Mandatory RSE: The Importance Of Menstrual Health

It’s Sexual Health Week and this year the theme is Mandatory RSE (relationship and sex education). Earlier this year, it was announced that RSE will be compulsory as of September 2020. Now kids in primary school will be taught about relationships and then further RSE in secondary school. Things like consent, inappropriate ways of touching, correct terminology for body parts & more will be included.

Sex educators across the UK welcome this decision as it’s something they have heavily campaigned for for years. I think a lot of us after remembering our “education” will welcome it too. I remember being shown photos of untreated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like it was the worst thing that could happen. From the get go, we were taught sex is this scary thing with life-altering consequences.

There is a lot missing from the current curriculum. In the 50 page document released by the government detailing RSE guidance, there is merely one short and vague paragraph that mentions menstruation:

Here’s what I’d love to see included:

Mandatory RSE should cover first periods and beyond

Whilst the text states they’ll be teaching pupils the “key facts”, what does this entail exactly? I don’t know the current state of education but I do know that I was told I’d get a period and that was it. No mention of when, what signs to look out for and how to deal with it. I feel very fortunate enough to have my mum for that, but a lot of people don’t. In fact, a 2017 survey found that 1 in 7 people in the UK didn’t know what was happening when they got their first period. Many think they are dying or something is seriously wrong with them. Nobody’s first period should be this way.

We are also not taught that it’s normal for periods to be unpredictable for the first few years! Those entering puberty should feel prepared for a lifetime of periods. This means learning about the factors that can cause them to change over time.

We need to discuss symptoms more

Period conditions affect a huge percentage of people in the world. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) charity, Verity, reports that PCOS affects 1 in 10 people of reproductive age in the UK. 70% of people don’t know they have it. When it comes to endometriosis, research shows that there is an average of 7.5 years between people first seeing a doctor and receiving a firm diagnosis.

Teaching pupils about symptoms equips people with the knowledge of what’s normal and what raises cause for concern. It gives young people agency over their bodies and the confidence to seek help if needed. Many I have spoken to have suffered in silence and had issues go undiagnosed because they did not have the correct information or language to communicate what they were going through.

Menstruation should be discussed in an inclusive and shame-free way

It’s no secret that for years, menstruation has been discussed in a way that makes people feel ashamed. Although it is great that RSE will be taught to pupils of genders, we must discussion menstruation in a way that is inclusive and allows people to rid themselves of embarrassment.

I would love to see schools discuss periods openly and positively. We should include everyone in the discussion and say goodbye to harmful phrases that alienate people such as “sanitary products” & “feminine hygiene” for once and for all.

Red Moon Gang book cover

Preorder the Book

Filled with information and free from cultural hang-ups, this gender-neutral book is directed at anybody that's ever dealt with having a period. Writer and influencer Tara Costello pulls together her research and experience into a book that's wide-ranging, inclusive, and fun. Boldly illustrated by Mary Purdie, Red Moon Gang tackles every aspect of the menstrual cycle--from the biology and science behind why you bleed every month, to the latest findings on hormonal fluctuations (aka, why you're PMSing so bad). It takes a deep dive into the different types of menstrual products available, including their pros and cons, and covers various period conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. Drawing from her own experience, Costello explores how having a period shaped her relationship to her body and her place in the world. And she discusses topics that aren't generally covered in health class too--such as how periods are a particular challenge to those experiencing body dysmorphia, individuals living in poverty, and disabled people. Finally, she offers up a Period Toolkit, listing products and retailers she loves, tips on how to make menstruating easier, and resources for further education.

Coming March 2021

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