Disclaimer: this is a straight-forward, blunt, personal perspective about women and periods. If you’re squeamish about these things I encourage you to get over it and read it anyway. Looking forward to respectful and thoughtful, contributing comments. Let’s talk about this and take away the stigma of menstruation.
Ladies, do you remember the circumstances of your first period?
What about you men, do you remember when your sisters started…? Or your daughters?
I don’t remember much, other than the usual sentiments of discomfort, anxiety about leaks, and how unfair it was to have to go through this crap for the next 40+ years.
At school, they talked to us a little about the menstrual cycle, and briefly touched on pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. If I remember correctly, they talked more about condoms and protection than what a female body goes through during a complete cycle.
And that was in grade 10 or 11. Most girls start their periods well before then…
I stumbled through my teen years pretty much ignorant and naive as far as my changing body was concerned.
Among things I would have liked to understand better was that the first day of my period is Day 1. I don’t know why this wasn’t made clear to me (or why I didn’t really get it). For some reason I thought Day 1 was the day the period ended…
I didn’t understand about ovulation either. Ovulation was a term I associated with getting pregnant, but I was 14, 15 and not concerned with making babies…Turns out, ovulation has a much more complex meaning than just as a marker for optimal pregnancy.
Or was it explained to me and it just didn’t sink in? I mean, teenagers aren’t the most lucid when it comes to absorbing explanations…
I also didn’t know that ovulation could, and does, take place a few days before and after Day 14. Because I didn’t count my cycle properly, ovulation days didn’t mean much to me.
Neither did I comprehend why, during those ovulation days, an increase in sexual thoughts populated my brain. Not that actual sex was an issue really – I was not sexually active until much later. But, it would have helped me to understand my body better had it been explained to me that thinking about sex or sexual activity prior to, and during ovulation was normal.
I remembered times when I was suddenly more interested in how girls dressed, and how boys reacted to girls when they were dressed a certain way. I was never a fashion conscious person – we didn’t have the money for the type of clothes that the preppy 1980s girls wore, so I didn’t think much about that stuff. But I suddenly noticed them. I noticed their outfits, their shoes, or how they wore their hair.
I also noticed how stiff the boys seemed at that age, rarely moving when a girl walked past their desk in a classroom, staring straight ahead, not talking to anyone. (lol) Of course I didn’t know why that happened then, either. 😊
And, I was suddenly interested in Soap Operas.
Anyone watch General Hospital or Y&R after school? 😂
Those soap gals had such exciting, romantic lives… 🙄
I remember my mom telling me to track my periods, but I don’t remember why. The general understanding was to count the cycle days (typically 28) so I could anticipate when my period might come and be prepared. It was about being practical, to avoid leaks and extra laundry more than a deeper understanding what my body was going through.
No one explained how my menstrual cycle affected the largest sex organ in my body – the brain.
As a teen girl, I didn’t understand the intricacies of my body. Sure, the books and pamphlets I was given gave me all the technical jargon, but it didn’t enlighten me about all the other stuff that came along with it, such as the things that were private and weren’t discussed with anyone.
I had so many questions I never asked:
- Why did I think about sex when I had no experience with the act itself?
- Why did what boys thought about me become more important than what I thought about myself?
- Why did I feel ugly and fat?
- Why did I hate my hair?
- Why did I have so much acne?
- Why didn’t anyone explain to me why touching myself in certain ways made me feel good but ashamed?
- Was it wrong to touch myself?
- Did anyone else go through this?
- Was I normal?
Frankly, I did not connect my period to anything at all to do with my sexuality.
Periods were messy and an inconvenience, and the thought of using a tampon as a 14 year old girl was mortifying and weird.
Ugh. I thank my lucky stars I’m not a teen girl anymore…
Today, everyone discusses everything – just go to social media and search a tag related to menstruation, women’s bodies, or sex. You’ll have it all blown up in your face. An by it I mean all kinds of stupidity, usually.
No wonder there is a growing awareness in western culture that is trying to remove the stigma of menstruation.
The stigma of menstruation is perpetrated by a general lack of education, cultural taboos, discrimination, and often silence.
Simultaneously though, I will give credit to those who try to normalize all things related to female biology and sexuality via social media outlets.
There are some gynecological doctors on twitter who do a great job calling out stupidity placed by some men (and also sometimes women, or far-right religious individuals or organizations) who are ignorant, hurtful, judgemental and often very wrong.
Dr. Gunter is one such person who challenges misinformation about women, girls and all things related to their bodies on twitter:
She is not the only one, but she’s a well-known one. (click the image to go to her twitter feed)
There are many other good sources like websites, books and podcasts that will guide anyone who hungers for accurate, current information all over the internet. As long as you know how to sift through the incorrect, misunderstood or downright stupid shit, you can learn a lot and, simultaneously see that there are many others out there who are just like you.
There is something to be said about these types of communities – online or otherwise.
You are not alone in your misunderstanding. There is no shame in not knowing.
As a young teen myself, I was not given any talks at all beyond the very basics (and focused mostly on practicalities) in terms of understanding my body. It simply wasn’t something anyone spent a lot of time thinking about back in the 1980s.
The idea, I think, was that as a menstruating female you were expected to figure it out like the many generations before you had. Maybe this is because some women who were mothering teen girls during the 80s (or before) weren’t sure how to initiate this type of conversation with their daughters. Or, maybe they were uncomfortable and inexperienced. Their own mothers may not have talked to them about these things either.
How things have changed.
I talk to my daughter, but not usually before I ask her what she knows first. Kids today, they get bombarded by so much information and not all of it is pertinent, true, current or clear.
I sometimes ask her what her friends say, what school says during health class, or what she’s been taught, or not. I ask her how she feels, and invite her to approach me with any questions she has, even if it feels embarrassing.
I talk to her about my own experiences, emphasizing that there will be similarities, but also differences, and not to worry if she has different experiences than I did, or her friends do.
I don’t do all that in one sitting. I take my time, watch her, see when a good time would be to approach the subject. And I wait to see how she feels in terms of continuing the conversation.
My job is to give her the tools she needs: accurate information, supplies, and support.
The most important message I give her however is this:
No matter what you read or hear, whatever happens to your body is normal.
You are normal.
If you don’t have a 28 day cycle, it’s normal.
If you have a 28 day cycle and then it changes to 30 days, or 22 days, it’s normal.
If you bleed a lot or a little, it’s normal.
If you have a bit of discomfort or pain, or none, it’s normal.
I also told her that if something feels off, to tell me, or to ask to go see a doctor. She is the only ones who can determine whether or not something doesn’t feel right to her. If she’s unsure, she can say something to me, and we can assess together, and go to a doctor if need be. There is no reason to feel shameful or bashful.
She gets it. I think most of us parent our girls similarly today. This is incredible progress from generations past, isn’t it. I am hopeful our girls will continue to grow into strong, self-confident women who are comfortable with their bodies, their biological functions and their sexuality.
I did give my daughter an app for tracking her cycle, the same one I’m using. I explained that tracking her cycle will help her understand her body better, and went through some detail. There’s a way to track cravings, pain and cramps, little or a lot of flow, acne breakouts and that sort of thing. I do this too – I can sometimes tell by the predictions based on data I’ve input why I may have a sudden drop in mood, or whatever. I mean, it’s more challenging now with perimenopause since nothing in my body is consistent, but it still helps.
But for a young girl just starting out, over time she can learn more about her body based on the data she enters into the app. I gave he a concrete example:
“You know how I’m not a big ice cream fan? Well, once a month for a day or two, I feel this very heavy craving for ice cream. When I entered this information into my app for a few months, I was able to see that this craving always happened around the same time during my cycle. It gave me a clue as to where I was in my cycle.”
This is the sort of concrete information I was missing when I was a teen girl. I’m not faulting anyone about this lack of information, I’m simply saying that times have changed and we tend to be more open today than we were back then.
There was a time not that long ago when I worried about imminent menopause, and the end of my youth. (Which is ridiculous, I’m not young anymore…) 😉
I no longer feel that way (mostly). I actually spent almost the entire summer without a period, over four months. I thought YAY it’s done! Except, at a most inopportune time and without access to supplies, the damn period hit me again and pestered me with a bloody murder scene for 14 days straight without a break.
Even that is normal, I explained to my daughter.
We are at opposite ends – she is starting, and I am, hopefully, nearing the end.
I realize this is a little bit personal and not everyone is comfortable talking about this topic on the internet, so there is no pressure to contribute to the conversation. But if you do, thank you for reading, and especially commenting. 🙂
See you in the comments.