It’s easier to talk about periods than it used to be, said Lynette Medley, founder of No More Secrets, a sexuality awareness organization — but the work is certainly not done. Conversations around menstruation tend to happen only in privileged circles, she said, leaving many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of color) menstruators without accurate information.
Medley has dedicated her career to combating period poverty and increasing awareness around menstrual hygiene. She recently launched the “SPOT Period” hub at Lincoln University, the world’s first “menstrual hub,” with her daughter, Nya McGlone. The walls are lined with menstrual products, which people can access for free — along with educational resources to help menstruators better understand their bodies.
Medley met Amber Wynne in 2020, as Wynne was laying the groundwork for a “period pantry” with free menstrual products at Hampton University, where Wynne is a senior. Medley inspired Wynne to take her plans even further. Wynne now runs an emergency reproductive hotline at Hampton, offering free emergency contraception, menstrual products, barrier methods and educational resources to students in need. Together, Wynne and Medley are planning to open a second SPOT Period hub at Hampton this fall.
“She is an icon,” Wynne said of Medley.
Ahead of menstrual hygiene day on Friday, we listened in on a conversation between Medley and Wynne about the stigma around menstruation: how it’s changed, from generation to generation — and how it’s stayed the same.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lynette Medley: Why do you think there’s so much stigma around menstruation? I want you to answer first as a younger person.
Amber Wynne: There’s a lot of layers to the stigma. There’s the obvious outward one, where people say the word “period” is a dirty word. But then there’s also the internalized stuff. As we all know, you don’t want to show your pads when you go into the bathroom. So you stick your hand in your backpack, slide the pad up your sleeve. Growing up, I didn’t do that because I was ashamed of it. I just did that because that’s what we all did.
Lynette Medley: We come from a patriarchal, misogynistic society that doesn’t include our wellness in the conversation. Because it’s not something that happens in biologically male bodies, it is deemed as something that’s nasty and disgusting. And then I think that we uplift these negativities with some of the language we use when we talk about it. You think of all the negative terminology that relates to the menstrual cycle. We carry it as menstruating individuals, so it is perpetuated over and over again.
Do you think it’s changed, from generation to generation? In your lifetime, have you seen a change?
Amber Wynne: I think the only change that I’ve seen is within my own family, which to me is huge because I’m West Indian and my mother is originally from Kingston, Jamaica. I’m the first of my mom’s lineage to be born in the United States. In Jamaica, it’s not something that’s actively talked about. When my mom moved to this country when she was 12, she got her period and her mother was in Jamaica at the time, so she had to figure it out on her own. But when it came to me, I got the color-coded reproductive health books. We did some games where my mom taught me how to put a pad on a teddy bear. My period wasn’t something I was made to feel afraid of.
But overall, in society, I don’t think we’ve made much improvement at all. In the media, we still see the same cisgender White women who represent all menstruators as the faces of brands. It’s only women in the conversation. We’re still excluding a bunch of menstruators in the world who identify as transgender or nonbinary.
Lynette Medley: I agree with a lot of what you said. I don’t think we’ve made as many changes as you would think we would have made at this point. I do see that we’re talking about [menstruation and menstrual hygiene] more, but in smaller circles. Those populations with privilege are having a conversation — and they have access to sex ed, they have access to resources, they have access to advocacy, education. So the message is being carried at that level, which isn’t impacting or intersecting with marginalized or Black and Brown or disabled communities in the same way.
I can say from personal experience, I was not exposed to the conversation at all. It was just like, “Oh my God. I think I’m dying. I’m bleeding. What the heck is going on?” And then it was like, “Oh, by the way, that’s your period. Here’s a pad.” But my daughter knew about it way before she got it. She was excited about it because all I did was talk about periods and sexuality and body positivity. So I can see that difference. But again, I think it’s in silos because it’s just based on the individual or the family. It is not cross-generational or cross-cultural.
Amber Wynne: What about period poverty? Are we doing enough to combat it in Black and BIPOC communities?
Lynette Medley: Period poverty is the inability to access menstrual products and waste management services and also education and awareness about [menstruation and reproductive health]. I think what’s happening is people are so focused on menstrual hygiene and not menstrual help. Menstrual hygiene cannot be addressed in a silo. You can’t give somebody pads and tampons and think you’ve solved the problem. You have to give them education, resources, waste management, bathroom access, water access and all of these other things to combat period poverty.
Amber Wynne: You can give products to someone, but products run out. How are they going to promote their wellness beyond that product installment that you give them?
Lynette Medley: Definitely. And another thing is the amount of product. I’ve seen many people pick a product and say it’s a monthly supply. When you are a marginal community, most people have irregular periods. They are underinsured or uninsured. They do not go to gynecologists. Many times they do not have access to a primary health physician. So their menstrual cycles are extremely heavy. They have clotting and all these other things. So when you give them something that does not solve the issue, it puts them in a deeper state of depression and you are traumatizing my community. You need to ask them what makes sense to them. Does this meet the need?
Everything I’m saying is guided by my community. I think that’s where the breakdown is in the U.S. with the advocacy around period poverty: They’re really not talking to the people who are dealing with this every day.
Amber Wynne: You were the first person who ever reached out to me and said, “Hey, I’m not just going to give you product. I want to also make sure you’re getting the education.” The conversation about what menstruation looks like in the Black body — I’d never gotten that until I met you. And that’s a problem.
Lynette Medley: The hub on Lincoln University’s campus offers menstrual products, education. We also have Zoom conversations, we’ve created infographics. But again, you can’t give someone something without education and awareness behind it. There is always this idea that we have, especially as Black women: What’s wrong with me? No, nothing is wrong with you. Something is going on in your body. You’re not getting the right information. The studies in the literature are done on other bodies, not Black bodies.
One physician who I partner with, Dr. Alison Cazorla, recently asked me: Why do so many Black people have these heavy periods and nothing is working? It’s because nothing has been studied. Most of the studies that are out there are not based on the realities of our communities.
Amber Wynne: We also have to acknowledge the fact that Black bodies have been harmed, especially with regards to reproductive health. You know, I can’t tell you how many stories that I’ve heard through the grapevine, through friends or family members. So-and-so’s auntie or so-and-so’s cousin woke up from a procedure and the uterus was gone or they were made infertile.
We have to understand that, in certain communities, we may not want to go and participate in certain studies because of the trauma that our ancestors or our friends have gone through. So in order for us to ensure that we do get included in studies, we have to fix the health-care system. We have to create policies that truly protect BIPOC, Black and Brown bodies when it comes to our reproductive health.