The Importance of Menstrual Health Education in Post-Roe America
Whether it be whispering to a friend to ‘check’ or the subtle slipping of tampons up a sweater sleeve, the culture surrounding period talk has been stigmatized from the start. Much of this stigma surrounding periods begins at an early age. Though this stigma has persisted under the protection of Roe v. Wade, times have changed and as a result, the way society perceives periods must follow. As reproductive rights swiftly slip away, educating young menstruators on their cycles has never been more important.
An individual’s earliest exposure to the topic of menstruation arises in the classroom. A mere approximation of five percent of American students receive an adequate sexual education . In a survey from 2002 conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, it was reported that adolescents who had thoroughly received a sexual education were 60 percent less likely to be involved in a pregnancy . In schools lacking a comprehensive sex-ed, menstrual hygiene management now bears the brunt.
Menstrual hygiene management, or MHM, is typically only taught on the surface level. In approaching one’s first period, most young people are taught the basic mechanisms of caring for their bodies. However, complexities surrounding irregular cycles or severity of menstrual pain and bleeding are often left out due to the trepidation of period talk. With the average age for one’s first period declining from 12.1 in 1995 to 11.9 in 2017, it is imperative that menstrual education begin early sometime in elementary school . Though it may not have been serious in the past, a late period creates implications of detrimental damage to both the physical and mental wellbeing of a child. Aspects such as ovulation, when the chance of pregnancy is higher, are additionally important to make known. A pregnancy is a situation far too heavy to handle at an age as low as 12.
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022, a substantial 17 states in the US are in the process of outlawing the legal right to abortion. An accidental pregnancy no longer has the safety net of an abortion to fall back on in these regions. Those receiving insufficient menstrual education are not only at higher risk for pregnancy, but could simultaneously increase chances of complications during pregnancy and birth. For example, menstrual disorders such as endometriosis, of which 1 in 10 women globally have, are linked to an increased rate of miscarriage as well as spontaneous bowel perfusions, rupturing of ovarian cysts, uterine rupture, and intraabdominal bleeding . Several of these complications could lead to the loss of a life, and when facing such a situation, an abortion is often the option an individual can turn to. Symptoms of pain and menstrual irregularities could easily be mistaken as simply a ‘painful’ period. Lack of education surrounding this topic could lead to failure to diagnose this disorder for years, or even to catch it at all. Not only can difficulties linked to endometriosis arise, but congenital malformations of newborns following in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer (IVF-ET) have the potential to emerge . Children with congenital anomalies are an immense financially and mentally-taxing responsibility. In such a case, a pregnant person in one of these 17 states may turn to an abortion; however, this option no longer exists.
With these limitations in place, it is crucial that not only menstruators understand the attributes of their cycles but their counterparts be taught as well. In the United States alone, approximately 1 million teens get pregnant each year with 85% of these pregnancies being unplanned . The responsibility of safe sex falls on both teens involved, and it is imperative that young boys be taught about the feminine cycle. This aids them in better comprehension of safe sex and the usage of contraceptives.
Menstrual health is an issue of public health. Incorporating adequate menstrual education in the curriculums of sex-ed programs across the country could not only normalize period talk, but could also alleviate the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. The decline of Roe v. Wade has never posed a greater urgency for such a comprehensive education as now.
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