No Bad Blood. - Dispelling the myths around periods in the classroom
When I am teaching young people in schools, there really is no point in beginning any conversation around periods until I’ve addressed this first myth, plainly and simply. Most other myths stem from this one. It’s a biggie that-oh-so desperately needs busting!
1) Periods are dirty. FALSE
The short story is that humanity depends on people who menstruate. We seem to have veered so far away from this fact. Periods are the start of the fertile window, and thus the beginning of the ability to create life. Somehow we have arrived at a point where women are still hiding and apologising for bleeding regularly once a month. And in some areas of the world, still being banished to menstrual huts for the entirety of their monthly bleed. How have we got this far, in the wrong direction?
When I address this myth in the classroom, it is often deeply embedded in even more complicated cultural layers. Some students think they shouldn’t be handling foods, that they shouldn’t be touching plants, or even that there is something fundamentally wrong with them for bleeding.
The only way I can attempt to debunk this is by reframing the way young people perceive periods, and reclaim the incredible bodily functions of the reproductive system. Once they begin to associate the womb with where life is created, and see all the seasons of the menstrual cycle, they stop seeing the cycle as one phase: bleeding. The whole cycle is all 4 seasons, not just winter. Can you imagine a world where we just had one season? Winter?! We need to embrace the entire chain of events and all the fruits of each season.
Period blood is not dirty. It is the lining of the womb that was due to host a baby so it has to be clean and pure and toxin free. The only way we are intoxicated is if we put poison in our bodies. So periods are not dirty. Fact!
Which brings me to my second myth that needs busting.
2) The menstrual cycle is just the bleeding phase. FALSE.
When I speak to young people about the menstrual cycle they misconceive that it is one event and one event only: bleeding. They simply don’t know that it is just one of four parts that are all connected and inter dependent. In actual terms, the real main event of the cycle is actually ovulation, when the egg is released. Young people need visuals, which is way symbolising the cycle as seasons is extremely useful. Spring (when ovulation begins) is the season of birth, blossoming and new life. And the season we all look forward to after a long, hard winter!
3) The vagina and vulva need cleaning. FALSE
Our bodies have a miraculous way of expelling discharge, blood and other secretions from the vaginal canal. The idea that we must clean our vagina with soaps and other products has been created by big companies who are trying to convince us that we need these items, because essentially, they are trying to sell their products.
All vulvas smell. And not of lavender, or lily of the valley. Just as others folds (such as armpits) in our bodies sweat, our vulvas are an area of the body that will perspire which is what causes odour. What needs explaining through education, is that any odd or peculiar smell may be a sign of infection inside the reproductive system. Any scented product won’t get rid of infection, so any persisting odd smell may need a visit to the GP.
4) Periods are something to hide. FALSE
Sadly generations of hiding it have perpetuated this myth, and I see the shame and embarrassment that young people hold when they visit their school nurse to collect a pad or tampon when they get caught off guard at school. When I teach in schools I find it useful to go back in history and tell the story of how women used to bleed: collectively under the New Moon.
In the days when there was no artificial light or technology, women were connected and in sync with the cycles of the moon. They would gather together under it’s basking light, and see it as a time of new beginning.
When I show images of these gatherings to young people in the classroom, the most impact I get is from the boys. During one of these moments I heard someone utter the word ‘superpower’. And it was. The Egyptians used to drink menstrual blood as they believed it to bring them strength, and the Romans sprinkled it onto their land to make it fertile.
Obviously the connection with the moon has now been interrupted by the advances in technology that the developed world has brought us, but the “superpower’ period element remains! It is not uncommon see people who menstruate synchronise when they live in close proximity. We leave the lesson vowing to try to stop hiding those pads under our sleeves back from those frequent trips to the school nurse. And it has happened that the boys have actually offered to go and collect for their menstruating friends! There is hope.
5) People can tell when you’re on your period. FALSE
There is absolutely no way of telling that anyone is on their period. When I address this myth in the classroom I have to try to empower the menstruators. If they can see no shame in owning up to it, then this fire will eventually die out. Shame dies when you expose it to the light, so if we can be open and honest about the reality of periods, that they exist, that they are tricky, that they are uncomfortable but that they are normal, natural and healthy, then they’ll no longer be any reason to hide them.
So when a schoolmate sarcastically says, “You’re in such a bad mood today, you on your period or something?!”, can we answer matter of factly, and say “Actually, it was last week” or “Yes I am and it’s weighing me down today”. Maybe, just maybe, we can generate some empathy and compassion rather than driving us into a shame-filled corner.
Huge hugs and thanks to Saskia Boujo for writing this post for us. Saskia is a relationship and sex educator and has recently released her book 'This Period In My Life' - tackling the ongoing issues linked to period poverty.
Read Saskia's Book 'This Period of my Life' over at: saskiaboujo.com