Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Menstrual shame, body shame and sexuality

Cycles of shame: menstrual shame, body shame, and sexual decision-making

(an article about how our view of our body, our view of the menstrual cycle and our experiences around sexuality are linked)

from the Journal of Sex Research, Nov, 2005 by Deborah Schooler

Although menstruation is a natural, reproductive process, it bears a strong cultural taboo that commands that it not be seen, discussed, or in most ways, acknowledged (Kissling, 1996a; Roberts, 2004). This desire to keep menstruation secret is often paired with an attitude that menstruation is dirty and disgusting (Martin, 1996; Roberts). Many girls report shame about being seen with a menstrual product or, worse yet, about bleeding through clothing, and some adolescent girls report that they are embarrassed simply by the fact that they menstruate (Lee & Sasser-Coen, 1996; Kissling, 1996b; Roberts). These feelings are likely compounded by media portrayals of menstruation as a hygienic crisis (Havens & Swenson, 1988; Raftos, Jackson, & Mannix, 1988; Simes & Berg, 2000).

Shame about menstruation is often extended to the vagina and its surrounding areas, which are considered by many women to be unspeakable and upleasant (Braun & Wilkinson, 2001; Lee & Sasser-Coen, 1996; Reinholtz & Muehlenhard, 1995). Participants in Lee and Sasser-Coen's (1996) qualitative study spoke of menarche as an experience that "contaminated" their bodies, and their genitals in particular. Despite recent attempts to celebrate the form and function of women's anatomy, such as Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues," and the growing comfort some women have with their bodies, it is still common for women to feel shame about their bodies, to use euphemisms so as to avoid naming their genitals (Braun & Kitzinger, 2001), or to experience confusion about the makeup of their external genitalia (Kirby, 1998). What are the implications of feeling shame about menstruation and the body? Conversely, might women's comfort with menstruation promote well-being in other areas of their lives?

This study considers how shame about menstruation is related to sexual decision-making. Because menstruation and sexual activity often share the same intimate location on women's bodies, shame regarding menstruation might influence a woman's general approach to her sexuality. Furthermore, girls are often socialized to connect menstruation with sexuality. Many girls first learn about menstruation in sex education classes, where both menstruation and sex are presented as means to the end of procreation (Martin, 1987).

At the same time, much of early mother-daughter communication about sex focuses on menstruation (e.g., O'Sullivan, Meyer-Bahlburg, & Watkins, 2001), and likewise, much early communication about menstruation and menarche focuses on the emerging sexual potential inherent in a developing woman's body (Lee & Sasser-Coen, 1996). Because of these connections, girls' and women's attitudes about menstruation might shape their developing beliefs about sexuality and the sexual decisions they make, even when they are not menstruating.

read more (long article, another 19 pages):;col1


Anonymous said...

I've never felt shame or embarassment about my period or sexuality, but it's really too bad that a lot of girls and women do. To me calling it "the curse" is what should be considered shameful.

Jennifer Boire said...

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Anonymous said...

hi thank you!

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