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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.

 

 

And then there was Facebook:

Can we talk PERIODS, SUMMER, and going to the BEACH?When you were a teen, how much did your period make summer,…

Posted by To Love, Honor and Vacuum on Sunday, June 28, 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:

I felt so cool that my body could make a baby now, and I felt really grown up. No stress or embarrassment here!

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 tampon experience was my second period in 5th grade. We went on a field trip to Wet n Wild waterpark. I made one trip around the lazy river and a chaperone called me out and guided me to the bathroom to clean up as I was trailing a blood cloud! Somehow I was not beyond embarrassed and put another in, and went swimming again! Lesson learned though! Always put a fresh one in right before swimming!

There were only a few instances that really affected me as a teen. One was going to a pool party and starting my period that morning so my only options were not going or using a tampon for the first time. We had the cardboard covered tampons which were awful to insert and the thought of any foreign object in my body terrified me at only 13. That was right before they came out with the sleeker plastic ones. I cried trying to get it in and that only made me tighten up which made it worse! I think I opted to wear a light pad in my swimsuit which I’m sure was super hygienic. I just hoped no one could tell it puffed up with water in the pool. Definitely stressful. So my solution for my girls is to start them out in menstrual cups as early as possible so they’re used to it. They’ve already seen me use them (by ages 6, 5, and 3) because I wanted periods and products to be SO normalized that they wouldn’t have the fear surrounding them that I did.

And here are some others:
  • 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:

I literally spent years with my cycle going on right before we went camping or anywhere we were going swimming. I can count on one hand how many times I actually got to swim. I couldn’t use tampons or anything because they didn’t fit me before I was married. I got annoyed, but it wasn’t the end of the world for me. I usually just let people know that I just couldn’t swim today but I would totally tan and sit in the sunshine with a book while everybody did it. I wasn’t a huge swimmer, but think that because of this issue, I’ve become less of one.

Swimming was definitely an issue for me, but my anxiety was more with school. I’ve always had very heavy bleeding and horrible cramps. I’d usually have to stay home because it was so bad.

The embarrassment girls felt when men/boys challenged them on not doing something–when it was because of their period

How about this: Church camp in high school, put together by our (male) youth pastor. We were mandated to take part in games, including water games in the pool. Well, some of the girls didn’t want to because they were on their periods. So they discretely went to their counselor and she excused them. She marked a special mark by their names on the participation roster. The pastor was very disappointed and demanded an explanation for why so many young women didn’t participate. She tried to answer politically, that they had a good reason and she approved, but he still insisted. She finally said, “Because they are on their periods!” and he said, “So?!” She had to explain to him why his choice of water games in the pool was a bad choice.

The second time I got my period ever I was at Christian summer camp and had swimming lessons. I had to tell the lifeguard I wasn’t going in the water that day. “But why not?” he loudly asked. I kept trying to discreetly tell him it was my “time”, but he was not getting it. So, I had to announce to everyone that I had my period. I was mortified. I grew up in a place/time where periods were embarrassing and secretive and hardly ever talked about. Now that I have a 13 year old daughter and she has 2 older teen brothers, I make sure we talk openly and honestly about it all the time, so that she (and they) are spared similar situations. I want them to know that periods are normal, healthy and sometimes messy and painful and it’s all part of life.

And some more!
  • 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.

Yes! As a teen I didnt use tampons and always made up excuses why I couldn’t go swimming or go to the beach bc I was too embarrassed to admit the truth. Older cousins tried to get me to use tampons as a teen and it was very painful even when done properly. As a young adult (married at 19) sex was painful for a long time too. I didnt know any better to talk to anyone about it. It wasn’t until I those issues were resolved that I could comfortably wear tampons. However, I still tend to avoid summer activities when I have my period bc of the past and the impression it left on me.

I’ve tried tampons since a teen (now 39 with 3 kids) and they have never been comfortable for me. I remember trying them once again on a youth beach trip and all I could think about the entire time was the tampon. Even now 20 years later, I can envision sitting on the beach towel so worried there would be a spot when I stood up. Another time on a youth trip, everyone was swimming in the hotel pool and I wasn’t and a boy asked me why. I told him a couldn’t and I still remember his blank stare. I also had/have severe cramping the week leading up to my period that gives me hot flashes and even vomiting. That is even harder than the actual period. It’s hard to miss out on things because your body isn’t “working” like it should, but embarrassing to try to explain it’s basically hormones.

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!

It was always so awkward as we didn’t use tampons. Yes, to sitting on the sidelines while everyone else swam. So embarrassing. Now, a menstrual cup takes care of everything. So glad I have options for my daughters

I was at the water park today on my period. I’m over the fear/concern now but as a teen I hated it. I used pads because I didn’t know how to use tampons (my mother just handed us the box when we asked to switch) and pictures were just intimidating.

​How about being told tampons impact your virginity?? Yeah. It was so stressful. I was absolutely made to be TERRIFIED of tampons. So period meant no swimming.

As a kid it sucked. My mom wouldn’t allow me anything other than a pad. As soon as I had babysitting money, I bought them myself and hid them.

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:

Yes. Not just as a teen though. Honestly until I had a hysterectomy at age 34 I hated the outdoors, especially camping and swimming (lake/beach). I had horrible, heavy, irregular periods that were messy and painful, camping took away all of my ability to comfort myself (heating pads, hot shower, comfy bed). Getting caught out in nature when my period would randomly start was embarrassing and nearly impossible to manage.

Even some familiar faces chimed in!

 

Good gravy, you posted 3 hours ago and have ONE HUNDRED comments? Not sure I can add anything after that, but my own story is that I grew up in a beach town (Corpus Christi) and could not swim for a few days each month because it was just too heavy. I don’t remember what my excuses were, but I was (sadly) a good liar back then so I don’t remember it being a problem for me exactly. Just personal frustration that I couldn’t do it. J

Hot, Holy and Humorous

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.

Shocked girl image TWS - The PERIOD SERIES: Let's Talk Periods, Going to the Beach, and Teenage Mortification

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!

But for today–let’s give grace to the little girls who were mortified, especially if you were one of them.

And let’s apologize to that little girl inside of you who was made to feel shameful or embarrassed.

Period Beach Teenager - The PERIOD SERIES: Let's Talk Periods, Going to the Beach, and Teenage Mortification

Were you mortified as a teenager? Or did you have a good experience? Let’s talk about how we can do this better!

4d5d2dc667e7acd64221c42a103248a4?s=96&d=mm&r=g - The PERIOD SERIES: Let's Talk Periods, Going to the Beach, and Teenage Mortification

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila has been married to Keith for 28 years, and happily married for 25! (It took a while to adjust). She’s also an award-winning author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila is passionate about changing the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to line up with kingdom principles. ENTJ, straight 8

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