Do you remember being a teenager and having your period come right when the youth group was going swimming or going to the beach?
This month we’re going to be talking a bit about periods–about what’s normal and what’s not; about how to help men and boys be aware but also treat it in a healthy way; about how to handle (and not handle) period sex. We’ll even talk about new ways to handle periods, and how Diva cups can transform women’s lives in the third world!
But I thought I might begin our series with more of an emotional post.
For most women, periods and embarrassment or shame go hand in hand.
Many of us got our periods when we were so young, and often not mature enough to handle it well. We leaked–and we were mortified. Or we just were young and scared of tampons, and then swimming became super difficult. So what do you do if you’re 11 years old and you’re at summer camp and there’s a “Water Olympics” day and you can’t use a tampon? But you’re afraid to speak up, and the counselors get mad at you for sitting out?
Or you’re 15-years-old, and all of your friends want to go to the beach for the day, and you’ve been preparing for ages, and then that morning your period comes. Do you want to be the only one wearing shorts?
Summer and periods and beaches are just difficult.
And I think they’re a good example of two twin forces that are at work in how women feel about our periods (and our bodies). We simultaneously feel:
I must not let anyone know ever that I am on my period, because that would be embarrassing.
But I cannot let my period stop what I would be doing in any way, or else that, too, would be embarrassing.
We have to carry on as normal, even when we can’t.
And the fact that we can’t carry on as normal sometimes adds to the shame that we feel.
I asked about periods and the beach on both Twitter and Facebook last month, and the replies were heartbreaking, interesting, and poignant all at the same time.
Just wondering… Women, how much did summer and beaches and pool parties stress you out as a TEEN because of your PERIOD? I don’t think many men understand the stress!— SheilaGregoire (@sheilagregoire) June 30, 2020
I thought today I’d just paste some people’s comments, and encourage us to let ourselves feel badly for the little girls who felt such embarrassment. I think for many of us, this has impacted how we feel about our bodies as adults, how we feel about sex–and even how we talk to our kids about puberty and sex.
About 1/4 of women said their period was “no big deal” as a teenager.
I did have a lot of responses like this one:
That’s awesome, and I’m glad, and I hope we can work towards helping our girls have that story when they’re adults, too!
But far more common were sad stories and stories of embarrassment. I’d like to invite us to read these (and even click on the links through to the original Facebook post and read them all) and just feel the emotions that are here. Ask yourself, “How does this level of shame and embarrassment affect girls as they grow?” And “How can we be kind to ourselves now if this has been our story in the past?”
Before we start our series on periods, then, I’d invite us to enter into the emotions of it. So here we go!
Just plain mortifying memories of leaking or trying not to leak
- My first time learning to use tampons was at a park outhouse in preparation for going on a week-long hike in the Rocky Mountains. It was very stressful, and there was an impatient person outside, knocking on my door and making comments, that made it even more stressful. Thankfully? when I was a teen stressful situations often delayed my period so even if it was scheduled to come it didn’t. But leaking was stressful and is stressful and embarrassing and frustrating.
- At 9th grade orientation, I remember the male PE teacher telling the girls that he wasn’t going to accept our period as an excuse to sit out, minimizing the very real pain and fears I experienced with my periods. A couple of years later, in a high school where we were required to wear khaki pants/skirts, one of my worst fears came true when I started my period and it bled through my pants. I had to stay in the bathroom until class started. I then sneaked out to the parking lot to my car, and drove straight home, where I tried to avoid male family members. The next day, I was sent to the principal’s office for skipping class. It was so embarrassing
- I have a horrible memory of having my period during a white water rafting trip. I was so so worried about leaking that I couldn’t even enjoy the trip. We were in a third world county on a missions trip and I couldn’t just ask someone to take me to the nearest Walgreens to pick up more supplies, I was worried that I hadn’t brought enough and didn’t tell anyone!
- Being athletic and a dancer it was very stressful. Running long distance was an issue. Tampons were considered risqué. When my girls were teens and athletic I recommended tampons and they were so thankful. I’m done allowing others to shame any of us about a body function beyond our control. But when I was a teen it was a terrible thing to deal with.
- I got my first period at 10 years old. Yes. TEN. And I had horribly irregular and heavy periods – I’d bleed for months at a time and it was never light. Every month – not just the summer – was filled with dread and embarrassing moments. One year at summer camp I was sitting on my feet because I didn’t want to get blood on the seats. I wore the same pair of black pants almost all week to hide that I couldn’t contain the blood. I can’t count the number of incidents I suffered before I was finally regulated in college. Even then it was still difficult. I didn’t figure out tampons until college either.
- When I was young (end of elementary and early high school) so many moments of uncertainty. Days worrying before it came… would I be able to do this or that… would it come during this or that… always knowing where the washrooms were during those “waiting” days, constantly “checking”, planning a tactful means of escape. I often brought a hoodie with me, never wore it on my upper body, work it tied around my waist “just in case”.
When you felt forced or like you missed out on important things because of your period
So many women recounted stories of being forced to do gym class or swimming when they had their periods! Or they missed out on important activities:
The embarrassment girls felt when men/boys challenged them on not doing something–when it was because of their period
- And the cringe having to explain to the non-comprehending males why I wasn’t going in the water this time!
- I went to a family pool party once on my period. Didn’t swim. I made the excuse I didn’t bring a swimsuit and one of my cousin’s kids tried to convince me I could borrow one of her mom’s. I didn’t take it.
- I LOVED swimming until I got my period! And body hair. Caused me to miss out on things and feel embarrassed to have to think of excuses for not swimming. And boys were of course clueless and always tried to push us in!
- I had mine during the week of camp one year and said I couldn’t do the canoe training because of it. The camp dean made me do it anyways even tho I did the training in the other years. So, that was interesting since I couldn’t use tampons.
When tampons just didn’t work for you and you felt like you had no options
A number of women said that tampons never worked–either they couldn’t get them in, or they always leaked.
When you were shamed for wanting to use tampons–even by your mom. Or you were scared of them!
Lots of women commented a variety on this!
The embarrassment about your period doesn’t end when you’re an adult!
And many, many women, especially those with heavier bleeding, mentioned that it’s STILL happening, like this woman:
Even some familiar faces chimed in!
So many did talk about how menstrual cups changed everything for them, and they’re encouraging their girls to use them too!
We’ll be talking about that later this month.
In The Whole Story, our puberty course for moms to share with daughters or dads (or single moms) with sons, we do talk about how to prepare for leaks and what to do about swimming (both my girls, who do the videos, were lifeguards and had to deal with this!). And in the boys’ videos, we tell them about periods and how to be kind and aware of what girls are going through.
You're telling me WHAT goes WHERE?!
Talking about sex with your kids doesn't always go smoothly.
That's why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!
And let’s apologize to that little girl inside of you who was made to feel shameful or embarrassed.
Were you mortified as a teenager? Or did you have a good experience? Let’s talk about how we can do this better!
Our Period Series:
- All about Periods, Going to the Beach, and Teenage Embarrassment
- How Can We Help Boys/Men Be More Sensitive about Girls' Periods?
- The Period Podcast!
- When Should You Call the Doctor about Your Period?
- What Should You Do About Sex During Your Period?
- Why We Love Diva Cups
- 10 Things to Know about Old Testament Laws and Periods
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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