Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual activism still booming in Sweden

October 12th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Josefin Persdotter: We just can’t get enough! 

As I have written before on this blog, Sweden has experienced what you might call a “menstrual revolution” since about the summer of 2013 as a multitude of menstrual-related initiatives, organizations, and businesses started and thrived, and menstruation became more of a talkable subject in media. But lately I’ve begun fearing the energy might have withered. I’ve thought people would soon be fed up with the menstrual headlines. Surely there must be a backlash.

I am glad to report I seem to be very mistaken!

Photo by Clara Henry, taken at The Gothenburg Book Fair, September 2015. Used with permission.

Every September, my home city Gothenburg hosts one of Europe’s biggest literary festivals the Gothenburg Book Fair: an autumnal pick-me-up for Swedish readers and writers. As many Swedish authors do, video blogger and menstrual activist Clara Henry released her new book Yes I menstruate, so what? (Ja jag har mens, hurså?) in time for the fair. Sadly I couldn’t go see her in the bloody flesh, but I followed her activities online. That’s been a real pleasure.

Henry was one of the earlier activists of this ongoing national “wave” of menstrual activism and interest. By somewhat of an accident she starting to talk about menstruation on her YouTube channel in 2012 and nowadays it’s a recurring feature. She is one of the leading public menstrual ambassadors and activists in Sweden, particularly for teens. The twenty-one-year old has more than 350,000 subscribers, most younger than she is. She’s talking about menstruation not only on YouTube and her many other social media outlets, but she’s also invited to talk on public radio, television, podcasts, newspapers and magazines.

Her recently published book seem to stir the same, or even more, enthusiasm and interest of the public as her fellow authors+activists of national menstrual bestsellers such as Kunskapens frukt and Kvinnor ritar bara serier om mens of last year (2014). A year ago the nation seemed surprised. Now it’s notably more mainstreamed but the interest has far from faded.

The line of fans that wanted a signed copy of Henry’s book at the book fair was apparently the longest one at the whole fair. The 1000 copies she’d brought sold out in no time at all, and apparently it went straight up to the national best-sellers list of the online bookstore Adlibris at its release. She gave a heart and tear-felt “unpacking-video” of her book in a video on her facebook page where she said:

“It’s so dammed important! I wish I’d had it myself, when I was young – or younger – and that I’d learned about menstruation – ‘cos I didn’t! That made me be ashamed of my menstruation. I like learned that menstruation’s something disgusting and that I am disgusting when I menstruate. (…) It’s my personal experience – and I experienced menstruation as being disgusting. And the sick thing is that almost everyone [who menstruate] I’ve talked to share this experience! Why is that!?”

In my terminology (see further my thesis on European menstrual activism 2013) I would call Clara Henry a “menstrual talker.” She counters the menstrual mainstream through speech acts; she’s defying menstrual silence. She makes menstrual noise for the sake of the noise itself. Share ‘cos it’s not been shared. Talk ‘cos it’s been silent. When one thinks of how long it’s been silent it would have been a shame to see the public interest of menstrual culture fade after only a couple of years.

Happily Clara Henry’s book is not the only menstrual-themed cultural entity enjoying current popularity. Ja jag har mens, hurså? is joined by MENS, a critically acclaimed menstrual play now on a re-continued tour around the nation, as well as a new original menstrual musical playing this autumn at the highly distinguished Royal Dramatic Theatre.

Thus I report that through activists such as Clara Henry, menstruation stays in the public venues of Sweden, and its even been welcomed into national cultural elite establishments. Also, Norwegian public radio interviewed me some weeks ago to ask what’s been going on in Sweden (if you understand Norwegian listen here), reporting there seems to be a kind of menstrual awakening there as well. The menstrual countermovement seems to be spreading!

Josefin Persdotter is a menstrual activist and artist, founder of MENSEN and a PhD-Student in (menstrual) Sociology at Gothenburg University, Sweden.

Weekend Links at re:Cycling – Menstrual Activism & the Arts

October 10th, 2015 by Jen Lewis

When it comes to modern political and social activism, one of the most powerful tools one can use to make a statement and shift public perception is art. Whether it’s film, fine art or the written word, art has the ability to challenge society’s deepest assumptions by sparking new ideas, catalyzing critical thinking, and inspiring individuals to take steps in new directions that facilitate social change. This weekend we look at menstrual activism in the arts with some old favorites and some new projects.


“My purpose in producing and exhibiting these works was to confront the taboo associated with menstruation, demystify this natural function of the female body, and promote thought-provoking discussion among women & men, artists & non-artists alike.”

– Jennifer Weigel, Widening the Cycle participating artist


  • SMCR’s own Widening the Cycle explored the power of fine art this past June with an international art exhibit during its annual conference. More than 30 artists displayed artwork addressing the menstrual cycle, menstrual stigma and the larger role reproductive justice plays in our world.
    • Watch artists Diana Álvarez, Gabriella Boros, Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, Lucy Madeline and Kyle discuss menstrual activism in their art practices – ranging from personal empowerment to mental health and menstruation. (45-minute video)
    • Browse through the exhibit and event photo album. (It’s a downloadable pdf.)
    • Check out the enduring materials from the show which include an exhibit catalogue (a wonderful addition to any fine art or women studies library collection) and a comprehensive website housing all the submitted artworks and artist statements.


  • Social news and entertainment website Buzzfeed documented four women’s first time using a menstrual cup and, well, you just have to watch this one for yourself. It’s short and humorous but also surprisingly informative for the cup-curious and newbies alike. (5 minute video)


  • Earlier this year, University of Waterloo student and poet Rupi Kaur set the social media world on fire when she posted a photograph of a woman sleeping, menstruating and leaking all while fully clothed. The horror! After having her photo removed twice from Instagram, this is what Kaur had to say:

“thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. you deleted my photo twice stating that it goes against community guidelines. i will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak. when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified. pornified. and treated less than human. thank you.”


  • “We spend on average 6-8 years of our lives bleeding – why is one of the world’s most common occurrences also one of its biggest taboos?” MA Candidate (Radio Production and Management, Sunderland University) Bridget Hamilton explores this in a three-part radio documentary series for the community media sector based around menstruation called Seeing Red. In this ground breaking documentary, she researches the origins of menstrual stigma and asks what is being done to challenge it.
    •  Episode 1: Moon Landing explores the history of our menstrual stigma, and the feeling of a first period
    •  Episode 2: Toil and Trouble explores the medical, social and financial challenges many face when they menstruate
    •  Episode 3: Making Waves explores the slow, but sure, movement towards ‘period positivity’


  • What do you do with 90 used menstrual rags that are hanging around the house? If you’re Chilean artist Carina Úbeda, you make an incredible embroidery installation. That’s right, this is a 3D menstrual art experience you walk around and interact with spatially. Of the installation, one visitor told the Daily Mail, “Male blood is celebrated for being brave while ours is a shame. This won’t change until we release our body as the first stage of political struggle.”


  • ICYMI – Laura Wooley from the great queer website Autostraddle is writing a year-long series about menstruation and she is seeking input. Thanks for the hot tip, Liz!


  • And who could forget the vaginal knitting performance by Melbourne craftivist and Craft Cartel member Casey Jenkins? “Casting Off My Womb” is quite possibly my favorite piece of menstrual performance art. It nods to feminist art pioneers Carolee Schneemann and Judy Chicago while being incendiary in a whole new way due to the long reach of social media.

“I have created a performance piece that I believe is beautiful and valid and I know that this belief can withstand all the negativity in the world.” – Jenkins


  • And now for something completely different, but definitely trending online this week: Loon Cup. Love it or hate it, this “smart cup” has even more people talking about alternative menstruation and that’s a menstrual activism win.


Jen Lewis is the Menstrual Designer and Conceptual Artist behind Beauty in Blood. Her work “The Writing Is on the Wall” is featured above; photography Rob Lewis.

De-Tox and De-Tax the Period

October 9th, 2015 by David Linton

Although the social status and understanding of the menstrual cycle has (at least among industrialized and relatively better educated societies) improved slowly but perceptibly over the past 50 years, there are still many ways that menstruation is still stigmatized and used as a way to diminish women. Period jokes, PMS slurs, and even jibes at women’s capacity to hold political office or conduct political debates abound. For these reasons the SMCR has often broadened the scope of its efforts beyond the realm of “research” stated in the organization’s name to include artistic endeavors as well as political and social activism.

Social activism includes a variety of campaigns such as provision of menstrual management products to homeless and incarcerated women or raising awareness of the environmental impact of disposable products. In the area of political action there are two separate initiatives currently in the works. In order to highlight the relationship between the two efforts in conjunction with Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28) 2015, I coined the slogan De-Tox & De-Tax The Period.

The De-Tox part of the two-pronged campaign focuses on a piece of legislation that has been introduced into the U.S. Congress by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, H.R. 1708: Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2015. The aim of the bill is to require the regulation and testing of the content and manufacture of menstrual management products. A separate blog post later this month will spell out the details of the bill and suggest ways of advocating on its behalf.

The De-Tax aspect of the political effort concerns the levying of sales taxes on the purchase of tampons, pads, and other similar products. In the U.S. this is a difficult topic to mobilize around since sales tax policies vary widely as they are levied under state, city or other municipal authorities. Currently only five states have exempted menstrual products from sales taxes: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, and Massachusetts. See this Fusion post for complete state-by-state details.

In some other countries where sales taxes are nation-wide mandates, organizing against them is easier. For instance, a drive in Canada was successful in garnering wide support and led to the repeal of the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all menstrual products as of July 1st, 2015. Similarly, activists in Australia have succeeded in raising a nation-wide drive to mobilize support for the elimination of menstrual product taxation.

Simply put, this is a discriminatory, gender-based tax that is paid almost exclusively by women.

In New York City there is a move in the City Council to address the problem; however, the NYC budget structure is linked to the state legislature’s approval so the drive faces numerous bureaucratic and procedural roadblocks. A separate item dealing with this topic will be posted later in the month.

For now, the first step toward bringing about change is to ascertain what the tax practice is in any particular setting and, where anti-women menstrual taxes exist, to educate both elected officials and the general public about them. Even for those individuals who can easily afford the extra fee on their monthly purchases, the issue has symbolic significance that warrants attention. It’s taxing enough just to cope with the social demands placed upon women. It’s time to eliminate the additional fee.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Ms. October – Menstruation Pin-Up

October 7th, 2015 by Jen Lewis
Beauty in Blood Presents
Ms. October: The Writing on the Wall
Year: 2015
Menstrual Designer: Jen Lewis
Photographer: Rob Lewis


Period Politics and Menstrual Social Activism

October 5th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Margaret L. Stubbs

Menstruation Matters…Period! This phrase has become a rallying point for many advocates who seek to understand and improve menstrual life for girls and women. Advocates world-wide are concerned with access to menstrual supplies, especially in time of natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Nepal. Some focus on the need to improve basic sanitation in support of menstrual hygiene. Others focus on access to supplies for underserved women, for example, those who are homeless or incarcerated.  Some focus on product safety; some focus on the impact of product disposal on the environment, others promote alternative products like menstrual cups, or reusable pads.

All through October at re: Cycling, we’ll feature social and political activism around a range of menstrual issues. But, in a call-back to #MenarcheMonthre: Cycling’s September focus, for these efforts to succeed, menstrual education should highlight, early and often, the central place that menstruation holds in girls’ and women’s well-being, broadly considered.

Unfortunately, public menstrual education for our pre-menarcheal and newly-cycling girls is currently inadequate and in need of an update. We applaud those who are trying to remove menstrual stigma from product advertising, educational materials, and the social sphere. But stigma, along with a catalog of associated menstrual woes that can be expected, is still too often represented to our youngest girls.






After reviewing a plethora of books for young girls and a few websites on the topic, I gathered my observations into the paper Current Menstrual Education Resources: Still Room for Improvement, Stubbs, M.L. (2013, June) presented at the 20th Biennial Conference of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, New York, NY. They included the following:

  • Puberty is described as problematic, a period of being out of control.
  • Hormones are in control. (Subtext: you’re not).
  • Mixed messages abound and are confusing: e.g.,
    • Expect to feel weird. It’s normal!
    • Symptoms (e.g., feeling a little sick, tired, irritable; having sore breasts, cramps) are normal, but don’t let them ruin your day.

Long overdue is a shift to presenting menstruation as a vital sign of women’s health, and a normal part of girls’ and women’s lives, as well as an accurate, but not alarming, girl-centered approach to talking about what’s normal and what’s not. This clearly exists in the biomedical literature on the topic: Menstruation in adolescents: What’s normal, what’s not. Annals of New York Academy of Science, 1135, 29-35, Hilliard, P. J. A. (2008). How about including some positive information about pubertal growth? And maybe some references to historical research about origin myths, and rituals or celebration that took place to celebrate menstruation? Can we reference women’s accomplishment, even while menstruating?

While we wait for public menstrual health education to catch up, advocates are out there taking on the challenge. Individuals like Kylie Matthews, known as @AuntFlo_28 on Twitter, regularly asks the question: How can I help you? and invites her 2000+ followers to share their best period advice. Suzan Hutchinson at Period Wise is committed to breaking the menstrual taboo by empowering girls and women to be more open and knowledgable about menstruation. Be Prepared Period offers online resources for parents, women and girls, helping all to prepare for positive menstrual experiences.

Menstrupedia, a site originating in India that offers a a “friendly guide to healthy periods,” is also a good example of what can be done to promote a more positive context for girls entering menstrual life.

Let’s embrace the spirit of all the menstrual social activists and inspire others to work for the enhancement of menstrual health and awareness.


Margaret L. (Peggy) Stubbs is a professor of psychology at Chatham University in Pittsburg, PA, and a member of re: Cycling’s editorial board. Her areas of expertise include psychosocial aspects of menstruation; attitudes towards menstruation, pubertal development; and menstrual education throughout the lifespan. 

Menarche on Degrassi: The Next Generation – Emma’s Dilemma

September 30th, 2015 by David Linton

Emma and Manny from Degrassi: The Next Generation

Menarche month began at re: Cycling with reference to the brilliant first period talk Roseanne gave her daughter Darlene in a 1989 episode of Roseanne. We’ve chosen to end it with another TV reference from the beloved Canadian series of series named for the fictional street near which it is set–Degrassi. 

The word “menarche” is commonly defined with reference to the biological changes that occur within a female’s reproductive system at the point when the menstrual cycle begins to function. However, the onset of menstruation is also a social occurrence that has been layered with significance in every culture and time. In contemporary societies with “advanced” media of communication, menarche has been depicted in a wide variety of ways, sometimes reflecting prevailing taboos and superstitions, and at others in ways that are informative or even liberating. The focus is often on what I have labeled “menstrual transactions,” that is, the way interactions with other individuals, frequently boys or men, structure the meaning of menstruation for both the girl and others in her surroundings. This post explores one example of how this transitional moment in a girl’s life has been represented in a broadcast television series.


Emma’s Dilemma

One of the most positive and explicit portrayals of a girl’s first period appeared in the popular Canadian series directed at a young audience, DeGrassi: The Next Generation. Emma, the main character in the series, a girl known for her activism and responsible behavior, gets her period while sitting outside of school talking to her best friend. She is wearing a light-colored skirt and in several shots a bright red stain is visible on the back. On this particular day Emma and her friend, Manny, are scheduled to give an oral book report in front of their class and the only thing they can find for Emma to wear is a pair of gym shorts that are much too large for her. As they give the report, two young boys sitting in the front row tease her for her baggy shorts asking, “Has Emma peed her pants?”  She silences and stuns them by frankly responding, “No, I just got my period, for the first time.” They shrink in their seats. However, a somewhat more mature boy sitting in the back of the room, one who Emma has a flirtation with, is aroused from his torpor to a state of interest and appreciation for her courage as well as her implicit sexuality.

The DeGrassi clip demonstrates a rich variety of menstrual transactions. Emma’s close girlfriend comes to her rescue and even another girl, who is normally antagonistic toward Emma, gives her a pad and some “womanly” advice. Menstrual needs supersede social competition or status differences–a classic case of menstrual bonding. Perhaps most interesting is the behavior of the boys. The two young kids who tease Emma are silenced and stunned by her blunt assertion. I think of this as an effective use of her WMD–her Weapon of Menstrual Destruction. In contrast, the more mature boy, appreciates her for her assertiveness.

Missing from the four-minute clip of the transaction described above is an earlier scene in which Emma and her mother are seen walking through a shopping mall eating ice cream cones where a leering man says as they pass, “Hmmm, I’d like to lick that.” Emma shrinks away but her mother turns and confronts the man saying, “Don’t you ever talk to a woman that way!” The scene acts as a role modeling moment for Emma who replicates it in her response to the teasing boys.

Unfortunately, not all TV menarche moments are this positive. But let’s hope for more first period talks from moms like Roseanne and more socially significant, self-structured menstrual experiences from girls like Emma.

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Menarche and the Growing Up of Menstrual Cycles and Ovulation

September 28th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior, UBC, Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research

16-year-old Jody is anxious to talk to someone. This is what she wants to say:

“My period is out of whack!  I never know when it is coming. I only get it a few times a year. . . . Is that normal?”

To answer Jody we need to ask her how old she was when her period started. In asking that we’re trying to figure out how far she is into the normal process that our cycles must go through before they are fully mature. What she describes is perfectly natural for the first year after menarche. But if her period came when she was 11 (meaning she has a gynecological age of 5), she’s experiencing something that needs careful consideration. In this post, as someone who has studied menstrual cycles for at least 30 years  and who cares deeply that all girls mature into normally menstruating and ovulating women, I’ll ask the questions that Jody might ask, and answer as honestly as the evidence allows.

Menarche is a marker of our entry into womanhood. But it is not the start of our reproductive maturation. It is rather one lone step on a reproduction growing up pathway that has been going on for several years already. If you are a mother/grandmother with a preteen child you will one day become aware that her/his sweat is now strong and smelly, like a hot and bothered adult. Or that there is longer, darker hair on his/her arms and legs. These changes are officially called “adrenarche” and are evidence that the sex-hormone-producing layers of the adrenal glands (that also make the stress hormone, cortisol, a salt-retaining hormone and sympathetic nervous system hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine) are now growing up and making male-type hormones.

“What’s a  normal age to start your period?”

Jody got her first period a few months before she turned 16. All her friends (at least those who didn’t keep it a secret) had gotten their periods long before then. Her parents had divorced when she was 12, she was upset because she was close to her dad and rarely saw him anymore.   

In well-nourished girls and young women the first period occurs between the ages of 10 and 14 with an average in North America of about 12.5 years. The average age at menarche is now a year or two younger than it was about 50 years ago, perhaps because of better nutrition and health care. If a girl is 14 and has no flow, this is normal if she is showing some breast development. Getting first flow after age 16 is not normal and is associated with later life risks for fragility fracture (breaking a bone with a fall from standing height). This is usually caused by stresses and is something from which she can totally recover called hypothalamic amenorrhea. Rarely is it something genetic or a disease but rather a protective response because of stress of several kinds—emotional/social, nutritional, illness or over-exercise, and often a combination of several.

We now know that Jody has hypothalamic delay of her menarche.

“What’s normal for cycles in the first year after your period starts?” 

I would like to tell you that we’ve carefully studied large random groups of girls through their first year after menarche from whole populations. However, that would be untrue. One Swiss physician and his wife collected information from hundreds of girls and women with some of them recording from their first flow until menopause. Here’s what they found in that first year: cycles were quite far apart (about 40-50 days on average), quite irregular and unpredictable (R. Vollman, 1997). In a random population study of about 300 teens ages 15-19 from Copenhagen County in Denmark, 77% said their cycles were regular (between 21 and 35 days apart), 22% said they were irregular, and 2 of 100 had not yet reached menarche or were experiencing amenorrhea (Munster, 1992).

“Will I ever be able to have children?”

Obviously, to become pregnant and to carry a pregnancy to a normal childbirth, requires a grown-up reproductive system. The key part of that is ovulating, releasing an egg that could be fertilized, embed into the endometrium and eventually make a placenta and the very complex blood vessel system required for a healthy baby. So what’s normal for ovulation in the first year after menarche? Susan Barr (professor of nutrition at the University of British Columbia) and I studied girls ages 9 to 11 who had not yet menstruated over two years (Barr 2001). During that time some of them got their period. When they did, we asked them to collect morning saliva one day a week and especially during the third and fourth weeks from their flow. We measured progesterone in saliva and discovered that none seemed to have ovulated until 10 months from menarche (Kalyan, 2007).

Vollman, in studying young women from after their first menstruation, found that fewer than four of any 10 cycles showed evidence of ovulation during that first year (Vollman, 1977). That rare ovulation, however, was unlikely to support a pregnancy based on a Canadian study of exercising teens ages 15-19 and averaging 2.5 years after menarche. It showed that these young women might have regular cycles and that they often ovulated, but that the luteal phase (the length of the time after ovulation until flow) was very short (Bonen 1981). It takes many days for progesterone, produced during the luteal phase, to transform the endometrial uterine lining into something secretory that supports a fertilized egg. If the adult and fertile luteal phase length is 10-16 days, as evidence suggests, these teens experienced luteal lengths of 4-8 days (Bonen, 1981) that would not be fertile.

#MenarcheMonth Redux: Weekend Links at re: Cycling

September 26th, 2015 by Laura Wershler

September has been #MenarcheMonth at re: Cycling, and as it draws to a close–just two posts left to come in the menarche series–I thought I’d collate the links to the full range of topics our contributors have covered this month.

I kicked it off by paying homage to one mom’s first period talk with her daughter from a 1989 episode of the hit TV series Roseanne. Watch Roseanne set the right tone with her daughter Darlene in #Menstruationmatters and it starts with menarche.

Menstrual designer Jen Lewis’s Ms. September–Menstruation Pin-up was titled Let it Flow #2.

In Weekend Links we featured first periods stories and a short list of people and organizations talking about menstruation on Twitter.

Dr. Lara Briden’s post about Why young teens need real periods–not the pill generated the liveliest response with 33 comments. If you haven’t read it yet, please do, and share your thoughts about what Briden, a naturopathic doctor, and other commenters had to say on the topic.

PhD student Saniya Lee Ghanoui examined menstrual health education films in The 1970s and the menstrual dance: Naturally…A GirlMight you have been shown this film in health class? There’s a YouTube link if you’d like to watch it again.

In A daughter raise with body literacy, Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner Lisa Leger told a unique story of how she taught her daughter about menstrual cycle charting from her first period and what she believes her daughter gained by having this knowledge.

Mother-daughter co-authors Sheryl Mendlinger, Phd, and Yael Magen, Esq., read a passage from their book in A poignant first period story from the book Schlopping. In a subsequent post Mendlinger shared what she learned from immigrant women about their menarche experiences in How do mothers pass on knowledge about menstruation to their daughters?

Suzan Hutchinson informed us about precocious puberty in What happens when a seven-year-old gets her period? Her piece makes clear that neither society nor our elementary schools are as prepared as they could be, or should be, to support girls experiencing early menarche.

Be sure to check out the final two post in the September 2015 #MenarcheMonth series.

Laura Wershler is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

What happens when a seven-year-old gets her period?

September 24th, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Suzan Hutchinson

Do you remember being seven years old? Engage your imagination for a few minutes and try re-entering your seven-year-old world. Remember what fun life was. Recall what grade you were in, and what you enjoyed about school. Reconnect with your friends and with a few special memories.

Photo provided by Suzan Hutchinson

Menarche is not a word in a seven-year-old’s vocabulary, but there are girls who experience their first menstrual periods at age seven or even younger as a result of precocious puberty. Leaving aside the multiple medical causes of such early onset, let’s focus on how this pubertal milestone differs for those among us who experience precocious puberty. While no two experiences are identical, some of the common realities include:

  • Discovering blood on your underclothing or on toilet paper, then, at best, not being able to figure out why you are bleeding since you did not cut or hurt yourself, or, at worst, being scared you are bleeding to death
  • Having adults treat you differently from your peers, sometimes because they know you are menstruating, other times because they expect you to be able to do things a much older child would do because physically your body appears older than its chronological age
  • Learning new hygiene habits, like how to wear, change, and dispose of pads (nearly all girls who start this young begin exclusively with pads or a combination of pads and liners)
  • Navigating a world that doesn’t account for seven-year-olds who are menstruating, including schools that don’t accommodate children who might need to carry purses or other items into the bathroom, or provide bins in bathroom stalls for disposing of used products
  • Feeling isolated and alone with parents and other adults constantly telling you what to do, when, and how, while also being reminded that it is private and that you cannot tell your friends about your bleeding

This is challenging enough, but it is only the tip of an iceberg. While there are some helpful resources for parents to help their daughters with these practical issues related to menstruation, there are no easy answers to managing the moodiness or easing the emotional edges while dealing with other hormonally driven changes.

Because of these and other challenges, some families choose medical intervention to halt pubertal progression and suppress menstruation until their daughter is older. This response is also the default with preschool-aged girls and an option for any girl who is diagnosed with precocious puberty.

For those families that do not intervene, menarche will be her first of many childhood menstrual periods. In most cases these girls menstruate for several years before they can comfortably confide in peers who are then experiencing their own menarches.

Whether or not your family is ever directly impacted by precocious puberty, it is important that you have a general awareness. Here are some key facts about menarche in the United States:

  • For girls, puberty starts well before menarche. For most girls the onset of puberty is first evidenced by the development of breast buds (pubic hair appears first for the rest). If your daughter has breast buds before age seven, pubic hair before age eight, or menarche before age 10, then it is worth discussing this early development with her pediatrician and, quite likely, she receive a referral to a pediatric endocrinologist for further evaluation.
  • It is also important to know that normal puberty starts in girls at a younger age than most parents expect. Today, more than 1 in 7 (15%) American girls start puberty at age seven, and that number climbs to more than 1 in 4 (28%) by age eight. And while the average age of pubertal onset continues a decades-long decline, the average age for menarche has been much more stable. Today the average African-American girl will start puberty at age eight years, nine months; the average Hispanic girl at age nine years, three months; and the average Asian American or Caucasian girl at nine years eight months. Among all girls, the average age for menarche is now around 12 years, six months.

Do you remember much about second grade? Whatever you remember, remember that girls with precocious puberty often have some rather grown-up memories by the time they are in the second grade.

Suzan Hutchinson, a menstrual educator, coach and activist, is the founder of Period Wise. She works for Lunette and has held multiple volunteer roles with the Toxic Shock Syndrome Awareness non-profit organization You ARE Loved. Follow Suzan on Twitter @periodwise and like PeriodWise on Facebook.

How do mothers pass on knowledge about menstruation to their daughters?

September 21st, 2015 by Editor

Guest Post by Sheryl Mendlinger, PhD

The impetus of my research on menstruation started many years ago when my daughter Yael was in her teens in the 1990s, and came home from school and told me that her friends said, “If you use tampons you could lose your virginity.” Therefore, none of them were using tampons. We lived in a diverse community and many of her friends’ parents had immigrated from North Africa, Iraq and Europe to Israel. I started thinking that what we learn from our mothers, especially about menstruation, can impact our lives in so many ways. Years later when I chose my topic for my PhD, I examined mother-daughter dyads from North Africa, Ethiopia, Europe, North America, the Former Soviet Union, and Israeli born, in order to better understand how mothers transmit knowledge about health behaviors, specifically about  menstruation, to their daughters.

Photo of a menstrual hut provided by Sheryl Mendlinger

A model of knowledge acquisition for learning about menstruation was developed that included:

  • Traditional knowledge—informal knowledge passed through the generations
  • Embodied knowledge—observing others or experiencing oneself
  • Technical knowledge—the products used, and
  • Authoritative knowledge—learning from books, professionals, etc.

One of the most interesting aspects of this research is the stories the women shared about their menarche experiences. Certain celebrations that have continued through the generations may give either a positive or negative valence to the way women view menstruation. Traditional knowledge and rituals often provide strong emotional support for daughters allowing a comfortable transition through this key developmental stage. Several women whose origins were from Europe spoke about “the slap.” One mother told the story that when she got her first period her mother slapped her across the face, which she did to both of her daughters. The mother said the reason was something about the blood coming back and the daughter said it was something about the blood not going to your mind. The actual historical reasons for the slap vary and include: the manner in which it was performed could determine the duration of menstruation; it was necessary for a girl when she becomes a woman as protection against disgrace; and the rush of blood will make the girl have a wonderful color of her life. Often the rituals continue, but the rationale for the tradition has been lost.

The older Ethiopian women talked about their experiences at menarche which included special foods that their mother’s prepared, and then the young girl would go to the menstruation hut where she would stay until the completion of her period and be pampered by other women of the community. Women often looked forward to that time as a fun week away from chores and a brief vacation from everyday life, and a time to be with their women friends. As one woman said “In Ethiopia there is no rest until you go to the hut; only during menstruation does the woman rest.” The mothers however did not continue these traditions, even preparing special foods, following immigration to Israel.

The older women born in North Africa spoke with joy and excitement when they reminisced about getting their periods for the first time and the celebrations that surrounded this event. Their mothers were an integral part of this transition in life from child to woman. Some of the traditions included: mothers giving their daughters pieces of jewelry and preparing special foods; performing the ritual of putting three of the daughters’ fingers in flour so that they should only get their period for three days; and the oil ceremony. Mothers told their daughters to look and smile at their reflection in a bowl of olive oil, and then their faces were rubbed with oil. These girls were told that the image they saw on that day should continue and they should enjoy a happy life. The women noted that the oil would smooth a woman’s passage into womanhood. This oil ceremony was accompanied by a festive meal with traditional foods including honey-dipped, oil-fried cakes. When these women, the elders, were asked if they continued this tradition with their daughters, they all answered an emphatic no, of course not.

These special traditions and ceremonies that were so important from the past were often not continued into the next generation. It appears that the change and adaptation to the new culture and environment took precedence and provides an explanation for why these mothers did not continue these traditions with their daughters.

Recently however, there has been a movement to find positive and meaningful ways for young adolescent girls to celebrate the onset of menstruation in the western modern society. In my study there was an example of the daughter of an American immigrant who grew up on a Kibbutz, an agricultural collective community in which children grow up together in children’s homes.  She spoke with enthusiasm, excitement and had positive memories when remembering how each time a girl in her age group got their period, they would celebrate with gifts. These celebrations took place together with the girls in their age cohort rather than with their mothers.

Through this research we gained a better understanding of the influences and attitudes related to menarche that a mother passes on to her daughter, and the changes that take place following immigration and acculturation to the new society.

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