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.
Apart from a vague idea that blood comes out of the general vagina area, he knew nothing.
Watch all the crazy euphemisms women use to avoid saying the word “period”…
Last night, he walked in while I was on the toilet. As I stood up to flush, he caught a glimpse of the bright red toilet bowl.
“What’s happened?” He asked, panicking. “Are you okay? Are you sick? What’s wrong?”
“I have my period, remember?” I reminded him.
“But-” He was genuinely flummoxed. “It comes out when you wee? What hole does it come out of? That’s… so…”
He trailed off, but I’m pretty sure I heard him mutter “so much blood” as he closed the door behind him.
He wasn’t judging me. He wasn’t being rude or unsupportive. He just didn’t know it happened like that.
Riddle me this. In 2016, with feminism at full throttle and parents being more open with their kids about bodily functions than ever before, how are there still so many men who genuinely don’t know what menstruation entails?
It’s no wonder periods have a reputation of being “gross” when half the population has no idea what they even involve.
Fellow women, I beg you: stop using silly euphemisms for menstruation. Encourage questions about periods, PMS, tampons, pads, moon cups and anything else you think your partner and friends should know. Give out gold stars for correct answers.
And if you have a son, tell him straight away, as soon as he’s old enough to understand (and that’s probably much earlier than you think): All women, every month. Blood comes out. Near the wee hole, but not actually the wee hole. Nothing to be embarrassed about.
The author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous to spare her boyfriend the shame of being the face of this national disgrace.