1 in 4 UK women don't understand their menstrual cycle

23 May 2017

News research shows a shocking 1 in 4 UK women don't understand their menstrual cycle. So this Menstrual Hygiene Day, we’re determined to open up the conversation about periods - and put taboos to rest. 

1 in 4 women in the UK don't understand their menstrual cycle. Photo: ActionAid

Do you understand how your menstrual cycle works? If you don't, you're not alone. New research carried out by YouGov for ActionAid found that a quarter of women in the UK who are aged between 16-39 don't understand their menstrual cycle.

Taboos and secrecy around periods affect women and girls across the world.

So we're kickstarting a conversation in the run up to Menstrual Hygiene Day this Sunday, so that women and girls aren't held back by a natural process that should be celebrated not shamed.  

Our YouGov poll asked 2,140 men and women in the UK aged 16 and over about their attiudes towards periods, to uncover how comfortable people are about talking openly about periods to friends and family.

One in five women (20%) under forty years old say they would feel uncomfortable discussing their periods with their female friends, their mums (21%) and their partners (21%). 

Embarassment around discussing periods contributes to the shame and secrecy that many girls feel about them. 

This is true here in the UK, as it is in the countries where we work around the world.

It means that millions of girls living in some of the world’s poorest places grow up knowing nothing about menstruation before their first period, or dreading its arrival.

Women feel uncomfortable speaking about periods to men

Our poll revealed that: 

  • One in three (37%) women in the UK said they would not feel comfortable discussing periods with male friends, yet only 17% of men would find discussing periods with female friends uncomfortable
  • Nearly half (47%) of women surveyed, say they would feel uncomfortable discussing periods with their dads, yet only 9% of men would feel uncomfortable discussing periods with their daughters
  • Half of men surveyed (50%) say they wouldn’t feel uncomfortable buying sanitary protection for women yet only 16% of women say they would feel comfortable asking a man to buy sanitary products for them
  • When asked why they would feel uncomfortable asking men to buy sanitary products for them, women said that they fear it would make the men feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, while 36% of women say it’s because they would feel uncomfortable or embarrassed

Why period poverty impacts the poorest women and girls

One of the dignity kits ActionAid Kenya distributed during the current East Africa drought. . Photo: ActionAid

Ongoing taboos around periods and lack of access to affordable and safe sanitary products has a huge impact on the lives of women and girls in poverty.

Girls who can't afford or can't access sanitary products are often forced to take days off school every month, leading to many girls dropping out of school altogether.

This puts them at greater risk of child marriage, exacerbating cycles of poverty and inequality.

Meanwhile in humanitarian emergencies, women tell us that some of the items they need most urgently are sanitary towels, wipes and soap.

Alternative methods involving rags or pieces of cloth can lead to dangerous infections, and blood stains which can cause women and girls to feel embarrassed and isolated. 

Help girls to understand and manage their menstrual cycles

ActionAid provides safe, and clean sanitary products to women and girls in immediate need, and works longer term with communities to bring about sustainable change, challenging taboos and ensuring girls can claim their rights, and fulfil their potential.

Your donation of just £3 a month could help provide hygiene kits containing sanitary towels to girls who can't afford to buy them. Can you help?

Donate now