Sarah Hamp | Courtesy

Sarah Hamp-Adams, a public health junior, remembers her first period with words like “embarrassed” and “scary.”  

“I remember being confused and embarrassed, and whenever my friends would bring it up, I’d be like, ‘why are we talking about this?’” Hamp-Adams said. “If I had a tampon or pad with me it was like I needed to hide it.”

However, Hamp-Adams finds it much easier to openly discuss menstruation now that she is part of a student-led research campaign called “Find Your Flow.”

“Find Your Flow” is working to combat the stigmas around menstruation through a media campaign and identify global patterns in attitudes towards menstruation.

The project is currently being run by a team of four undergraduate student researchers through Cal Poly’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Lab.

“Find Your Flow aims to create open conversations about menstruation by encouraging menstruators to connect globally via shared experiences,” the campaign’s Facebook page reads. “We aim to break the silence surrounding periods and advocate for positive attitudes regarding periods.”

During its first year, participants are being asked to submit the story of their first period through a survey that is available across the globe.

The survey, which was launched earlier this year, includes other questions that give the researchers insight into participants’ education surrounding periods, support systems and other factors regarding their first-period experience.

“We go in and not only post their stories to our Facebook and Instagram, but we also use that as data and we analyze it to see if there are themes and kind of compare the menstruators’ experiences across cultures,” Hamp-Adams said.

The SRH Lab is a research lab focused on asking questions about women’s sexual and reproductive health, especially relating to women of color. The lab is run by Dr. Joni Roberts, a professor in the kinesiology and public health department and faculty-in-residence. 

Roberts said doing research around menstruation is a way to lay the foundation for work that’s specifically focused on sexual health.

“Menstruation is stigmatized in a way that’s similar to sexual health and it’s often approached the same way,” Roberts said. “So, people participate in it, but don’t talk about it.”.

The lab has previously done research on contraception and menstruation and is currently also working on research around perceptions of STIs.

Much of the research done in the SRH Lab is connected and builds off of projects done by Roberts or past students. 

Roberts had previously conducted research on menstruation in rural Uganda and found that menstrual health management in Uganda is affected by a lack of resources and stigmatization. She said that girls were often missing school because they didn’t have supplies or safe spaces to take care of themselves while they were menstruating. 

A team of students developed reusable menstrual hygiene products with materials accessible to people in Uganda and another team of students created informational comics about menstruation targeted toward children in Uganda.

The SRH Lab also conducted focus groups at Cal Poly and with Ugandan partners surrounding perceptions of menstruation.

Hamp-Adams said that these previous projects influenced the “Find Your Flow” campaign and much of the background research they focused on was centered in rural Africa. They were initially developing a campaign for women in Uganda but realized that, by using social media platforms, the reach could be global.

Since the campaign was launched, they have received first-period stories from over 70 participants across the world.

Freshman public health major Nicola Manalili, an undergraduate research volunteer working on “Find Your Flow,” said one of the most impactful parts of the research is the global scope.

“We’ve received stories from many countries around the world such as India and Nigeria, Vietnam,” Manalili said. “So, it was really interesting to see how menstruation is different in different cultures, different countries.”

Junior public health major and “Find Your Flow” research assistant Sydney Carolan said the survey also helps identify areas where more education is needed around menstrual health and hygiene.

“If these people are scared or they don’t know what it is, what can we do to make sure that we’re educating?” Carolan said. 

When they are not going through survey data, the team is working on connecting with global partner organizations and applying for upcoming conferences to present the data they have collected so far.

The entire research campaign will take place over the next five years with different surveys coming out as the campaign progresses.

Anyone interested in participating in the Find Your Flow campaign can find more information and the survey on the Instagram and Facebook pages. The SRH Lab also has an Instagram and website for more information about all the current research projects the lab is working on.