The side effects of periods are not as commonly known as they should be. Period education in schools can vary dramatically and as a consequence our understandings of periods can also be lacking. The education we get in school can also be a little abstract, focusing more on the biology side of periods rather than the social experience of them. Today, we are going to outline some of the side effects of periods and symptoms linked to periods which are rarely discussed in school and tips on how to cope with them!
Bloating is a common side effect of periods and it is estimated that 70% of women and people who menstruate experience this during their period. Bloating is caused by fluctuation is hormone levels and can be pretty annoying an uncomfortable. Bloating is nothing to be ashamed of and going about your regular day with confidence is highly encouraged! However, if you are looking for methods to try and ease the uncomfortableness, drinking herbal teas, avoiding sugary and fizzy drinks and getting some rest or going for a light walk can help.
Period poop is a real thing! A change in the smell, consistency and frequency of your poop during your period is completely normal. Putting it simply, this happens because prior to your period, your uterus begins to produce chemical which smooth the muscles of the uterus helping it to contract and shed the lining (menstrual blood) every month. If there are left over chemicals or the body has produced too many, they will enter your bloodstream and will smooth other muscles in the body such as your bowels! Being constipated on your period is also very common as low levels of these chemicals can prevent or slow down digestion.
Feeling exhausted during or prior to your period is also completely normal. Menstrual bleeding can lead to exhaustion or tiredness as oestrogen levels drop resulting in your energy levels decreasing. They will increase again after your period. It is important to stick to a healthy sleep pattern and remain hydrated to look after your body, but there is nothing wrong with having a chill shay or an afternoon nap to increase your energy levels! (Chocolate can also help of course!)
To learn more about our education programme and how we aim to discuss the social side of periods in the classroom click here.
Ever had the experience of your pain not been taken seriously, especially when it’s a ‘female problem’. You’re not alone, research into the gender pain bias highlights biases in pain research, managemetn and treatment. With women sometimes stereotyped as a emotional so the pain treated accordingly rather than physical. This video explores some of my experiences
‘Who handles pain better? Women or men?’ This question circled my biology class at school more than once. Frustrating me, definitely more than once. Today, I am not even going to attempt to answer it. Instead I want to shine a light on the harmful inequality and biases which surround pain even today, focusing on the gender pain bias.
Pain difference based on biological sex is tricky to understand, how can we truly ever know what someone else is going through? Well, sadly we can’t. Although there are some pretty incredible researchers out there attempting to uncover more about pain, I will be focusing my attention to the social side of this issue- how pain is perceived and treated. I am not a health professional, but have based this on verified research with the aim to try and demonstrate how instilled and stretched gender biases are within society.
Recently, pain disparity has come to the forefront of our headlines. The Vagina Mesh scandal revealed thousands of faulty mesh implants were implanted leaving women with chronic pain and life long side effects. The needless suffering experienced by these women and the initial dismissal of these women’s complaints highlighted clearly that women’s pain can be institutionally misunderstood and prompted us to question ‘how can this still be happening?’
So what is the pain gap between men and women?
Firstly, it is important to outline the complexity of this issue. Pain disparity does not refer to just one thing. How our bodies respond and experience pain, how treatment responds to our bodies, how healthcare professional perceive our levels of pain and how we explain our pain levels are all unique factors involved and highlight pain’s multifaceted nature.
What I can tell you is that men and women are treated differently when it comes to pain.
Women in emergency departments who have reported acute pain are less likely to be given opioid painkillers compared to men. On top of this, it will take longer for women to receive them compared to men. Another study revealed that in reference to chronic pain women were more likely to suffer from it, yet more likely to be dismissed. Now is this because women experience less pain? Well, no. In 2011 the Institute of Medicine published a report on chronic pain titled ‘Relieving Pain in America’. It found that women tended to suffer more from pain yet their reports were more likely to be dismissed. How we experience pain is too vast and complex to explore within this article, but I encourage you to have a little research yourself as some of the insights are super interesting!
What causes pain to be treated differently is hard to say. Is it implicit gender bias which is instilled within everyone? Is it assumptions about pain and how they impact women? Is it that pain actually impacts different biological sexes differently?
To start with let’s take a trip through history to make my first point…
Healthcare and medicine is never separate from society. Despite striving for objectivity, science, health and medicine have been socially constructed through time and reflect the ideas, movements and people around it. From antiquity to the so called sexual revolution of the 1960s, medical movements and ideas are constructed on the societal attitudes of the time, they are a part of history and therefore replicate the inequalities within its society. (I hope you are still with me- this is heavy stuff, take a breath) Classical Greek philosophers such as Aristotle proclaimed the one sex model which presented the female anatomy as an inverted version of males, and thus inferior. Of course, we have come a long way from Aristotle, but the point stands that medicine has been used as a tool throughout history to subordinate groups of people or justify oppression based on societies desires at any one time. Even within the modern period we can see society and culture interconnecting to science. The so called ‘sexual revolution’ of the 1960s and the greater awareness and access to contraception remained reflective of the half-hearted acceptance of the sexually liberated women. Access was provided to married women only, and commonly only married, middle class women. Society and the ruling elites had not fully accepted the sexually active women and therefore healthcare was not too either. The work of activists, movements and oppressed individuals entering the medical sphere however should not be overlooked. They have made great progress to smash through barriers and overcome biases but more work is still to be done. Medicine is intertwined with the societies and culture it belongs in. Where inequality remains, medicine will reflect it.
So how can this explain the pain disparity? The often citied study “The Girl Who Cried Pain: A bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain” found that women were less likely to receive aggressive treatment and were more likely to for their pain to be characterised as emotional or psychogenic and therefore not as relevant. Now this is relevant to our argument as it can demonstrate how instilled perceptions, stereotypes and assumptions about someone can influence their treatment. Were these women suffering less than their male equivalents? I doubt it. Yet their pain was attributed to emotion. Now this is not harmful for just women, the fact that men’s pain is less likely to be attributed to emotion is dangerous also. Yentl Syndrome also reveals the expectation that women should have to prove their pain is as serious as a man’s to be taken seriously.
The point of reference…
As well as instilled perceptions and stereotypes, the ‘standard’ human being, is male.
The female body is viewed as atypical when it comes to research or points of reference, despite being 50% of the global population. The reference man, used a standard human is usually a white man in his 30s weighing 70kg. Research for example on the prescribed amount of a drug you should take is commonly based on this criterion. Commonly drugs are tested primarily on men leading to unknown consequences for women depsiteit being known that drugs impact the sexes differently due to hormone levels, organ size and body ft composition. Just this year the Food and Drug Administration announced changes to the prescribed dose of Ambien for women. To me that shows the scale of the problem we are facing here. But what harmful effect does this cause? Well it means that the female body is less understood in general. Leeds University researchers revealed that women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed from a heart attack compared to men due to the fact that heart trials typically use male participants.
Now what about actual clinical trials? Well I am sorry to say, these are no better. In 2005 a review of research in the journal of Pain, it was discovered that 79% of pain studies involved only male animals. Now for me there are two issues here, one pain trials for animals (but that is a debate for another day) and two the fact that biological sex seems to have been dismissed.
So back to the attitude towards female pain.
Reproductive female illnesses can demonstrate the lived reality that women’s pain is not taken as seriously as men’s. Worldwide an estimated 1 in 10 menstruators have endometriosis. Despite its prevalence this serious disease takes between 7 and 10 years to diagnose. 7 to 10 years! On top of this, 70% of chronic pain sufferers are women yet 80% of chronic pain study participants are men. Female pain is not recognised for what it is.
As the ‘reference man’ reveals (a white, 30 year old, 70Kg man reveals) there are lots of other factors tied into health inequality other than gender inequality. Race, class, body size to name a few are the other factors at play leading to biases and inequality within medicine. Recently a post went viral outlining the harm caused by the fact that medical textbooks and resources omit black individuals or skin. Conditions such as skin conditions are therefore studied and internalised by medical students using only white skin as reference when the symptoms and signs on black skin may be different. This is another glaring example of the fact that medicine is not equal.
Of course I could go on and on about the pain bias. The biology behind it, the variations across different locations and throughout different cultures. The topic is vast and requires more attention. What I have tried to do today, is shine a light on the reality that pain is viewed differently based on biological sex and this is dangerous. The dismissal of anyone within healthcare can be harmful but when perceptions and procedures become institutional it becomes more dangerous and subtle and thus harder to identify and address. Much more work is still needed to come.
I remember clearly the random career paths and ‘jobs’ I would tell my family were in my future; these ranged from astronaut, to chef, to spy to singer. Of course, all of these seemed super exciting in my head, but to actually pick one and commit to it, that is a completely different ball game.
I floated through High School, enjoying various subjects
which again ranged from P.E to Art to Physics and History and to not sound too big headed, I received pretty good grades and feedback from all of them. I remember the stress of first having to cut down on subjects, having to give some up, possibly forever and commit more seriously to one path. This was not an easy task. I remember thinking to myself, how the hell am I supposed to know what is best, what I enjoy the most and what will be most useful when I enjoyed such a broad range and had little to no idea what I wanted to do in my future. Sadly, when I reflect back now, I think the pressure to pick more ‘academic’ subjects got to me. I held onto P.E for a while, but when it got to the serious years of ‘Highers’ that was dropped too. This frustrates me! I wish I had the confidence to keep going with the subjects which truly brought me joy and interested me. Although some of my higher subjects did, such as History, the amount of science and maths subjects in my timetable was definitely more a reflection of trying to fit into the academic bubble. Again, I did well in my subjects and I tried hard. I have no grounds to complain. But I do think within High School we feel a real pressure to fit a certain mould. We do not spend the time to reflect on what actually makes us happy. What lesson goes so quickly because we enjoyed it all. Rather than what subject ‘might look better on a UCAS form you have not even looked at yet’. We label certain subjects ‘less impressive’ than others which is so wrong. The fear of cutting off opportunities or losing out can definitely kick in. I wish I had spent the time to reflect more.
So what about your future?
Well, throughout my last 2 years in High School the question was raised more and more, what is your plan for after school? This was stressful to say the least. My experience with this question makes me laugh when I look back. I went through so so many different phases, committing myself to one idea, before retracting that quickly and committing myself to another. I remember one rocky few months almost dropping one of my Higher subjects I loved the most, History. I was thinking about studying medicine at University. Thankfully, I stuck with History and realised this desire to study medicine was based on nothing but pressure to do something impressive. I remember going through other weird phases, thinking about studying Physics because it sounded impressive or Physiotherapy because I had liked the Physio treating my recent sports injury. Clearly, what was next for me, was still an abstract confusing question. I honestly had no idea. I know I wanted to go to University, I wanted to experience it, meet new people and give myself the time to figure out what the hell my future would look like. I was studying Physics, Chemistry, Maths, English and History. The social science versus science debate raged in my head. During University Open Days I attended both the science talks and the History ones. Looking back, I literally had no desire to study science. It brought me no joy. I could do it, yes. But I would ask myself, is studying numbers, atoms and tiny little things which mean so little to me what I want to spend the next 4-5 years doing. I wish I had answered that question when still in school. I applied to two Scottish Universities for both Chemistry and History, as well as one application for Chemical Engineering- weird I know. Even weirder in my head was I received offers from all 5 places, I was so lucky, but I do think I was hoping the decision to be made for me. The debate in my head waged on. In my final years of school, when I had all offers I picked Maths, History, Chemistry biology initially. This swapped, thankfully, to English, History and Chemistry. The reason for holding on to Chemistry for so long, makes me laugh and cry in equal measures. If only I could transport back in time and scream at my High School self- you do not need to study Chemistry to feel smart, you hate this class, you hate this topic, give it up! The majority of my close friends were going to study science, maths or medicine, with a few unsure like myself and one (my idol) dropping out to pursue drama. I remember asking to be her manager if she made it, cause that sounded fun! The enjoyment of English and History compared to Chemistry along with my growing confidence in myself made me realise what I actually enjoyed. I also got the opportunity to complete volunteering within local schools running workshops on Holocaust remembrance, inequality and the refugee crisis. Diving into current affairs such as these made me also realise my passions more clearly. Anything with social impact was going to be given a big tick from me…
I finally committed to History, I think the realisation being, I hated Chemistry. It was that simple and it only took me 6 years to figure it out…
I still had no real idea what I would want to do after, which personally did not bother me. In my head, how is a 17 year old with very little experience other than school and a part-time job able to map out her future? The school environment does not accept that as an answer sadly, and the constant questions of ‘oh what are you going to do with a history degree?’ still make me squirm. I remember looking into a Law course as a possible swap from History or a post degree plan just so I had an answer to throw at those who asked.
The course History at University was amazing- the ability to dive into topics linked to gender, race and social issues was so interesting and new to me. I found it so unbelievably interesting. But University as a decision itself was probably a highlight. I met the most amazing people, had the most fun I had ever had, I managed to still work part time but get the freedom which I really craved, most commonly by saving up and finding £20 flights to explore the world anytime me and my friends could!
It was through University that I met Alison, my co-founder and where we began Lilypads.
Starting Lilypads provided me with a drive and passion I had not experienced before and really is what made my University experience what it was.
I had ever given business a thought in the slightest. In my opinion I lacked the skills, confidence, personality and gender being completely honest, to start and run a company when in my head at the time it was tough, arrogant men in suits who did that sort of thing. Luckily, the passion for the mission has kept both me and Alison committed and through this I have learned so much and gained so much experience. So to anyone reading this thinking about University, College or employment, remember it might be the random opportunities that pop up or the project on the side which gives you the most.
Looking back, my main bit of advice for anyone struggling with thinking about the future is that sadly you can not plan your life when you are in High School. You can try and maybe there are those people out there who have set and stuck to one path- but I doubt it. You will change your mind. Opportunities you never expected or thought about in the slightest will pop up and you will learn more about yourself as you grow up and try new things.
Focus on your passions, what gives you energy rather than what drains your energy and what you really care about. It is easier said than done but it is so worth it.
I was ready to leave University in the Summer of 2020, unlike some people I know I was done with studying! When I think back to my 16 year old self dropping subjects like P.E that I enjoyed to take science subjects it makes me sad. But also maybe I would not have had the experiences and realisation I have had without doing so, you can never know. In my opinion everything happens for a reason, I just wish I had figured that out earlier!
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