Why is Menstrual Cycle Awareness different for lesbians and bi-women?

Adele Bates

This month, we’re passing the mic to Adele Bates who shares four things many people don’t know about the lesbian / bi-sexual experience of menstruality, as well as guidance for those of us who wish to be allies for lesbian menstruators (and other LGBTQ+ people). 

Trigger warning: this article speaks about discrimination, menstrual trauma and rape. 

One: Lesbians are statistically less likely to access gynecological health care. 

This happens for all sorts of reasons. In some countries you can be put to death by the state for being gay and so these women are far less likely to risk seeing anyone in authority about their health, particularly to do with their sexual organs, even at their own womb's detriment. "Corrective rape" is a scary but very real form of abuse against lesbians, so any risk of feeling like you might be 'found out' is not worth it.

In the UK for cis-lesbians, they now have the same legal rights as cis-straight people by law (trans-lesbians still don’t). However, LGBTQ+ hate crime is still high, it is up by 147% since Br*xit; they are still less likely to access healthcare around sexual matters. Lesbians are one of the groups that are the least likely to go for smear tests. From my own experience (bisexual, with a lesbian partner), we have had homophobic insults during gynecological check ups, as well as experiencing regular invisibility around our sexual health and partnership status. This does not make you want to return to a space to find out about your personal bits.

Two: Only this year is it compulsory for all schools in the UK to teach LGBTQ+ sexual health.

Did you ever get taught how to have safe sex with a woman? Why not? What message does that send to you about the importance of a lesbian's womb vs. a straight woman's womb? Many lesbians still believe that STDs don't apply to them. Hopefully this will slowly shift for the upcoming generation.

In schools, the teaching of menstruality is still mainly linked to fertility, for any person not concerned with that, menstruality can feel irrelevant to a teenager.

Three: A lesbian’s relationship with menstruation may look very different.

We know that a huge influence on our experience of menstruation is around how it is accepted within society; part of our collective premenstrual torment is due to an oppression of our power.

Now multiply that oppression with the adversity of being a woman who bleeds and who doesn't conform to needing a man...(along with any other intersection a woman might have).

On top of this, many (definitely not all) lesbians identify as masculine, butch, boi, etc. and do not identify with the physically female sides of themselves. They might, for example, not practice penetrative sex. So whilst there isn't a pattern in 'lesbian wombs' vs. 'non-lesbians wombs' in a biological sense (that I know of), the relationship with menstruation is much more likely to be fractured.

Many of my lesbian (as well as non-binary and trans) friends share this with me - they do not feel as if they are connected to that part of their body - and for some 'being more feminine' is something they have had to fight against their whole life. They would never step into a women-only space because women-only really means feminine-only. They would also feel highly vulnerable and unsafe having anyone insert anything into their bodies. Menstrual health must be approached in a different way if any of these factors are in play.


Four: The partner discussion in menstrual spaces is very hetero-normative.

There's lots of talk around 'how can your partner support you' but the advice is always focused on a cis-male perspective (great, they need it too). But with a menstruating partner the conversation is going to be different. For example, how do you communicate your vulnerability in early spring with a raging autumnal partner?!

Myth buster: the ‘all women synchronise with their cycles’ is not true. I have been with my female partner for 9 years, our vaginas couldn’t be closer...and we have synchronised once. It was hideous!

Many 'women's spaces' do not really mean women, they mean cis-straight (possibly able-bodied and white in the western world). Conversations stem around a majority, privileged perspective. I have been practicing MCA for nearly 10 years and am still yet to find a same-sex couple I can talk to, to discuss topics such as ‘How oh how will menopause work with two of us going through it, possibly at the same time?!’

How to create change and be an ally for lesbian, bi-sexual and other LGBTQ+ menstruators?

It’s important to check who you're being influenced by. Whose stories are you hearing? Are you assuming or learning? How can you follow a more diverse range of voices and educate yourself?

Ensure too, that you go for your education around this topic from people who are offering it. Not every LGBTQ+ identifying person wants to teach about it, most just want to get on with their lives the same as non-LGBTQ+ people. No one with a minority experience should be expected to have to teach others or, even worse, validate their experience unless they want to. I often feel myself, and get feedback from other LGBTQ+ people, that when they are the only (open) one in a space, they end up being asked by a lot of well-meaning people about their differences, which adds an additional layer of emotional labour into the space. It doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable. As I have learnt from the Black Lives Matter movement, it is not the place of my friends of colour to educate me about racism. It is also not an LGBTQ+ person’s place to educate about their menstruality or persuade you that it’s a valid experience, unless they offer that in a professional capacity.

A woman leading a woman's circle once told me, in all seriousness, that 'there weren't any LGBTQ+ people in her group'. 1/10 people identify as somewhere in the LGBTQ+ rainbow, so then the question is, why are 1/10 people in your spaces not sharing this?

"Oh but we don't discriminate" is not enough. There are many, many spaces I have been in that don't overtly say 'you are not allowed' but in which LGBTQ+ people are not safe.
When you are part of a minority, unless overtly welcomed in, we cannot take it for granted that we are safe or welcomed. I have experienced this personally in the UK and other European countries on and offline. So for our menstrual spaces, if we really do mean 'all welcome' we have to be inclusive, with our content, our practices, our messages. Silence is not a neutral strategy.

We all have our blindspots, and we can all keep learning more and listening to and amplifying voices and experiences different from our own.


About the author

Adele Bates is a Behaviour & Education Specialist, Keynote Speaker and Author of "Miss, I don't give a sh*t" Engaging with Challenging Behaviour in Schools. Her work focuses on inclusion, wellbeing and behaviour in education. 

Adele's main focus is Education, however for friends of Red School she offers one off specials. As a graduate of Red School's Menstruality Leadership Programme, Adele serves the Menstruality community by offering one-to-one sessions to support you with inclusion around your practice and message.

This is a chance to ask the questions that you are scared are not PC enough to ask:

Why might a trans-man bleed? Why would menstruation be different for lesbians (and how do they navigate sex around it?) and how can I support LGBTQ+ people when I'm not myself? 

So, if you’re a menstruality educator or practitioner, you can ensure that all of your menstrual and menopausal goodness is accessible and welcoming for all human beings that can benefit from it.

To book a session with her, follow this link - https://bit.ly/359nhHW (It's called a 1-2-1 Behaviour Session because Adele doesn’t advertise this work generally, it’s a special offer for the menstruality community).


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