When I was growing up, periods were a secret girl thing that could only be talked about in hushed whispers with other girls. Boys were not to know about the blood that came into the crotch of our underwear once every thirty days or so because it was clandestine and mystical and a bit dirty. To our brothers and fathers and male teachers, the words “tummy ache” or “stomach cramps” could be uttered and nobody would ask questions: do what you want, was the hands-held-up-in-surrender default response, just don’t say that word at me. Don’t make me look that word in the eye. I don’t need to know.
When I got my first period I was ten years old and hid my underwear from my mother for four days before I had to admit to her what I suspected was going on. I was nervous and afraid as I walked down the stairs to where she was busy sweeping the bottom step, and I said to her: “I errrr… I think… Well… the thing is… The thing is, is that there is blood in my knickers.”
She was thrilled for me – but my period was our secret. I have no idea what she told my father, or, indeed, if she did at all. (Actually, she just text me back to say she did tell my dad, and she cried, because I was so young she was sad to think my childhood had “gone”. His response was, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!” because he couldn’t stand to think that, either.) I was her baby growing up, becoming a woman, and that was information only other women were to be privy on. We never said “period” or “menstruation” or “clotty weird uterus gunk” in front of men, and I was led to believe that it was better that way. Best not upset the gentlemen, and all that.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t resent my mother, or dad, for that – for my peers it was exactly the same. A quick Twitter poll reveals that very few of us ever addressed “Auntie Flow’s visit to town” in polite company, and to be honest, I remember being so excited by this rite of passage that the secrecy it was encouraged to be shrouded in was quite thrilling. I figured out tampons with my best friend at elementary school, in the same way we figured out smoking and snogging: illicit practice.
I don’t think I was that bothered by talking or not talking about my period – until, that is, I read recently a story about a girl whose family threw her a “Period Party” on the afternoon of her first bleed. There was red cake and red balloons and she was mortified but also really proud, too. I thought it was so incredibly lovely that she would never have to be embarrassed or ashamed of her body, like – now I thought about it – I have been when my period is due.
For years, my period was “Blow Job” week. I never had sex with a man when I was bleeding – right from when I suspected it was on the way, through to about a day after, just to be sure. I held a belief that with my period, I was unclean and undesirable. A bit of dry humping was about as much as I’d go in for – even though the days before and during are when I am outrageously horny and need sex more than ever. How insane is that! That just when I want it most, I would deny myself of it!
The first time a man told me not only did he not mind having sex in “Blow Job” week but he actively wanted to have sex, because he adored me and it made no difference to him what time of the month it was so long as he could demonstrate that adoration, I needed a full 12 hours of convincing. But. That was some of the hottest sex I have ever had: it was so attractive, so fucking hot, that he felt that way that I came and came and came, and still refer to him as the one who taught me how.
There is a reason women across the land were sopping wet at the thought of Christian Gray: he was so un-squeamish at Anastasia Steele’s period that he REMOVED HER TAMPON FOR HER. It wasn’t unclean or wrong or weird it just was. There was nothing to hide. And that’s what sex should be: no “rights” or “wrongs”, just two people expressing themselves with their bodies. There is no shame in human form.
I’m learning, I think, that I don’t want to silenced over menstruation. Not being able to talk about it is another form of oppression, another subtle way that women are reminded to be ashamed. But I’m sort of struggling, now I lay out the argument with myself, as to why I should be ashamed. Periods are the life force, an indication that a woman can pro-create and give birth and that everything is working and I just don’t get why we have to be quiet about that. Why we have make periods “palatable”.
I am a woman, and I bleed.