We all (hopefully) learned about periods at some point during our lives — and for many us, our parents or parental figures up were probably the ones to give us the lowdown. When parents explain periods to kids, it's bound to be uncomfortable to some degree; after all, words like "vagina" and "tampon" often elicit strong emotional reactions, especially from children who are so frequently taught to refer to their "private parts" instead. But it doesn't have to be — and both kids and parents getting comfortable talking about periods could go a long way towards both normalizing and demystifying them.
The challenges of educating kids about menstruation are demonstrated perfectly in a new video by WatchCut, in which a number of parents use menstrual products to explain the purpose and process of menstruation to their children. Although some of the parents talk fairly matter-of-factly about what actually happens during a period — when an egg doesn't get fertilized, your body sheds the uterine lining it no longer needs, hence the blood — other conversations get pretty cringe-worthy: A few parents approach the topic from as vague an angle as possible, couching it in halting, tentative statements like, "Our body needs to release some of the... old fluids... in our body and it comes out... somewhere special" (with a predictably "UGH, MOM" response from the kids):
Another mom refers to the vagina as the "chee-chee" (which honestly would make anyone giggle):
And it quickly becomes apparent that some of the fathers aren't actually that familiar with many aspects of menstruation themselves — which understandably makes it difficult to teach someone else about it:
It's all just about as awkward as you'd imagine it to be. Here's the whole video to see for yourself:
Clearly, no period lesson is going to go as smoothly as planned. My first "official" talk with grownups about periods and sex was an educational school program in fifth grade. The boys and girls were separated into two different classrooms, where the health teachers gave us presentations about male and female puberty, respectively, complete with diagrams. What's more uncomfortable than talking about periods with your family? Talking about it with near strangers.
But if we stop and think about why these conversations are so difficult to have, our culture has spent years — centuries, even — teaching us that our bodies are something to be ashamed of and not meant to be spoken of in "polite" company. Girls are taught to hide their pads and tampons when they go to the bathroom to change them out, lest people nearby might realize it's "that time of the month." Guys are taught that periods are something they shouldn't ask about — unless they're being used as an insult. And when kids who have internalized these messages grow up, they teach them to their kids in turn — because it's the only thing they know.
The WatchCut video also shows what happens when fathers themselves are uninformed. One dad, who describes periods to his son as "a bloody mess, kind of yucky," picks up a menstrual pad and thinks they're gauze. None of the parents or their children knew what the menstrual cup was at first glance.
But one of the ways to combat the perpetuation of this cycle of misinformation and stigma is to have those tough but important conversations early on. The WatchCut video also shows this in action: For example, one boy asks his mother, "Is the blood normal blood, or is it a special type of blood?", which is actually a pretty valid question; whether you're a grownup or a child, it's perfectly OK to ask about things you don't know. What's more, she responds by explaining exactly what the uterine lining is ("thick and warm and gushy and full of nutrients"). Knowledge really is power, even if it's something our culture has taught us to treat as "gross."
So as awkward as the video might be, it actually takes a small but necessary step toward normalizing periods. And the bottom line is, regardless of how old you are, nobody should feel ashamed about how their bodies work.