Menstruation Around the World is series from Vulvani that attempts to show the diversity of menstrual experiences around the world. We portray people from different countries with their personal stories. Let us explore the wonderful and so diverse world of menstrual experiences together. This time, sex educator Hebe shares her personal journey.
Hebe is a sex educator from England. Because of heavy bleeding and severe cramps, she started taking the progesterone only pill. Her advice is to talk openly about periods since it unites her and the people in her life. Thank you so much for the interesting insights and sharing your experiences!
Gender/ Sex: Female
Country of birth: England
Home: Bristol, England
Job: Final year geography student (Bsc.) / Sex educator
Age at first period: 12
Favorite period product: Menstrual cup
Cost per menstruation: I no longer have periods due to the contraception I’m on. However, for the last 12 months of bleeding my costs were £0! I used a menstrual cup and reusable period underwear.
Contraception: Progesterone only pill
1. How is menstruation seen in your family, culture or even country?
I feel very lucky that my mother was very open when talking about periods. She provided me with books on puberty, as well as sharing her own stories and advice. This, combined with being one of the first in my class to start their period, I was always the one my friends came to for advice about their periods. This was a huge influencing factor in my becoming a sex educator and now writing my dissertation on vaginas!
2. You are a sex educator. How and by whom were you educated about menstruation?
I remember the first time my mother taught me about periods I was 11. She sat me down before I was going on a residential school trip, told me that every month a woman bleeds out of her vagina and showed me how a pad worked in case I started on the trip. I remember feeling very grown up with my pack of pads, but not actually thinking it would happen to me since I felt removed from it. Additionally, I had biology lessons around the same time where my teacher explained properly why periods happen. I feel lucky that I learned about it at a time that was convenient for me.
3. Tell us a little about your first period.
I remember it so vividly. It was halloween and I was 12. I remember this because my mother had told me she also started her period on halloween when she was 12! At school, I went to the toilet before lunch. I remember looking down and seeing a smear of brown and instantly thought “Oh my god I’ve pooped myself”. Then I realised it was period blood. I wadded up loads of toilet paper and put it in my knickers.
My friend outside had begun banging on the door asking what was taking so long and I said I was ill and had to call my mum. I raced to the school phone box and called my mum to tell her. My mum drove in and dropped a very obvious wash bag filled with pads into the school office for me to collect. I remember feeling horrified that I saw she had brought my older brother in the car with her.
I was devastated this had happened to me. None of my close friends had started and I felt embarrassed and that it was all very unfair. I was also meant to be staying late at school and dressing up for halloween and had been excited for weeks. In the end I had to go home because my period kept leaking around my pads because it was so heavy. Everyone was confused as to why I wasn’t staying for the party and I cried when I got home, angry at the world and my mum for telling my dad and brother, angry at the copious amounts of blood leaking onto my bed and the sports tournament I had the next day.
4. How do you feel about your menstruation?
My relationship with my period has definitely changed over the years. I always had very heavy periods. Unusually heavy, which is why I am on the pill now. When I was 14 I also started having debilitating cramps every month that caused me to throw up. This made me dread my period and feel anxious whenever it came. I also had a septate microperforate hymen meaning that I couldn’t use tampons until I went to the doctors aged 16. They confirmed my condition and I had hymenoplasty surgery, removing my hymen.
After this, my relationship with my period improved. I could use tampons and later a menstrual cup, which helped with my heavy flow. I had learned the best way to manage period pain and what medication was most effective for pain relief. Compared to other teenage girls, I looked young, since I was skinny and short with few curves. This increased my insecurity. My period made me feel womanly and grown up and proud of my body. It also made me feel like crap sometimes. Overall, it was a very complex relationship. Now that I don’t have them, I sometimes miss them, but I also enjoy not having them a lot more.
5. Which menstrual products have you already tried?
Pads – I resented them for a while when I couldn’t use tampons and had no choice. But now they’re like an old friend. I like not having to insert anything, especially when I’m cramping or on lighter days. I don’t like how they can smell, feel heavy or wet or when the adhesive sticks to your skin or hairs. The plastic waste also worried me.
Tampons – These made me feel more free and more capable. They made me feel more grown up. The risk of TSS and not being able to wear them overnight was a drawback though. The waste from these also worried me.
Menstrual cup – my favourite! No waste, holds more blood which is good for my heavy flow. It can be a faff to change on the go if you still have to change them every few hours like me (really heavy flow). On days where I wasn’t so heavy or I was at home though, they’re a dream. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on how much I like the menstrual cup and period underwear.
Period underwear – I liked these as an alternative to pads. I used them in combination with my menstrual cup and they never leaked or let me down. Much comfier than a pad too! The price and having to wash them is a drawback.
6. What do you like to do when on your period?
I like to eat a lot and stay warm! Hot water bottles and pyjamas. I hate having to go swimming or lots of physical activity, especially when there are no toilet facilities and I find I am stressing about leaking rather than enjoying myself.
7. How are you feeling when menstruating?
When I used to be on my period for about 3 years I would have extreme cramps every month. They would be relentless. If I did not take painkiller before they got to a certain severity, then they would continue to get worse until I was throwing up or passing out. Lying flat not curled up, painkillers and a hot water bottle were my best friends. Eating a banana also helps due to potassium content.
8. Who are you talking to about menstruation?
Most of my friends and students I teach. I’m very open about periods and so are most people I know. Periods unite me and other people in my life. I talk to my boyfriend about them too, so he can understand me and my needs better. These conversations happen in my home, when chatting over coffee – wherever! I’m very lucky.
9. Do you have a particular important story about menstruation?
I’m sure there are plenty, but I’ve completely forgotten them!
10. Want to share anything else about the period taboo as a sex educator?
My advice, especially as a sex educator would be to talk about it! Periods are a pain, sometimes literally, and sharing your experiences helps ease it and brings us together. Periods are nothing to be ashamed of and the more we let ourselves be embarrassed about them, the less we gain from them.
Do you want to become part of ‘Menstruation around the world’?
We hope to be able to present the portraits of menstruating people as varied and diverse as possible. And for this we need you – no matter how you feel about your own menstruation or where you come from! If you would like to be part of this series and share your personal experiences and thoughts about menstruation with us, please write us a message or simply fill out this questionnaire (anonymously is also possible). We are already looking forward to sharing your story with the Vulvani community!