11 Women On The Taboo Things About Puberty That They Weren’t Allowed To Talk About
Regardless of your gender, puberty isn't easy. Voices changes, bodies start growing hair in different places, and suddenly innocent crushes can turn into sexual urges. And masturbation? I mean, talk about a puberty-related taboo — especially for girls.
"While for boys, masturbation is framed to them as natural, unavoidable, and even healthy — girls experience a very different narrative," Polly Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of Unbound, tells Bustle. "Told from the get-go that their sexuality is to be controlled and contained, girls aren't taught about masturbation, so many view it as unnatural or even shameful. They're also rarely taught about their own pleasure when it comes to sex. This means that not only are they unaware about sources of pleasure, they're often too embarrassed or scared to explore them."
While there has been a movement to take the shame out of completely normal things like menstruation, masturbation, and plenty of other things, depending on where you live, your culture, and how you're raised, taboos about puberty might still carry a strong stigma.
Below, 11 women reveal all the taboo things about puberty that they weren't allowed to talk about, from female orgasms to public hair, and how it affected them.
1. Alle, 35
"Male masturbation was discussed extensively in all our sex ed classes, starting in fifth grade. Female masturbation — literally nothing. Crickets. I didn’t even know girls could have orgasms! There was no discussion of female pleasure whatsoever; just the pain of your period and the awkwardness of puberty. Pretty telling, honestly."
2. Barb, 43
"The dreaded period... Nobody dared talk about it. Instead of just saying 'I have or she has her period,' terms like 'on the rag' were whispered in hopes that nobody would find out your current situation... Awkward."
3. Penni, 37
"I’ll say it: masturbation. Especially for women. We all knew guys would 'have a wank,' but masturbation, even orgasms, weren’t spoken about at all for women. So much so that as a young teenager exploring with my boyfriend, I had a sensation of being hot and dizzy; [I] really didn’t know what was going on... until said boyfriend decided to tell his mates at school that he had got me off!"
4. Anonymous, 21
"As the daughter of a Muslim woman, my mother and I never talked about feminine hygiene products. The one time I asked about using tampons, I got a vague answer about toxic shock syndrome, how tampons would take my virginity, and was told never to ask about using them again. This was when I was 14 years old. I am now 21 and still have never used a tampon."
5. Megan, 31
"Periods. Puberty and beyond, women don’t talk about it. The only person I could talk to about it for a long time was my mom. When girls/women ask for a tampon because they don’t have one, it’s always a hushed whisper because we don’t want anyone to find out or know. There are girls who don’t know that the level of pain they are in is normal and, in some cases, not normal (looking at you endometriosis and PCOS, sisters) because we don’t f*cking talk about it. They don’t know that there are other women out there who feel the same. Hell, they don’t know how their birth control is keeping them from getting pregnant or why. If it’s vagina-related no one talks about it."
6. Jesse, 40
"The amount of time I would spend menstruating. No one pointed out to me that I would be spending a quarter of my life having my period. Once my cycle got into a rhythm, I was continually frustrated because I thought I would have a month between each period, not a month from the beginning of one period to the next. So for several months, this basic mistake made me think there was something wrong with my cycle, and then when I realized it wasn’t wrong, I felt angry and ripped off. I felt like a quarter of my life had been taken away, had been marred in such a way that I couldn’t fully enjoy it. Everything I read at the time about the duration of a menstrual cycle said three to five days. That’s what it said in our high school anatomy textbooks, for example, and I remember wondering, 'Whose period is three days long? How do I get that?' But it wasn’t a question I felt comfortable asking in class. My periods lasted seven days, and if that happened every 28 days, then I was basically spending a quarter of my time menstruating. I couldn’t believe this was how my life was going to be, but when I went to the doctor, she said it was within the limits of normalcy. My periods were also really heavy (although again within the limits of normalcy), and I often missed school or worse, had to leave school, because it was so logistically difficult to deal with running to the bathroom all the time. It was a nearly insurmountable hassle that it became slightly handicapping because it interfered with some activities like travel, camping, and sleepovers. When I was 16, I went on birth control, and although it did not make my periods lighter or shorter, at least they were predictable, which helped me feel more in control."
7. Becky, 55
"When I turned 12 I remember I started getting pubic hair. I was so alarmed and not sure about what was happening. I asked my mother to come into the bathroom with me and started to pull down my underwear. She immediately turned red, told me in a very stern voice to pull up my pants and walked out of the bathroom.
Needless to say when I was about the same age girls at school began to have their period. I had absolutely no idea about what they were talking about. Again when I approached my mother about it she told me in no uncertain terms that 'we did not discuss such things in our house.' When I found a box of Kotex in her closet I of course tied it to the brochure I had received. So I confronted her again and she was furious that I had been 'snooping' in her closet and that it had nothing to do with me. Even when I finally started my period, terrified at the bleeding and cramps, she absolutely refused to acknowledge what what happening."
8. Jessica, 27
"People seeing girls carry tampons to the bathroom. My mom always told me to hide them in my bag or a pocket if I wasn't [carrying] a purse. God forbid people even see feminine hygiene products. Plus if I needed to barrow one I'd always tell my friends I was riding the wave but don't have a surf board. Now I don't care."
9. Deana, 39
"When I got my first period I told my mother and her exact response was, 'Why are you telling me?' then she handed me a box of super plus tampons and said, 'You're smart, you'll figure it out.' In college I was sent to the emergency room with TSS. Causation or correlation? Before my daughter got her first period we stocked up on pads and talked all about it. When it finally arrived we celebrated by going out to dinner."
10. Erin, 32
"My mother refused to acknowledge that I was growing breasts. I hit puberty on the young side — third grade — and every time I broached the subject of needing a bra (I kept bumping my budding breasts into my desk at school and it hurt like hell), she would tell me I wasn’t old enough yet. So I started wearing Band-Aids on my nipples so they weren’t so obvious until she finally had no choice but to take me bra shopping."
11. Becki, N/A
"I went through puberty at a really young age (10) and got my period before anybody else in my class at school. I couldn't talk about pads or tampons (i.e. needing to use or change them) — the teachers just seemed extremely embarrassed about the whole thing and my friends thought it was weird. So much shame around it."
Although we may be in 2018, puberty taboos still exist. But if we make an effort to talk about these topics — female masturbation, menstruation, and pubic hair — we can, hopefully, kick the stigma surrounding them to the curb. No teenage should have to experience TSS because of a puberty taboo.