Schoolgirls should be free to talk about how their bodies work. Period | Opinion

If 2015 was the year the period went public, 2023 is the year male politicians are seeking to silence it. As if having a uterus didn’t come with enough challenges in our society, House Bill 1069, in the Florida Legislature, would muzzle any talk of periods in school — something roughly half of the population experiences.

The bill requires that instruction on sexual health, such as health education, sexually transmitted diseases and human sexuality, “only occur in grades 6 through 12.” This doesn’t only ban topics such as sexual intercourse and human sexuality, it unilaterally prohibits discussion on fundamental facts about sexual health like puberty, hormonal changes and menstruation.

Although this is just the latest in a long line of egregious proposals meant to restrict the bodily autonomy of those born with ovaries, it’s among the most infuriating, and insane.

I’m a board-certified endocrinologist who specializes in women’s health. I can confidently tell you that, while the average age of female menstruation is 12, girls can start their period as young as age 8. And do you know what grade the average American 8-year-old attends? Third grade. This means that under this law, any young girl who starts her period in the third, fourth or fifth grade would be prohibited from asking questions about it, or even mentioning it in school. Imagine being 8 years old or 10 years old and not being able to talk about something scary and strange and life-changing that is happening to you — let alone not be able ask an adult at school for a pad or have any kind of much needed conversation around it.

Such silencing reinforces the shame and guilt that society places on women’s bodies. For the majority of most people’s lives in this country, periods have been weaponized against us as a means to insult or discredit. From a young age, women are taught not to ask questions about their bodies, not to talk above a whisper when saying “dirty words” like vagina, vulva, cervix, or — shhhhhh! — clitoris. To use euphemisms like “a visit from Aunt Flo” or “riding the crimson wave.” To feel shame when experiencing normal bodily functions like menstruation or hormonal fluctuations. To stuff tampons and sanitary pads deep into pockets or smuggle them up their sleeve while walking to the bathroom.

Women can’t be blamed for acting this way — it’s essentially what we’re taught, if not overtly demanded, to do. As of early 2023, only 17 states mandate medically accurate sexual education. Florida is not among them. Politicians fail to understand that, If it’s not medically accurate, then it’s not accurate. Period.

Not only is it not accurate, it doesn’t work. Because if this sort of sex “education” did work, then we wouldn’t see such staggering rates of teen pregnancy, sexual assault — only 11 states require education on consent — and people with ovaries not understanding the basics of their biology, which leads to unplanned pregnancies and preventable sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Our educational system actively cultivates misinformation and miscommunication in regard to women’s health. Banning young girls from having a conversation about their periods enforces shame and miscommunication. Prohibiting us from the freedom to talk about our bodies, ask questions and normalize conversations is not only an affront to our autonomy, it has the potential to do serious damage. With drug-resistant gonorrhea on the rise, along with other STIs, people turning to the internet for medical advice, and the increase in the number of teen girls experiencing sadness and violence, a bill like this is sure to fuel such issues.

Menstrual stigma is real. Women’s shame around their bodies is real. And this proposed bill will serve to help codify it into Florida law, making being a young girl even harder.

Let’s make our voices loud — we won’t be silenced about our periods and we won’t stay silent while legislators oppress anyone’s right to talk about their period. Use social media to share your story, contact your legislators and speak out against another move to control our bodies.

Dr. Jolene Brighten is a pioneer in women’s medicine and a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist and certified sex counselor. She is the author of “Beyond the Pill” and the forthcoming book “IS THIS NORMAL? Judgment-Free Straight Talk about Your Body.”