My clearest memory of sex education was the part about wet dreams. I was 11, and crowded into a classroom we all watched a video about puberty and sex, which had David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ as the intro title and totally ruined it for me. I clearly remember the part of the video explaining wet dreams and being grossed out and confused about why boys randomly wet the bed during puberty (I think maybe I got the wrong end of the stick). We later divided into groups by gender, and in the girls group we discussed periods and looked at sanitary towels, which for age 11, was probably enough. I have no idea what the boys talked about, but I bet it was to do with the spontaneous bed-wetting.
The next time we had sex education was 3 years later when we had that ICONIC lesson of putting condoms onto replica penises, and a brief introduction to the pill and the coil. While this was hilarious, I feel failed as a woman because we didn’t discuss a hugely important part of sex – the female menstrual cycle.
Sure, we discussed in Biology the process of the egg being released from the womb and the implantation of the sperm, but I can guarantee that most people have forgotten all about the hormones involved, and the stages of the menstrual cycle. In fact, I know this for sure, because I frequently get people asking me all kinds of questions about it.
From “isn’t ovulation just your period?” and “why do I get in a bad mood just before my period, but feel fine once it arrives?”, to “can I get pregnant if I’ve just had my period?” and “can I get pregnant any day of the month?”, it’s clear women aren’t as clued up about their own bodies as they should be. Understanding the menstrual cycle and the hormones that power it is crucial, because it can explain everything to sore boobs and bloating to why teenage girls are often so mean. This can also help you know at what times you are the most fertile, and at what days you’re very unlikely to get pregnant.
It would be irresponsible for me to suggest using the menstrual cycle as a form of contraception. But I often wonder: why we are so keen on pumping the female body full of high levels of hormones in order to prevent pregnancy, often at the cost of migraines, blood clots and mental health problems? I went on the pill aged 15, and I didn’t have a clue about the menstrual cycle except that I sometimes had periods and often was a moody bitch. When I came off it 5 years later, I got to know my cycle better, and learned that a lot of my mood swings can be attributed to the fluctuation of hormones. This raises a second question: why weren’t we taught this in school?
I titled this post ‘Why Sex Education Fails Young Girls’, but I believe that by not educating teenagers about the physical and mental affects of the menstrual cycle, we are also failing young boys. While writing this blog my sister told me she didn’t even have sex education at school (guess David Bowie isn’t ruined for her then) and given that she’s 4 years younger, it seems like we’re just going backwards.
Understanding the menstrual cycle is about more than just knowing when your period is and knowing the Biological terms for ovulation. It empowers young women to understand about their own bodies, which seems to me like a basic human right. Without this education, girls will still be asking the same period-related questions, and still being kept in the dark because they’re scared to ask. The current system fails young girls. It needs to change.