In this blog Ash talks about why education regarding bodies and periods needs to be updated…
The other day, I was complaining to my course-mate about how tired I felt. He asked me if I had been out clubbing the night before. Truth was, I had spent the previous day curled up on the sofa with a hot pack pressed to my stomach, and constantly checking the time to see when I could take more paracetamol in an effort to kill my cramps. But instead of saying, “No, I felt rubbish because I was on my period”, I simply told him that I had a quiet night in. I wasn’t exactly lying (depending on whether whimpers of pain still fall under the ‘quiet’ category) but I was fully aware that I had deliberately avoided telling him the real reason for my fatigue. Why had I done that? It’s a perfectly normal thing, and it’s not exactly a secret. Some of the basics of menstruation are taught in secondary school science lessons.
Trouble is, we’ve all been conditioned to treat periods as a taboo, yet there is absolutely no advantage to this. If anything, this just causes more problems. We can barely bring ourselves to say “period”, or “tampon”, or “sanitary pad”. We have these euphemisms, like “our little monthly visitor”, and “feminine products”. (The latter example only serves to exclude men and nonbinary people who menstruate, as well as imply that women who don’t menstruate aren’t real women. Invalidating much?) But as we learnt when reading Harry Potter, fear of a name only increases a fear of the thing itself. We don’t need to be afraid of periods, or of discussing them. They’re not even a magical evil overlord – just a natural bodily function. Far less scary than Voldemort. And much less likely to attempt to rule tyrannically over the world.
Open communication is key here. It’s the best way to be educated about anything, including menstruation.
Another thing that sucks about how society presents periods is how it’s taught. Don’t get me wrong, educating kids about periods is GREAT. It teaches them about what is going to happen in some of their bodies when they’re older, or for some, what is already happening. But what schools teach about menstruation only scratches the surface. For one thing, my school only taught us about how to use disposable sanitary pads and tampons. But there are other menstruation products out there, such as menstrual cups, that I was never taught about and had no idea how to use! I’ve bought one but even with the instruction booklet, I haven’t been able to use it successfully. Really could’ve done with education about this.
Schools also fail to address a lot of the misconceptions about periods. For example, that using tampons will pop your hymen and make you no longer a virgin. Virginity is a social construct that has no objective value anyway, but point is, the only way you can lose your virginity is by having sex. Tampons will not change your sexual status. I was told so many times by my mother that I shouldn’t use tampons until I’ve had sex for the first time, when really, that doesn’t actually matter and it should totally be your own choice. The most important thing with periods is to do what works for you. There is no one way to deal with periods, and while one person may find menstrual cups the most comfortable option, another might prefer using tampons.
One other thing that I think really needs to be taught in schools is endometriosis. We are told that period pains hurt like hell, and they really can! But endometriosis is a whole other level. The problem is that some people who menstruate might not even know they have it, and therefore don’t seek medical help and don’t get treatment which can ease the severe pain (from what I’ve heard, “severe” doesn’t even cover it). The NHS page on endometriosis describes it as “a common condition”, so why is it not taught at school? Endometriosis should not have to go untreated.
To sum up, the education that schools offer about periods is severely lacking in important information, and it desperately needs an upgrade. People should learn about their bodies and not be ashamed of talking about it, and one of the best ways to do that is to start with the education system. Teach kids when they’re still kids. The next generations deserve to grow up with healthy attitudes towards their bodies, and shouldn’t have to spend years being ashamed of them like we have.
If you would like to contribute your own piece or share your ideas, let us know in the comments or tweet them to me: @maldrichwincer.