HOW TO START THE CONVERSATION?
As a woman, you probably remember the first time you menstruated. Menstruation is not only about having a period, it is the sign that a girl becomes a woman and can give life to another human being. Still, it is not always easy to start the conversation. Where to start?
When to start?
There is no perfect time to initiate ‘The Talk’ about menstruation with your daughter. Every child is different and how and when you will introduce the topic depends on your kid’s maturity and ability to understand. Concentrating all information on puberty in one single discussion could be more confusing and overwhelming that helpful to your daughter. We would rather recommend you to spread information through a progressive process of small talks from the youngest age. Then, by the time your daughter menstruates, she will be able to fully identify what is happening to her body. All the more as blood is often assimilated to something awful in our societies. Knowing that, your daughter might feel particularly frightened when her first period comes, if she does not know about menstruation.
What to say?
You can start by explaining the basics about menstruation and how it relates to a woman’s reproductive cycle. Use a language that is appropriate to your daughter’s age and maturity. You can start with simple information about a woman’s cycle, you can use simple concepts or visuals that might help her understand. You can then progressively add more precise information as your daughter grows.
For information on puberty, you can have a look at Marni Sommer’s books. These are really helpful in explaining your daughter about menstruation.
How to say it?
It is important that your daughter feels you are comfortable in discussing questions around menstruation. The advantage of initiating the conversation yourself is that you can talk about menstruation in a positive way. It is a natural and wonderful process and your daughter should not see it as something scary or negative. Nowadays, it is very easy for children to come across misleading information and if that is the only information they get, they will believe it. Therefore, sharing good and positive information with your child ensures she will be able to sort out any misinformation she can come across.
Be concrete, use examples or your personal experience to describe what happens during menstruation: how to change a pad or a tampon, what to do if your daughter menstruates at school, how to deal with cramps etc. Stress out the importance of personal hygiene. Your daughter should understand that it is a necessity to regularly change her pads or tampons. Telling your daughter about the different materials your daughter can use when she menstruates (tampons, pads, menstrual cups) is also a big part of her ‘menstrual education’.
It is also important to comfort your daughter by explaining that every child is different. Girls often compare themselves to other girls and might feel scared if their bodies change more slowly or more quickly than their friends. Puberty is singular to every child and might happen at different stages of a child’s adolescence.
Having a conversation about menstruation also includes discussing sexual relations with your daughter. Some girls can get pregnant even before having their periods if they are sexually active.
What questions will your daughter ask?
Your daughter might have a lot of questions but don’t panic! You are able to answer to all of them.
Have a look at this website!
Links to help your daughter manage her periods:
Some explicatory videos we recommend!
Menstruation is not just a woman’s issue! As a man, you also play an important part in helping your daughter understand what is happening to her body. Before starting the conversation, you should read about puberty and menstruation, get ready to answer questions she could have. Show that you are comfortable in discussing these issues with her, adopt a positive attitude towards these questions and be respectful. This will be determinant for the way your daughter perceive menstruation. You can also ask some women that your daughter trusts to sit down and talk to her about puberty. It could help in dealing with questions you don’t always have the answer to or feel uncomfortable speaking about.
Men and Boys
Check out our conversation with Party with consent
Discussing puberty at school is often seen as an embarrassing topic for both teachers and students. Yet, it is very important to begin teaching girls and boys about the changes their bodies will go through, especially menstruation. Menarche usually begins between the ages of 9 to 16, the average being around 12 years of age. As a teacher, you have a great influence on girls and some of them might feel more comfortable approaching you for questions about menstruation that asking their parents. If that happens, you can help girls understanding what menstruation is and teach them that it is a normal, healthy part of their lives. Girls should not feel scared about growing into women and see menstruation in a positive way.
You can help them understand that:
- Menstruation is part of growing up
- Menstruation is normal for every woman, including the differently abled
- Menstruation is not a women’s issue but a universal issue - men need to know about it too!
- There are many myths and misconceptions around menstruation
If you consider these questions, you should be able to cover every important point on menstruation. The first important thing to do is to break the ice. Talking about puberty and menstruation is not always a comfortable topic. You can change the seating arrangement for something that might reassure children like a round table discussion. Visual images are also very helpful for children to understand the changes the body goes through from childhood into adulthood. Keep in mind that your students may have never seen their own body in detail.
You can start the conversation by asking children how much they know about the menstrual cycle and about menstrual hygiene management in general. If children haven’t had the talk with their parents yet, you might have to answer some of the frequently asked questions presented in this manual.
Development Workers and Practicioners
A good menstrual hygiene management is vital for women and girls. Menstruation is key to their health and vitality and it is important that practitioners engage women and girls in a discussion around menstruation.
In developing countries, a vast majority of women and girls do not have access to sanitary facilities where they can change, wash and clean their menstrual hygiene materials. Their access to clean water is also limited and most of them cannot use safe and proper menstrual products. They have to use materials such as ash, newspapers, hay, sand or old rags. This multiplies the risks of infections for women during their menstruation.
As a practitioner, you have to keep in mind that menstruation is still a sensitive topic in many developing countries. The female body and menstruation have been historically subjected to taboos and stigmas. Many communities have beliefs and cultures, which put restrictions on women who are menstruating. For instance, in some areas of Nepal, Nepalese women have to isolate themselves in huts without proper access to food and water for the time of their menstruation. They are also exposed to hypothermia, animal attacks and in some cases rape. They are considered impure and what they touch supposedly becomes impure as well. These practices have serious implications on women and girls’ health, security and well-being.
How to discuss menstruation?
Start by making participants comfortable. Making small groups usually helps them to feel more confident in sharing their experience, doubts and questions. If participants are both men and women, some might feel even more comfortable if they are divided into gender specific groups.
You can initiate the conversation by telling one of your personal story on menstruation and ask participants to do the same if you feel they will be willing to do so. If not, you can wait until a more appropriate moment of the training.
You can then evaluate how much participants know about menstruation by asking questions such as: why a woman menstruates? At what age? What is menstruation?
If you see that the audience does not know much about menstruation, you can start by explaining the basics. Using visuals can be very helpful for participants to understand the reproductive cycle.
We recommend that you use the WSSCC MHM interactive wheel
After this introduction to menstruation, you can go deeper into details. For example, what products a woman has to use to protect herself during menstruation? How to wash her menstrual hygiene materials? How to deal with cramps? You might want to bring sanitary products to concretely explain participants how to use them. Keep in mind that women might not have the possibility to use disposable products, therefore you might have to explain about reusable materials. Ask them about the products, what they think is the most appropriate material to use. Let them talk about their own preferences.
See page 9 of WSSCC MHM Manual for the different types of material.
Teaching about hygiene practices is an important part of explaining menstruation as a practitioner. By the end of the training, participants should be able to handle menstrual blood, to clean blood stained materials and to wash and clean their bodies.
Keep in mind that taboos and stigmas still strongly exist in some regions. Women and girls face many challenges when it comes to managing their menstruation in public places such as in the workplace, at school but also in the private sphere, at home. Your role as a practitioner is to raise awareness among both women and men on the need for a good and safe menstrual hygiene management. You can explain the risks linked to a bad management of menstruation and how to reduce those risks. It is important to adapt your discourse according to your audience’s culture. Always be respectful of their believes.