The good, the bad, and the bloody: Describing menstrual function and dysfunction in sport


Due to taboo and stigma, women athletes and researchers alike have not often openly or deeply explored and described women athletes' experiences of menstruation in sport beyond highly quantitative or medical approaches. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe women athletes' experiences of menstrual function and dysfunction in competitive sport. Applying interpretive description methodology, women athletes between 14 and 39 years of age (N = 71, Mage = 26.35) completed an in-depth conversational style survey that included likert, yes/no, open-ended, probing, and storytelling style questions. The competitive athletes were participating in a range of individual/team and aesthetic/non-aesthetic sports. The data were analyzed to reflect and describe women athletes' unfiltered authentic experiences. Three themes were generated to describe menstrual function and dysfunction in sport: "The Good", "The Bad", and "The Bloody". Across the themes, experiences related to traumatic events and memories, self-conscious emotions, and sport performance are described and interpreted. This research emphasizes that the experiences of women athletes are complex, situational, individual, and often highly concealed. These findings highlight that a bio-psycho-social approach may be beneficial in helping women athletes reach their potential and manage the challenges related to menstrual function and dysfunction in sport. This research was funded through a Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship held by the first author.