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98% Of Women Experience Pain During Their Periods. Why Do We Still Try To Do It All?

For so long pain has been minimised, and women have been forced to continue as normal. It needs to stop.
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If you’ve ever walked around your workplace, hunched over and cursing Aunt Flo while your insides twist in pain, you’re not alone.

A new study has found that the majority of Australians who menstruate feel unable to complete everyday tasks when they get their period.

Yet, so many still feel obliged to.

So why do so many Australians who menstruate (including cisgender women and people Assigned Female At Birth) feel the need to do this?

How many people struggle with period pain?

The findings come from the Ovira ‘Bloody Big Survey’ on period pain, which is designed to help better understand the challenges people face when it comes to menstruation.

One of the myths they’re tackling is that ‘only a few’ experience period pain. In fact, 98 per cent of respondents said they suffer pain during their cycle. The average level of pain was rated at an eight, on a scale of one to 10. Some experts have even said that period pain can become as painful as a heart attack. 

It’s clear that menstruation pain is not a problem for the few, but rather something that requires action on a larger scale.

Women’s pain during menstruation is a topic that requires everyone’s attention. (Credit: Image: Getty)

Why don’t we honour our pain and rest when we need to?

One of the major issues for period pain awareness is a feeling of lacking support from the medical community to validate that pain.

80 per cent of the respondents had visited their doctor for support in managing their menstruation pain, however 60 per cent said they did not find the advice they were given beneficial.

Unfortunately, the medical profession has a long history of minimising women’s pain.

A 2008 study published in the National Library of Medicine found that people who identify as women were 25 per cent less likely to be prescribed pain medication than those who identify men. This is an example of what experts are dubbing the ‘gender pain gap’, known as the meagre levels of diagnosis, treatment and medication for women experiencing pain, when compared with men.

It is also important to note that most people with endometriosis experience significant pain when menstruating. Endometriosis, when tissue resembling the lining of the uterus grows on other organs, is easily misdiagnosed or missed all together. Executive director and founder of The Fight ENDO Foundation, Maria Kyriakou told the ABC that endometriosis sufferers in the public health system face waits between 12 months and two years for diagnosis, and again for treatment. 

We shouldn’t feel like we must press on despite our pain. (Credit: Image: Getty)

Do people who menstruate have society’s support?

It’s not just in the doctor’s office where people say they struggle to find support. It happens across society, with the workplace being another key location.

In the Ovira study, 92 per cent of respondents said menstrual leave would help them manage their pain, but nearly half felt uncomfortable to even bring up the topic of periods at the workplace.

It is important to note that not all people who menstruate are in support of menstrual leave, with 37 per cent believing it is a backwards step for women in business.

This could be due to existing patriarchal structures that continue to permeate our approach to work, with 35 per cent of respondents saying their key concern is fear that their co-workers or employers would think that they are less capable of doing their job if they asked for menstrual leave.

This is just a small snapshot of the problems that people face when it comes to pain during menstruation, but breaking down the stigma is key to changing these numbers in future.

Many women experience period pain, up to 98 per cent. (Credit: Image: Getty)

What can we do about period pain awareness in our lives?

Alice Williams, founder of Ovira told marie claire Australia that it’s important we are bold in the way we discuss pain.

“Whether it’s in a workplace setting, social setting or with a partner or family, I find it helpful to be super upfront, firm and transparent. You owe it to yourself to be clear about your pain,” she says.

“Make sure you say the word period, toodon’t beat around the bushparticularly where [people who identify as] men are concerned. As uncomfortable as it might feel, the only way [we] are going to break the stigma attached to periods and period pain is by talking about it and bringing it to everyone’s attention.”

Williams, who has suffered with debilitating period pain throughout her life, says that work can be one of the most difficult settings to get real about period pain.

She wants to be clear, while she would encourage all of us to speak up, the onus is on companies to change the way they approach the subject.

It’s Williams’ hope that as the voice of Australians who menstruate get louder, businesses will be forced to listen.

“There’s really only one way we can change the shame or guilt attached to periods, and that’s by talking about it. The more we flex a muscle, the stronger and easier it will become, so the more we talk about periods, the more it will become accepted as a normal part of every [person’s] month!”

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