As many of you who follow us on Facebook will already know, at an event this week a young woman asked us for suggestions to help her 13-year-old sister have a more positive experience with menstruation and sexuality. So we asked our community, "What do you wish someone had done for you at that age?" We received an overwhelming response filled with beautiful stories and suggestions. We want to thank you all for broadening the dialogue on this often-overlooked topic. We thought some might find it helpful to see a compilation of all of those suggestions in one place, so here is our summary!
- Help set the stage. While a girl’s first menstruation is a one-day event, the events that contribute to how she will experience it start at birth. Set the stage for a positive experience by using proper anatomical names for body parts, being mindful of how you present your own experience of your body and menstruation (shame is very easy to pick up from people’s words and body language), and regularly comment on media portrayals of women’s bodies as a way of encouraging media literacy.
- Help them be informed. There is nothing scarier than the unknown. You can help equip young girls with the information they need to understand what their bodies are doing by providing access to such books as Cycle Savvy, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, What’s Happening to My Body, and Cycling. Pay particular attention to the issues not covered well in health education at school – for example, most girls know that getting your period is a part of puberty, but few know that changes to the shape of the vulva and cervical discharge are other natural physiological changes with puberty. You might be surprised how common “vulva shame” is, or how confusing or shameful girls can find “stuff in their underwear.”
- Help them celebrate. Too often menstruation is presented as a curse – a painful, embarrassing or inconvenient aspect of womanhood. To counteract these negative associations, create an atmosphere of celebration by hosting a first moon party, offering a small gift (piece of red jewelry, goddess figure, etc.), or providing a book that showcases positive menstrual experiences, like The Red Tent or Red Moon.
- Help them feel prepared. Help a young woman be prepared for her first menstruation by creating a first moon kit with menstrual products as well as home remedies for a healthy cycle, like a hot water bottle, tea and magnesium supplement (make sure to check the dosage information on the bottle). Many women only learn about tampons and disposable pads, and don’t know about alternative menstrual products like the Diva Cup and Lunapads. Let them know these options exist (there are some awesome online instructional videos on how they work) so that they can make an informed decision about which one is best for them.
- Help them make the connection. Regardless of the age at which a girl gets her first period or becomes sexually active, the connection between menstruation and a woman’s sexual awakening often gets overlooked or ignored completely. Help them make the connection by talking about how this experience is important because it marks the transition into a new and exciting phase of one’s life – a phased filled with pleasure, exploration and the capacity to create life, if and when the time is right. Books like Deal With It and websites like Scarleteen are a great starting point – they can help foster a healthy relationship to masturbation, sexual decision-making, and body exploration while also providing groundwork for further conversation.
Thanks again to all those who shared their suggestions and personal experiences. While our original question included discussion of how to encourage positive sexual experiences, we have opted to turn that into a whole separate blog post which you can find here.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.