A friend got caught out once when visiting me at home – her period started earlier than she was expecting. She asked if I had a sanitary towel or tampon she could use and was surprised when I told her they were right there, in the bathroom cabinet. “Doesn’t your son find that embarrassing?” she questioned. It was my turn to be surprised. Why would he? He knows it happens. This episode underlined, for me, why boys should learn about periods too.
At school, I can remember the girls being separated from the boys for one of those toe-curling lessons they optimistically called ‘sex education’. While female menstruation was touched on in the main class, it was apparently unnecessary for the boys to know the ins and outs, so to speak.
In my view, this was wrong. It strengthened the feeling that our periods were somehow shameful, something we should quietly deal with ourselves. Nothing to see here, please move on. Let’s just pretend it doesn’t happen.
Why shouldn’t everyone understand?
But why? Our periods play a big part in our lives each month. They affect us physically and mentally, changing our moods, energy levels, and even our appearance. With half the population affected, surely it’s better for the other half to understand what’s going on properly?
Rightly or wrongly, it’s a natural reaction to make fun of things we don’t understand. Or, worse, to fear them. It’s why schoolboys still find it hilarious to play with a tampon and pretend it’s a mouse. To ‘tease’ girls by pretending there are bloodstains on the backs of their skirts or trousers, or to say they can ‘smell something.’ It’s why the feeling that menstrual blood is somehow disgusting persists, and the idea of having sex with a woman on her period is even worse.
In the UK, the average age for a girl to start menstruating is 12 years old. But there’ll always be early developers, and I know of at least one ten-year-old who is terrified the boys in her class at school will find out she gets her period each month.
Periods are natural – so let’s talk about them
It’s the 21st century. Why is this something girls are embarrassed about? In my view, it’s because not enough is done to educate boys on the subject.
Periods might be something only women experience, but they affect the males in our lives too. My son has always understood that I get homicidally irritable once a month, and why. So he offers to make me a cup of tea, brings me painkillers, makes an effort around the house and otherwise leaves me alone. It’s much appreciated.
If learning about periods were commonplace, men would understand just how bad those hormones can make us feel. They wouldn’t feel embarrassed about picking up sanitary protection for wives or girlfriends as part of the weekly shop – in the same way that most women nowadays are comfortable buying condoms.
The inequality of the ‘tampon tax’
On a more serious note, it’s a chance to explain a serious inequality and push for change. In most US states and the UK, sanitary protection is classed as a ‘luxury’ or ‘non-essential’ item, and a sales tax is applied.
Buying myself a La Prairie moisturiser or Chanel handbag would be a luxury. Grabbing a pack of Tampax to cope with my period each month very positively isn’t. And this additional tax means, for some women and girls, sanitary protection is simply unaffordable. The need to buy food and pay bills takes precedence over towels and tampons. They use rags or nothing at all. How can this be right?
It’s up to the next generation of both sons and daughters to change it. Sanitary protection isn’t something to help pampered hormonal girls feel better – it’s as essential as paracetamol or sticking plaster. I can’t help feeling that better education about periods would lead to increased support for the campaign against the ‘tampon tax.’
It’s another reason why we need to talk to the boys about periods. Let’s start early and make it a natural part of their lives – not just ours.
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