We caught up with Endometriosis UK to talk about their #WhatIWishILearned campaign. This has launched alongside a petition to improve menstrual education in schools.
“How much do you remember from your sexual health education at school? Perhaps there were some awkward moments with a banana or a vague mention about that ‘time of the month’. For many of us, our sex ed wasn’t anything particularly ground-breaking or illuminating. It often involved shutting away the girls in a classroom separate from the boys, heightening the period taboo. Shockingly, some of us had no sex education at all.
Lack of education and awareness
Sadly, this is still the case today. 12% of people are starting their periods without knowing what they are. Understanding what’s ‘normal’ for periods is still a mystery for most children and teenagers. This lack of education and awareness of menstruation is contributing to millions of people with periods going years, even decades, undiagnosed with serious conditions such as PCOS, PMDD, heavy menstrual bleeding and endometriosis. People think that what they are experiencing is normal because of this lack of awareness/education. They’re too embarrassed to seek help, or are often told it’s ‘normal’ when they do.
Establishing what is ‘normal’
But what is normal? And what should we be teaching in schools? Most people with periods will have a menstrual cycle lasting a few days to a week. They should only have to change their tampons or pads every 3 to 4 hours on heavy days. Some level of discomfort is ‘normal’, though some may experience more pain than usual when they first start. But this will usually decrease over time. It’s also important that children and teenagers understand and expect different shades of blood and clotting. But they should be aware of indications of potentially more serious issues should they see changes in these or persistent bright red blood during their bleed. Our team at Endometriosis UK also believe it’s essential that schools teach students to understand how to describe and communicate their experiences of the menstrual cycle and periods. This includes pain and the difference between ‘regular’ period pain, and pelvic pain that could link to endometriosis or dysmenorrhea.
The Endometriosis UK petition
We have been running a Change.org petition to ask the Government to include these areas of menstrual wellbeing and menstrual conditions in the new ‘Sex and Relationships’ school curriculum. As part of our petition, we’ve just launched a new social media campaign. The aim is to get people talking about what they wish they had learned about menstrual wellbeing in schools and how it could have changed their experience of their periods and menstrual conditions. Some key themes have come up in the posts so far, and we’re honoured to share them with the TOTM community…
“I wish I’d learnt that pain so bad you struggle to walk isn’t normal.”
Sadly, a huge issue that we see at Endometriosis UK and one that has come up over and over again with the #WhatIWishILearned campaign, is people going through extreme pelvic pain and thinking it was part of a normal period. This is often a result of medical professionals or family members saying, ‘it’s normal’, or sometimes not believing/understanding the level of pain the individual is experiencing. This reinforces the idea that severe pelvic pain is something women have to get on with. Many posts we’ve seen in this campaign include stories of people passing out in toilets, cinemas or even cars. People have experienced vomiting and nausea from the pain and missed work or school because of it. People have been living in fear of their next period or the next onslaught of pain. No one should have to live like this. We want all children and teenagers to know, pain that causes you to miss out on life; or doesn’t go away with over-the-counter medication; or pain that causes you to vomit, pass out or induces any other unusual physical reaction; is not normal and it’s okay to seek help.
“I wish we were taught to listen to our bodies more, instead of suffering in silence, because we are told we are exaggerating.”
Again, this is another theme we see often at Endometriosis UK. Individuals are seeking help for symptoms that are causing them distress, or they feel are not normal for their body, and are made to feel inferior by medical professionals who override their gut-instincts and feelings. This repeated treatment results in a loss of confidence and a distrust of their bodies. In many cases, it can also result in a fear that it’s all in their minds. Through teaching children and teenagers what’s ‘normal’ for menstruation, they can begin to have a deeper understanding and trust in their body when something feels wrong and get an accurate diagnosis quicker.
Join the movement…
We ask you to join us, whether you have a condition like PMDD, endometriosis or fibroids. Whether you have a ‘normal’ period, but a lack of sex education, you can join us. Tell us, what do you wish you had learnt? How could it have changed your experience of your period and your relationship with your body? Share your story with the hashtag #WhatIWishILearned and be sure to tag a friend!”
Thanks to Endometriosis UK for writing this post for us! An important campaign with a powerful message. Join in and be sure to check out the petition!