Despite the fact that menstruation is a totally normal and unproblematic phenomenon, getting your first period is too often an experience tied up with embarrassment, fear, or — in many cases — ignorance. According to a recent survey by the period education campaign Betty for Schools, almost half of women didn't know what was going on when they started their periods. In other words, they noticed blood in their underwear and didn't know that was a normal thing that happened. Talk about terrifying.
It's worth noting that the survey included 2,000 U.K. women of all different ages, so it's (hopefully) possible that young people starting their periods right now are a little more in the know. But there's definitely a lot of room for improvement when it comes to educating people about their bodies. In fact, 76 percent of women ages 16-24 in the survey said they felt embarrassed when they learned about periods in school, compared to 70 percent of those over 55. And 60 percent of the women overall felt their menstruation lessons were unrelatable or old-fashioned.
In addition to schools, parents, siblings, and other adults can help combat the silence around periods that leaves kids clueless about what's happening to them. Here are some ways to do that.
Improve Sex Ed
Periods aside, our country (and many other countries) has a problem with sex education across the board. A 2016 Guttmacher Institute study found that only 60 percent of teen girls and 55 percent of boys had learned about birth control in sex ed. Another study in BMJ Open found that teens in 10 different countries expressed dissatisfaction with sex ed, saying the teachers often appeared uncomfortable and neglected important subjects. More education about periods in particular and more open discussion about sexual health in general could help kids get the information and ask the questions they need in sex ed.
Provide More Resources Outside School
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for kids to learn about periods when they're not in school. There are books like The Adventures of Toni the Tampon and The Period Coloring Book and even a period-themed board game. If you know someone who might be starting their period soon, why not get one of these for them?
Have Positive Conversations About Periods
There's a stigma against talking about anything related to our reproductive systems among families, but there's nothing inappropriate about discussing our health, and staying silent on periods encourages the idea that they're embarrassing. We also need to change the way we discuss periods: Instead of using potentially anxiety-inducing clichés like "you're a woman now" or "get ready for PMS," we should let children know their periods are not a big deal and should not be unpleasant, uncomfortable, or burdensome.
Call A Spade A Spade
Rather than talking about periods in whispers or rushing to cover up leaks, we need to acknowledge what periods are: a normal part of everyday life. That means it's OK to say the words "period" and "menstruation." From "Aunt Flo's visit" to "that time of month," we have all sorts of euphemisms to avoid calling periods what they are, as if the actual words would evoke too unpleasant an image to bring up in polite company. This teaches people who menstruate that their periods are disgusting and ultimately leads to less discussion and less education, when what we need is more.