42% of people with periods have lied about taking time off work for their periods, showing there is still a stigma around them

Key Findings

  • 83.3% of people with periods want free menstrual products to be available in public places.
  • 73.3% of people with periods have taken time off work due to period symptoms. 
  • More than 1 in 3 respondents looked for sustainable materials and ingredients when buying menstruation products.
  • 55.3% of respondents felt ashamed when discussing their periods with a romantic partner. 
The world has changed a lot when it comes to period wellness. Gone are the days when people with periods had almost no resources to turn to for easing their cycle. The attitude towards period wellness has also changed considerably. The internet is full of helpful articles that recommend things like yoga and exercise, mindfulness, and other strategies to make periods as easy on the mind and body as possible.

More people are using menstrual cycle tracking apps or calendars to predict cycles and check for irregularities. More environmentally friendly period products are available, and products are more readily available as a whole. California even passed a bill in October of 2021 that calls for schools and colleges to stock period products in their restrooms. But what has changed for people during their periods?

We decided to find out. We asked over 1,200 people with periods, half from the UK and half from the U.S., about their experience with their menstrual cycle. What products are they using, are they tracking their periods, and how much pain are they experiencing? The results were quite telling and sometimes a little surprising too. We surveyed people from three generations—millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z—and each had their unique responses to share with us.

Tools for Tracking

The advent of smart devices and the internet has given people the power to track their period effortlessly. Not just that, special apps provide a wealth of information, recommendations, and, most importantly, timely alerts for each projected period’s start date.

An infographic that explores how people track periods

Our survey revealed that Gen Z (91.7%) was the most likely generation to track their period, while Gen X was least likely to do so with more than 1 out of 4 saying they don’t track it.

Using a health app was the most preferred method, and more than half of Gen Z reported using one. However, a tried-and-true physical calendar was just behind.

Amongst apps, Cycle Tracking (Apple watch), Clue (iOS, Android), and Cycles (iOS) came up as the top three apps, respectively.
Interestingly, an overwhelming majority, almost 90%, said that their menstrual cycle was regular. The popular perception of unpredictable cycles may be overstated, or perhaps the surveyed sample had a common factor that created this response. Medical research suggests that between 14 and 25% of people with periods experience irregular periods throughout their adult lives.

Dr Clair Granger says “Having irregular periods could be a sign of an underlying health condition so we’d always recommend contacting your doctor if your periods are irregular, last a long time, are heavy or happen more or less frequently than once every 21-35 days.”

Symptoms of the Cycle

We asked respondents about their period pain levels and how they chose to treat them. 

An infographic that shows the most common period symptoms and how they are managed

Based on their responses, it seems the majority of people surveyed experience some level of pain during their period. It ranged from extremely painful to a little painful with only a rare few experiencing no pain at all.

Birth control is often used to help with painful periods, and it is thus not surprising that more than 23% of birth control users said they experienced extremely painful periods. The pill or the arm implant, for example, can be used to reduce period pain or skip periods altogether. Nearly equal percentages on both sides reported having very painful and somewhat painful periods.

Abdominal cramping was the most common symptom experienced during periods, followed by bloating/fluid retention, headaches, anxiety, and acne, all of which were reported by around 1 in 4 respondents.

Perhaps the most interesting statistic was the No. 1 strategy for treating these symptoms—rest. As reported by over 43% of those surveyed, the next most popular method was using a pain reliever, like paracetamol or ibuprofen.

An infographic showing the most commonly used forms of birth control

It must be noted at this point that well over half of all respondents (61%) said they were using some form of birth control. Here, Gen Z was again more likely to use it (63.3%) compared to millennials (59.7%) or Gen X (43.5%). This pattern seems similar to the pattern related to cycle tracking.

The pill or oral contraceptive came up as the most used birth control method. The second most popular option was the arm implant, with the hormonal ring coming in at number 3.From a generational standpoint, the birth control pill was the most used form of birth control across the board. However, Gen Zers were less likely than older generations to use an IUD, potentially due to side effects such as heavy bleeding during periods, and potential discomfort when getting this inserted. Instead, they are using birth control methods they can use at their own convenience from home, such as the birth control ring or condoms.

Convenience is becoming a more important factor when people with periods choose which contraception they would like to use. National statistics for England in 2020 show that 44% of contacts with sexual health services were remote, compared with only 3% in the previous year. We don’t yet know whether people with periods would choose to return to face to face appointments if Covid service restrictions allow or whether the trend for an increasing number of remote contraception consultations will continue. 

The most common reason for using hormone-based birth control was because a doctor recommended it. It is most often recommended (other than its intended use) to regulate cycles and reduce painful symptoms.

Generational Shifts

When it came to preferred menstruation products, pads were the overwhelming majority at over 45%, and menstrual cups lagged far behind at just over 18%. Many pads are being reimagined or replaced because of their negative impact on the environment

An infographic showing the most commonly used period products

A menstrual cup was the most common alternative deemed to have a much smaller environmental impact. The usage pattern of the cup is again similar to what we have seen so far.

Gen Z was the most likely generation to use the cup, with 1 out of 4 claiming to use it. Gen X was the least likely to use it, showing a result of 1 out of 10. Millennials were again in the middle, with 1 out of 6 claiming to use the menstrual cup.

This pattern was turned on its head where tampon use was concerned. One out of 4 Gen Xers said they used tampons most frequently, compared to 1 out of 5 millennials and 1 out of 20 Gen Zers.

An overwhelming majority of people, 3 out of 4, said they owned period underwear, which is underwear specifically used during menstruation.

Factors like organic ingredients or materials and how environmentally friendly a product is mattered most to respondents, along with a product’s price. It hints that awareness and concern for the safety of the environment are on the rise. More than 6 out of 10 Gen Zers considered environmental friendliness when buying period products, while more than half of them looked for organic materials. It is estimated that an average woman uses roughly 11,000 pads or tampons throughout her life, with non-organic materials taking between 500 and 800 years to break down.  Menstrual cups offer a more environmentally friendly alternative, and Gen Z were more likely to use them than older generations.

For Gen Xers, price and reliability were the most important when it came to buying period products. Periods are costly, research has found that people with periods spend over £18,000 across their lifetime on period products. 

The attitude towards the accessibility of these products is also changing, such as the aforementioned move in California for educational institutions to make period products available to students for free. In the UK, state maintained schools are encouraged to make use of the period product scheme, providing period products for students in educational institutions across England. 

People were most likely to seek the opinion of their friends and family members when it came to product recommendations. Surprisingly, GPs and contraception specialists (OBGYNs) were the last places where they looked for the same advice. Social media ads and online reviews also trumped health care professionals.

Issues Faced During Periods

We asked people to share common problems and experiences they faced during their periods. 

An infographic showing situations experienced during periods

The most common problem among those with periods seemed to be when people thought it was over, but it wasn’t, catching them unprepared. Many of the other problems shared can be summed up as issues arising from the stigma and shame sometimes associated with menstruation. This included having to hide products, worrying about bleeding through clothing, having to sneak into bathrooms to change or use products, and having no access to products. The margin between these and the topmost problem is a slim one.

The shame felt by the people was also very evident. Seven out of 10 Gen Zers felt nervous about taking time off due to periods, compared to 58% of millennials and 43% Gen Xers. Almost half of Gen Zers and millennials were ashamed to take time off because of period symptoms.

Overall, more than 7 out of 10 people had taken a day off because of their period. Almost 60%  felt nervous about it, and 42% even lied about it. This embarrassment even occurred when talking about periods in romantic relationships.

Mentioning Menstruation

More than half of the people surveyed said they were embarrassed when talking about their period with their partner. Gen Zers were the most likely to say so at nearly 74%, while Gen Xers were the least likely at just under 39%.

An infographic showing discussions on periods in relationships

The heartening fact is that most romantic partners were OK with buying period products, which was true for heterosexual, bisexual, and gay relationships. Only 2.6% of romantic partners had refused to buy such products when asked, and 32.2% bought them without even being asked. More than 1 in 10 people said they had never asked, showing it can be challenging to talk to those closest to you about menstruation.

Talking About Periods

Looking at our findings, we can see that generational changes are taking place when it comes to menstruation. Gen Zers and Millennials especially are looking for sustainable and environmentally friendly menstruation products. Moreover, the vast majority of people with periods believes that periods products should be available for free in public places; no wonder when one thinks that the average person with a period will go through 11,000 pads and tampons in their life. 

Overall, the stigma and shame around menstruation still have a hold on people and affect their behaviours and attitudes around menstruation. It is heartening that there is support from partners, at least in interpersonal relationships, and that an ever-increasing awareness of period wellness and its importance exists in society.

Superdrug Online Doctor is your constant, reliable, and supportive space to help with your periods. After completing a short questionnaire to check your suitability, our doctors can provide advice on the best contraceptive pill for you to manage your period symptoms. If you have any health questions, concerns, or needs related to the services offered, head to Superdrug Online Doctor to see how we can help you today.

Methodology and Limitations

601 people with periods from the U.S. and 611 people with periods from the UK were surveyed for this article. 35.1% of respondents were Gen Zers, 41.9% millennials, 13.7% Gen Xers, and 9.3% were baby boomers. 98.1% of respondents identified as women, while 1.9% identified as nonbinary or preferred not to disclose their gender identity. 72.6% of respondents identified as heterosexual, while 26.1% identified as bisexual or gay. 1.3% of respondents preferred to not disclose their sexual orientation. Participants who incorrectly answered an attention-check question had their answers disqualified. This study has a 3% margin of error on a 95% confidence interval. 

Please note that survey responses are self-reported and are subject to issues such as exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping.

Fair Use Statement

Want to further the discussion around periods and help dispel the stigma? You are welcome to share this data with your friends and family for any noncommercial purpose. All we ask is that you link back to this article and give us credit whenever you share or publish it.