It’s time to talk: Menstrual health in the U.S.

By Maria Holsopple
March 11, 2021

Despite increasing attention and advocacy, menstruation remains a taboo topic in the U.S., often surrounded by embarrassment and shame. According to a new report by Plan International USA, P&G and Always on period stigma and poverty in the U.S., much work remains to be done to make sure periods don’t get in the way of people reaching their full potential.

The key findings reveal that periods are often associated with negative feelings as more than half of girls report losing confidence at puberty and 47% feel scared when they get their first period. We also learned that a greater percentage of the population feel more comfortable discussing sex, politics, family problems and STDs than periods, so it isn’t completely surprising that periods are often met with such negativity and taboo.


Period stigma

Since so few Americans talk about period health and sexual and reproductive health education is inconsistent, periods remain shrouded in secrecy. That secrecy results in one in four young people not knowing why some people get periods and how to manage them, which leads to an environment where period teasing and shame can thrive. More than a third of young people have experienced jokes and negative remarks about periods.

In addition, period stigma is one part of the interconnected web of gender-based issues. This stigma is somewhat connected to how society perceives women and girls, which in turn affects how they perceive themselves. Unfortunately, the less likely people are to talk about periods, the less likely they are to see girls as risk-seeking and ambitious which continues to reinforce gender stereotypes. People are ten times more likely to describe girls as emotional and three times more as shy versus boys.


Period poverty

Compared to other countries, the U.S. scored remarkedly low on support for talking openly about periods, and on support for sexuality and relationship education. When a normal bodily function of 50% of the population is not understood and talked about, it means issues stemming from that topic go unnoticed and unaddressed.

Period poverty, the inability to buy or access period products, is surprisingly high in the U.S., and this has been aggravated by COVID-19. In 2020, nearly 1 in 5 women struggled to get period products and 25% of adults, particularly parents, are worried about their on-going ability to afford period products.

Pre-pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 girls were missing school because they couldn’t access products. Not having the period protection you need to concentrate in classes can result in negative outcomes including lower academic performance, feeling less confident and ashamed, and missing extracurricular activities and sports.


What to do?

  1. Talk about periods! 85% of young women agree that if they saw others talking openly about periods, they would feel more confident about their own.
  2. Involve men and boys. Periods are a normal part of life, and men and boys should understand that and learn how they can be supportive.
  3. Require quality school-based puberty education for all genders, regardless of where you live.
  4. Remove the tax from periods products. Many states label period products as a luxury good. A normal and healthy part of life is not a luxury.
  5. Require that schools, homeless shelters, prisons and immigration centers provide free period products.

Always and Plan International USA have joined-up for a campaign on normalizing conversations and actions around periods. We encourage you to join the conversation and share your period story. For every story shared from March 8 through May 28, Always will donate a pack of period products to those in need across the U.S.

The more we talk about periods being a normal part of life, the less stigma will exist, and we will be more able to address period-related challenges, like period poverty and endometritis. Let’s work towards a world where people can manage their periods safely and with dignity.



For more articles of this nature, sign up for From Plan to Action, a quarterly newsletter that highlights the technical work of Plan International USA.