It’s about time schools offered classes on menstruation. It would’ve saved me a world of pain when I was a teenager

The government finally put in plans for children to be taught about periods. Had I had the same lessons, I might have been diagnosed with endometriosis sooner

 

Emily Roberts
Sunday 03 March 2019 13:12
comments
Period. End of Sentence.: Netflix introduces documentary seeking to end stigma surrounding periods

A young person I spoke with in my other job as a youth worker confided in me about her periods and how they were causing her hideous pain each month.

She told me that she was passing enormous blood clots and soaking a sanitary towel so frequently she was unable to make it through a lesson at school.

I felt shocked, but I remained calm and gently encouraged her to seek help from her GP.

“I can’t do that,” she gasped, looking appalled, as if I was trying to persuade her to stand up in front of her entire school and talk about menstruation.

She was ashamed and embarrassed of her monthly trauma. She had learned not to talk about periods, like they were some sort of dirty secret. Even among people like her mum.

It saddens me that in 2019 a normal, essential bodily function of half the population is still seen as taboo to so many.

Therefore I am delighted to hear that the government has finally put in plans for every child in England to be taught about menstrual wellbeing.

This week, education secretary Damian Hinds set out plans to make relationships education in all primary schools, and relationships and sex education in all secondary schools, compulsory, resulting in all pupils – regardless of their gender – being taught the facts about menstrual wellbeing.

I felt passionate about the campaign which led to this moment, because of my role as a youth worker and because I understand the impact not talking about periods can have on a person.

I have endometriosis, an incurable, chronic condition, of which one of the symptoms can be painful, heavy periods.

I was an adult when I was diagnosed. I could articulate my symptoms. Yet still it took years to receive this diagnosis, partly because the many GPs I saw didn’t recognise the symptoms and refer me to a gynaecologist, and partly because I had never heard of endometriosis, despite it affecting one in 10 women.

Had I been taught about menstrual wellbeing at school, I might have pushed to see a gynaecologist and been diagnosed sooner.

Symptoms of endometriosis can hit as soon as a girl starts her period. Imagine a teenage girl trying to find the words to explain to others the excruciating pain experienced each month. Would she recognise that her period was any different to her friends’?

Putting menstrual wellbeing on the curriculum will help overcome the taboos and embarrassment surrounding periods, as well as empowering girls to understand what is and isn’t normal for their menstrual cycle.

They will learn the correct language to communicate about their periods if they need to seek help, and the confidence to do this, without feeling embarrassed.

When I first complained of painful, heavy periods, I was put on the contraceptive pill, despite not actually needing contraception at the time.

For years my concerns were undermined. I worry that young girls, finally equipped with the knowledge and language to explain their concerns regarding their period will seek help, only to still have their fears dismissed by an older generation in desperate need of playing catchup.

I hate to think of the distress this might cause, and the impact on a young girl’s mental health, being constantly told there is nothing wrong.

Although menstrual wellbeing on the curriculum is a positive step, there is still a long way to go before it is taken as seriously as it should be, and not dismissed as “women’s problems”; something we have to put up with each month.

I’m not being a wimp by staying at home with a hot water bottle for tummy cramps when I have suffered in the past. I’m in agony, unable to get out of bed from exhaustion, yet unable to sleep because of constant, debilitating pain. This isn’t normal. Yet many might believe it is.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Until we can get rid of the stigma that surrounds periods, for everyone, women will continue to suffer. And unless everyone is educated about what is normal and what isn’t, then the appalling 7.5-year delay in diagnosis of endometriosis will never reduce.

I hope the young girl who confided in me about her period managed to receive the help she needed.

However, if her experience is anything like mine, she may face a long, difficult and frustrating battle ahead for both diagnosis and effective treatment, which sadly highlights the inequality still present today surrounding women’s menstrual health.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments