We Need Better Period Education, Period.My First Period…
One morning a few days after my 12th birthday, I rolled out of bed and went to the toilet to find brown and red stains in my knickers. Fortunately, I knew exactly what it was and I knew it was nothing to worry about. Even so, I still screamed for my Mum with an Oscar winning performance and proceeded to waddle towards the bathroom door with my pants around my ankles in search of her.
“Is it your period?”, came a call through the door.
“I think so” I shouted back.
“I’ll get Mum.”
This call came from my 14 year old brother.
A while before this day, my Mum sat me down and explained exactly what a period was. She told me what my body would do to induce a period, what it means, and most importantly, how I may feel during that “time of the month.” She told me that it may likely be a brown colour the first time, which avoided me from having the “I think I pooped my pants this morning” conversation, and she told me what to do if I got my period outside of the house. She showed me all the different sanitary products that were available at the time, how to use them, and she stocked my bag with them so that I was ready, beyond ready to go into battle with Aunt Flo.
What people find remarkable, is that my brother also had a great period education that day as well. My Mum asked him to sit through the entire conversation and by the end he probably could have gone into battle with Aunt Flo too, if it wasn’t for his lack of a uterus, that is.
I thought it was a great thing, my brother understood what I was going through. Occasionally, he would even knock tentatively on my door with a hot water bottle in some of my more painful days.
When I was 13 years old, my Mum had a terrible car accident and became immobile for nearly a year. My Dad bought tampons with gusto, (tampons in the correct size as well would you believe) and took on all my period issues with enough understanding and knowledge to rival most women.
When I asked him how he knew so much, he responded: “Your Mother.”
Consequently, I grew up thinking all men would have a good knowledge about periods.
My deluded theory wasn’t tested until I reached 16 and got my first boyfriend.
Watch and learn…
On a family Holiday, on which my then boyfriend had been invited, I came on my period. Seven of us were staying in a Chalet with one bathroom.
My boyfriend went to use the loo. He was in there all of five seconds before he shot back out and whispered, “There’s something DISGUSTING in the toilet.”
His comment echoed between us like a sanitary towel packet being opened in a public area.
Back then, I used to flush tampons down the toilet. (It was a different time and I certainly do not do that now.) I’d forgotten to flush, I’d left my tampon floating around like a little red beacon.
I was momentarily embarrassed, before instantly recovering, my family had always been open about these things, what was the problem?
“It’s just my tampon, don’t worry about it. Did you flush it?”
My voice escalated. “My TAMPON, you flushed it right?”
“It’s your weird thing. You go and flush it.”
I was momentarily paralysed.
He was nearly shouting now. “And what the heck is a tampon?”
My paralysed state continued. How could this 17 year old young man not know what a tampon was? Admittedly he didn’t have a sister, but he had a Mother, who was quite possibly still having her period, and at any rate had most certainly had a period at some point.
I started to explain, but was interrupted.
“How can you not know what a tampon is?”
We both turned to stare at my brother who was staring at my boyfriend.
My brother continued, “She uses them on her period.” He turned to me. “I’ll flush it for you.”
My boyfriend turned redder than my tampon.
I soon learnt that not everyone had a family, or a Mother like mine who simply saw it as a right that I knew about my body.
My brother would grow into a man that bought his girlfriend tampons, and even showed her how to applicate them when it transpired she didn’t have a clue herself.
But was it possible that not everybody had a good periods and puberty education?
The Tampon Lady…
I suffered crippling period pain and an extremely heavy flow, I still do. My periods lasted in the region of 7-9 days, and have continued this way. It has always been a challenging time for me.
What made it easier was my Mother, who never shied away from telling me anything. No question was too embarrassing, no amount of PMS too much to deal with, no sanitary product too difficult to explain.
“Will this get stuck in my vagina?” the 12 year old me asked, as I held the tampon in my hand like some sort of animal after establishing my periods were too heavy for just sanitary towels.
Of course it can’t, but I also knew the importance of changing this seemingly harmless item at least every 8 hours without fail, another piece of knowledge bestowed upon me by my Mum. Something I absolutely wouldn’t have learnt otherwise.
Consequently, because of my thorough home education, it didn’t even occur to me that we had been taught absolutely nothing about periods in School until Year 9.
“The Tampon Lady is coming today”, our teacher announced as we walked in to take the register.
Apparently, that is her official title.
The girls in our year were crammed into a tiny room, self consciously staring at each other while The Tampon Lady droned on uncomfortably. The boys segregated in another room, possibly learning about wood work or something else stereotypically manly.
It was a brief visit, and incredibly lacking. It was then I realised from the blank faces that maybe not everyone in that room knew as much as me. I was by no means an expert, but I had been having my period for two years at this point. What use was The Tampon Lady now? Shouldn’t this talk have happened before our periods had turned up?
“Does anyone have any questions?” The Tampon Lady looked towards the door as if her escape was imminent.
I looked around the room at the girls in my year group, some of whom I barely knew, and wondered how this woman expected us to ask anything in such an uncomfortable state.
A tumble weed drifted by.
I wondered how the other girls had been prepared. Had their Mums or Carers spoken to them? Did they know about sanitary products? I felt a sudden urge to stand up and lead the talk myself. Even then I knew something had to change.
At 27 years old, the only periods and puberty education I received came from my Mum, along with a brief spout from The Tampon Lady. Sure, we had Sex Education, the good old fashioned condom on a banana trick, but I don’t remember any profound Puberty Education in School at all.
On looking further into research I discovered that periods and puberty education was considerably lacking in Schools and young people weren’t getting the information they wanted. I thought about how I would have felt if I hadn’t experienced such positivity around growing up from my Mum. I thought about what it would be like for others who went through these changes with no education.
I began researching periods, and was shocked to find out that a survey taken just last year revealed that “47% of women felt unprepared and did not know what to expect when they got their period.” (Betty for Schools)
I found it difficult to read.
Then I found an example of how to teach period education online, written only last year, with a section on how “periods are embarrassing and should not be spoken about.”
No wonder women feel unprepared, no wonder people are uncomfortable talking about periods.
2018 should not be yet another year where we do not talk about periods. It should not be another year where we let periods become a taboo topic.
It should be a year where we make a difference. Are you ready to join us?
Click here to find out more.