Let’s begin at the very beginning: growing up as a female and learning what that’s supposed to mean.

Some women may of course have been luckier than me but it seems likely that the way I learned about menstruation is similar to many women’s experience.

I first heard the “p” word from friends as a great and terrifying secret.  We shared our inaccurate knowledge, wondered when we would start, feared that we would be the first or worse still, be left behind.

At home I received a brief and embarrassed warning of the forthcoming bleeding and “this is where the pads are kept”.  End of story.

School gave a biology lesson on the subject.  Just one:  …lining of the womb….builds up…egg unfertilised….comes away.  Draw the diagram.  Now let’s move on.  Phew.

We had a single, girls only session in home ec. too: carry pads in your school bag but we have spares in the home ec. cupboard in case of emergency.  A disappointment after the build up  surrounding the exclusion of boys.

I think these were my only “live” sources of menstrual information.  All brief ‘let’s get this out of the way’ interactions and all exclusively focused on the bleeding, or more accurately, keeping the bleeding out of sight.  No discussion or questioning was invited and no other part of the cycle was discussed.

The teen magazines we read chipped in then with more upbeat information but still presented in that ‘we’re modern and grown up and not embarrassed’ style and still focusing exclusively on the bleeding.

The wider media, meanwhile, has continuously from then to now, presented me with a vast array of products, often “scientifically proven” to absorb vast quantities of euphemistically blue liquid, allowing me to smell like an air freshener while roller skating in tight white shorts “at any time of the month”

Women, fear not, they tell us.  We understand about your shameful bleeding and we can fix you.  Science is here.  Science can help you cover up the stinking and blood stained creature you really are and make you actually acceptable in polite society “at any time of the month”

So.  Messages received so far:

#1 Menstrual cycle = Sometimes bleeding, sometimes not

#2  Menstrual bleeding = inconvenient, fun stopping, shameful

#3 Strong, confident, modern women conquer menstruation with the help of science.  They look and act the same at all times of the month.

So, on into the 1980’s and 90’s.  Nothing much changes on the first three messages but we do get another part of the cycle thrown into the mix: the premenstrual stage.  Suddenly our cycle had an extra downside: a time of the month when women turn stone crazy.  They are dangerous with mad rage and can actually get away with murdering their parnters while under the influence of pre-menstrual madness.  A staple of stand up comedy and tabloid media, pre-menstrual emotions have been caricatured to expand on our first message above:

#4 Menstrual cycle = sometimes bleeding, sometimes being psychotic/murderous, sometimes neither

So thankyou, home, school, media and business for your explanations about my body.  It seems like a pretty bad thing.  With this blanket negativity, a woman could easily be persuaded that it would be better to be rid of this inconvenience.

But folks, this is not the whole story.  Not by a long chalk.  In the next post I will tell what I have learned all by myself.  Not from books, TV, friends or family but by simply living in my own body though 30 some years of almost totally uninterrupted menstrual cycling.  It’s a very different story.