We Need to Talk About Periods… Period

Image courtesy of Patricia Moraleda.

“If physicians don’t even want to talk about periods, it furthers the stigma of literally being a woman and seeking care as a woman,” said Dr. Linda Fan, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University.

Regular menstruation is an important indicator of health in adolescents, and abnormalities in menstruation may indicate current or future health concerns. Because over half of the world population will menstruate at some point, education on and access to menstrual hygiene products is crucial. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend clinicians provide anticipatory guidance on menstruation to patients at ages seven or eight. However, a recent study on local, low-income adolescents has found that this standard is not always met.

The study, led by Yale Medical School student Amelia Trant and Dr. Fan, focused primarily on Black and Latino adolescents. They found that only approximately fifteen percent of providers consistently ask their female patients about menstrual products, and forty-four percent of providers are concerned their patients cannot afford menstrual products. These results paint a less than optimistic picture of menstrual health in the United States.

“Adolescence is a crucial point of entry into healthcare,” Fan said. Yet taboos surrounding menstruation add to the existing barriers that prevent access to menstrual health products and education. Furthermore, with the rising rates of childhood and adolescent obesity, the average age of menarche, the onset of menstruation, is decreasing. Thus, current educational approaches and standards must be re-evaluated to meet changing demographics.

Despite these results, Fan is optimistic. Over the last decade, the increasing number of studies on menstrual healthcare has attracted more attention to the new standards that must be set. “We are only in the beginning stages of change. The real benefit will be seen in the next decades,” Fan said,