Talking periods, sex ed and endo awareness month.
So… March is finally upon us. March is endometriosis awareness month. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want to talk about this week, and I found the answer whilst scrolling through twitter.
A woman called Alice Smith has been campaigning to get menstrual health on the National curriculum in England and last month she succeeded. It’s come at a perfect time, just weeks before Endometriosis awareness month. From 2020 it will be compulsory for children to receive education regarding menstruation and vitally what is normal and abnormal.
It can’t be emphasised enough how important this is, for future generations of people with Endo. The average diagnosis time in the UK is seven and a half years and in the US it’s closer to ten. There are several reasons for this, including lack of awareness among women themselves, inadequate training of G.Ps and primary care doctors and the vast differences among patients with regards to symptoms.
I wasted over a year getting myself to a G.P, partially due to embarrassment but also thinking that what i’d been experiencing must be normal. From an early age it is drilled into girls and young women that they’re going to menstruate and it’s going to suck. Alongside this, at least during my years as a teen, there was also very much a culture of shame attached to talking about your period, even among us girls. I have to say this is something that is slowly changing but nonetheless plays a large part in why so many women don’t seek treatment sooner.
As it stands menstruation is on the national curriculum in one form or another, but there is very little guidance as to what that includes and the quality of the information that is given varies widely. At the age of ten, our teachers placed all the girls in one room and played one of those cringey videos about “Getting your first period.” WHat i remember of it, it included a lot of euphemisms and very little actual information. MOving onto secondary school the one occasion we were given any period related education involved a twenty minute session regarding personal hygiene and menstrual products available to us.
Even in the internet generation, the information you are given in those early years is so important. At the age of 19 I could have easily googled my symptoms but that lack of early education meant for a staggering amount of time I didn’t really think anything was wrong, certainly not enough to get myself to the doctors.
This new addition to the ENglish sex education curriculum not only means women and girls with gynecological conditions can be treated sooner, but also benefits all of us. If we can prevent period taboo ever becoming a thing for generation Z, menstrual health could be discussed openly from day one. Girls still aren’t feeling prepared or informed before they get their first period. A report carried out by Plan International UK found that 1 in 7 girls didn’t know what was happening when they got their first period. (CHeck it out here https://plan-uk.org/act-for-girls/girls-rights-in-the-uk/break-the-barriers-our-menstrual-manifesto). We can do better.
I don’t work in education, so I don’t know if this is true of today’s sex ed, but when I was in school at no point were boys taught anything beyond the basic biology of menstruation. Changing this is beneficial on a few levels. Those boys will have classmates, friends, family members and perhaps at some point girlfriends, partners or daughters who go through or will go through menstruation. I feel there shouldn’t be anything wrong with expecting some basic knowledge and understanding from the men around us. I’d also like to point out that men want to have that understanding. The men in my life want to be able to support their friends, family and loved ones.
Something that I think is quite evident in the current legislation regarding menstrual health, is that those boys could grow up to make legal and political choices that will directly affect women’s bodies. Politicians are able to influence the health care we receive, the cost of menstrual products and the legal protection we receive from gender discrimination. It is vital that those decision makers have an understanding of women’s bodies. I don’t think that is the case yet everywhere.
I’ve already mentioned that March is endometriosis awareness month. Several organisations across the globe are doing things to raise money and spread awareness. The worldwide endomarch is taking place in different locations throughout march, with one taking place in London on the 23rd of March. Here’s a link if you’re interested. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/worldwide-endomarch-london-uk-2019-tickets-53917781536
Take a look at what Plan International UK have been doing, creating their Menstrual Manifesto off the back of their Break the Barriers report. https://plan-uk.org/act-for-girls/girls-rights-in-the-uk/break-the-barriers-our-menstrual-manifesto