Dismissing Dysmenorrhea

So, if you have never had bad period pain, how can I convince you that it really is horrible?

You know what bad toothache can be like?

That sort of immersive pain experience that completely consumes you.

There is very little you can do to get relief.  Painkillers barely take the edge off.

Concentrating on anything is virtually impossible.

Thankfully, bad toothache doesn’t come along too often.

But period pain, which is kind of like toothache in the abdomen comes along roughly once a month. I know people who are in absolute agony for a couple of days.

On the Hysteria podcast last week, former White House aide Alyssa Mastramonaco described her lifelong search for the optimum combination of methods of relief for her horrible monthly pain.

When I was a teenager, I used to get such bad pain that I would be sick and sometimes I was at the point of passing out.

This is seriously nasty. And research into alleviating Dysmenorrhea, to give it its medical name, has been relatively sparse and not very well funded.

I was once sent home from school because it was so bad, but I never did that again after getting warned within an inch of my life by my mother.

I was lucky that it got a bit better when I got into my twenties, but some people suffer all the way through their menstruating years.

If you are one of the unlucky ones, you can have 40 years of monthly hell. You have to go through that pain almost 500 times.

It is definitely frowned upon to take time off work for it, although 73% of people surveyed by Bloody Good Period, reported in Glamour Magazine said they had struggled at work because of their periods.

BUPA found that 23% of the women they surveyed had taken time off work due to period problems but they didn’t necessarily tell their boss that was the reason.

But a Cornish school was not sympathetic at all when a teenage girl took a day off because of bad period pain this week. They counted the absence as unauthorised, failing to recognising the debilitating effects of painful periods, particularly in those first erratic years of menstruation.

Marcus Alleyne, who describes himself as the father of three “fierce, brave and intelligent young daughters” has launched a petition to demand that absence from school for period pain is not treated as unauthorised and is taken seriously.

He writes:

For as long as humankind has walked the planet 50% of the human species have been menstruating, it is not only a completely natural occurrence, but it is crucial to the survival of the human race, fact! It is also a known fact that for centuries this recurring cycle has been seen as a weakness by many, particularly by men, and has resulted in decades of inequality, disparity and inequity for women and those who might be necessarily identify as female but still suffer on a regular basis. We are seeing this in action still, presenting through absence policies and school assemblies. How many young females, trans and non-binary pupils are being dismissed within the education setting, as a result of diminishing their experiences, and unilaterally deciding that their discomfort does not matter.

It has attracted over 26,000 signatures in just a few days. I have read some pretty heart-rending descriptions of the pain they suffer from my friends on social media.

This should get us talking about an issue that matters to a significant proportion of the population. It’s time to take period pain seriously and think about how we can best support the women, trans men and non binary people who suffer.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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6 Comments

  • Caron have you read Oona King’s book “House Music”. So moving on her crucifying periods and the impact on her political life (eg a colleague trying to persuade a sceptical Whip on her behalf that she was in agony and simply could not make a vote)

  • Jack Nicholls 1st Oct '21 - 6:19am

    Caron, this is a brilliant piece. I read LDV, Labour List and ConHome every couple of days, and one of the reasons this site is my favourite of the three is because of articles like this that connect human experience – often human suffering – with political thought, in a way that goes beyond rhetoric, partisan brown-nosing or factional bashing. There are posts like that in the red and blue corners, but they are rarer. Reading your words about anything is always moving and thought-provoking. On the subject of dysmenorrhea itself, society has an unempathetic tendency to dismiss or ignore any pain or fear that the dominant group don’t experience. Migraine, diverticulitis, IBS, (peri) menopause and mental ill health all still get patchy amounts of understanding, and it’s that much more preposterous when it’s gendered. Keep being brilliant, we need more of it 🙂

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 1st Oct '21 - 8:00pm

    @Jack: Thank you! That is a lovely comment that has cheered the whole team. It’s very much our ethos to want to bring everything back to real lives. And you are right the lack of empathy from the privileged for all sorts of pain.

    @Ruth: Another book just gone on my to-read list. Thank you!

  • Simon Foster 2nd Oct '21 - 12:29pm

    Brilliant article Caron, one for a PSHE lesson.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Oct '21 - 2:05pm

    Simon – something called the “period bus” visited my son’s school to teach children about menstruation. A welcome openness and change from my convent school in the 1970s/80s where teachers talked in hushed tones about the “curse”!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I agree with everyone else here that this is a great article – very informative. And very educational because it’s describing a problem that I hadn’t really been aware of up to now, and which clearly has an awful impact on a lot of women.

    I also appreciate the way in this article, Caron highlights the problem and the need for us as a society to do something about it, but without trying to score political points or attach blame to any particular groups of people. On a party-political blog, that’s quite refreshing!

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