Education as the Root of Menstrual Taboos

Education as the Root of Menstrual Taboos

By Victoria Causley

You will spend nearly 10 years of your life on your period, and yet we still do not talk about it. For as long as I can remember, periods have been typically deemed a ‘grotesque’ subject, often avoided, if not unspoken. While my personal experiences with menstruation and learning about it throughout my childhood have been fortunate, I am very aware that many people do not have this luxury. The root of menstrual taboos begins with education. Without a thorough understanding of our bodies and menstrual bleeding, it becomes a prohibited topic where myths evolve, and facts hide.

Firstly, I want to discuss my experience. I live in the UK and am one of three daughters in my family, so I quickly discovered that periods were normal and regular. My mother was always extremely open and talkative of menstruation, and so when my time of the month came around, I was always prepared and never scared. However, despite my ‘luxuries’ of being prepared for my period, I vividly remember often being embarrassed about having it. The worry of bleeding through clothes, the anxiety around going to school on a ‘heavy bleeding’ day – and I would be lying if I said I did not still fear these things now. This embarrassment and worry began with the lack of teaching and understanding I had throughout school. I believe that education is the root of menstrual taboos since the most vulnerable and impressionable individuals are found in school. Negative menstrual taboos teach us that menstruation is something to hide and be ashamed of. By not naming it and resorting to euphemisms, we reinforce the idea that something should not be discussed.

In my primary school, I was taught more about understanding childbirth than my own menstrual bleeding – so I was taught more about sex and birth than my own menstruation. How could this be? Until last year, I had never really looked back at this to recognize how abnormal it was to be taught about childbirth before my own bodily functions, but now I cannot seem to look past it. When I was finally taught vaguely about periods and sex in school, I remember we were split into boys and girls. Boys were introduced, I assume (since, vice versa, we were never taught in depth about their differences either), to understanding the male genitals and girls were taught about periods. For me, this was a pivotal point in creating the taboo of menstruation since menstrual bleeding was suddenly an abnormal and unknown topic to so many that were not taught about it. It was secretive and unknown, possibly even exciting, but a sense of embarrassment came with that. Therefore, if all children, regardless of gender, were taught how menstrual bleeding worked and how it occurred monthly, they would be less afraid. This would then mean that menstrual topics become less taboo and private, and instead more casual and everyday.

However, while my menstrual education at school was lacking, many other people may not have had the same experience. I spoke to multiple different people in their twenties about their menstrual education to see if I was alone in this experience. As it seems, my personal experience was not far off from the wider majority, with both a sizeable number of men and women stating that they were taught about the process of childbirth and how to use condoms, before being taught about menstruation. One male said that they ‘only knew about the ‘mood swings’ that came with periods, not the bleeding etc.’, which explains why boys commonly referred to any minor mood swing that a girl had as being ‘their time of the month’, as if it was a negative thing.

Therefore, while I hope that sexual education and the teaching of menstruation are more thorough and advanced now than when I was a child, I would not be surprised if it has not changed at all. The root of menstrual taboos begins with education. If we teach susceptible children that menstrual bleeding is an ordinary bodily function and nothing to be ashamed or concerned about, it becomes a far less ‘exciting’ topic. Unspoken things become intriguing, and so curiosity is often provoked. To stop the taboo, sexual education needs to be improved.