* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Don’t get misled by the title. Of course, I think we still need sex education. In fact, sex education in my opinion needs an overhaul, especially in terms of becoming more LGBTQ+ inclusive, as well as catering for the new digital age. In the US, I know the situation is much direr than the UK with many schools still only teaching abstinence only programs. Actually, according to figures obtained from the Guttmacher Institute, in 2014, 76% of U.S. public and private schools taught abstinence as the most effective way to prevent pregnancy.
However, I’m not here to talk about the desperate overhaul that sex education needs. I’m here to talk about something that was brought to my attention when talking to Manjit, CEO and founder of the charity Binti. What she introduced to me was the need for sex education and menstrual education to be separate topics. For anyone who doesn’t know, Binti, is a charity that is founded to bring dignity to women on their period, by providing women who do not have easy access to sanitary products with that access, and the charity also aims to tackle negative perceptions around periods and the shame that many women (or whatever you identify as) still feel with their period.
Talking to Manjit, definitely made me reflect on my experience with menstrual education and schooI. All I have is a hazy recollection of the menstrual education that I received in Year 6 at Junior School (about 10-11 years old), that unfortunately came a little bit late, as I had already had the first inklings of my period before then. From what I can remember all we were taught about was the different ways we can cope with our period, so basically how a tampon works compared to a sanitary towel. And the biological reasons why we get our period. I think we may have also been taught a bit about what happens to our bodies during puberty, but to be honest I can’t fully remember. What I do know is that while we took our class, the boys had their own separate ‘sex education’ class.
Manjit saw the way this education was treated as sex education, as something potentially dangerous, “I think also because we kind of have it mixed with sex education it’s done in a way that is too embarrassing (like OMG how are we going to do this?)”. Due to this she believes that, “menstrual education needs to be a stand alone topic”.
Not, only that but this menstrual education should teach us more about our periods, than just what kind of sanitary products are available to us and how they work:
“It needs to cover everything. Like, do you know for every month for the rest of your life you are going to feel emotional upheaval? But if you watch what you eat, or you monitor your period better, or you exercise or rest, it might actually help you lead a happier life. It has such a big impact and I think that we kind of just leave girls to kind of get on with things by themselves.”
However, she does stress that although boys should be taught more about menstruation, segregation at some point for menstruation education is key:
“I think that segregation is important just because girls and boys develop at different ages. And because menstruation is a girl thing, so I think the education needs to be for the girls so they really get it. And in an environment where they are not going to be laughed at, or poked at, or be embarrassed. However, it is equally as important to give boys the education for it too, and that could happen at the same time, or it might happen later. But I think we just need to separate so that we can give them both the space and experience it themselves. And then maybe later have a class that encompasses both boys and girls.”
To be honest, I still find it awkward bringing up menstruation in front of men, not because the majority of men react badly, but because I have been brought up expecting them to react badly from everything the media has thrown at me.
I don’t think I stand alone after seeing how much praise the Supernatural community (that predominantly consists of females, though of course not exclusively) had for the scene in Ten Inch Hero. Ten Inch Hero is an independent film, starring Jensen Ackles, who is most famous for playing Dean Winchester within Supernatural.
In a famous scene from the film his character, Priestly, is seen on a mission to buy tampons for Tish (Danneel Ackles). Initially he seems daunted and horrified by the tampons, confused by all the different options, and ‘grossed’ out by the idea of a period.
However, two guys in the shop proceed to make fun of him for buying tampons, which causes him to make a speech about how him being comfortable buying tampons for a woman means that she trusts him enough to do so and that means they have a stronger relationship than any of the people who laughed at him will ever have. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S_QjLMZbl8
Although, this scene is meant to be comedic, it is important in that it tackles the fear and embarrassment guys are expected to have if they need to buy sanitary products. I think also the horror that Priestly shows over at the start of the scene is done in such an over the top way that we are supposed to realise how silly his behaviour is.
Not all of us are as brave as Priestly however, I for one for many years used to hide all sanitary products I had at the bottom of my shopping basket.
It’s also telling that I considered myself lucky when my boyfriend has no qualms about going to the shop to buy me sanitary products. I expected him to be embarrassed, although I believe it is absolutely ridiculous to be.
I think by having a menstrual education that is first given to young women before they start their period, and by following up this education later in their school life there is hope we could change such perceptions. While, I do think it is important for women to have a space where they can get used to talking about their period with other people who will be experiencing the same thing; I think this space should eventually be widened so that young men can fully understand what a period is. So that hopefully the stereotype that men know nothing about periods and would be too embarrassed to buy sanitary products for their significant other can be crushed.
I am though interested to see what other people think. Do you think that menstrual education should introduced as something separate to sex education? Do you think boys need to hear about menstrual education too?
Let me know in the comments below!
If you want to support Binti’s work you can donate here, find more information about volunteering your time here, or just use your social media as a place to talk about periods more freely to help end the stigma attached to periods.