When I was in sixth grade, I got my period for the first time. When it happened, I wasn’t too worried. My teachers had everyone watch a video about it the year before, so I knew what it was. But my sixth grade self was very misinformed. I thought that a woman’s period was like a Hailey’s comet sort of situation — one and done. I didn’t understand why women had so many period products, but I figured they were just trying to be prepared for that ONE time so that they wouldn’t get blood all over their clothes. Clearly, I was misinformed.
Going back to the day I got my first period, I called my mom, and she came home from work and taught me how to put on a pad. It was uncomfortable as HELL and did not conform to my body at all, but I tried not to complain. For the rest of the day, I kept waiting for my period to stop, but obviously I continued to bleed. In the middle of the day, I literally went into the bathroom and started sobbing my eyes out because I thought I was dying. But the one thing I did not do was tell my parents. My mom later informed me that this was an every-month sort of situation, and that I had to change my pad out every 6 hours, depending on how much I was bleeding. But to this day, she does not know that I spent the majority of my first period worrying about whether I would see the next day or not.
Flash forward to today, and nothing much has changed. I mean, I do understand the workings of a period now, but my parents and I still don’t talk about sexual health. I think the closest I ever got to a “sex talk” was when I was getting my HPV vaccine, and my dad offhandedly mentioned, “It’s not because I don’t trust you. It’s because I don’t trust who you’re with.” I’ve spoken more about sexual health with my distant relatives and friends. The first time I mentioned using a tampon with my mom, she immediately shut down the idea and told me she didn’t want to talk about why. But being an active person myself, pads are incredibly inconvenient, and being slowed down by your period is one of the worst feelings in the world. I made the transition to tampons without guidance from my mom, and with the support of my friends.
I don’t mean to say that my mom’s inability to talk about sexual health is her fault. She grew up in a very traditional Indian community where women’s bodies were heavily stigmatized and judged. She learned about her sexual health through books, and she didn’t talk to anyone about it, not even her closest friends and relatives. Her thought process is a result of her upbringing in India, and I can’t blame her for it.
The one thing I learned from the absence of sexual health conversations with my parents is that just because you can’t talk to them doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to someone else about it. I firmly believe that in order to start unraveling the stigma surrounding sexual and reproductive health, we need to incite conversation. And it’s also important to feel the support of someone else when learning more about your own body. It can be a nerve-wracking situation with its own twists and turns. Find support, comfort, and advice from the people you trust the most within your circle, even if that doesn’t include your parents.