Gen Z Women Are More Comfortable Talking About Reproductive Health
For decades, women have been made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for speaking up about their reproductive health. Opening up about menstrual pain and bleeding is often met with silence or disapproval, even in professional settings, where it should be normalized.
Back in 2012, the period-care brand Carefree released a commercial for their pantyliners that received criticism and disapproval from many viewers. The advertisement simply explained that "even that bit of discharge in-between our period is our body working to keep the vagina healthy."
Despite the negative reaction from some of the public, this became a huge milestone. It was the first time a major brand used correct terms, rather than euphemisms, to describe the menstrual cycle.
Are we seeing a shift?
Since Carefree's commercial aired nearly a decade ago, we've seen more period-care brands follow suit. Bodyform, one of the U.K.'s biggest period brands, received a mixed reaction after their advertisement, titled "Blood Normal," aired in 2017. They broke the stigma by being one of the first brands to feature red blood being poured on to an absorbent pad, rather than the typical blue liquid we were used to seeing.
The advertisement goes on to show a man purchasing a packet of pads and a woman showering with blood trickling down her legs. These are important images to share, as it changes the way people view periods. Bodyform broke down unrealistic standards by showing periods are normal and that speaking about them shouldn't be taboo.
In September 2020, Modibodi, an underwear brand designed to protect against period and bladder leaks, released "The New Way to Period," a short film that focused on the stigma surrounding periods and the need to move forward. It celebrated diversity and feeling comfortable in your own body, a message especially important for a younger audience who could already be experiencing period-shame.
Sex educator Katie Haan questions the norm that girls shouldn't talk about sex or their bodies, including their menstrual cycle. Watch the full interview here.
Despite the uplifting messages throughout the film, it received mixed reactions from viewers. Some labeled it "gross" and "inappropriate," and Facebook temporarily banned it for being "sensational."
"This film wasn't made to be deliberately provocative and sensational, but to show the natural, real nature of periods and the fact people have the option to choose reusable products to manage their period," said a Modibodi spokesperson when Giddy reached out for comment. "While it made some people uncomfortable, that presented an opportunity to question why period conversations make people uncomfortable."
It's clear there's still a long way to go before everyone feels comfortable discussing reproductive health matters, but there has undoubtedly been a shift across generations, especially with patients feeling more comfortable expressing their concerns in the doctor's office.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Lunette, a menstrual cup company, revealed 83 percent of Gen Z felt comfortable discussing their reproductive health, compared to 72 percent of millennials.
"In general, people are more open to discussing health matters, in particular sexuality and sexual health, as compared to when I started practicing 17 years ago," confirmed Megan Gray, M.D., an OB-GYN at Orlando Health Physician Associates. "I think there has been a general shift in our culture as a result of social media that has created a more open discourse about sexual health, especially in the younger population."
What's caused this shift and why does it matter?
Due to the popularity and rise in social media, there are bigger and better ways to reach a wider audience now. Celebrities and public figures are beginning to raise awareness surrounding reproductive health concerns, including endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which helps more women recognize the signs and seek the support they need.
Period companies are working to spread uplifting messages by pushing out advertisements that depict real periods more people can understand and relate to. It's not acceptable to show blue liquid and women running down the beach while on their period anymore, as this implies all periods are carefree and painless. Removing the stigma that's been present for decades can only happen by being direct and having honest conversations.
"Women's health has been a massively understudied area so far, so the more we talk about the challenges and try to find solutions, the more there will be funding for research and we are able to find better solutions for women's health," said Miia Kankaanpää, chief of menstrual matters for Lunette.
If more women are accepting of their bodies and feel comfortable enough discussing their reproductive health with a doctor, this will play a huge role in the treatment they receive. This can help many women live more comfortably and potentially save lives.
"For those folks who are uncomfortable, I recommend they seek out a physician who they feel comfortable speaking with in general," Gray advised. "Establishing a general rapport with your physician may take a visit or two. If, after meeting the physician, you don't get the right vibes, then find someone else."