Steph Gongora doesn’t consider herself as part of the freebleeding movement — but she’s glad that sharing a video of her blood stain encouraged a conversation about the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Gongora says that the video she posted to Instagram, where she practices yoga while showing her period stain in white yoga pants, led to a long debate in the comments after the video went viral.
“I had a few people comment or [direct message] me or even email me that they wanted to kill me or that I should kill myself, and far too many individuals (men AND women) comparing menstruation leaks to defecating through their pants in public or just whipping out an erect penis in public,” the Austin-based yoga instructor, 30, tells PEOPLE. “But, there were so many grateful comments, stories, and emails as well.”
Gongora reiterates that she wasn’t free bleeding. “The video I posted was just a leak at the end of my hour-long yoga practice. I was wearing a tampon, felt it start to leak, and decided to take advantage of the situation to discuss something that had been mulling around in my head for a few weeks. So I just pulled on my white pants and kept flowing,” she says.
The yoga teacher, who is currently building an eco-retreat center in Costa Rica with her husband, says that many women responded to the video by commenting about the shame they’ve felt over period leaks.
“It was heartbreaking and heartwarming to hear about someone’s leak in high school that tormented their dreams for years, or how another women felt so ashamed of her period growing up that she vowed to change things for her daughter,” she says. “It was amazing to me how many trolls would scream that period shaming doesn’t even exist or isn’t even a thing anymore, when the three comments before theirs on the feed were stories about being personally shamed or ashamed during menstruation.”
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Gongora also wanted to highlight the fact that while women in developed countries have to deal with unexpected leaks, there are others all over the world where they don’t have access to menstrual products at all.
“They miss work for fear of leaking in public, and they miss school, putting them behind in their studies. It’s unacceptable,” she says.
And when people call period leaks “gross” or compare it to “defecating through your pants,” Gongora says it shows ignorance.
“That’s generally something that most of us don’t have a problem with, at least not on a regular basis. I tend to be able to control my bowel movements … most women can’t control their period,” she says.
Which is why Gongora says it’s time to end the period stigma.
“Many people are afraid to talk about it, even women,” she says. “It’s just been shrouded in silence for so long that you’re supposed to accept that you need to hide your tampons when you walk to the bathroom, and it would probably be better if you called it something cute like Aunt Flo instead of your period or bleeding from your vagina. And we continue this, we perpetuate the cycle of shame because whenever someone does talk about it, they are met with hate and disgust and a great deal of misplaced anger and discomfort.”
- with reporting by LINDSAY KIMBLE