one room to learn how to put condoms on bananas and girls are taken to another to talk about periods," Elizabeth says. "If the school curriculum taught both boys and girls the same things, then it’s going to break down the barriers and make periods less secretive and more normal."
I've been harping on about menstrual cups to anyone who will listen for about a year, and each friend I've managed to convert has been as thrilled as the last. So, if you're intrigued by the prospect of a future with no tampons or pads, and less time spent changing them in bathroom stalls, give them a go.
To celebrate International Women's Day, Lunette is offering you a 15% discount throughout March - just enter IWD2018 at the checkout.