Interview with Meagan O’ Neill, Relationships & Sexuality Educator, on Period Stigma

Meagan is a passionate & excited Sexuality & Relationships educator. After years of travelling & working in every possible sector from child carer to shoe salesperson, she decided to go back to college in 2018 to complete her Masters in Health Promotion after years of being disappointed in the sexual health & sex education system in Ireland. She has been working at Sexual Health West as an educator for the past two years. She is working on developing more adult based sexual health seminars to tackle sexual health needs & education for folks of all ages.

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What is period stigma?

The World Health Organisation defines stigma as ‘a major cause of discrimination and exclusion’. In relation to period stigma, it means that people who have periods can experience shame, embarrassment and discrimination when it comes to periods. This creates an incredibly unnecessary stigma about an experience that HALF of the world’s population experience every month.

Why does period stigma exist?

Unfortunately, period stigma has been around for a very very long time. Throughout history, religion and culture women and people who have periods have been stigmatized, shamed and ridiculed for having a period. In some cultures, women who are menstruating have been forbidden to enter places of worship, cook, leave the family home, be in the company of other people or even speak loudly. As a result of these restrictions this has an extremely negative impact on women and people who menstruate both culturally, mentally and physically.

How might someone experience period stigma?

Through embarrassment, shame, bullying or avoidance. An example might be if a person is discussing their period and being told that talking about periods is “disgusting or inappropriate”. That type of talk can cause the person with a period to believe that what is happening to them is wrong and should not be discussed but that is NOT the case. The issue lies with archaic, incorrect taboos about something that is a normal as getting up in the morning.

How does period stigma affect people?

Through shame, embarrassment, bullying & isolation. Simply being told to get over it when somebody is experiencing intense pain can lead to people not seeking help for issues surrounding their period. This creates an atmosphere where periods are not discussed and the people having them are forced to suffer in silence. A recent Plan International Ireland survey found that “60% of young women & girls said school does not inform them adequately about periods, 6 out of 10 young women reported feeling shame & embarrassment about their period, and more than 80% said they did not feel comfortable talking about their periods with their father
or a teacher”.

Is period stigma worse in some parts of the world?

Yes!!! Period stigma is a worldwide public health issue but in certain parts of the world, it has a devasting impact on life & education.
49% of UK girls missed 1 day of school due to menstruation, but attributed it to another excuse, & 1 in 10 girls could not afford sanitary products. 1 in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa are estimated to miss as much as 20% of their school year due to challenges posed by menstruation. 23% of girls in India drop out of school on reaching puberty or are absent from school 3 to 6 days per month due to challenges of managing their menstruation. (Source; Alana Munro)

How do we fight period stigma in our own lives?

Be honest – It can simply mean telling a loved one that you are on your period. The more we talk the more normal the conversation becomes.

Question stigma – This can be difficult sometimes but questioning someone who calls periods “dirty” is really important (only if you feel safe to do so). Everyone loves someone who has a period so let’s be kinder to those who are menstruating.

#ProudPads! Hiding period products adds to the issue that menstruation is something that is shameful. Next time you are heading to the loo at work thinking of hiding a tampon, question is this your issue OR is the issue with Mike from finance/Karen from sales and not you!

How do we fight period stigma on a national/global level?

How many times have you walked into a bathroom in a pub or restaurant where they have had free period products and rejoiced? That is what it takes. People recognizing that these products are a necessity and not a luxury. On a national level, period products need to be free in public places like schools, colleges, public restrooms. Support TDs who are campaigning for free sanitary products. Sign petitions that support ending period poverty or promoting positive period talk and donate to causes that are trying to end period poverty.

Any recommended reading/watching/following/listening in relation to period stigma?

Read: Period (Emma Barnett), Period Power (Maya Okamoto), The Vagina Bible (Dr Jen Gunther), Why period stigma should be considered a global health issue (Alana Munro).

Watch: The Menstrual Movement (Nadya Okamoto), Period End of Sentence (Dir. Rayka Zehtabchi), The bloody truth about period poverty in America (CBS Original)

Follow and support organisations like Period.org and homelessperiodireland. Keep an eye out for progress on the Period Products (Free Provisions) Bill .

Grace Alice Sex And Relationships Educator

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Disclaimer

This service is fully limited to Sexuality Education. All advice is given in an honest manner and as guidance only. By using this service, you agree that you make your own decisions, relying solely on your discretion; any use you make of such answers, advice or services is at your own risk and ‘Grace Alice Sexuality Educator’ cannot be held responsible or be liable for any damages or losses resulting from your reliance on such answers or advice.

What is a peer-to-peer support session?

Firstly, let us start with what the session is not! I am not a practicing sex therapist, sexologist, medical professional, psychotherapist, psychologist, counsellor, or mental health professional. Therefore, I do not provide medical advice (although I may recommend that you seek guidance from a medical professional if appropriate) or a therapy service.

Sex & Relationships Education is a separate field to these professions, and I employ my own unique approach based on my qualifications, training, and experience. I hold an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy and a Masters degree in Health Promotion. I have over six years experience working as a Sex & Relationships Educator and have undergone continuous professional development and training. I also studied empathy education as a UNESCO scholar, which informs my approach. Details of my qualifications and training are available on my LinkedIn page – please see the ‘About’ page also!

Within a session, I offer a confidential and safe space for discussion of various issues relating to relationships and sexuality. I strive for a relaxed, informal vibe, where you can chat about something that you have been struggling with. I can offer a friendly and non-judgemental listening ear, suggestions on how you can approach your own personal situation, general information on the related topic(s) and details of relevant professionals, support services and organisations (usually in a follow-up email). I can accommodate sessions relating to many topics relating to relationships and sexuality – including but not limited to body image, sexual communication, consent and boundaries, protection, anatomy, vaginismus, porn, STIs and STI stigma, healthy and unhealthy relationships, gender and sexuality, pleasure, arousal, desire, infidelity, break-ups, dating, and more.  I want my clients to feel relaxed, comfortable, and free to talk without fear or shame, like they would with a very close friend!

How does a Booking work?

In a nutshell, you can contact me via the booking page on this site and request a booking. If I decide that a session with me would be a good fit for you, I will contact you and arrange a time and date!

Here is the pricing for sessions;

ServiceDurationCost
Standard Session1 hour€50
Student* Standard Session1 hour€40
   
*A valid student I.D. must be presented.  

Please note that the session must be paid for in full at least 24 hours prior to the session, using the payment method and details I will provide to you in an email. If you do not have PayPal, we can arrange another form of payment (Revolut or bank transfer – please factor in the extra time it will take you to set up an account if needed or the possible delay in bank transfers, this may slightly affect the scheduling of your session).

Due to the nature of this service, I cannot offer any refunds for any reason during or after a session.

However, if you have paid and can no longer attend the scheduled session, I can offer you a full refund if you notify me of the cancellation at least 48 hours beforehand. If you wish to reschedule, please notify me at least 48 hours before the time of the scheduled session, and we can work something out!

Am I guaranteed to have a session?

Imay choose not to do a session with you if I feel that I am unable to offer support or education relating to your situation. I will contact you to let you know if I have decided that my service is not a good fit for you, and I will offer some suggestions regarding more suitable professionals/organisations/services to contact.

Although we may chat about lots of different things during a session, if someone has clearly not been truthful in the booking form about the topic area that want to discuss and appear to have an ulterior motive in booking the session, I may choose to end the session. The same rule applies to a situation where someone is clearly not who they have stated they are in the booking form. 

I cannot offer sessions to anyone under the age of 18 years. I may choose to ask you to present a copy of a valid form of I.D. if I feel that confirmation of age is needed. Requesting to book a session indicates that you are aged 18 years or over, and that you are being truthful in disclosing your age.

If I feel that someone is being disrespectful, offensive, or inappropriate, and I feel uncomfortable, I may choose to end the session. I may also end the session if I believe that it is being recorded.

Is it all confidential?

Y

es! Confidentiality is essential to a service like this and I will do everything in my power on my end to protect it.

Here is what I will do on my end; I will abide by GDPR guidelines and make every effort to keep all personal information relating to sessions safe. Booking requests and emails with a form attached/included will be retained for no more than 1 year. The form may be printed, and I may take notes before, during and after the session either by hand or typed. Forms, notes, and USB key will all be stored in a locked file safe in my home office. All forms and notes (hard and soft copies) will be deleted and/or destroyed after one year.  I will send you a Zoom Meeting ID and password before the session using the email address you have given me. I will use headphones and will be alone in a private space during all sessions. All  records of calls and video calls will be deleted after one year.

Please be mindful of what you choose to share within the session. I have an obligation to break confidentiality and report to Tusla and/or the Gardaí any disclosures of child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and other crimes.

Here is what you must do on your end! You must not screenshot, record and/or distribute any part of your session. It is also your responsibility to protect your privacy as much as you like on your end. This may include keeping your phone password-protected, using a non-identifiable email address that does not include your name, deleting correspondence, making sure you have a private space for your session where you will not be interrupted or overheard, etc.

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