• Today the topic of menstruation is still taboo, not just in religious circles, but throughout much of society. (Moment RF/Getty)
Periods are viewed by some religions and societies as 'impure' and 'unclean'. Koraly Dimitriadis is over hearing how something so natural can be conveyed as dirty, and asks why can’t menstruation be an open, empowering process for all women?
Koraly Dimitriadis

26 May 2017 - 2:26 PM  UPDATED 26 May 2017 - 5:28 PM

Being raised in the Greek Orthodox religion, I was taught that to receive Holy Communion, you had to be ‘clean’. As a young growing girl, this meant I had to be free from sin, free from ‘unclean’ thoughts, showered, dressed formally, have abstained from meat and dairy products, and not be menstruating. So for as long as I can remember, I considered by period dirty.

‘Clean’ and ‘pure’ is a concept common to many religions, not just one that belongs to my Greek Orthodox Church. While it was repeatedly emphasised during the sermon at church and at the church youth group I attended, the more shameful criteria of what being clean – such as virginity, masturbation and menstruation – was usually conveyed to us growing girls by our mothers.

Of course, times change and people grow up to form their own ideas, rather than those imposed from above from parents or institutions. But as an adult woman, I wonder: these days, do we really believe that menstruating women are religiously, spiritually or socially dirty?

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Religious rules are based on ancient scriptures, interpreted by a religion and then, again by each individual religious representative. Growing up, some priests in my religion were stricter than others. A young girl I once knew, for example, was asked directly as she stepped up to receive Holy Communion, if she had confessed: a highly inappropriate act some priests say.

...the more shameful criteria of what being clean – such as virginity, masturbation and menstruation – was usually conveyed to us growing girls by our mothers.

There are also a plethora of websites from different Orthodox churches and organisations around Australia and the world advising on whether or not menstruating females are still considered dirty and therefore unable to receive Holy Communion.

This one clearly states: “according to the Canons, though a woman is not in any manner more sinful in her cycle than a man is in the case of involuntary bodily emissions, she, like the man, must avoid Holy Communion at this time…” Meanwhile, St Spyridon Orthodox Church in Sydney dismisses it as a piece of fiction, in their ‘myth busters’ information section online.

For example, the site states myth two as "during their period, women must not kiss icons or other sacred objects". The author's answer reads, "Why not? The woman herself is an icon of God created in His 'image and likeness'." 

A dirty word outside my church?

Menstruation is often kept a hidden hindrance expect when we huff ‘I got my period’ to our girlfriends to explain a downturn in our mood. It’s rare to pick up a book or watch TV and have a woman’s menstruation mentioned, let alone depicted accurately. Even advertisements of menstruation products emphasise the product and how it solves the ‘problem’.

Menstruation is often kept a hidden hindrance expect when we huff ‘I got my period’ to our girlfriends to explain a downturn in our mood. 

A good example of positive representations for young growing girls is a video released two years ago by the Jean Hailes Centre for Women’s Health aimed at breaking the taboo of talking about periods. Another is when visual artist Casey Jenkins’s began knitting a large scarf over 28 days from wool inserted in her vagina people and labelled her as ‘brave’. But to her it felt very natural. She seemed very calm and peaceful about the whole thing and focused on her body.

Meanwhile, I have always viewed my period as a stressful, painful, burdensome process that stopped me – held me back – from things I needed to do. I never embraced it or spoke of it in a positive way.

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I didn’t have my period for a few years due to health reasons and the insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD). Its absence from my life – what I initially considered a burden I was glad to be rid of – caused my body to feel strange. Suddenly I now have my period and my body embracing my menstruation is palpable. It is through this new found appreciation that I began to question the conditionings of my childhood. Would I have so readily inserted an IUD if my perception of my period been different?

Artwork above: Emily Jensen. 

It seems I am not the only one re-thinking society’s perception of menstruation and wondering why having your periods gets such a bad wrap. Just the other day, someone I know mentioned she had her period only to be shut down by her boyfriend: ‘that’s not really something you should be bringing up right now,” he told her. But why not?

So now I ask: why can’t menstruation be an open, empowering process for all women?

I used to dread my period but these days, because I am questioning the source of that dread, my outlook is changing. Challenging my own personal negativity around having my period, I am starting to embrace it: its pain, its joy. My periods have flipped from being religiously and socially dirty to empowering. I even wrote a series of poems on my Instagram about getting my period to better understand my monthly mystery. 

So now I ask: why can’t menstruation be an open, empowering process for all women?

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Like a mountain, we climb every month but how good do you feel when you get to the top? If society embraced menstruation and celebrated it, women would approach it differently. Maybe in doing so they would even have less pain? It starts with society, religion, with the arts, with advertising and with employers. Employers need to be supportive of women and tell women it’s okay if they need a day off during their menstruation. Sometimes I am completely debilitated and can’t move. This debilitation shouldn’t be seen as a weakness but a strength. We are bleeding. And because of this we can give birth, so be appreciative. Everyone should think it’s awesome! Let’s get excited about periods, Australia!

Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet, filmmaker, theatre-maker and the author of Love and F**k Poems. www.koralydimitriadis.com

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Menstrual Hygeiene Day will be held around the world on 28 May. The day aims to raise awareness about the challenges that women and girls worldwide face due to their menstruation. 

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