5 min read
by Keeley McNamara, CNM, and Jen Swetzoff | 07/17/2023
We all know at least a few cliché sayings about periods. Is it that time of the month? Are you on the rag? Did Aunt Flo come to visit? Code red, crimson tide, and shark week are some other charming ones we’ve heard thrown around. But have you stopped to think about what those words are really relaying to our kids — and to us?
These words can suggest feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear, when really periods are just a normal part of life that at least 50% of humans experience. So let’s reframe the language we use and get comfortable talking about periods. Let’s talk about periods like we talk about exercise, eating vegetables, or washing our hands. These are all normal, healthy parts of life.
In our own families, we normalize period talk by being open and honest with our kids about our own experiences. Gone are the days of hiding tampon boxes under the sink. Now period underwear hangs out to dry in the open for all to see. We might say things like “I remember when I got my period for the first time. Pads were so big and uncomfortable back then. It’s great you have options like period underwear now.” Or, we might say something like “I’m on my period and I’m feeling a little crampy, so I’m going to lie down and rest for a few minutes.” This way, there’s no embarrassment or secrecy about normal period experiences. And when our kids come to us with questions, we just give them the answers they’re looking for, honestly and succinctly. Then we ask open-ended questions back to see if they’re ready to learn more. For example, we might say “Did that answer your question?” or “Is there anything else you wanted to know?”
If you’re ready to talk to your kids about periods, here’s some language you might try.
Growing up is complicated and there’s no one talk that can cover everything kids need to know about their changing bodies and minds. So, when approaching your kids about periods, puberty, sexuality, or bodies in general, think about it like you’re just starting an ongoing conversation that you’ll have over many years. You might not get to everything the first time and that’s okay. It’s not a one-and-done speech.
Why do we want to avoid using the words feminine hygiene products? Well, first of all, not every woman feels feminine and not every menstruating person is a woman. Menstruation is a bodily function that doesn’t need to be tied to gender. Second, hygiene is the practice of maintaining health and preventing disease. Brushing our teeth is an example of hygiene. If we didn’t do it, our teeth would get diseased. But what would happen if we didn’t use period products? Would we get sick? No. We might get messy, but we wouldn't get sick. Periods are a normal human experience. Finally, period protection suggests that period products are for everyone and anyone who needs them. It’s inclusive and tells us what these products actually do: They protect us and our clothes from stains and leaks.
Sure, many menstruating people have around a 28-day cycle, which means a new period starts about once every 28 days, or about once per month. But some people have slightly longer or shorter cycles, which can be totally normal as well. The issue with this saying isn’t so much the information, but the implication. “That time of the month” is usually directed at a menstruating person to justify why they’re behaving a certain way. Can the hormone swings associated with menstruation make people emotional? Yes! You know what else can? Being told that you’re feeling a certain way because you are a menstruating person. Let’s leave the stereotype that menstruation equates to being overly emotional in the past. Let’s be open about discussing our emotions as we experience them, no matter when we’re feeling them.
Based on recent research from Thinx, we need to do a better job when it comes to talking about periods. More than 70% of teens said they thought periods were scary before experiencing them. We know that things are less scary when we’re well informed. But with less than one-quarter of U.S. schools providing puberty education, it’s no surprise that 77% of students said they’d like more in-depth knowledge about menstrual health. And the overwhelming majority of kids said they’d prefer to talk with someone they know about periods, rather than engaging with information online, whether that person is their mom (90%), a friend (82%), or a health practitioner (77%). So let’s start talking.
Keeley McNamara is a certified nurse midwife with a background in health education, and the co-founder of Anyway, a resource for adolescents curious about issues related to health, wellbeing, and culture. Follow along on Instagram @anywaymag.
Jen Swetzoff is a writer and editor; the founder of Closeup, a small creative studio; and the co-founder of Anyway, a resource for adolescents curious about issues related to health, wellbeing, and culture. Follow along on Instagram @anywaymag.
Thinx Inc. State of the Period 2022. https://drive.google.com/file/d/131RhGXYMPkb4WcNEc-wv1ZSwIXG-fcdp/view
Thinx Inc. State of the Period 2021. https://www.thinx.com/thinx/blogs/periodical/odds-and-ends/state-of-the-period-2021
by Keeley McNamara, CNM, and Jen Swetzoff