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Getting Your Period at 8: Striking a balance between childhood and adulthood

I started my period three days before my ninth birthday. The average age to start a period in the United States today is between 10 and 16, so I was on the lower end of normal, even though that average has been slowly decreasing within the past century due to changes in nutrition among adolescents. However, none of this information consoled me as I grappled to understand what was going on in my body.  

My sexual education up until that point in the fourth grade had been understandably sparse, due to the fact that I was a young elementary school student. I was too afraid to search online for clues about my period because I had been socialized to believe I was in a volatile, unsavory condition, due to conversations with the adults closest to me

I’m not sure when this feeling began. Perhaps a few days after I started menstruating, when I was celebrating my birthday at Chuck E. Cheese and my mother called me “moody” and “hormonal” because I didn’t want to take a picture with the man dressed in a mouse suit. The shame, however, definitively emerged when my teachers suggested I shouldn’t talk to my fellow classmates about having my period, and that I keep a spare pair of pants in the back of the room in case I “had an accident.”

I was quick to break the rules, though, and when one of my best friends asked me if I’d peed myself one afternoon when I snuck back into the classroom wearing a different pair of jeans, I told her I was on my period. I don’t know why I said anything—she had no idea what a period was, anyway.

I’m not sure if my peers lived their lives in blissful ignorance in regard to periods until seventh grade, but that’s the first time I remember receiving any factual information about menstruation. Even then, it was sparse. The conversation, delivered to us by a male teacher, lasted about thirty minutes one afternoon. We learned the nuts and bolts about what happens during menarche, and then I never heard the word “period” again, outside of a grammar review in English class.

This shouldn’t have surprised me. The only laws pertaining required sexual education relate to general sexual education and HIV/AIDS. In my home state of West Virginia, we were only required to learn about STDs, abstinence, and other contraceptive methods. The discussion of general reproductive health topics, to my understanding, was left to a teacher’s discretion.

While this shoddy, official introduction to menstruation left me with continued confusion about my “condition,” I don’t seem to be the only person who uncertainly the classroom with unanswered questions.

President Donald Trump made headlines during the 2016 presidential election for attempting to correlate Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s “unfair questions” of Trump during a debate to her being on her period. While his comment carried the weight of several implications, I think the most troubling effect is two-fold: Not only did Trump perpetuate the myth that women are moodier around their periods (much like my own mother did), but he engaged in rhetoric that invalidates female emotion.

This reaction is not isolated to Trump; but rather, such thoughts about female hormonal-ness and fickleness have become staple emotions associated with menstruation, thus effectively negating a female’s displeasure or anger or frustration in any situation. Furthermore, because it is impossible to know if a female is menstruating without actually asking the individual in question, others must rely on outdated stereotypes to infer this information.

A female is driving and experiences road-rage when a neighboring car swerves in front of them? She must be on her period to have such a volatile response.

Someone catcalls a female on the street, and she shoots the offender an icy look? Such an action must be due to their period—why else wouldn’t they just accept the “compliment”?

A woman’s friend cancels long-standing plans, and she gets upset and assk for earlier notice next time. Surely such a rude response can only be justified by a hormone-inducing period.

The list is limitless, but the result is the same: When people assume a female is on her period simply because she displays any form of negative emotion, the emotion in question is deemed irrational and, thus, made invalid. And most of the time, this is done unconsciously. I doubt my mother’s intention was to make me feel self-conscious about experiencing any type of negative emotion, but throughout my adolescence, I felt guilty for being unhappy or upset.

My experience with early menstruation leads me to believe that the topic is still quite taboo in North America, and a lack of inclusive, accurate channels for discussing this occurrence inadvertently creates a space where misinformation can flow freely. As a society, whether at home or in the classroom, we are doing a disservice to our young people by not providing them with an environment in which they can talk freely about their bodies.

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India Amos is a freelance writer based in Miami and has lived in West Virginia and Argentina. She speaks Spanish and Italian and is a fan of reggaeton, empanadas, and the use of “vos.” Follow her on Twitter @indiamorgana.

Photo credit: Splitshire, pexels.com

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