I was in class 7 when I got my first period. It was also around the time that most of my girl friends got theirs. We didn’t really have a structured sex education program at school and what we learnt in biology class was strictly biological of course. The process of menstruation was explained in scientific terms and naturally did not address the psychological and emotional aspect of hitting puberty.
While we did have lots of doubts and questions about menstruation we had no idea where to look for answers, however one thing we did know was that we shouldn’t discuss this with men, not even our fathers or brothers. So we would huddle in tiny groups and have whispered discussions where we would tell each other how we felt and tried to deal with the change our bodies were going through. We would hush up the minute we saw one of our guy friends around and hurriedly change the subject. It was embarrassing as the guys would guess anyway and the clandestine nature of our meetings made us feel even more embarrassed.
Things changed when a friend, a guy, confidently walked up to us one day and asked to talk about it. He said he was having trouble understanding what the biology book was describing in such scientific terms and would like first-hand information from us. We were taken aback of course but the rest of the guys from our class joined him and eventually we agreed. The result was a conversation where lots of girls and boys sat and talked about the concept of menstruation. The guys asked us all kinds of questions ranging from “So how much (blood) comes out?” to “when do you know it’s over”. Such ignorant questions might seem silly but by the end of the conversation, all shame regarding menstruation vanished. When the guys learned of our actual experience they were very sympathetic and understanding. After that, life became so much easier for us. We weren’t subjected to jokes and teasing if we refused to come swimming, or when we walked to the toilets with a bulge in our pockets.
Attitudes towards menstruation changed overnight and all because of one single conversation. Even we girls had not expected this response from the guys and we were pleasantly surprised by their supportive response. Since then, I have never been embarrassed or shy to ever talk about periods. I am thankful for this experience because I had no trouble discussing this with my fiancé who is extremely understanding. If I was in bed with cramps, he wouldn’t mind going out and buying tampons for me, he would refill my hot water bag for me and was always at hand, ready to do anything I asked to make my period easier.
I described this incident to highlight the importance of talking about versus pretending like it does not exist. Covering a topic in a veil of secrecy leads to ignorance and the spreading of myths.
This is an appeal to women and girls everywhere. Do not underestimate the men in your life. Whether it’s your brother, boyfriend, friend or husband, don’t shy away from talking about periods. Chances are, they know even lesser than you and you’ll be surprised at how supportive they can be and how much they can help. We help fuel ignorance when we ourselves refuse to talk about it openly. We help add the element of shame around menstruation by refusing to talk about it.
Author: Medha Kulkarni