I recently read an article that advised cisgender women to teach their cisgender male housemates—whether they were significant others or simply friends—about their menstrual cycle in order to reduce embarrassment of the cis male and decrease the number of stupid questions they may ask the cis women. No. This education or explanation should not be done by the person who menstruates; shedding our uterus is already enough work. All genders need to understand how menstruation works and this education needs to happen years before dating someone or moving in with a person who bleeds. It needs to be done by parents and educators often and early.
A study done by YouGov and Bodyform found that 72% of cisgender males were never taught anything about the menstrual cycle. Another study by INTIMINA and conducted by YouGov recently confirmed this hole in knowledge still exists; only 41% of male identifying people were able to correctly explain menstruation. And the parts about menstruation they thought they knew were often incorrect.
Here are some common misconceptions found by INTIMINA:
52% of the cis men surveyed thought the menstrual cycle only lasts 1-6 days and didn’t realize the entire process is roughly 28 days.
36% percent thought that menstruation wouldn’t have any effect on them. (HAHAHAHAHAHA)
65% didn’t know what a menstrual cup is and many couldn’t correctly identify the cost of tampons.
42% didn’t think a person could get pregnant while on their period.
33% of fathers said they rather have a woman explain menstruation to their daughters.
78% of those surveyed said it was important to educate cis boys about periods and the menstrual cycle.
This education will go more smoothly if we can remove stigma and inappropriate jokes about periods. People still get all squeamish when the subject is brought up so they avoid it altogether. Look, periods can be messy and gross but so is eating BBQ chicken wings and people still talk about that—they even do it in public.
Because of this stigma, 9 out of 10 female identified menstruators said they were afraid to go to school while on their period because of teasing and shame. That’s bullshit and heartbreaking. Let’s let go of the ew, cooties! mentality and put on our mature pants and talk about menstruation in respectful and empathetic ways that don’t make bleeders feel dirty and accused of being “crazy” or too emotional.
Also, this is not a “women’s only” issue. Nonbinary people and transgender men can and do menstruate. And plenty of women—both trans and cis—don’t. The universal rule of thumb, though, is that cisgender boys—likely all assigned male at birth people—have some learning to do.
One of the best reasons for all genders to understand periods is because it’s science; learning about bodies should not be limited to binary genders or a person’s ability to experience something. The creation of human life can’t be taught without including the menstrual cycle, so why cut off half of the conversation because cis men don’t menstruate?
Dr. Alyssa Dweck, INTIMINA’s Sexual and Reproductive Health expert, tells Scary Mommy, “[Cisgender] Boys and men should be educated and reassured that the menstrual cycle is not only normal but a sign of health, wellbeing and fertility and a process that people with a uterus/ovaries and a vagina [may] experience.” Dr. Dweck says to be direct and nonjudgmental about the menstrual cycle and to be sure to talk about the products people use to manage menstrual blood.
Anybody assigned male at birth—especially cis men—in sexual relationships with people who can get pregnant need to understand that their partners can get pregnant while menstruating. Knowing when conception can happen is beneficial for planning pregnancies and avoiding unwanted ones. This last piece is especially important with the risk of more states banning abortion with similar bills to the one passed in Texas. For the children born who get a period one day, wouldn’t it be great if all adults could talk confidently and empathetically about menstruation? Supporting a child without freaking out or delegating “the talk” to a cis woman should be expected by all identities.
Cisgender men and people assigned male at birth also need to understand the financial burden of menstrual products and the physical and emotional toll periods have on people. Many people experience period poverty and can’t afford to buy the products they need. People miss school and work because of this and the physical pain caused by periods. Dr. Dweck adds, “[Cisgender] boys and men likely live with or know menstruators. It could be super helpful to clue them into some PMS type symptoms to be on the lookout for like appetite cravings and cramps.”
Having a cisgender male partner, friend, boss, or teacher who understands this and can help someone rather than shame or blame them will go a long way. Don’t be the dumb, insensitive person who makes menstruation worse for someone else. And don’t raise someone who becomes the roommate who is afraid of a box of tampons.
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