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Why naturists need to talk about periods
“Menstrual blood is the only type of blood that is not traumatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by women.”
— Judy Grahn
What could be more natural?
India Rakusen’s 2022 podcast, 28ish Days Later, explores the whole bloody story of the menstrual cycle. Early in the series, she introduces the concept of mapping your cycles phases to seasons in a year – winter (menstruation), spring (follicular phase), summer (ovulatory phase), and autumn (luteal phase). Not only is this concept empowering in terms of understanding shifts in moods and energies, I can’t help but think—what could be more naturist?
In many aspects, the menstrual cycle is one of the most natural connections to the earth and moon. (Men’s cycles are more like the day/night cycle, with moods and hormones rising and falling in 24-hour cycles.) In some ways, naturists are aware of this and celebrate it, but in other more practical applications and engrained thinking, there is a lot of oppression.
Expressions and oppressions
At a fringe of both naturism and society, there is free-bleeding and other edgy expressions of menstruation. An example is Swedish naturist Maxinne Bjork, who smudged her naked body with menstrual blood and then shared pictures on Instagram. Anarcho-naturism associates more with free-bleeding, but free-bleeding is not limited to nudity.
For those who fall outside of the free-bleeding community, naturism contains guidelines on how menstruation can work within a naturist community. Having a period is a fact of life. It has similarities to erections in terms of it being an involuntary body function, but it also has important differences in its cycles and non-sexual nature. Although there are guidelines, there isn’t an ongoing conversation about menstruation; it is still considered mostly taboo. This reflects in how the language about it on websites is stale. Unfortunately, when language becomes stale, oppression stays intact.
Getting into specifics, some websites mention tampons and menstrual cups as being options for when a woman has her period. Some websites mention pads (referred to as sanitary napkins, which in itself is outdated language; periods are not dirty or unhygienic), but then go on to over-explain the drawbacks of pads if they go wet and consequently forbid going into swimming areas, as if an adult woman would be unaware of the conflict. Other websites incorporate policing of the types of underwear/clothing that a woman should wear if she requires that to support her period.
Are these rules body acceptance?
These rules introduce a conflict between regulating clothing under the guise of naturist values and regulating bodies of people who menstruate. On the surface, there is choice, but when choice crosses into the world of clothing and policing, the message becomes “your body is yours until I say it isn’t.”
This relates in particular to the choice of clothing. Who gets to determine what is naturist and why? Must it be 100% organic cotton or is lace acceptable? Are there minimum rises to the hip that must be met? Can it be adorned with bows or lace or other items common in women’s clothing?
The bigger question on my mind is: How do these rules demonstrate respect for the absolute naturalness of a woman’s cycle? Not just in terms of being regulated in an appropriate manner, but in being welcomed and celebrated? Are these rules body acceptance?
It wasn’t until the past month that I began to understand the importance of writing about this more publicly. A younger naturist woman’s social media post about a desire to break free of shame and stigma surrounding periods was a point of inspiration. In the photo, she was wearing period underwear, something not referenced in any naturist materials. How can naturism be inclusive of younger women if we are not current with their forms of period care?
As I get older, I become more strong in my conviction that younger women shouldn’t have to do the work that older women have navigated but not been able to change. I include myself in that area of “older” although I still menstruate. Like many women my age, menorrhagia is now a regular occurrence. Tampons and cups might have supported me in the past. Now, they are not as effective and I’m unsure of my path forward. As I navigate this, I recognize my responsibilities for opening doors for the women behind me.
Questions I ask myself: Would I feel conspicuous wearing clothing on my bottom? What would I say if someone came up and policed me for it or gave me a look? Would the conflict be worth my efforts or would I be better off staying at home? What does it mean that I open up the option of staying at home? Why am I the one considering this choice when dealing with other people’s discomfort of something natural? Who is responsible for setting the tone and what do we need to do to continue to change?
Finding your own freedom
Personally, I find top freedom to be more important to me than bottom freedom. I’m fortunate in that it’s legal where I live, although legal doesn’t always make it accessible for many reasons. If I can be top-free and comfortable, I’m pretty happy unless I want to go swimming. It sits poorly with me that someone else wants to regulate something as secondary as bottoms in these circumstances. I wonder what would happen if I wore bottoms every cycle, especially period pants that are suitable for swimming. Would it sever any kind of stigma?
It surely takes multiple voices to round out and continue developing hidden subjects like these; lived experiences have such an enormous amount of variety. I hope others start to grow empowered and add their voice to this conversation; whether it’s by sharing experiences or opinions or else by listening and asking questions, it’s an important conversation to bring forward. It may not be the topic of every meeting, but it’s a monthly reality for people who have periods—on average, there are 451 menstrual cycles in a lifetime. That’s worth something. That matters enough for a conversation.
In the meantime, I’ll look for my red tent, pour a glass of merlot, grab my favourite book to curl up with for the next 5 days, and leave you with this magnificent soliloquy from Fleabag:
“I’ve been longing to say this out loud—women are born with pain built in, it’s our physical destiny—period pain, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it with ourselves throughout our lives,” Belinda says. “Men don’t. They have to invent things like gods and demons... they create wars so they can feel things and touch each other… and we have it all going on in here. Inside, we have pain on a cycle for years.”
And then, she continues, “just when you feel you’re making peace with it, what happens? The menopause comes, the fucking menopause comes, and it is the most wonderful fucking thing in the world. And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get fucking hot and no one cares. But then you’re free, no longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts, you’re just a person, in business.”
“I was told it was horrendous,” Fleabag says.
“It is horrendous, but then it’s magnificent,” Belinda replies. “Something to look forward to.”
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