or for the Aussie’s… A Bloke’s Guide to Periods
When I was in high school my mates called me “Bush”, and not because I was a great outdoorsman. Actually, I had no idea what I was doing, but I loved bushwalking and camping and having a crack. Eventually, after a few career dead ends, I threw myself into a course to learn how to become an outdoor guide. I’ve been guiding now for over 10 years, and one of the topics that I had never really considered as a bloke in the bush before I became an outdoor leader was the complexities of feminine hygiene in the bush.
Yes, of course I knew that girls had periods, and I knew what a tampon did and what a pad looked like, but I hadn’t thought to consider what extra I might need to know and do as a leader – heck, as a fellow camper! – when out in the bush with ladies who were menstruating.
That is what I’m here to write about. So I’m going to start with a warning: this blog post is primarily going to be about menstrual cycles and feminine hygiene. If talking or reading about these topics offends, please don’t stop reading just yet! It’s normal for this kind of talk to make you a bit squeamish, but lend me your ear for a moment.
Sure, blokes probably don’t need to know about the latest and greatest feminine hygiene products on the market – and that’s when you click onto the next post about packing for your weekend hike. But as someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors with women, I do think it’s good for blokes to know more than the basic ‘women get periods’ when they head out into the wilderness – particularly if you’re heading out with women who are less experienced and comfortable in the outdoors than you are.
A couple of months ago Lotsafreshair published a post about a feminine hygiene product which sparked some debate [ed: Interestingly, the Facebook post of the discussion has mysteriously disappeared]. There is a broad spectrum of beliefs and values in our community and as someone elegantly put it, this topic generally isn’t the kind of material that you whip out and share around at a BBQ. However, there are places where it is okay to talk about this stuff, and in my opinion a blog all about “Bushwalking and Hiking Tips from an Unexpected Outdoors Chick”, is one of them.
Now here is your final warning: this blog post is primarily going to be about menstrual cycles and feminine hygiene. And it is primarily going to be written for blokes. The intent is not to offend, but to inform. However, if talking or reading about these topics offends, makes you a bit squeamish or still seems a bit inappropriate for a bloke to be talking about, then please stop reading now.
If you’re still here with me, here are what I hope are some interesting and useful tips for the blokes regarding periods in the bush.
- Be upfront. Before I take a group out in to the bush, I usually cover off on a whole bunch of ground rules and tips. Included amongst these pointers are managing toileting, what to do with waste, and in general hygiene I include information on how to manage a period in the bush. By being open about the issue (not perverted, creepy or weird) it will mean that if there is an issue you will more likely be approached about it and be able to assist before things get uncomfortable in one way or another. Of course, if you are out with an experienced female hiker then she can probably manage herself and “have the chat” with other women in the group, but if you are leading a group solo then don’t be backwards in coming forwards.
- Carry a spare. In my first aid kit I always carry a tampon, 1 or 2 pads and a non see-through sanitary disposal bag (you can buy them in the tampon aisle). Make sure the girls in the group know that you have spares, and make the kit a publically accessible item so that if someone is too shy to ask they don’t need to. (Bonus: The pads can double as a patch for some injuries if required.) The ladies might also appreciate some pain-killers if they have particularly bad cramps.
- Speaking of First Aid: if someone is ill or injured in a remote area you may be caring for them for prolonged periods of time. If this is the case, an extra question to ask your patient in this extended care type scenario is if they need some privacy (and depending on the nature of their illness/injury potentially some assistance from a friend/partner) to change a pad or tampon. (And if your patient has been unconscious for a prolonged period of time, you might need to ask a close friend if they are/were menstruating – see TSS, below).
- Pain management. If you notice that a woman fills up a hot water bottle in the evening, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being soft. In fact it might mean they are being a damn sight tougher than you’ll ever be. Most women know what they need when it comes to managing any pain associated with their period and many of them simply suck it up and carry on through during the day. You don’t need to do much except be supportive – but allowing someone to sit and rest, or offering to boil the billy last thing at night so they can be well rested for another slog the next day will surely be appreciated.
- TSS: Be alert but not alarmed. There is a thing called Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). TSS is a rare and potentially life-threatening illness that is thought to be caused by infection with certain types of bacteria. Women who have their period are the group at highest risk of developing TSS (although I have to stress that it is rare!). Simple health procedures like washing hands before and after inserting a tampon, alternating tampon use with pads, and changing Tampons regularly (as per instructions – usually about 4 to 8 hours) will address most issues related to developing TSS.
- Make space. Whilst it is great that you now know about all this stuff, you need to make time and space for the ladies in the group to have a moment to themselves. Plan for and offer extra “toilet” breaks (they won’t take them if they don’t need them), let them wander off into the bush without asking them where they are going or what they are doing, leave them some extra time in their tent in the morning/evening, etc.
- Be considerate. Some women prefer not to swim while they are menstruating. If someone doesn’t want to swim, it could be for a lot of reasons, but don’t pressure them and perhaps make sure that others don’t pressure them either. Pads aren’t great for water based activities (swimming, kayaking, canoeing, etc) or unexpected soakings. Let your group know in advance if they might be getting wet so that women on their period can plan to insert a tampon and/or remove a pad.
- Open and frank, but a caution against humour: Menstruation is natural, and it happens for approximately 50% of the world’s population fairly regularly, so it doesn’t need to be taboo. However, there is such a thing as being too familiar. As a bloke, stick with correct terms like period, menstruation and perhaps “time of the month” and avoid crass, rude or sexist terms. Even seemingly innocuous phrases like “time for your monthly oil change” can offend, and it may mean that people who need to approach you for assistance (you are carrying that spare pad and tampon right?) won’t, and will have a less than ideal bush experience because of it. Being clinical and formal helps you to not come across as perverted, creepy or weird, and helps to normalise the topic in the community – a lot of fellas could do with a good dose of growing up and stop behaving like awkward pre-pubescent teenagers when the topic arises.
- Proper prior preparation. For those blokes who think that talking about this stuff is gross, then heaven forbid they should ever encounter a pad or tampon that has been carelessly discarded in the bush. Management and disposal of pads and tampons in the outdoors is a pain. All of that discharge has to go somewhere. And on long trips it can really add up. You can read the Lotsafreshair article here if you need to know more. Briefly though, gloves, sanitary bags, zip loc bags, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, spare undies and extra water all add up to extra weight and space in a pack. However the ladies decide to manage their waste on hikes, please encourage them to adhere to leave no trace principles. If the women in the group are carrying their waste out with them, it might also be worth mentioning that they might need to take extra precautions to ensure that any wildlife doesn’t snoop around in their pack overnight (and if you’re heading overseas and concerned about bears, don’t worry, it’s a myth).
- Don’t fret the technology. Pads (a million different varieties), tampons (a million different brands), applicator tampons, menstrual cups, specialist disposal bags, and way more (heck, they’ve even got digital menstrual cups that sync to your smart phone). Don’t worry about knowing about all the millions of different options. There are as many different ways of dealing with menstruation as there are women in the world. Most women will either a) know what they need to do and get on with it or b) need to do a bit of learning to adapt the systems and kit they use in an urban environment to a bush environment. Either way they don’t need you to interfere in that. All you need to know is that women need time and space and that you need to assist in creating that.
A footnote for the ladies:
Here’s something that will test how squeamish Caro is (horses for courses): a little insight for the ladies about blokes and their genitalia.
Penises and groins need cleaning too. When out on a multi day expedition, blokes shouldn’t neglect cleaning their groin and genitals. A damp cloth, some soap and water, or some wet wipes in and around the groin, under the foreskin and around the tip of the penis to prevent a build-up of gunk will not only reduce the risk of infection but it will make them feel a whole lot better. (Ever worn the same pair of undies five days straight and then put on a fresh pair? Heavenly.)
This is doubly important if you are sexually active or if you’re hiking with teenage boys whose personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired at the best of times.
Significantly less complex than the rigmarole and rituals that ladies need to go through, but still important.
[Caro: Horses for courses indeed Dylan! Excellent stuff and good for us chicks to be aware of too! Thanks so much for sharing on this and all above also… I’m sure people will find it helpful. ]