As the nation is enjoying an incredible summer for women’s sport, more of us than ever are inspired to drag ourselves off the sofa and get those endorphins flowing. But for some women and girls, menstruation can prove a serious stumbling block.
Whereas some of us sail through our periods, others are wiped out by the symptoms, and this can happen at any level of the sport, right up to Olympic sportswomen. However, the stigma around periods prevents some women getting the support they need.
Martha Silcott of FabLittleBag, the biodegradable sanitary bag company, says, “As the subject is rarely discussed openly, it’s easy to assume that there’s no problem around periods. But it’s becoming clear that many women are prevented from month-round participation in sport due to their symptoms and a lack of thoughtful facilities.
“We’ve launched the Blood, Sweat and No Fears campaign to raise awareness and investigate the extent of the issue. The more we talk about this, the more we break down the taboo and demand the right help and facilities.”
What are the issues?
For elite sportswomen, competing whilst suffering extreme symptoms can make all the difference to the outcome, but the symptoms do vary greatly. Paula Radcliffe broke the world record for the women’s marathon despite suffering period cramps, yet others have cited menstruation as a factor in a weaker performance. Former world tennis number one Martina Navratilova told the BBC, “You don’t want to use it as an excuse, but it can affect some players in a big way. I never talked about it but it certainly was there.”
Gynaecologist Dr Anita Mitra, aka Gynae Geek, comments,
“Exercise and sport can be great for boosting your health, wellbeing and confidence. But for some people their period can be a real barrier to this. Concerns about leaking, pain, and generally whether it’s safe are common concerns that my patients voice. I really welcome this campaign so that we can get everyone talking, and help empower them to live their lives the way they wish, period or no period.”
Aside from the medical aspects, there are also practical issues around managing periods, which are seldom acknowledged. When travelling to away fixtures or engaged in outdoor sports, women can find themselves with no way to dispose of tampons and pads.
Martha Silcott adds, “We’ve spoken to hundreds of women about periods and many feel anxiety about disposal. Will there be a sanitary bin, will it be overflowing and untouchable? What if there’s no loo roll? What if I flush my tampon and block the loo? These are real concerns that are not currently being addressed.”
Comment from sportswomen and organisations
Team England came prepared for last summer’s Commonwealth Games, something that was appreciated by Adelle Tracey, the British middle-distance runner. She says, “My roommate and I were most impressed with the FabLittleBags in our room during the prep for Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. When preparing for a championship you can be sharing a room for good couple of weeks and it’s inevitable at least one of you is going to be on a period…
“Blood, Sweat and No Fears is a great platform for people to acknowledge and discuss a ‘taboo’ subject. It needs normalizing as it affects so many sporting individuals!”
Ama Agbeze MBE, former England netball captain, says, “Being on your period is a pain – sometimes literally. It’s a worry in games that you might have an accident which could end up visible to everyone. I’ve had those horrifying day dreams and I know plenty of others who have too.
“Sometimes on your period you just want to crawl up and have a bed day. There shouldn’t have to be a period every month when we struggle (and I don’t mean those days before pay day)!
“I’m also sure lots of people have experienced being on their period and used the bathroom as a guest somewhere, and faced the issue of there not being a bin to dispose of used sanitary items. FabLittleBag is a great solution; and now the only thing to remember is to pack your FabLittleBags alongside your sanitary products of choice”.
Kate Dale of Sport England adds, “It’s astounding that there are still so many taboos surrounding periods – half the world’s population have them for a large part of their life. This squeamishness can stop us taking part in the things that actually make us feel physically and mentally better. I’m delighted to back the Blood, Sweat and No Fears campaign – physical activity is so life enhancing, I don’t want women and girls to feel they have to drop out every month. Sharing our fears and discussing the logistics will really help to feel normal about something that is completely, well, normal”.
It’s important to stress that of course periods are not an illness but part of being a healthy woman. The oestrogen produced during the menstrual cycle contributes to our bone strength, something that is essential to all those who enjoy sport. But it’s also been noted that professional sportswomen sometimes sustain more injuries during their period, suggesting that it makes sense to be in sync with our bodies and adjust our workouts if necessary.
The campaign will run a short survey into women’s experiences, to reveal the extent to which period problems are a factor in sports participation at every level. This will allow sports organisations to respond with the right support.
Martha adds, “This subject has not been properly investigated before so we are intrigued to find out more. That’s why we are encouraging everyone to share the survey widely. There’s a great prize up for grabs as an added incentive for completing the survey! We look forward to sharing the results of the survey next month”.
To encourage women to open up about their experiences with periods and sport, all those answering the short survey will be entered into a competition. One lucky winner will receive a fantastic bundle for a happier period, including a Livia pain relief set (a wearable electronic device offering instant relief from cramps), along with Fit Kit sports shower gel, Freda organic sanitary starter box, plus a 3 month supply of biodegradable FabLitttleBag disposal bags complete with a gorgeous dispenser… worth £175!
To enter the competition and complete the survey, visit bit.ly/bloodsweatnofears