Research reveals menstrual education lacking in Australia

Free menstrual health tool helps young people answer what a normal period is and when to see a doctor

26 September 2022 

Research conducted by Western Sydney University reveals young people in Australia are not receiving adequate information or education about periods and menstrual management.

The research findings(opens in a new window) published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research,(opens in a new window) report on the evaluation of a free web-based resource, Menstruation Matters,(opens in a new window) created by the University and health experts to help provide young people with a greater understanding of menstrual health, specifically around what a normal period is, how to identify menstrual issues and symptoms, and importantly when to see a doctor.

Of the pilot study’s 75 participants, almost half (48 per cent) said the resource had changed what they thought was a normal period, and 94 per cent could now identify symptoms of endometriosis.

The web-based resource also provided a variety of evidence-based self-care menstrual management strategies that participants could do at home, including yoga postures, breathing exercise and dietary advice.

Furthermore, the study found that due to using the web-based resource and information presented:

  • 85 per cent would keep using at least one of the self-care practices they learned.
  • 60 per cent changed the way they managed their menstrual symptoms.
  • 43 per cent visited their doctor regarding their menstrual symptoms during the study and of those 84% did so due to the information presented on the resource.
  • 54 per cent who visited their doctor received a referral to a gynaecologist.

Participants involved in the research were living in Australia, aged between 14-25 years, with 20 years the average age, had menstruated for at least 12-months, and had regular periods.

Project lead and first author, Dr Mike Armour from Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute says the findings reveal gaps in the menstrual health education delivered in school and what information is needed to develop young people’s menstrual health literacy.

“From our study only 40 per cent of the participants reported they had learned about menstrual health in their Health and Physical Education (HPE) classes,” says Dr Armour.

“We know from our past research that most young people in Australia don’t find what they learn about menstruation in these school classes helpful, as the classes are mostly about biology and very little on management or what is ‘normal’ when it comes to periods.

“Because period pain is so common, most people think it’s just something you need to put up with. But this can lead to both poor pain and symptom management, or even worse, missing more serious underlying causes for period pain, like endometriosis.

“Menstrual issues such as period pain or heavy bleeding affect more than 90 per cent of women under 25 in Australia and can affect attendance rates and concentration in school or higher education or work. Understanding how to manage period symptoms with medication and non-medication strategies like yoga can help reduce pain and in turn help young people be able to perform better at school or university, and able to participate in their normal activities,” says Dr Armour.

The researchers also highlight in the paper participant’s increased uptake of self-care measures over the course of the study, especially in breathing/meditation exercises and acupressure.

Exercise has the most significant reduction in pain compared to other self-care measure, such as heat, but uptake was lower than other forms of self-care.

The study also provided participants with a self-screening tool (PIPPA), which if they scored high populated a letter for use with a doctor explaining the score received and relevance.

This letter may have given young people the confidence to present to a doctor and ask for more investigations.

“The feedback from participants has been very positive and the website(opens in a new window) is now available for everyone to access freely. We are exploring further ways to deliver the information, such as a smartphone app, to ensure that not only young people, but their teachers and parents/guardians, have access to accurate, evidence-based information on menstruation and its management,” says Dr Armour.

The researchers are currently surveying Australian parents/guardians, teachers, and young people to ensure the Menstruation Matters (opens in a new window) resource has everything needed for those involved in teaching or managing menstruation.

People interested in participating can complete the short online survey,(opens in a new window) available in English, Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, or Vietnamese, up until December 2022.

The pilot web-based resource, Menstruation Matters, (opens in a new window) was developed from research conducted in 2018 (opens in a new window) by the researcher team, which surveyed over 4,000 young women about periods and what they understood.

The project team included researchers from NICM Health Research Institute, the University’s School of Health and Science, and School of Education, as well as experts in period pain, women’s health, health promotion and education.

Funding for this study was provided by NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, Endometriosis Australia, and Kimberly-Clark Australia.

The paper, Evaluation of a Web-Based Menstrual Health Literacy Resource,(opens in a new window) is available online.