Heather Watson, Britain’s No1 female tennis player, was unfortunately defeated in the first round of the Australian Open in January, losing 4-6, 0-6. However, in doing so, she managed to break one of the greatest taboos in the sports – opening up about how her period affected her performance, when she mentioned “girl things” in a post-match interview.
While women can be seen making progress in the sporting world, Watson’s comments have shown that much still has to be done to accommodate for women’s needs when competing or training. Some of the issues raised by fellow sportswomen since Watson’s defeat have included Wimbledon’s white uniform (a note for people without vaginas: wearing white on your period is maybe the bravest thing you can do, ever), the limit of one toilet break per set for tennis players and the need to take drugs to delay a period, such as norethisterone in Jessica Judd’s case in the 2013 World Championships, which can often have unpleasant and disruptive side effects.
Oral contraceptives are not banned substances and can be used to make menstrual cycles easier to cope with, but side effects can include headaches, nausea and mood swings, as well as being incompatible with some conditions and medications, meaning many sportswomen choose not to use them. Periods were also found to be a common reason many teenage girls choose not to become involved in sports, a key issue to be tackled if we are to achieve equal numbers of men and women taking part in professional sport.
Some measures have been taken to make life a little bit easier for sportswomen during their periods – for example, the GB hockey team email their coach with their period dates so their training regimes can be adjusted – but only by continuing to talk openly about menstruation will the situation improve, not just for sportswomen, but for anyone who’s been thrown a shady look or an uncomfortable mumble for dropping the P-bomb in public. So on behalf of vaginas across the globe, it’s time to start unashamedly talking about what goes on down there. Period.
[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]