On top of that, 43% believe that periods are an “off-limit” topic for discussion and 87% said they have gone to great lengths to “hide” their periods.
“Historically women’s health and women’s issues have been hidden or traditionally not spoken about,” explained Dr Radha Modgil, GP.
“Things are improving in this regard but it does seem like not talking about periods is still an issue that we need to break.”
Another recent study by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK also found nearly half (48%) of girls aged 14-21 in the UK are embarrassed by their periods.
The survey of 1,000 girls found less than a third (29%) of girls feel comfortable discussing their period with their dads.
So why is discussing periods such a taboo for young people?
Modgil believes it’s because people do not talk openly about the topic, which leads to a lack of understanding and means myths circulating about periods are never set straight.
On top of that, parents may be avoiding bringing up the topic with their children because, as Nadia Mendoza from The Self-Esteem Team, puts it: Periods aren’t pretty.
“It’s no wonder it’s not an easy topic to talk about - periods are a bit gross,” she said.
“They are unpredictable, leak through underwear, pass in clots, can be any and every shade of black-red to brown, cause chronic cramps, affect mood, and leave you wandering around with something that resembles an adult nappy or a piece of string dangling between your legs. They ain’t pretty.”
But Mendoza said parents need to know it’s okay to bring this topic up with their children, adding: “What isn’t okay, is the fact periods are entrenched in shame.”
Plan International UK is now calling for the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum to incorporate lessons that teach girls and boys, together, about the physical, personal and social aspects of menstruation.
But for parents, this is a conversation that can start at home.
1. Start as early as possible.
There is no “right” age to start, but Mendoza advises speaking about periods with your children as early as possible, with age-appropriate content.
“Talking about the birds and bees does not mean diving in with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but instead educating them with age-appropriate information,” she said.
“This means if and when they hit life’s hurdles, they are well-equipped in knowing who to turn to, understanding there is no shame in puberty, and feeling confident to ask questions about things they don’t know the answer to.”
2. Be the one who brings up the conversation.
As a parent, it’s important to lead by example and be the one to start that conversation with your child from a young age. The more you talk about it, the more empowered a child is going to feel about talking about it themselves.
“Giving them simple yet useful information about what is happening in their bodies and why, really helps daughters open up and makes them feel they can ask questions about their periods,” said Modgil.
“When you are first talking about it, it’s a great idea to talk to them on their own so that they don’t feel embarrassed. Slowly build up their confidence by talking about buying pads or tampons or the practicalities of periods in a sensitive yet unembarrassed way.”
3. Speak to your sons, too.
Mendoza said: “It’s important we’re having these conversations with boys too so they widen their understanding and it never escalates to the playground taunting of ‘must be on your period’.
“We cannot break taboos unless we’re willing to take the reins and have open dialogue.”
Modgil agreed and added: “There needs to be more focus on boys learning about periods and more holistic coverage of periods at school.
“For parents, talking about periods in a way that is similar to boy’s puberty stages can help everyone understand it’s just a normal part of growing up and that there is no need to feel embarrassed.”
4. Mums can lead by example.
Mums can help if they are still having their own periods by showing their daughters what they can still do while on their period or what they do to relieve pain.
“Mums can lead by example, so when you have your period, still doing sports and going out to show that physical activity helps during periods, can really show girls they can do whatever they want and nothing should stop them,” Modgil said.
“Also, gradually teaching the other members of the family like younger brothers and sisters or older brothers can really help to make your daughter feel comfortable and confident discussing periods and asking for help if they need it.”
5. Help girls take control of their own periods.
While it can be easy to want to do everything to help your daughter when she is on her period, Modgil said helping them take control of their cycle, by eventually getting them to buy sanitary products on their own can be helpful.
“It makes them feel in control and empowered,” she said. “Helping them find a sanitary product that suits them is also great, as this will help them feel confident about doing sports and wearing any clothes they like during their period.”
Equipping girls with tips and advice on how to deal with any pains will also make them feel empowered rather than ashamed of what is happening to their body.
“For example nothing beats a good old-fashioned bath,” said Mendoza. “Lying back in the bubbles, maybe even with some candles, not only helps the physical cramps (a hot water bottle has a similar effect if you only have a shower at home) but also allows the mind to unwind too.
“This is important as carrying stress or shame has a knock-on effect physically making the pain harder to cope with.
“Think outside the box too, exercise doesn’t have to be running away to nowhere on the treadmill at the gym. Try swimming, cycling, ice-skating, roller derby, indoor climbing, or even just a walk around the block for more Pringles.”
Modgil suggested sharing apps with your daughter which track periods to help people know when they are due, so they aren’t caught by surprise.
“This can be especially helpful to mentally prep for what might arrive during exam season, sport competitions or holidays,” she said.
For more information:
Bodyform: The website has information for girls on their first period and answers many questions teenagers may have.
Self-esteem team: A group of mental health speakers touring schools to help children open up on everything from body image to exam stress.