Menstrual Health Literacy and Management Strategies in Young Women in Australia: A National Online Survey of Young Women Aged 13-25 Years

J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2021 Apr;34(2):135-143. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2020.11.007. Epub 2020 Nov 12.


Study objective: To explore key aspects of menstrual health literacy and menstrual management in young women at school or in tertiary education.

Design: Cross-sectional online survey.

Setting: Australia-wide.

Participants: A total of 4202 adolescent and young women (13-25 years of age; median age 17 years), having reached menarche, living in Australia and currently attending school (n = 2421) or tertiary education (n = 1781).

Interventions: Online survey hosted by Qualtrics between November 2017 and January 2018. Data were collected on contraceptive use, management strategies, sources of information, and knowledge of menstruation.

Main outcome measures: Information on prevalence and effectiveness of different management strategies, health-seeking behavior, knowledge about menstruation, and common menstrual disorders such as endometriosis.

Results: The majority of young women did not seek medical advice for their menstrual symptoms, but used information from the Internet (50%) and engaged in self-management, most commonly with over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol (51%) or ibuprofen (52%). Oral contraceptive use was relatively common (35%), and mostly for reduction of menstrual pain (58%). Despite having significant dysmenorrhea, approximately one-half of the participants (51%) thought that their period was normal. Women with higher pain scores were more likely to rate their period as "abnormal" (P < .0001) but not more likely to consult a doctor (P = .13). Only 53% of those at school had heard of endometriosis.

Conclusion: Self-management of menstrual symptoms is common, but a significant minority of women are underdosing or choosing ineffective methods. Most women do not seek medical advice even when symptoms are severe, and cannot identify symptoms suggestive of secondary dysmenorrhea. Improved education on menstruation is vital.

Keywords: Education; Endometriosis; Health literacy; Menstruation; Pelvic pain; dysmenorrhea.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Menstruation Disturbances / prevention & control*
  • Menstruation*
  • Schools
  • Self-Management / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult