How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Period

by Jeanne Sager


I’m not sure when it hit me just how hard it would be to talk to my daughter about her period.

Was it the first time I found her playing with a pile of (unused, thank God) tampons on the bathroom floor as a toddler, gleefully twirling them around by their strings like little helicopters? Or maybe later, when we walked up to the cash register manned by a teenage boy at the local Target and I plunked down a package of overnight pads only to see his face bloom as red as the roses growing near our driveway? Or was it when a presidential candidate tried to shame a member of the news media for a condition that affects every woman in America?

When did I realize that the period talk could be just as hard as the sex talk — if not harder?

Oh, not the technical end of it — that’s been pretty easy. Since she was old enough to ask “whatcha doin’?” when she spotted me in the bathroom with a tampon, I’ve been feeding her info on what they are (and pads too), and what it is that makes a woman bleed once a month. We’ve purchased — and read — several different books on puberty and a girl’s changing body, and she knows that one day she too will have a menstrual cycle.

More: Raising girls: Nobody told me they’d be so different

But what about the rest of it? All the things that make getting your period the true curse of womanhood? These are the things I haven’t said to her yet, because I’m still figuring out how…

1. Boys are going to try to make you feel ashamed

You shouldn’t be. But boys — especially hormonal, uncomfortable, jerky teen boys — have a tendency to say really mean things about girls’ changing bodies. Unfortunately, only a portion of said boys grow up to become the sort of mature, sensible guy who deserve to date you (should you be interested in members of the male persuasion, that is). Others may share an office with you, where they will take great glee in responding to simple requests that they replenish the copier paper tray if they empty it with cries of “Somebody’s on the rag again,” and great guffaws. Don’t be afraid to report them — be it to your high school guidance counselor or your company’s human resources department. Harassment is harassment. And you don’t have to take it.

2. Girls will too

We may all be blood sisters, but any woman who hasn’t entirely blocked the middle school years from her memory, Spotless Mind style, can report that the girl who gets her period first is often ridiculed. Of course, so is the girl who gets it last. The girl who first begins using tampons. The girl who uses a pad longer than some arbitrary time period determined by said middle school’s queen bee. Somehow even in college, you may be faced with that one girl who scoffs at you because “OMG, you are still using an applicator to put your tampon in? What are you, a prude?

More: Why I won’t teach my kids the word ‘fat’

It may sting in the way that all girl-on-girl hate stings. Remember these four words: your vagina, your choice.

3. It might just be painful as hell (then again, it might not)

Up until puberty, bleeding has always been associated with something hurting. It’s meant a fun Band-Aid and probably something cold with a cartoon on it pulled out of the freezer because Mommy doesn’t like seeing you hurt. So, when telling you that you’re going to bleed for days on end, I can only imagine what you’re going to think. I want to tell you that it’s temporary and nothing like that time your cousin bit you and you complained that it hurt for a week. But the truth is, I don’t know. Nearly half of all women experience pain with every single period. Forty-one percent experience it during some. The amount of pain varies among them all. Some feel slight twinges during that “pre-menstrual” time. Others are hugging the porcelain throne and crying out for codeine for days on end. I’m afraid to scare you… but I’m just as afraid of you one day thinking there’s something wrong because you’re “not like the other girls.”

4. It might make you lose your mind

About 3 million women experience some form of PMS in the few days before their period — mood swings, bloating and a whole lot more. That’s unpleasant in and of itself. But you could easily be one of the 3 to 8 percent of women who experience Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), a “significant premenstrual mood disturbance,” with often uncontrollable feelings of anger, depression, irritability and a whole lot more. The worst part? The feeling of a total and complete inability to do anything about it.

5. It’s going to hold you back

Those tampon ads are great, aren’t they? The women out jogging and hanging out on the beach, having the time of their lives? Fun. Normal. Periods don’t have to change your life, just change your tampon! (Wait, did I just make a catchy jingle? Call me, Always!).

More: Mom’s photo series of her daughters shows us how “Strong Is the New Pretty”

When you were a little girl, I taught you that “commercials are just trying to sell us something,” and when it comes to menstrual supply ads, what they’re trying to sell you is a load of B.S.. You could go swimming with a tampon, but you’re probably not going to want to worry about whether your tampon string is hanging out when you’re hitting the surf. And that camping trip you were planning with your girlfriends? Let’s just say that three days in the wilderness without bathroom facilities will hit the bottom of your list when you’ve got to change a super flow every three hours, lest you risk your underwear.