Why sex ed is the key to changing the way we think about periods

For International Day of the Girl, Founder of Sex Ed Matters and creator of the end tampon tax petition, Laura Coryton, blogs about period taboo and shame and how the new compulsory RSE curriculum will empower girls for the rest of their lives.

Today, international day of the girl, is perhaps the best day of the year to talk all things periods and in the process, break the period taboo and challenge the way you think about periods forever, no matter who or where you are. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

Firstly, let’s get to grips with the period taboo, how it impacts us all at many stages of our life and why you should start speaking up about periods. Our team at Sex Ed Matters asked a range of people how they feel about periods. We gained some fascinating but striking responses. Shockingly, we found that 10% felt unable to speak to all of their family members about periods, every single one! They felt unable to ask many important questions, including what a period is, what’s normal and what symptoms should be raised with medical professionals. If you can’t speak to your family about these fundamental issues, who can you turn to??

Well, our survey suggests that heartbreakingly, many simply stay silent. 100% of those surveyed felt embarrassed about their period. This social barrier often means that girls in particular are unable to raise basic concerns about their health or that they lack the products they need. Although we found that 11% struggled to access period products at primary school when they needed them, a figure that rose to 44% in secondary school, nobody we spoke to had ever felt empowered to share this problem with a teacher or leader in their school.

This is a serious issue that we have failed to address for generations. When you combine this lack of access with the crippling stigma that students are continuously subject to, it’s no wonder that as a result, we found that 33% have decided to miss school because they’re afraid their peers will discover they’re on their period. Let that sink in for a moment. A third of schoolgirls would rather sacrifice their education than face the period discrimination that’s rife throughout our schools.

Our students deserve better.

Sadly, period stigma doesn’t magically disappear as soon as you leave school. Oh no. It impacts a huge variety of people from all backgrounds throughout our lives. To illustrate just how extensively the period taboo permeates society, let’s talk about menopause (yippee!).

Get your heartbreak album ready because a survey by The British Menopause Society found that 23% of those who have experienced menopause felt isolated once their menopause began, while 33% felt less outgoing and 32% felt they are no longer good company to be around. Not only is menopause often unnecessarily depressing and isolating for anyone who experiences it, but it’s also difficult for those around us. 38% of partners surveyed by the organisation feel helpless when it comes to supporting their partner through menopause and 28% of couples argue about the topic because “they don’t understand what their partner is going through”.

We have the power to change this. Together, we can unlearn period stigma and that’s exactly what the new Relationships and Sex Ed (RSE) curriculum is capable of delivering.

The introduction of the new RSE curriculum is revolutionary because it means that from this academic year, all primary and secondary schools must deliver informative and confidence-boosting period education to all students.

For the first time in UK history, the curriculum stipulates that schools teach students what a period is, the range of products that can be used (including reusables), how to support the emotional and physical wellbeing of students during menstruation and (drum roll please) menopause!

This is a significant step towards unlearning period stigma. Now that students are being taught period confidence from primary school, we have a shot to mainstream the radical notion that it’s okay to share medical concerns with professionals and let teachers know if you can’t access period products when you need them. I believe this curriculum has the power to combat the taboo, ensure that nobody’s education is impacted by menstruation and finally, help us all feel supported and understood when experiencing or helping someone with menopause.

This is why we created Sex Ed Matters. We have produced campaign-infused period empowering toolkits for students and teachers and organised inspiring RSE talks for schools. We want to quash the period taboo once and for all by ensuring schools can deliver the new RSE curriculum with confidence!