Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

How do girls learn about periods?

May 1st, 2013 by Laura Wershler

How do girls learn about menstruation today? Who talks to them? Who do they talk to? Or do most girls rely on the Internet for information about periods?

Take this article by Elizabeth (bylines are first names only) – What I Wish I Knew About My Period – posted last week at Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls. Not a teenager but definitely a young woman, Elizabeth (Spiridakus) shares the wisdom she’s gained through her menstrual experience. Here’s her sum-up:

These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.

Read this again: “Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO!”

Photo courtesy of Laura Wershler

Elizabeth urges readers to talk to their friends, cool older relatives, or their own – or somebody else’s – “cool mom.” Great advice, but I have to ask:  Why aren’t cool moms and older relatives already talking to the girls in their lives about menstruation? Sharing friendly advice? Passing on wisdom from mother to daughter, woman to woman?

Suzan Hutchinson, menstrual activist, educator and founder of periodwise.com, a project dedicated to empowering girls and women to embrace the taboo subject of menstruation, has a few ideas about this. She thinks many moms don’t know when to begin “the period talk” or what to say, so they remain silent until their daughters start their periods, or they wait thinking their daughters will initiate period talk. She warns against this.

“We should all remember that when moms offer too little information or start providing information too late, girls often question their credibility and hesitate to return as new questions arise.”

Although Suzan’s mother talked to her about menstruation, she didn’t start early enough, before Suzan heard things from other girls that she didn’t understand. Her early menstrual experience included lying to her friends about getting her period long before she did at age 15. By then she was “too embarrassed to ask my much more experienced friends” and “too proud to turn to Mom.” She tried to deal with things on her own.

“I needed a period coach – someone to walk through things with me and instruct me…help me figure out what to do, when to do, how to do.”

A period coach. This is exactly what Elizabeth is for the girls at RookieRead the comments. Readers loved it.

She’s not the only one using the Internet to connect with girls about menstruation. Despite my reservations about a website operated by the company that sells Always and Tampax, the content of which deserves serious critique, I must acknowledge that thousands of girls are turning to beinggirl.com for period coaching, including tips on how to talk to their moms!

Moms shouldn’t be waiting for their daughters to talk to them. They need to find their own period coaches. Other mothers like Suzan Hutchinson and the mom who started bepreparedperiod.com.

The more information girls have the better. Brava to Elizabeth for What I Wish I Knew About My Period. But moms and cool older relatives have got to get in the game. Now. Don’t wait until the girls in your life come to you.

  

6 Responses to “How do girls learn about periods?”

  1. Anna Churchill says:

    Check this out, menstrual doulas!
    http://www.menstrualdoula.com/about.html

    • Laura Wershler says:

      I’ve been reading this site. Next post is going to be about all the period coaches out there. Menstrual Doulas will be in there!

  2. I am a mother of two teenage daughters (and one son) and when my eldest was beginning puberty we talked about periods and breasts and sexuality and I shared my experience with her, which was benign and straightforward (I was 14 and ready for the bleeding to begin). I pulled my beloved copy of ‘Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret’ by Judy Blume and gave it to her. A large portion of my knowledge about menstruation was from dear Judy. My daughter also learned a considerable amount in grade 9 health class where her teacher was very comfortable talking about the female body which is a huge benefit. I think when you learn about the menstrual cycle and the female body you should be using words like vagina, uterus, vulva, labia, clitoris, hymen, cervix, ovaries. All the parts and their function in the reproductive system. My own teacher back in grade 9 was not so comfortable at all and never said vagina or vulva or labia. She rushed through it so fast that all I really learned was I could get pregnant 14 days after my period, boys should use condoms and I should use tampons and pads to manage my period. Not terrible information but not nearly enough.
    My mother was not very helpful. To be honest, my dad was much more maternal than my mom and it was from him that I learned about most things in life. Menstruation he missed.
    I learned bits and pieces from friends who learned bits and pieces from their older sisters and cousins.
    It all seemed so willy-nilly to me. Women have been menstruating since the beginning of time and for us to have no game plan or assistance for the next generation is negligent. It actually makes me mad that there was nothing solid and true to be handed down to me and my friends as we were approaching this on-ramp on the highway of womanhood. Like a map We aren’t the first and we won’t be the last so where’s our map? What happens and when and what’s normal and what’s not? Such important information shouldn’t be at the whim of teachers and cool family members.
    So, as they say, if you can’t find what you want, make it. I created a map for the menstrual cycle and it’s in the form of a bracelet just as the cycle repeats itself creating a circle. I hope that one day getting a Feby will be a rite of passage for girls approaching puberty. It’s visual, tactile, conceptual tool in fun colours that’s also inexpensive and one size fits all. I want to help start the conversation and keep it going; day by day, month by month. I think it should be a positive and empowering conversation, not shameful or shushed.
    Please visit my web page at http://www.feby.com and join the conversation.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Alison, thanks for sharing your menstrual learning story and about your advocacy for better menstrual cycle awareness. Learning about periods illustrates he value of the adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” Parents, relatives, friends, teachers, health care providers etc all have a part to play.

  3. [...] blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, recently wrote a delightful, thought-provoking piece titled: How do girls learn about [...]

  4. [...] Read full article… Filed Under: Featured Post, Hormone Health US News, Menstruation, Periods Tagged With: Holy Hormones Journal, Menstrual Cycle, Menstruation, Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, Women's Health [...]

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