** This post was originally written in 2015. The language around gender is binary, which was typical for the time. Today, gender non-binary kids go through these changes to their bodies as well but they may not identify as girl or boy (and that’s okay). Puberty education and the language is catching up to the kids and is now more inclusive.
I have written before about how our family will celebrate when my girls get their period. But what about the step that comes before they start? How do I talk to them about what menstruation is and how to be prepared for it?
Don’t you knock??
My daughter was 7 years old at the time and would occasionally enter the bathroom without knocking. This time she came in while I was seated on the toilet during “that time of the month” and saw blood in my underwear. In sort of a distressed voice, she asked what was wrong. As calmly as I could muster (having been caught in such a position), I explained to her that I was menstruating. That every month mommy’s body creates a nest out of blood in my uterus for an ovum, the egg that gets fertilized in pregnancy. If mommy doesn’t get pregnant, then the nest comes out and my body builds a new one next month. She was satisfied to hear that I wasn’t hurt and bounced off as if it was no big deal.
Lots of people ask me what they should tell their daughters about menstruation. The above example is not bad. Four years later my daughter has no recollection of that exact conversation which tells me she wasn’t scarred by the event. Menstruation is a standard bodily function for those who have a uterus. Girls will start to get their period after their secondary sex characteristics start firing up (aka puberty). How typical is this? Well, roughly half of the world’s population has it, has had it, or will have it for some portion of their lives. On average, a woman will get her period 350 times in her life.
What do we say to our sons?
So, let’s assume we talk to our daughters about that in an appropriate way, but what about our sons? What message should they get if any? I do think boys should know what happens to the women in their lives as well, and that menstruation is not a big deal. There is no reason for them to recoil in horror about it. The numbers I listed above make me wonder why the majority of people wince when discussing periods. I have heard stories of teenaged boys who work in stockrooms of grocery stores not wanting to touch the boxes containing feminine products and that seems odd to me.
Womxn have told me their stories (really sad stories actually) of what their parents told them and/or how they reacted to the onset of menstruation. Some examples:
- a daughter walked in on her mom in the bathroom and asked her about the blood she saw to which the mother replied, “Mommy wiped too hard”,
- a woman was slapped by her mother when she got her first period,
- a woman thought she was dying when she saw the blood in her underwear.
We tell little lies to try to protect our kids but we don’t think about the consequences of those lies. Can you imagine the repercussions of telling your daughter you wiped too hard? What would the child think? She could think it could happen to her too and therefore might not wipe appropriately after toileting, which could result in urinary tract infections from not wiping properly (like wiping front to back) or an irritation/rash around the skin of the vulva due to having a raised level of acidity (if urine was sitting on the skin/moisture wasn’t being wiped away). I think it’s a terrible idea to give any child the impression that cleaning up after going to the bathroom would somehow make them bleed. Dude, straight up tell them the truth! There is no shame in bleeding every month.
Shame and more shame
Speaking of shame, those of you who read Fifty Shades of Grey may recall the tampon scene in the book. Not surprisingly, that scene was pulled out of the movie (pun intended) but given all of the other terrible depictions of abusive relationships and BDSM, it makes me sad. Leaving period sex in the movie may have normalized period sex for everyone else in the world. Here again, we are dealing with shame surrounding menstruation.
There are lots of funny advertisements that are also period-positive. One trend is to poke fun at the way things used to be. Take this example: Advertisers used to use blue liquid in the place of blood in tampon and pad commercials back in the day. This makes me laugh, given the amounts of fake blood in the movies and TV shows that depict violence. One of my favorite parodies on feminine product commercials and the blue dye used in sanitary napkin ads is this one.
It bums me out that there is so much shame we give to little girls and young women about menstruation. Girls want and need to know that this is something that happens to them naturally and that they are not alone. They will not have a way to avoid or control it so why don’t we prepare them for it?
- Let’s give them tools they can use to track (approximately) when it will come once they do get it. If you have a smartphone, there are period tracking apps girls can use to predict their next period. Keep in mind it may take a little while for their hormones to get a regular cycle going. A lot of apps are targeted to sexually active women but there are two I want to point out.
- MyMoontime has a nice period tracker and helps girls (& women!) to better understand their bodies throughout the month and tune in to energy levels, etc.
- The Flow App, through tips by “The Optimized Woman” author Miranda Grey, does an excellent job of providing inspiration for where you are in your cycle.
- Let’s minimize the potential embarrassment of a leak. There is a company making amazing underwear for this potential problem: dearkates.com sells them with an absorbent liner built right into the underwear itself. Brilliant! Wear these on the day you think you’re going to get your period and minimize the potential leakage. Use code “mamasutra25” to get 25% off your purchase of underwear only on Dearkates.com through the end of March 2015.
Another way to help people who are uncomfortable with this topic is to use humor. There are plenty of euphemisms our family uses to code “that time of the month” that are funny. I use them jokingly with my daughters and they know what I really mean. They know when “shark week” is and when “Aunt Flo” comes to town, and what “surfing the crimson” wave means. They laugh right along with me. Or in the case of my now 10-year-old daughter, she rolls her eyes at me. Bottom line, we talk about it with or without humor. This enables us to laugh and be silly when we can, but still create an environment where the topic can be discussed openly and is not taboo.
There’s nothing wrong with menstruation. And there’s nothing wrong with telling girls AND boys about it either. The ability to menstruate is all part of our normal, physical ability as womxn and it’s pretty amazing if we think and talk about it in the right way! Let’s prepare our girls mentally and logistically for the inevitable of what menstruation is. That honesty will be something they can use for the rest of their lives. Maybe they can even use to help others in a pinch.
© 2015 The MamaSutra