Talking to daughters about periods comes naturally to most parents either around the time they’re supposed to get their first visit from Aunt Flo or after they’ve already bled for the first time. But, most parents don’t put an emphasis on educating their sons in the same way on the topic.
While it’s true that everyone eventually gets a general idea of what a period is, even if they don’t bleed themselves, the period talk between a parent and a son can go a long way towards building compassionate males who have comprehensive knowledge of the female reproductive system.
Why is it important to talk about periods with your son?
In India, most people do not have proper education and awareness about things like sex, periods and anatomy in general. Such topics are deemed uncomfortable and little outside the curriculum is discussed.
In fact, the Indian education system is governed by various Boards like ICSE, CBSE and State Boards. In most of the state boards, the human reproductive system isn’t even a chapter unless you take Biology after 10th grade. So, for people who choose other streams, this chapter and any discussion around it is completely skipped. Especially since only a handful of schools arrange for sex education on campus.
Add to the mix the reluctance of parents to discuss such topics with their children and you get uncountable youth who have little to no knowledge about the functioning of the human body - especially the reproductive system.
The result? Shame and embarrassment surrounding topics like menstruation, not knowing when something is a cause for alarm, propagating period myths and poor understanding of family planning. In addition to this, some men may develop insensitive behavior towards menstruating people.
The best way to tackle these issues is by building a safe environment at home to talk about periods with your son.
Where do you begin?
It can feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you’ve grown up in a conservative environment yourself. But, the more you engage in such conversations, the easier it gets. The biggest challenge is to begin, the rest will start flowing on its own.
- Find the right time - According to experts, girls bleed somewhere from the age of 10 and above, which is also a great time to start the period conversation with your son. While there’s no prescribed “right time”, a good way of breaking the ice is asking them if they know what a period commercial on the TV or internet is about when they come across it. Otherwise, you can also take them shopping with you the next time you go out to get period hygiene products and start the conversation on your way home.
- Set a positive tone - Your son may not be mentally equipped to grasp the concept of bleeding every month as something that’s not scary. So, in case your son reacts with shock or fear, don’t get discouraged. Keep the conversation going on a positive note and trust the process.
How do you continue the period talk?
Once you’ve begun discussing, there are a few ways to steer the conversation in the right direction.
- Update your own knowledge - Knowledge is something that needs to be updated on a regular basis. You may not be aware of everything yourself and the worst thing you can do is share wrong information with your son regarding menstrual health. Try updating yourself first so that you give out correct information and are capable of tackling any question that comes your way.
- Discuss how the reproductive system works in females - Start by explaining that men and women have different roles when it comes to reproduction. Explain menstruation as a part of the female reproductive system and why a woman bleeds when the egg remains unfertilized. Tell your son this is completely natural and also teach him why it only happens to biological females and not males.
- Discuss period products - Once you’ve covered the basics, move on to the various period products available in the market like pads, tampons, menstrual cups and period underwear among other less popular ones. This will get him used to the existing products and eradicate any mystery or taboo surrounding feminine hygiene products.
- Tackle the menstrual taboo - Don’t forget to talk about all the myths and taboos surrounding menstruation and specifically teach them how bizarre they are. Arm them with facts so that they don’t believe in everything they hear and develop a negative ideology surrounding menstruation - like it’s unclean or impure. Also, teach them how period stains are completely normal and how he should never tease a girl about it or make her feel like something is wrong with it.
- Instill respect in your son regarding menstruation - It’s important to educate your son how menstruation is the reason why life is possible. Instill nothing but respect in their minds for menstruators and the monthly ordeal they go through. Also talk to them about PMS, cramps and disorders like endometriosis which exacerbate these symptoms and make it a difficult experience for those women.
- Be prepared to tackle questions - Don’t expect this to be a monologue. No matter how well you explain it to your son, they may still have questions of their own. Try not to shut them down or dodge their questions. If you don’t have the answer to something, don’t get embarrassed and compelled to make something up. Be honest with them about your lack of that particular knowledge and let them know that you will find out more about it and get back to them later regarding the same.
What are some things to keep in mind during the discussion?
While having the period talk with your son, it’s important to keep certain things in mind so that the conversation ends up a fulfilling one.
- Steer clear of euphemisms - When discussing periods and anatomy, try and use medical or scientific terms that are accepted, instead of resorting to euphemisms like “that time of the month” or “lady bits”. This will show your son that such topics are normal to talk about and that there is no degree of shame attached to them.
- Avoid dodging any question - Some questions may become increasingly uncomfortable to answer, but it’s important to not dismiss them or avoid them till they stop asking. Remember that children are curious beings and they will find one way or another to satisfy their curiosity. But, this poses the risk of coming across misleading or false information. So, no matter how difficult a question is, answer them patiently and in the simplest way possible. It’s also okay if you need a breather or an update before you go on replying to them. In that case, tell them you will come back to the question at a later time but make sure you stay true to your words.
- Use inclusive language - As the world is evolving, people are getting more aware of the importance of inclusivity. It is very important to teach your son that not all who bleed are women and not all women bleed. And, their respect towards someone should never be dependent on their capacity to menstruate. Use inclusive language like “menstruators” or “people with periods” instead of saying things like “all women bleed every month” or “menstruation is something that only happens to women”.