Remember When (I Thought I Was Dying) by Bicky Lee

If you could ask every person you spoke to ten questions about anything you like, what would those questions be?

At the start of 2015 I began a project called “My Top 10”. My Top 10 is a series of questions about feminism, life, mental illness, and female anatomy, and I chose these topics because we don’t discuss them enough. I was also curious to discover how other people’s experiences and opinions differed from mine. I am interviewing as many people as I can and one of the things I ask of interviewees is to talk about their first period experience. The responses can be placed somewhere on a spectrum from “I got my period, no big deal” to “I thought I was dying!” For those who do not get periods – I interviewed a number of genders – their initial responses were something like “periods are such a strange concept.” These initial responses are often followed by a discussion about sex ed and how understanding the female anatomy appears to be a complex and confusing journey that literally takes decades.

The two questions that I have been asking people that relate specifically to female anatomy are:

  1. “Where and how did you learn about vaginas?”
  2. “What is your first period story?”

The reason that I ask these questions is because, in my experience, sex education in school was largely based around what a penis does and how to put a condom on it. Other than a very clinical explanation of how a foetus is made, there was a real absence of discussion about the female anatomy. This meant that my learning came from my own mother, books, magazines, and friends. I was a shy child, and that meant my education in this area was limited until I had my period, and then was not entered into again until the last few years. I’m 23 now and I finally have the confidence to discuss these things. I love hearing people explain how they got their first period. These interviews have enabled me to ask people about a private, sometimes awkward, sometimes dramatic, sometimes beautiful series of events that changed their life. In hearing all of these wonderful stories, I have learnt a few things so far, including:

  • Girls are capable of so much strength, power, and wisdom;
  • Almost everyone who has periods has made a pad or tampon out of toilet paper at least once; and
  • Education about female anatomy is really important for everyone.

Rupi Kaur

These things are reinforced when I follow up with a question like: “If you could go back and talk to your younger self about sex, what would you say?” People who had open discussions and exposure to periods and “vagina talk”, as I like to call it, (which includes the encouragement to have a look at your own anatomy with a mirror) prior to getting their period were either excited, relieved, or did not care in the slightest when they got theirs:

“I knew what it was because Mum had told me all about it so I had to put some toilet paper in my pants and go and ask if anyone had a pad or something…”

For those who had not had enough education about menstruation, getting their period was scary and embarrassing. I have heard stories of young girls being paralysed by fear on the toilet because they think that everyone will laugh if they leave the bathroom, or girls crying for hours because they thought they were going to bleed to death, or as one interviewee told me:

“…so I’m in [the bathroom] and there’s blood….and I was like ‘Holy shit my life is over!’….now I can’t do anything! I can’t go swimming ever again! …..I went into Mum’s bedroom and I sat on her bed and I rocked back and forth and I cried….”

To me, it was no surprise that women would go back and tell their younger selves that “everything will be okay” or “don’t worry so much” or “don’t feel rushed.”

Rupi Kaur

After speaking to people who have never had a period I came away with the same understanding of the importance of education. They have as many questions (if not more) as people who get periods. Also, for some period-getters it was a person that had never had a period that was able to help them cure their severe period pain or illness – purely because they had been taught what to do by someone else. One interviewee told me:

“….[On a Boy Scout’s trip] someone made a joke about periods and…I didn’t even believe it was a thing….if you know nothing about [menstruation] it sounds bizarre…it became normal but at the same time it was also this thing that was so crazy that I couldn’t believe it was real.”

I have also heard a number of stories from My Top 10 of mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters sharing and discussing their own experiences with their bodies and giving their girls an upbringing full of openness to education and understanding. I think that all children should have access to useful information about periods and not just the clinical body and blood statistics but also an understanding of the emotional, pleasurable, and practical processes of the vagina and the female anatomy. I think we should all know what the clitoris is by the time we are 16!

Rupi Kaur

I know a number of women (myself included) who went to a school that (for religious reasons) could not be seen to encourage masturbation. Limiting education about the pleasurable functions of the female anatomy can lead to misguided ideas and activities relating to sex and can be confusing for young girls. It also reinforces the idea that the natural process of masturbation is “dirty” or “sinful.”

Hearing about other people’s experiences is also strengthening my understanding of how all bodies are different and that my experiences with my female anatomy are not “wrong” or “unusual” but rather, my unique body. I often hear the saying “kids can be cruel” but I think a more accurate statement is “ignorant people can be cruel.” Through education for all, we have the freedom to be who we are without the fear of judgement or fear of mistaking a healthy body for a body that is bleeding to death.

All text by Bicky Lee.

All images belong to Rupi Kaur and we use them with thanks and admiration. 

So, here is a huge list of places where you can educate yourself about the female anatomy!

Sexplanations

Stuff Mom Never Told You

GirlsHealth

HelloFlo Period Starter Kit

Carefree Period Starter Kit

Getting To Know Yourself – Fabulously Feminist

Box: A Feminist Sex Toy Shop Fabulously Feminist

Teaching Consent In Schools by Fabulously Feminist

Abortion and How To Be Supportive by Fabulously Feminist

Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls Ask Amy

Hormones – Marie Claire

Sex and Your Period – Marie Claire

Masterbation and Me – Marie Claire

Girlfriend

First Moon Party

Hello Flo Period Starter Kit Unboxing

What is Puberty?

Laci Green Youtube Channel

Other interesting things….

What if teenagers wrote their own sex ed?

Let’s Talk About Periods

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