I’m going to be really upfront here: I am currently menstruating.
If that makes you feel weird, you’re not alone. Apparently, there’s a decent chunk of the population that doesn’t understand exactly how that works, and are a little bit frightened as a result.
For most of my life, I blithely – and mistakenly – believed that the ins and outs of menstruation were common knowledge. After all, my mother explained the process to my brother and I before we started school.
Aside from an adorable incident in a supermarket when my then three-year-old brother asked a cranky woman if she was “bleeding”, it went down a treat.
Righto, thought my brother and I. All women, every month. Blood comes out. Near the wee hole, but not actually the wee hole. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Got it.
Fast-forward to my year six classroom, where a poor girl named Freya gets up from her plastic chair to go to recess. All eyes are on the small but obvious splotch of blood on the back of her skirt.
“Freya’s sat in chocolate!” One boy yells.
“Freya’s pooed herself!” Shouts another in glee.
“That’s DISGUSTING!” Scream four more.
The girls all looked sideways at each other. We knew exactly what had happened, but were afraid to say the word “period” in case it came for us, too.
It took me a while to understand that those boys weren’t being deliberately cruel (although “Freya’s pooed herself” was probably going a bit far).
They weren’t trying to transform a normal bodily function into something disgusting and embarrassing – they just didn’t know what was happening.
None of the boys in my year six class knew that periods even existed.
Things didn’t change much as I got older. I learnt, like every other girl I knew, to tell my high school boyfriends I “wasn’t feeling well” when “Aunt Flo came to town”.
This, it turns out, was probably not the best policy, since it appears to have resulted in a complete blank for most males where menstruation is concerned.
Once I got past the “pretending not to have bodily functions” phase of my current relationship, my boyfriend was full of questions about menstruation. How big is a tampon? How bloody does it get? Can you wear it in the water? Does the string ever come off? Why do you get period pain?
He was visibly shocked at the idea of a pad – “you just bleed into it?” He didn’t know it wasn’t recommended for women to wear tampons overnight if they were sleeping more than eight hours. He didn’t know what Toxic Shock Syndrome was.