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As a sexologist, part of my work at Sexpressions is helping people unlearn negative ideas they have grown up with so they don’t pass these on to people they teach. Unfortunately, our culture hides or degrades many natural parts of being a woman. Between commercials promising that a particularly discreet, blue-liquid-absorbing pad or tampon will fool anyone and keep the secret safe and people whispering about “aunt flow”, young girls get the message that menstruation is something shameful that needs to be hidden and only discussed in rare, tense conversations.
Within this environment, girls can feel shame or discomfort when they even consider learning more about their own bodies, let alone less touching or looking at themselves “down there”. Sadly, these feelings can limit their options. I have heard far too many young girls uncomfortable with the DivaCup simply because they think putting fingers inside them or touching bodily fluids would be too gross.
Developing, exploring, and learning more about an adult body can be a thrilling, joyful experience that is worth celebrating. Here are some of the top things I tell parents, nurses and teachers to help girls embrace their changing bodies:
1. Start Young
Not only are today’s girls having their periods much earlier, starting early and having several smaller conversations about periods, puberty, and sex can take away from your stress about “the talk” and the discomfort girls can feel when these major issues are crammed into one conversation. With many talks, you can answer things as they come up, recognizing when they will understand something and it is appropriate for them. Unless you are giving negative messages or blatantly wrong information, you can’t do this wrong!
2. Celebrate Change
While not every girl will feel comforted by a menarche party, private moments like when they ask for help with what femcare product to use or ask a question can be met with warmth. Sometimes, these may come as a surprise, and being startled by a rapid change in how you think about them is normal, but even a day or week later, recovering and radiating positivity can help girls feel more comfortable with their bodies.
Menstruation is incredibly personal. There are many ways girls will have periods and many options they can try to help them. While your experience and those of other women you know are great starting points; it’s important to respect and listen to each girl’s unique experience and help them find what will work best for them—this is something where they are the only expert! Once they have finished talking and you understand their unique concerns, it’s the perfect time to suggest lesser-known options that can help. If they are worried about cost, the timing of bathroom trips, discomfort, or leaking, the DivaCup is a great option to talk to them about.
4. Model Being Supportive
It’s sad to say, but young girls can be very mean, and this can make already difficult times even worse. Modelling support for menstruation and other bodily changes can help girls see how they should support other girls around them. Seeing this kind of support can also encourage them to expect the same from others and ask for help when they need it, even if they’re feeling frustrated and ashamed.
5. Notice Your Body Language
Reaching out to teen or tween girls can be a difficult balancing act. They want and need a lot of autonomy, but teen years can be gruesome without help. A great compromise for anyone close to girls is encouraging them to ask questions and generally confide in you. A lot of this has to do with subtle signals like the tone of your voice and body language. By paying attention to these nonverbal cues in other tense conversations, you can be aware of what you may be unintentionally saying and work to seem calm and approachable when that’s what girls need.
6. Inspire Investigation
Another way to let young girls be independent is to give them the drive and skills to learn things themselves. Keeping age-appropriate books about menstruation and sexual health in the house and making it clear that they’re available can give a healthy outlet for curiosity. And if a girl is already interested in climate change or health issues, you can encourage her to investigate environmental damage and potential toxins from pads and tampons and show her where to learn about greener alternatives like the DivaCup.
7. Use Media as a Tool
Girls’ changes are not divorced from the rest of the world – just about anything can be a jumping point for a conversation that can help. Even something as small as asking why they use blue liquid in commercials for menstrual products, or why people in these commercials are wearing white and playing sports can help girls start thinking about how media can make women feel uncomfortable about their bodies. When girls start to notice these on their own and see how media may be affecting them, they’ll avoid a lot of the negativity it can create.
8. Know When to Say You Don’t Know
Inevitably, kids will ask you something you just don’t know. Sometimes, these moments are even better than when you do know because not only can you find the answer together, you can show girls how to find it themselves! Sadly, it’s common for people to give answers based on what they think they know when this may be outdated, incomplete, or a cultural myth. This is one reason many women don’t recommend lesser known menstrual products like the DivaCup. When you start saying something, you may want to think about when and where you learned it. If you’re not sure it’s right, or that it’s the whole story, this is another great opportunity to show them how to find trusted information.
9. Use Humor
Puberty and menstruation don’t need to be serious topics all the time. Being lighthearted wherever possible can help children feel more at ease in the conversation and with their own bodies and feelings. If you are comfortable with it, you can tell a story of when you got your first period and needed to make a makeshift pad—laughing at these can show girls that when these situations happen to them, they will also be able to laugh, eventually. These stories can also break the ice and turn a tense moment into one where girls are comfortable enough to listen. This makes a perfect opportunity to share what you’ve learned to avoid these concerns, from carrying extras to switching to the DivaCup!