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National Women's Health Week

May 12-18, 2024

Day 4 - May 15: Talk About It—Reducing Women’s Health Stigma 

Day 4 - May 15: Talk About It—Reducing Women’s Health Stigma 

Talk About It—Reducing Women’s Health Stigma 

Breaking the Silence: Let’s Talk About Women’s Health

It’s time to get real about women’s health. Women’s health topics, including periods (menstruation), eating disorders, gender-based violence, and reproductive health conditions, often carry a stigma, and many do not feel comfortable talking about these important issues. Half the world’s population will experience many of these health issues; talking about them helps us all learn more and feel more comfortable.

Share our Women’s Health Myths and Facts social media graphics with your network to help reduce stigma and normalize women’s health issues.

Menstruation Is a Natural Process

Period Education Infographic

First up, periods. They’re natural, but many people still feel uneasy talking about them. Every woman’s cycle is unique. Some have a tough time with pain, mood swings, or heavy flow, whereas others experience very few symptoms or little discomfort. It’s important to normalize discussing periods openly, whether it’s sharing tips for managing cramps or understanding how your cycle affects your body overall.

There is no one-size-fits-all with periods. Every woman’s body is different, and many women will experience changes in their cycle throughout their life due to factors like age, stress, birth control, and pregnancy.

  • Regular but Varied: The typical menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but it’s typical for this to vary. It can be as short as 24 days or as long as 38 days in adults and 21 to 45 days for adolescents.
  • Heavy Versus Light Flow: The average woman loses about 2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 44 milliliters) of blood during her period, but this can range from 1 to 6 tablespoons (15 to 90 milliliters). What’s “normal” can widely vary.
  • Cramps Aren’t Just Cramps: Up to 80% of women will experience menstrual cramps at some point in their lives, and for 5%–10%, these cramps can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): About 90% of menstruating women experience some form of PMS, which can include mood swings, bloating, and headaches.

Want to learn more about menstrual cycles? Our easy-to-understand resource hub provides information on tracking your cycle, managing symptoms, and staying healthy.

Eating Disorders Don’t Discriminate

Eating disorders are serious mental and physical health conditions that affect an estimated 9% of the U.S. population. Eating disorders often have a strong stigma associated with them, especially related to those who are at risk for or experience eating disorders. Eating disorders don’t discriminate; they affect people of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, body shapes, ability levels, and socioeconomic statuses. Some groups of people, including racial and ethnic minority populations, the LGBTQIA+ community, and those in larger bodies, experience eating disorders at the same or higher rates compared to the general population but often have barriers to diagnosis and treatment due to stigma. Understanding the risk factors for eating disorders, setting aside bias, and learning about the signs can help everyone better understand these complex conditions and support those in our lives who may be struggling.

Addressing Gender-Based Violence

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to any harmful threat or act directed at a person or group based on actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity, sex characteristics, or sexual orientation. This can include harm such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, as well as harassment, coercion, human trafficking, and more. Although any group can experience GBV, some groups face increased risk and impact of this harm, including women and girls and people who identify as LGBTQIA+. GBV survivors are at a higher risk for physical and emotional distress, including a higher risk of substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, chronic panic, and stomach and gut problems.

Many federal agencies are working to address GBV by strengthening access to services like education, jobs, housing, health care, affordable childcare, and elder care, all of which are related to GBV rates. If you or someone you know is experiencing any form of GBV, help is available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which offers free and confidential 24/7 support. For those who are or have been a victim of human trafficking, support is available from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. All people have the right to live free from the threat of gender-based violence.

Reproductive Health Conditions: More Common Than You Think

Many women struggle with conditions that involve and affect their reproductive organs, causing them pain, discomfort, and problems getting pregnant. A commonly undiagnosed and misunderstood reproductive health condition is endometriosis. Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It affects 1 in 10 women and can cause severe pain and fertility issues. Endometriosis symptoms can include painful periods, pain with intercourse, bleeding in between periods, or pain with peeing or pooping. Another common reproductive health condition affecting 6% to 12% of U.S. women of reproductive age is polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is a set of symptoms, including irregular periods, skin and hair growth changes, abnormal growths in the ovaries, and fertility issues that are caused by hormone imbalances. Many women also experience uterine fibroids, or growths on or inside the uterus. Fibroids are not cancerous, and many do not have any symptoms, but some women experience heavy or longer periods, pain in the lower abdomen or back, and discomfort associated with going to the bathroom.

Because women’s pain is often dismissed or belittled, these conditions can sometimes take months to years to be properly diagnosed. These conditions have treatment options available to manage symptoms and improve reproductive health and function, but these can only be offered once patients receive a proper diagnosis. It is important that health care providers listen to the experiences of women and offer services and support to address their pain and discomfort.

Let’s Make a Change Together

Beyond these, there are so many other health conditions that women face, from mental health conditions to breast cancer. Each has its challenges, but understanding and support can make all the difference.

The goal here is not just to talk about these issues but to change how we think about them. By talking about these issues openly, we can fight the stigma and support women who may feel alone or embarrassed about what are normal experiences for women. Health isn’t just physical; it’s mental and emotional, too. Understanding and support go a long way in making all people feel comfortable with their bodies and the health challenges they may face.

Struggling with Mental Health During Pregnancy

Start the conversation today. Whether you ask questions, share your story, or simply listen, every little bit helps break down the barriers and build a more supportive community. Remember, talking openly about women’s health isn’t just for women; it’s for everyone. Together, we can make a difference.

Resources to Learn More