I’m closing in on 50 and will soon be passing the menstrual baton to my tween daughter. (Go ahead, picture a tampon.) I hope I can pass on something else to her, too: my positive attitude toward my monthly period.
I’m aware that I’m going against the flow with this opinion. Even if menstruation has become a far less taboo topic than it used to be, it’s still something women love to hate on. And as for men– well, don’t even get me started on how they have treated menstruation over the centuries. Some still think women are unfit for high-level positions, including being president of the United States, because of monthly hormone storms that will trigger irrational, impulsive behavior (cough Donald cough Trump).
But ever since my daughter has been old enough to talk, I’ve tried to teach her how amazing and powerful her body is.
So here are four positive things about periods that I’ll be discussing with my daughter over coming years, when she’s ready:
Female bonding. The common experience of periods binds us women together. Within an hour after I met my college roomies, we were joking about synchronizing our cycles. In every office I’ve worked in, female coworkers will go to each other–often crossing office hierarchies–to borrow tampons or Tylenol for cramps. Over the years, I’ve had occasion, for one reason or another, to talk about period-related things with a wide variety of women, including my 90-year-old great aunt and my host sister when I was an exchange student in Costa Rica. No matter how different two women are, there is always a feeling of camaraderie and sisterhood when it comes to this topic.
A handy excuse. Life throws a lot at us and there’s nothing wrong with using an excuse now and then to get out of something. In certain situations, periods can be a golden ticket. I learned this lesson early. When I was in high school in the late 1980s, we could avoid swimming class by telling our male gym teacher we had our period. No matter when we last did this, he dutifully recorded a red “P” in the gradebook (no joke) while we sat dry and happy in the bleachers–no re-applying purple eye shadow that day. When you’re looking for a no-questions-asked excuse to leave an event early, or to skip an evening out, or even to get yourself out of an awkward romantic or sexual situation, a vague allusion to cramps or even just “female issues” is all it takes. Women will sympathize and men won’t dare to question.
A reminder of our sexual selves. I know that sounds weird. But if you look at it in the right light, being on your period is like a constant little reminder of your sexuality. There can be something sexy about going through all the routine parts of your day while something messy, wet, and primitive is happening down below. Like a secret crush or a hidden romance–its allure lies in the fact that it’s an undercurrent. And, if you want to have actual sex during your period, there’s nothing wrong with that, either. My open-minded partners have always found it to be a novel turn-on. And there’s no need for lubricant, either. Just bring an extra towel.
They remind us of one of our superpowers. I never lost sight of what I learned in the first little booklet my mom handed me decades ago, along with a box of ‘beltless’ Stayfree maxi pads. Menstruating is shedding the uterine lining because an egg was not fertilized–meaning that every month, we have the potential to be pregnant. Now, I realize that the vast majority of months in our reproductive lives, most of us don’t want to be. But it’s pretty freaking cool that we could be. It just doesn’t get more powerful and magical than bringing forth life.
My tween daughter is going to hear all kinds of negative messages about this particular thing her body does. After all, throughout human history, menstruation has been viewed as a curse. But women already waste far too much mental energy despising their bodies, and I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure my daughter doesn’t hate hers. So when I talk to her about this subject, I’m going to be honest about some of the challenges periods can bring. But I’m going to spend just as much time talking about the advantages. And just maybe, she’ll end up thinking that periods are a feature, and not a bug, of being female.