Women aren’t the only people who menstruate, and some women don’t get a period at all. To be inclusive of all the people who experience this biological function and respectful of those who don’t, some sex educators and sexual health advocates – Bloomi included – use the word “menstruators.” In order to understand why menstruator is a better term to affirm people who have menstrual cycles, and why phrases like “only women have periods” can be hurtful, we must first look at the limitations of sex education in the US today and the outdated notion of the gender binary.
Sex and gender are not the same
Many of us are erroneously taught that there is a strict association between the anatomy we are born with and our gender. It is true that most people who are assigned female at birth identify as girls or women, and most people who are assigned male at birth identify as boys or men. These people are cisgender (or cis), but sex and gender are not interchangeable. Anyone who is born with ovaries, a uterus and vagina can have a menstrual cycle – though some don’t due to a variety of medical conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis or menopause.
Gender is a social construct, usually taught as a binary of men and women. There are usually societal expectations about how you should act based on your gender. Gender identity refers to a person’s chosen gender expression. In addition to cisgender identities of men and women, there are also nonbinary, intersex, bigender, agender, transgender and several gender non-conforming identities.
Gender can be fluid
Gender identity can be fluid, meaning it can change. In fact, today 1 in 4 Gen Zers identify as gender non-conforming or expect to change their gender identify at least once during their lifetime. If you identify as the same gender all your life, remember this is not everyone’s experience.
The (outdated) gender binary
Today, only 13 states in the US require sex education to be medically accurate. This means many states still teach abstinence-only education and only refer to sexuality in terms of a “male” or “female” experience. This is why people often adopt pronouns, terms, assumptions or phrases that are limited and hurtful. For example, consider everyday basic needs: In public, where should a trans person use the restroom when they’re only provided with male and female options? In the workforce, how can a gender non-conforming person complete a job application when they are required to choose male or female?
To take it a step further, the (outdated) gender binary framework not only excludes people, but it also creates unsafe spaces that teach communities to think something is wrong with a person who does not fit one of the two constructs. For example, some doctors help families make controversial decisions, some involving surgery or long-term use of puberty blockers, to assign a gender to a newborn with ambiguous genitalia – all without the individual’s consent.
Why we choose the term “menstruator”
With the understanding that not everyone who is born with a uterus and ovaries will identify as a woman, one can start to understand why certain phrases that refer to the menstrual cycle experience can be hurtful. Trans men, gender non-conforming people, nonbinary, agender, bigender, intersex and cisgender women can all have menstrual cycles.
What you can do with this new knowledge
- Substitute “menstruator” for “women with menstrual cycles.”
- Speak up for people who are not in the room.
- Allow people you interact with to affirm their name and pronouns if they would like to.
- Do not ask personal questions about gender identity.
- Remember that gender can be fluid. Affirm kids, youth and adults who explore and change their gender identity by asking their pronouns if you are unsure.
If you’d like to learn more about intimacy and sexual wellness trends, check out our free guide to intimacy, The Intimate Care Revolution.