Welcome To The Jungle: Your First Period

Q. Is getting your period scary ? Because I am scared of having my period.

A. Getting your period is no more scary than the rest of the awful to socially awkward things one tends to go through during puberty (which is what I have been told one experiences during puberty. I’d reference my own if I remembered, but I seem to have blocked them out). A period can feel like a scarier thing than it is, because frankly, the idea of bleeding for a few days and still being alive is the stuff of zombie fan fiction. But periods might be looming large in your mind right now because the experience you have with it is brand new, so it feels shocking. Which, yes, periods can be shocking in their ability to bleed, and keep bleeding, as well as the cramps that come along with them. But once you have had that sucker for a couple of years, you get used to it and often times end up completely forgetting about it ’till you actually have it and end up desperately seeking a tampon.

I’ve said it before though – first periods don’t get a lot of respect in our culture. One only has to see a few advertisements for tampons or pads to get the impression that one’s vagina bleeding is the worst terror known to man, and that you must shove your bleeding vagina full with something that smells of flowers, lest you dare make the mistake of letting on that you’re bleeding (periods are secret, donchaknow). Just look at how younger men act like periods are the worst thing ever. Spoiler alert: You don’t always have to put up with this b.s. from dudes later on in life, but I’ve met at least one for every decade of my adult life. Periods are seen as more plague, less paradox of the body – more awful aspect of biological, cis-gendered, womanhood (because being a woman ain’t just about vaginas), instead of being part of what comes with the package of being able to bring life onto this earth (optional). Think of it as a slight super power. An annoying, slightly inconvenient super power.

Your body has stated that it is physically ready to bear a child. Now, emotionally, mentally, financially speaking – well, that’s a different thing. But your body, girlfriend, is ready.

So while the vast majority of our culture might be telling you to be anxious/ashamed /frightened /scared /not looking forward to it/etc., on top of the experience of that slightly awkward, yet obligatory conversation that involves the ceremonial handing over of pads and or baby tampons, know that first periods have had a better reception than this. For many cultures, celebrating the first period isn’t an anomaly;  historically, menstruating women were considered sacred because they could give life. They had a power that men did not have and that power could have been viewed as anything from psychic ability to healing sick people. But then religion or male-dominated tradition comes into play, and for the most part, menstruating women are all of the sudden considered “dirty” (that was a quick switch, huh) and banned from all the good parties if they are bleeding. The Asante celebrate first menstruation with a huge party, singing, dancing, and gift-giving as part of the celebration. In certain Jewish communities, girls received a slap as a reminder that childhood was now over. The Oglala Sioux had their young women undergo a purification ritual with instruction from a holy woman, where she was able to then know that she had the power of the earth, and the !Gwi of southern Africa celebrate by decorating the body of the young woman. In Cherokee tribes, menstrual blood was considered a huge  source of a woman’s strength and had the innate power to destroy enemies. In Shaktism, which is the worship of Hindu Divine Mother, “The Earth’s menstruation is celebrated during the Ambubachi Mela, an annual fertility festival held in June, in Assam, India. During Ambubachi, the annual menstruation course of the goddess Kamakhya is worshipped in the Kamakhya Temple.[22] The temple stays closed for three days and then reopens to receive pilgrims and worshippers. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world, attracting millions of visitors each year, particularly for Ambubachi Mela“. Hell, even Roman philosopher (less well known than other, yet still, everyone’s favorite), Pliny The Edler, stated that, “A menstruating woman who uncovers her body can scare away hailstorms, whirlwinds and lightning. If she strips naked and walks around the field, caterpillars, worms and beetles fall off the ears of corn.[8] Menstrual blood is especially dangerous to men’s power.[9]“.

Periods are kinda cool right?

Okay, sure, periods can get you banned to huts and from churches, and the mythology behind why women get periods and how it’s a punishment and blah, blah, blah, but honey, can we be honest for a second? Periods are for celebrating, because it’s a physical symbol that shit is about to get real. I’m not suggesting investing in a Diva Cup and just loving every second of it. But your period should be something that is less frightening, and more just like, “Okay, here I am.” I mean, look at Carrie. People treated her terribly when she got her first period and had no idea what it is was. But as soon as she got her period, her telekinetic powers showed up and when a group of ignorant folks tried to mess with her, well…let’s just say that it was the last time. You might not be setting towns on fire and causing gyms full of insensitive teenagers to crash, but Carrie was a whole metaphor about girls becoming women and how terrifying and uncontrollable that is for the vast population. You really have a form of power here. What your power is and how you use it, consider that the search on your way to adulthood. Just pop a few Aspirin or Midol on that journey when you need to.

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5 thoughts on “Welcome To The Jungle: Your First Period”

  1. Trufax: Judy Blume told what a period was. I was reading a lot of her books in late elementary/middle school, and periods are allll over the place in those, of course. Luckily, I had enough of a “let’s check the copyright date” hunch to know that menstrual belts were a thing of the past.

    (Solidarity fist-bump/respect for our lady-relatives who came before.)

    Then there was the episode of The Cosby Show were Rudy got hers, and I told my mom, “That’s in the book I’m reading.” She asked if I had any questions. I hated talking to my mom about anything personal, so I said no. End of conversation. She bought me what I needed shortly thereafter, told me where it was in the bathroom, and that was it.

    But yes, if you want to scare off some dudebros, all you gotta do is be like, “My uterus is being gnawed on by angry badgers!” (Or whatever bizarre metaphor you like.)

    It’s annoying sometimes, but not scary. Go forth and conquer.

  2. Comments addressed to the letter writer:

    Everybody is right about it being simultaneously a big deal (yay! Your body can do new things now!) and not a big deal (after a few years of it every month, it gets old.) But I get where you’re coming from. I was terrified of my first period, and even more terrified of talking about it. I didn’t even tell my mother. I’d had all the good sex ed, I knew what it was, but it seriously freaked me out. So I get where you’re coming from. But now? I tell Boyfriend what’s up so that we can plan for sex accordingly, tell my friends when it’s making me moody, and take birth control and quite a lot of ibuprofen for the cramps. But other than that, I don’t even think about it. I wish someone had told me (or gotten through to me) to not worry as much, not make a big fuss, and learn how to use tampons ASAP (it’s okay if it’s not your thing, but I missed out on way too much running/jumping/swimming because I was afraid of tampons. They’re AWESOME.)

    Also, I found as a teenager that talking about my period was a good way of scaring off guys who weren’t worth it, as well as getting brothers to leave me alone. Y’know, just in case you want to capitalize on this newfound power. Just letting a brother overhear me and my best friend discussing menstruation would get them to leave us alone for at LEAST an hour. Not sure if this is a concern for you, but it sure was for me.

  3. Oh man, I was so very uninformed about all-things menstrual as a kid/adolescent. After I got my first period I didn’t get another for three months, by the second month I cried in the bathroom because I had somehow convinced myself I had gotten accidentally pregnant even though I had not even come close to anything like sex – because, you know, that happens. Thanks Church.

    My only words of wisdom are that the more non-chalance you have about periods, the more power it gives you (over them and over people/dudes who are totally grossed-out by them). It is what it is, and it will be there nearly every month for the next four decades. Better to be comfortable with it and be prepared for it (and always carry extra of whatever non-bleed-atory material you choose to use!!).

  4. Dying to post loads of Carrie gifs now but I’m refraining :)

    It’s not scary if you know what to expect – and like a lot of things to do with your body, there’s a big range of what’s normal and ok, so if you’re worried, seek out stories online or in real life about other women’s first periods and what they were like. If you have a relationship with older girls and women that you’d be comfortable asking, ask them. A lot of us like to talk about periods (the stereotypes are true! :) ).

    I happened to be reading Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom about two weeks before my first period, noticed the signs of ovulation the book talked about, and because of that I was able to predict my first period within a day or two. It was handy. This may not be relevant to you, because you can have periods without ovulation (especially when you’re younger), but I’m always a fan of more information about your body, and a book like that is great.

    scarleteen.com is awesome for sex and puberty-related questions.

    Small NB, though: just because you have a period it doesn’t mean your whole body is ready for pregnancy and birth – just your ovaries and uterus. Give your pelvis time to catch up :)

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