What we aren’t told about periods.

What we aren’t being told about the menstrual cycle.

What we aren’t told about periods.

What and how much were you told about the menstrual cycle when you were young? Was it discussed at school, in the classroom or in the school yard? Did you talk about it at home with your parents and siblings or wider family, and if so, how?

As a woman and mother, my experience of how we approach ‘the conversation’ about a woman’s menstrual cycle is far from what it could be, particularly when we understand the true depth of what this great cycle offers us.

From my own experience of growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the topic of periods was quite a secretive one. In high school it was spoken about in whispers behind closed toilet doors and rarely was it spoken about at all in front of boys.

When it was discussed in the classroom, it was always very surface level. In sex education we learnt that a woman got her period at some stage during puberty and that this meant she would bleed for anywhere between 3 to 7 days every month in a 28-day cycle.

We learnt about the woman’s reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone playing an important role in the cycle, and that from the time a young woman started her period it meant she was now able to fall pregnant – the latter piece of information being one of the biggest take home messages amongst my peers, which of course led to conversations around contraception.

This was pretty much the extent of education around the menstrual cycle and the classroom didn’t exactly ooze an environment for further discussion or exploration, most likely owing to the fact that it was a topic boys and girls weren’t to speak of.

It feels important to state the obvious here that it wasn’t that we weren’t allowed to speak of periods and the menstrual cycle: there was no particular person or authority figure telling us not to, but more that it was a feeling or sense that you just didn’t go there. This appeared to be primarily due to a mix of embarrassment, shame (as some girls and women still experience around having a period), lack of understanding and the many myths and ill conceptions out there around the menstrual cycle.

I remember as a teenager quite often hearing other women talk about their period as being an ‘inconvenience’ to them, and this attitude appeared to have no age discrimination. “It’s one of the pitfalls of being a woman” some would say, or “how come men don’t have to put up with something like this” ... some even went so far to say that women were ripped off being the ones who had to have a period and give birth.

There is some truth in the latter statement, however it is not that we have been ripped off because we have a menstrual cycle or give birth to children, quite the contrary. It is the lack of education and true understanding of the cycle and responsibility that comes with birthing a child where one can say we have indeed been completely and utterly ripped off.

Thirty years on and sadly not much has changed. Sex education and the menstrual cycle, though thorough on the anatomy and physiology level, still sit very much on the surface when it comes to what young adults are taught at school, and if they don’t have parents or friends who embrace an openness around this topic, the only means they have of educating themselves further is what’s available on the internet, which is for the most part functional, or more of the age old negativity around the cycle and having a period.

But what if all the information we have available to us is really only touching the surface of what the menstrual cycle is truly about… and how a woman can use this cycle to develop not only a loving relationship with her body on a physical level, but that it can support her to come to much deeper understandings and realisations about herself as a woman.

The truth is, each cycle, regardless of its length, offers a woman the opportunity to learn more about her body and how it responds to the way she is living. It is also an opportunity for her to embody more of the richness of her own innate wisdom and bring this out to the world.

This is not something that is subject to age, it is there from the time of her first bleed and up until the last when she will move into yet another phase of her life – the grace of menopause and the elder years.

For too long we have had a focus on a woman’s cycle being about the bleeding, and yet it is so much more than this. So vast, so intricate and so intertwined with her livingness that to reduce it down to a monthly bleed is to rob a woman of one of her greatest resources in life.

The menstrual cycle is in truth one continuous cycle reflecting a woman’s movements through life and the depth she may choose to access beyond her physical being. Each phase within the cycle, from ovulation through to the bleeding and back again to ovulation, offers her the opportunity to get to know the intricacies of her physical body, and how this relates not only to the choices she makes on a daily basis in relation to her diet, exercise, and how she treats herself in general, but also the relationship to the deeper, less tangible aspects of life and how she moves within it.

From my experience, it has been the appreciation of what is occurring within my body on a physical level throughout my cycle that has enabled me to see a correlation between how I live from day to day and how this impacts my cycle.

The symptoms I experience leading into the bleeding phase are a telling sign of the choices I’ve made throughout the cycle and the more I listen, the clearer the communication becomes. Be it irritation, bloating, or tender breasts, these symptoms are not just a coincidence or something to blame on my period coming, they are in truth my body’s way of communicating to me that there is perhaps more, or a different way, and all this without criticism, but simply an invitation to explore deeper.

There are so many things I have discovered that can lead to pre-menstrual symptoms like:

  • Disregarding my body, not treating it with the care it deserves
  • Holding back my expression, be this in words or in actions.
  • Eating poorly
  • Going to bed later than I need (or feel) to over a prolonged period
  • Having walls up around others that I have become aware of yet still choose to hold onto
  • Trying to control situations that are out of my control
  • Thinking negatively about myself
  • Thinking negatively about others
  • Not exercising as I know my body would like
  • Not letting people get close to me
  • Shutting down or reacting at work or at home
  • Not giving myself space when I need to.

Essentially, anything and everything I do that goes against loving myself and my body shows up in the lead up to my period, and yet too often menstrual symptoms are seen as the fault of the period and not as the opportunity they offer the woman to learn about herself and the sensitivity of her body – a body that cannot escape every choice we make.

"The body is the marker of all truth."

Serge Benhayon The Way It Is, ed 1, p 602

Imagine being given this as a young girl. That the first thing you are told about your period is not that it is something to be inconvenienced or annoyed by, but that it is a completely beautiful process occurring within your body that offers you an opportunity to get to know yourself on a whole new level with each cycle, and that it does this by revealing to you what is true and not true in the way you are living.

That it is in truth a cycle of tremendous responsibility, and that this is continuous all the way up until your period stops, giving you the opportunity to constantly deepen and evolve who you are as a woman and how you live in the world.

A young woman should never feel scared to talk about her period in front of boys. She should never feel or be made to feel unsure to talk about it with her brother/s or father, and when she gets older there should be no shame or unease in communicating it with her partner or children.

The menstrual cycle is not something to be hidden, for it has much to teach us all about the responsibility we have to live a life based on love and truth.

Filed under

EducationMenstrual cycleSexTeenagers

  • By Anna McCormack

    Woman, mother, advocate for anything that truly nourishes the body, food or otherwise.

  • Photography: Shannon Everest