The stigma around reproductive health

We need to destigmatise reproductive health in the workplace, otherwise, as a consequence women suffer. The stigma around reproductive health applies to, but is not limited to: menstruation, menopause and fertility treatment. 

When women menstruate they are to do so quietly. Come to work, take paracetamol and bring a hot water bottle if you must, but don’t talk about it. If you go to the toilet to change a tampon or pad then be sure to tuck it away out of sight to avoid embarrassing anyone. This is what society has told you.

Things are slightly progressing. Tampon tax is due to end following campaigns around period poverty, but endometriosis is still taking an average of 7 years to diagnose due to a lack of research in the subject.

Menopause policies are slowly finding their way into the workplace as women push back against the stigma, but there is still much work to do done. Awareness about this topic as well as menstruation and fertility treatment is absent.

Fertility treatment is classed as ‘elective’ even though infertility is classed as a disease.

Women and men who are unable to have children are made to feel that infertility is their fault when they lack support for paid leave to have treatment. This brings about shame.

‘Anyway in which women are made to feel bad about an aspect of their bodies which only females have, reproduces the female-based shame on which the patriarchy has been built. And thus keeps women down’.

Dr Lara Owen, author of Her Blood is Gold.

The fertility treatment process

Sure, male infertility counts for 40-50% of infertility cases amongst couples, but fertility treatment physically affects women. Women are the ones who need to be out of work for scans, procedures, egg retrieval and transfers.

Calling fertility treatment ‘elective’ is another way to hold women back. When women take unpaid leave for a situation they didn’t want to find themselves in they lose. And who can afford unpaid leave?


The stigma of reproductive health looks like this

Many women prefer to lie than to tell their bosses about upcoming fertility treatment. This is for fear of unpaid leave, missing out on promotions and a lack of discretion.


In a recent social media poll 71% of participants told Fertility Issues in Teaching that they would rather feign a stomach bug than explain to their employer that they are going through fertility treatment, and 90% said they wish they could tell their employer the truth.

We’re uncomfortable discussing our reproductive health

In her book ‘About Bloody Time’, Emma Barnett reveals that Plan UK carried out a study of 1000 girls and women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one.


Results show that only 1 in 5 girls feel comfortable discussing their period with their teacher and half of UK girls are embarrassed to discuss their period.


Society tells women that they should walk to the toilet hiding a tampon up their sleeve. But they’re then expected to walk into their boss’ office and explain that they need leave for fertility treatment. 

They’re expected to be discreet but also be honest and then deal with the stigma that follows when leave is denied.

Talking fertility at work

Employers aren’t prepared for the fertility treatment conversation and employees want to avoid it altogether.  

A fertility treatment policy is a step in the right direction, but we need a cultural shift for the stigma to shift.

This shift comes from education. Raising awareness around reproductive health in the workplace so colleagues and managers are better equipped at handling and holding space for sensitive conversations.

Fertility Issues in Teaching work with schools to support them in their move towards becoming fertility friendly.

Get in touch now to make your workplace fertility friendly.


To access Lara Owen’s work follow this link to her website

Twitter @laraowen

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