Periods and Priesthoods


We were talking about the priesthood, and how boys get it when they’re 12 and girls don’t have any similar ritual. We spoke of the way that boys emerge into a very visible role at that age, and how significant it is for them to pass the sacrament each Sunday. We were bantering back and forth when my friend Holly replied*:

“You know where girls are at age 12? Unlike the boys who are getting public recognition for advancing to the priesthood, 12 year-old girls are locked in the bathroom w/their Tampax.”

As I thought more about it, I realized that she was right. Girls, at about age 12, have an important change in their lives, but it’s a private, secret matter. For all of the church’s rhetoric about motherhood being equal to the priesthood, you would think that there would be some sort of ritual/celebration to mark a girl’s first period—the really big change in her life that allows the possibility of motherhood.

My daughter is approaching her pre-teen years and I’ve been thinking lately of how our family should mark her first period. I’ve heard of rituals like roses, or parties. Though I want to do something special for her, I also don’t want to invade her privacy.

My first period came at a moment of _huge_ change in my life. I was using the toilet in an airport bathroom when I discovered that I was bleeding. I was about to board a plane with my Mom and sisters. We were in the process of moving from Colorado to California—the females were flying while my Dad and brothers were driving the cars over. It turned out that both my Mom and older sister were in the middle of their periods at that time, too. So we flew to California and then had three days in a hotel together while we waited for the guys. Mom and Big Sis gave me lots of advice and support. I felt supported and loved. It was a very positive and memorable experience.

I want to do something similarly memorable for my daughter when she begins her period—have some ‘girl’ time with her, or have a special dinner/party/celebration. But I’m not at all sure what to do and I feel like I need to have a plan soon so I’m prepared when it happens.

So I’m asking a few questions of you:
1) Do you have any suggestions for how the church could better mark this change in girls’ lives?
2) How did your mother or family react when you started your first period?
3) What ways have you marked this event in your daughters’ lives?
4) Can you pass along any advice on how I can celebrate my daughter’s first menses?

*I’m retelling Holly’s words from memory. Hopefully I’m recording something close to what she actually said 🙂

Note:
I’ve just read some of the comments on this thread and realized that I want to add two more questions:
5) Have you ever felt any shame coming from the church (or its institutions) about menstruation? For example, I’ve heard some weird stories about YW not being allowed to to temple baptisms during their periods.
6) Do you think the reason this is such an embarrassing topic for many women, LDS or otherwise, is that menstruation is still associated w/uncleanliness (as in Christ’s era)?

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. Holly says:

    That sounds pretty much right, Jana.

    To respond to your other questions: when I told my mother, one day a couple of months before my twelfth birthday, that I had started my period at school that morning, she insisted I pull down my pants and show her.

    I was rather indignant but did as she said. When she saw they bloody maxi-pad my PE teacher had given me and knew I wasn’t kidding, Mom told me that in the future I could use the maxi-pads she’d bought for my big sister.

    It wasn’t an experience that made me want to seek out her advice and help on the matter, so when I talked about being locked alone in the bathroom with Tampax, I was serious: I poured over the sheet of instructions in the middle of the night, trying to figure out how to get the damn thing in properly. It wasn’t fun.

    I don’t have much to offer in way of responses to your other questions, except to say that I was mightily annoyed by everyone who told me that I was “a woman now.” I was 11 years old, for pete’s sake! I didn’t want to be a woman at that point. I wanted space and time to figure out what it meant to be an adolescent, not to feel that I was suddenly expected to think of myself as an adult, and deal with the responsibility of adult sexuality. I was content to know that I was developing normally and everything seemed to be in place for a normal adulthood, but the last thing I wanted was to make the transition to adulthood right that second.

    In any event, it’s an important topic, and I’m glad you’ve raised it.

  2. Sue says:

    Huh, this whole idea is quite foreign to me. In my family, periods were something you DID NOT talk about. It was almost as though there was something shameful about it. So keep in mind that I recognize some of my views are probably unhealthy.

    1) I don’t think the church should play a role in it at all. I think it’s a private thing, and I think most girls would be uncomfortable with any recognition of the onset of menstruation. I would have been mortified.

    You would also have the problem of timing – I didn’t get my period until I was almost 16 – I felt self conscious about my “late start,” and would have felt even more self conscious if it was something that was recognized when it happened. Yikes!

    Additionally, I know girls who are starting their periods at age 9 – their bodies are maturing, but they are still 9 year olds emotionally, so I would hesitate to attach a great deal of significance to a biological event. I would never tell a 9 year old that she is now a woman, or anything like that.

    2) I didn’t tell my mother for months. When it happened, I took care of it myself, and since I had a job, bought my own tampons. When she finally realized what had happened she didn’t say a word about it other than to tell me not ever to flush pads down the toilet. My mom had some issues.

    3)My girls are small, so I’m not sure what we will do. Obviously I want to raise them with a healthier view of womanhood and this part of their lives than I had. I don’t know if I will make it a big deal though. A talk, some advice, a trip to the store together and a treat afterwards, and lots of hugs… But I will take my cues from her – try to teach her it is natural and healthy, and nothing to ever be ashamed of, but I don’t think I would make it a significant marker.

    4) I will be interested to see what others think.

  3. Brecken says:

    My early periods were horrifying. At first, the blood was brownish, so I thought I had accidentally had diarrhea in my panties and threw them away for a few days. I did the same for the next two periods until my mother finally asked where all my panties were.

    My mother was not very sensitive to young girls’ issues, and she made me wear her huge Maxipads with the horrible belt. The first time a friend lent me one of the “sticky” pads, I affixed it onto myself instead of the panties and wound up with blood spilling everywhere. The entire experience was always painful (with cramps) and mortifying, and there was no way I could stand the thought of myself as a… *gulp*… “woman.”

    I think that, just as the Church shouldn’t mark a boy’s first wet dream (another biological reproductive function), it should not commemorate a girl’s first period, either. Boys all get celebrated for coming of age at 12, and girls should, too, no matter where they are in their reproductive development.

    I do think that women should be more proactively prepared for their daughter’s first period, though, and do something fun to “celebrate” and make sure that she has all the appropriate knowledge. When my younger sister got her first period (and needed to attend a swimming party that week), we had fun singing the rap song that goes “Push it Real Good” when she learned to use tampons. We still laugh about it to this day.

    I’ve always hated my period, and I wish there were more ways in our culture to celebrate it. Tibetans and other Tantric Buddhists use the color red to symbolize the female essence (and white for the male, of course), and they celebrate it regularly. Pagan religions do other wonderful things to mark periods in people’s lives (“period” in both senses of the word), and I wish we did, too.

    Perhaps more use of the red symbolism? I’m infertile and always feel uncomfortable on Mother’s Day. In many other countries, they celebrate International Women’s Day instead, and I like that much better.

  4. Starfoxy says:

    I wrote about my menarche experience in detail here. The readers digest version is I started at my brother’s wedding reception in another state. My mom told everyone in the wedding party (not the guests though), and I was furious.

    Perhaps what bothers me the most is that this is something no one has any control over. Boys are largely able to control their worthiness and, in turn, how and when they recieve the priesthood. Girls just get their period whenever it comes. Receiving public recognition for something that just happens to us seems like it would make women feel like spectators, valued only for the things their bodies do with no regard for them.

  5. Melinda says:

    I’ve joked about how they ought to treat menarche the same way they treat ordination to the office of a deacon and have the kid stand up in sacrament meeting. But it’s only a joke. Actually doing that to a girl would be mortifying.

    I don’t think the Church ought to be involved at all in recognizing when a girl gets her period. It’s a potentially embarrassing bodily function. At that age, it’s simply gross, and even if the girl doesn’t think so, can you imagine all the little deacons giggling their heads off all through Sunday School because the bishop said Molly was bleeding into her panties? There’s a dignity to getting the priesthood; there is no dignity to a messy bodily function.

    I was 13 at menarche. I knew what it was, and my mom was very reasonable about explaining what it was and what to do. But there was no way I wanted anyone else to know. I told a few friends, but I would have died of humiliation if the boys in my ward would have found out.

  6. Melinda says:

    As a YW leader, we varied the timing for baptism trips so the girls could skip a month if they needed to, without missing out regularly. I think that’s totally a privacy and hygiene issue – the temple doesn’t want to make sure every young lady is wearing a properly inserted tampon. It doesn’t have anything to do with “spiritual cleanliness”, just a desire not to get blood in the font.

  7. jana says:

    Melinda:

    Maybe I’m juse weird, but I was on a swim team in high school and there was never a question about us girls missing practice or meets because of our periods. It strikes me as odd that this would be such an issue for the temple. Of course, not everyone uses tampons, but it hardly seems necessary to make a blanket prohibition about it?

    For me going to do baptisms in YW was a really big deal because the temple wasn’t very close. We rented a bus and only went once or twice/year. If some YW had to miss because of their periods, I think they would’ve felt really left out. It wasn’t until I was a YW leader myself that I heard that girls shouldn’t do baptisms during their periods. And it was couched in the language of not wanting to ‘contaminate’ the font–don’t they chlorinate them just like swimming pools??

  8. Reb says:

    This is an interesting topic. Unfortunately, I’ve never bought into the idea that motherhood is comparable to priesthood (and therefore can’t go along with onset-of-menses being comparable to being ordained a deacon). Theoretically, a boy needs to be *worthy* to be ordained to the priesthood; any old girl can slough off superfluous uterine tissue once a month. Philosophically, it does bother me that we as women have such a negative view of menstruation, but I don’t think it’s all (or even mostly) due to society. I think it’s mostly due to the fact that for many (if not most) women, menstration is a distinctly unpleasant experience. And I’m all about the miracle of growing life inside you and the inherent power of women, blah blah, but I still hate my period. I hate the cramps, I hate the moodiness, I hate the headaches, I hate the (forgive me) mess–and I think I would feel that way regardless of what the church or society told me I ought to feel. Some things just are.

    That aside, I think menstration is a private thing of necessity–because, really, 6th grade girls are pretty much embarrassed about everything. I can’t imagine them wanting to share info related in any way to their reproductive system with the rest of the world. Puberty just isn’t that cool.

    Anyway, the church already makes the ridiculous gesture of recognizing girls who have “advanced” to a different YW class, as if getting older were comparable to “being found worthy” to be ordained to an office in the priesthood. I’ve always found this kind of dumb. But I might be overly cynical.

  9. Amanda says:

    Jana –

    I agree it’s archaic (and a few other things) but I think that whole baptisms-and-blood-don’t-mix atttitude has been pretty common. We lived eight to ten hours (depending on who was driving) from our closest temple when I was growing up and it was nothing for girls to get there and discover at the last minute they weren’t going to be allowed to participate. And I’ve heard similar stories from a lot of the women in my ward.

    Given that attitude, it’s probably just as well the church doesn’t do anything else when girls get their periods.

  10. Amanda says:

    Although I just want to add, I do think the church should do something special for girls. In that same ward where I grew up, 12-year-old boys were given a (small) check to start a mission fund, with the stipulation their parents were supposed to match it. Nothing for the girls, who might want to go to school, hey, might even want to serve missions themselves!

  11. amelia says:

    i have to thank Reb for her comment. the church marking menstruation would do nothing but reinforce the completely illogical and unfortunate parallel of motherhood and priesthood. for the church to mark menstruation in some way would be like them marking boys passing through the physical sexual changes that mark puberty for them. the very thought is ridiculous. why would it be any different for girls?

    i understand the impulse to mark some passage for girls from child to young adulthood. i personally felt simply moving on to young women’s was like that. just being in young women’s made me feel more grown up and of more importance in the ward. maybe i was weird in that way.

    i also am glad my family did absolutely nothing to mark my menstruating. talk about embarassing. i would never have wanted my brothers to know about it. i didn’t want my dad to know about it. i told my mom and she helped me very sweetly (as my mother would do; she’s a saint). she always made sure i had the supplies i needed and helped me if i called from school with cramps or any other problem. but i see sexuality and all of the associated bodily functions as very private things and i would not want to make them even a family affair.

    i think the no temple baptisms when menstruating thing is a generational phenomenon. i heard it from a few women my mother’s age. but most of the younger women who were my leaders didn’t support that. i really think it has to do with a stigma against tampons for young girls more than anything else (other than the very practical concern about font hygiene, which i can understand). i don’t imagine this prohibition will remain for long (if it does at all in practice much).

    i don’t actually feel any embarassment about menstruating any more. i think the embarassment i felt initially was completely natural. it is a strange thing (couldn’t god have found a better way to arrange reproduction? do we really have to gush (sometimes profusely) blood from our reproductive organs every month?) the first time–and even a year beyond. it hurts. it’s messy. i didn’t want anyone else to know about it, although i reveled in it privately in spite of all the messiness and hurt. i’m glad, though, that it was private.

    anyway. i have no suggestions for how to mark this change because i don’t think it should be marked. i think it should be accepted as the very normal thing it is. that you should be there to help your daughter in any need she has and be loving and supportive. but i wouldn’t have wanted, as a girl, it to be made into an event. but that’s just me. i think the vagina monologues deals with this a bit, by the way. i have it if you want to borrow it (if i remember right it has both positive and negative accounts).

  12. jana says:

    Amelia:

    Funny you should mention the Vagina Monologues…I just got back from seeing it for the first time tonite. Very moving. They had one section where the characters told what happened the first time they menstruated–the reactions were quite varied.

    Though I agree with you that the priesthood=motherhood thing shouldn’t be reinforced, I’m still wanting some way to mark this change in my daughter’s life. I was probably being too extreme when I suggested that the church should mark the event. When I said that I wasn’t thinking of the Bishop bringing the girl up to the pulpit and handing her a certificate. I was imagining something like what women do when a sister gives birth. They give her a shower, they bring over casseroles, they share all of their birth & nursing stories. It seems to me that YW leaders could do something similar for their girls when they start their periods–they could bring them a flower, or some chocolate. And they could give advice or share funny stories, etc. This could also be a time for a special blessing. Though I think it would be probably too radical to suggest a blessing like the one done in the temple (by women for women), a special father’s blessing would be nice, too. IMO, mentruation is still (unfortunately) an incredibly taboo subject. And I don’t think it should be.

    The most important message that I took away from the VM tonite, is that all of us are the product of menstruation and a vagina–each of us was conceived and born of one (ok, a little exception here for c-sections and IVF). Yet, there’s this huge shroud of privacy and secrecy about them. Why???

  13. Rosalynde says:

    Jana, the secrecy surrounding female menstruation and fertility is a *huge* evolutionary boon for human women. In many primates, it’s perfectly obvious when the female is in estrus—and this works to her disadvantage in many ways: when males have knowledge of a female’s reproductive state, they have vastly more control over her reproductive functions. You’ll find that all cultures in which a woman’s periods are publicly marked are highly patriarchal: by forcing women to reveal their reproductive state, men can more effectively control women’s sexuality and reproduction (And ensuring certain knowledge of paternity is, of course, the raison d’etre of most patriarchies).

    So no, I definitely don’t support the idea of any public acknowledgement of a girl’s menarche. This doesn’t mean, of course, that mothers oughtn’t to teach and communicate with their daughters sensitively and openly (and privately), or that we ought to associate impurity or shame with menstruation.

  14. meems says:

    I don’t think the church should know anything about when menarche arrives. I would have been mortified. Like Starfoxy who wrote a great post about it, I learned early my mom was a blabbermouth. So when I started my period, I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her for months, until we had a huge argument about her wanting me to take a bunch of sanitary napkins with me to Girl’s Camp in case I started it there. I had to tell her I already started and she was pretty upset that I hadn’t told her, but I knew the second I did, everyone in the extended family would also know, and I, like most middle school girls, was totally embarassed and private about it. What will I do when my daughter starts her period? Well, I think it’ll be a much more honest situation because she’s 6 and already knows about having periods (because we use a lot of public restrooms (yuck) and she asks a lot of questions). The idea of a mom-daughter weekend or a mom-sisters weekend if older sisters are in the picture, sounds like a great idea. Something to celebrate being a girl, and something to pamper oneself to take her mind off of the yuckiness and cramps (get a facial? first pair of heels? her first pearl necklace?). Maybe as far as the church recognition to equal the boys getting the priesthood, all girls entering YW could have some sort of initiatory meeting once a year – a “special” first YW meeting or party.

  15. Tammy says:

    I was so glad to see this topic addressed. It has not been lost on me that male ordination to the preparatory priesthood occurs at about the same time the female body begins to prepare for child bearing. While I agree that priesthood does not equal motherhood, I think it is significant that both boys and girls begin a form of preparation at the same time. So, I thought I’d throw in my $0.02 worth to some of the questions and to some of the comments that have been made.

    Question 1: Do you have any suggestions for how the church could better mark this change in girls’ lives?
    I don’t think it is the role of the church to mark this change in a girls’ life – I think it is for the women in a girl’s life to mark the change, particularly her mother. And only insofar as a girl is open to such “marking.”

    Questions 3 & 4: What ways have you marked this event in your daughters’ lives? Can you pass along any advice on how I can celebrate my daughter’s first menses?
    I don’t know that I have advice on how to mark or celebrate the event, but I can share how I am experiencing this part of my daughter’s life. My number one goal with my daughter, now 11 and on the verge of starting her period, is to ensure she feels powerful and dignified as she starts to menstruate. Knowledge is, as they say, power, so she has her personal library of 3 to 4 books on the subject and has talked about them with me as she has felt comfortable. She already has a purse with pads in her school backpack and her own space in the bathroom with all of her supplies. She asked about tampons, which I showed her, and which she determine to be great fun as she played with its absorbency in the bathroom sink. I only curbed her enthusiasm when she tried to slosh it over her younger brother’s head. I’ve also told her that we can go out for ice cream when she starts, if she wants to. This phase of her life isn’t easy for her – sometimes she scared, sometimes she’s excited, sometimes she very tearful. It’s quite the emotional roller coaster. But we talk a lot about it and we laugh together, even through the tears and fears. Of all of my daughter’s phases of development in the past 11 years, this is my favorite so far.

    Questions 5 & 6: Have you ever felt any shame coming from the church (or its institutions) about menstruation? Do you think the reason this is such an embarrassing topic for many women, LDS or otherwise, is that menstruation is still associated w/ uncleanliness (as in Christ’s era)?
    Yes, I think so – and it’s a pity. My heart ached a little with the comment made above: “There’s a dignity to getting the priesthood; there is no dignity to a messy bodily function.” With respect, I disagree. There is great honor, dignity, and cleanliness in all aspects of womanhood, menstruation included. Until women honor themselves, how can men be expected to honor women? For women who are under the impression that they have no control over their bodies in terms of menstruation, conception, menopause, etc., I would recommend the book “Woman Heal Thyself” by Jeanne Elizabeth Blum for a different perspective.

    Thanks for the original post and for the insightful comments that have been made.

  16. jana says:

    Rosalynde:
    I appreciate your post. I had never considered that public knowledge of a woman’s reproductive state would give men control over them. But, I wonder if the control issue is related to how such events are celebrated? Are there examples of cultures where the marking of menstruation is controlled by women, and is empowering to women?

    Also, do you think that if Mormon women started a celebratory method of marking menarche that it would give men control over them? For example, I hardly see Mormon men taking over any of the ritualized events that we currently practice w/childbirth–baby showers, the ‘mother’s room’ at the church, etc. (altho they did prohibit the childbirth annointings). It seems that men are happy to leave that realm to women.

  17. Holly says:

    I’ve been really interested to read everyone’s comments here. I was especially impressed by this statement from Rosalynde:

    the secrecy surrounding female menstruation and fertility is a *huge* evolutionary boon for human women….when males have knowledge of a female’s reproductive state, they have vastly more control over her reproductive functions. You’ll find that all cultures in which a woman’s periods are publicly marked are highly patriarchal: by forcing women to reveal their reproductive state, men can more effectively control women’s sexuality and reproduction (And ensuring certain knowledge of paternity is, of course, the raison d’etre of most patriarchies).

    I’ve never thought of that before, but it seems self-evidently right.

    I agree with Melinda that on a personal level there’s good reason to keep one’s menstrual status secret, because “can you imagine all the little deacons giggling their heads off all through Sunday School because the bishop said Molly was bleeding into her panties?”

    I’ve written about something similar: a day when I discovered after teaching a class dominated by freshmen boys, that
    I had bled all over my skirt
    , then locked myself out of my office because I was so upset that I was walking around with a huge blood stain on the back of my skirt, and so had to prolong the experience of having blood all over my clothes. I don’t want to announce my fertility to my colleagues and students, for one thing, and there’s also something embarrassing about having stained clothes–I wouldn’t be happy to walk around all day with diet coke down the front of my shirt, either.

    Because I was profounly ill and anorexic as a teenager, I spent a good long while without my period after it had started, and I kind of learned to see its value, which has prevented me from hating it, which isn’t to say that I haven’t found it thoroughly inconvenient and really painful from time to time. I also can’t help but roll my eyes when women talk about how much they LOVE their period because getting it makes them feel “feminine.” It admire its cyclical nature, but it’s not like I feel “un” feminine when I don’t have blood gushing from a opening between my legs.

    But there’s also the menopause thing–I’m 42, and I was VERY upset when I learned recently that both my 44-year-old big sister and 40-year-old younger sister are not just in perimenopause, but REAL menopause. They’re DONE, and I’m not, and I’m glad. Admittedly, they’ve had kids and I haven’t, but I’m not sure I want kids. I’m freaked out by the stories of women who grow hair on their chins after they no longer have these big doses of estrogen each month. I’m freaked out by the stories of women who lose their libido entirely after menopause. I just sort of think I’ll miss it, kind of like Lucille Clifton describes in her fabulous poem on the topic, “to my last period.”

    But back to young girls.

    I was thoroughly indignant to read that girls on their periods can’t be baptized for the dead because of the fear that an improperly inserted tampon will allow some blood into the font–good grief, what about all the other bodily fluids? What about sweat, from armpits or other areas? What about an improperly wiped bottom allowing a trace of fecal matter to enter the font? What about toe fungus? I’ve bled into the bathtub enough times to know that it takes a heck of a lot of blood to tinge a big container of water with red, so I have a hard time believing that the worry is that the blood will be visible–no, it seems more likely that it’s the misogynistic perception discussed in works like Purity and Danger and Powers of Horror that fluids from a female body are more defiling that fluids from a male body.

    So, as for what we should do for young girls to help them feel comfortable about menarche…. A small party with her mother and some of her friends? Some new clothes? A hug? Matter-of-fact respect?

    I don’t know.

    Mostly I just want menstruation to be less taboo as a general topic of conversation, less shameful as a bodily function. We can be pretty-matter-of-fact about discussing full bladders and the need to pee. I don’t feel the need to inform any and everyone when I personally am on the rag, but talking about what menstruation and fertility and such things mean in my life, that I want to be able to talk about. So thanks again, Jana, for raising the topic here.

  18. Starfoxy says:

    I can also verify the restriction on baptisms for the dead during menstruation. However, our leaders never asked, and I never volunteered the information. I was confident that I wasn’t going to make a mess of the font so I didn’t see why anyone else needed to know anything about it.

    Also, this whole thing reminded me of this Kids in the Hall sketch. “I’m the guy with the good attitude towards menstruation!”

  19. Deborah says:

    A few years ago, I saw a group of 8th grade girls shrieking in excitement and hugging their friend in a school hallway. I later learned that this girl had “finally” gotten her period and her friends were celebrating with her. Wow. That stirred up a lot of emotions. At that same age, I hid the fact from everybody for a while, and I believe this had both a cause and effect role in some harmful emotions I harbored about my body and sexuality for years.

    As a middle school teacher, I frequently am in the position to talk to girls about menstruation and it has taken real effort — effort well worth it — to speak about it both matter-of-factly and positively. Recently two middle school girls talked to me about the book “The Red Tent.” One said, “It kinda made me wish we still had something like that — a place for women to bond together each month.”

    Many moms I know engage in some kind of mother-daughter celebration to mark this physical transition — however, I imagine these are most effective when there has been open communication about maturation and sexuality BEFORE menstruation. Otherwise, this attention will likely feel awkward. It’s not so much marking the day, as the attitude we project for the first thirteen/fourteen years leading up to this day.

  20. Brooke says:

    When I started my first period, I had what I remember as a positive experience. My mother was right there when I wanted to ask her if the small brownish stain was what I thought it was. She was sweet, quiet and understanding about it. She was excited for me and underneath my nervousness, I was excited too. She thoughtfully asked my permission if she could tell my close female relatives that where with us that afternoon (sister, aunt, cousins), to which I consented. We all wore red to some event that night, but the reason was our secret. That was about all the people I wanted to know. She did ask if she could tell my dad, and I didn’t feel like I should say no, but I did feel very awkward about it. Looking back, I’m sure he did too. But I remember the awkwardness as a sort of endearing thing (I wasn’t in the same room, but I did hear her telling him and his response was something in a wry humorous tone, like a “oh great—all we need is more female hormones around here” kind of comment).

    The things I liked about my mother’s approach, which you may want to think about, are: 1) she was sensitive to my needs and personality and my privacy, asking permission in every case—even though she might have told my dad anyway, 2) she was positive and informative about it (the information coming before the event was important–as Deborah mentions in her comment), and 3) we secretly celebrated it among the females I was closest to (but it could have been just me and her if that’s what I had wanted).

    Furthermore, I agree with many comments that the church should have nothing to say about what rituals or recognition we have for a girl’s menarche. I think it should be privately celebrated in whatever way the girl feels comfortable with.

  21. amelia says:

    I really appreciate all of the thoughtful comments here. I very much agree with Holly that menstruation should be a less taboo topic and I’ve done my part of making it so in my own little world. When I’m down and out because of cramps, I state it for what it is rather than using some “I’m not feeling well” euphemism–regardless of whether I’m in mixed company or not. If the subject comes up for some reason, I don’t really edit myself just because there are men around. I do observe boundaries of privacy as much as possible–there are people who I don’t want to know about my menstrual cycle because I’m not close enough to them. But I do the same with other matters that are private, so it’s not must a menstruation taboo.

    my little sister married a man who comes from a family of mostly boys–only one sister and she is the youngest. He had no real idea about what menstruation was like, etc. I think part of what needs to be done is teaching our boys about it, too. I see this as part of the early discussions of sexuality and reproduction that Deborah and brookewill mentioned. I’ll never forget the humor of being out with two guys one night and discovering I needed tampons. My simple question of whether they had seen a drug store was enough to signal to my boyfriend what the situation was. He’d been raised around women and new something about the menstrual experience. The other guy didn’t have that knowledge and kept pressing me as to why I needed a drug store. So I told him. and he immediately shut up. It was very funny. and telling.

    as to the temple baptism thing–I really think that this is rooted as much in there being a taboo for older women on young girls using tampons as in feelings that menstrual blood is dirty (I definitely agree that’s part of it). Somehow inserting something into one’s vagina has a tinge of sexuality to it in some people’s minds, even though it’s just a tampon. I got a similar response from my mother when she discovered that OB tampons (which I use) are inserted with fingers, not applicators. She was horrified and very clearly felt like there was something morally wrong with that. It seems obvious to me that there is no difference between using a finger or an applicator, but it upset her notions of sex and morality. I don’t think she’s awful for this; just a product of her generation. With time I think such bizarre taboos will disappear.

    I like brookewill’s story. It seems like a good way to celebrate a girl’s menarche while honoring her privacy and her own personal level of comfort. But again, this relates to what conversations have happened before her menarche. In my case, even that much would have been embarassing, as this was not something we discussed in my family–not even between mother and daughter. But that’s not something I intend to reproduce from my childhood when I have children.

    Interesting posts all.

  22. Ariel says:

    “Maybe as far as the church recognition to equal the boys getting the priesthood, all girls entering YW could have some sort of initiatory meeting once a year – a “special” first YW meeting or party.”
    It’s called “New Beginnings.” All the YW are invited, but it’s geared toward welcoming all the girls who will turn 12 during the year.

    I didn’t tell my mom for about four months. (I thought she’d be angry or upset, so I waited until she was having a good day and I was having my period at the same time. I folded toilet paper into my panties for the first few periods.) I don’t think she told anyone. She didn’t do anything special for me except buying a box of junior tampons so that I could learn more easily. The only thing I celebrated (in private, of course) was that I had timed it right and didn’t make Mom angry at me.

    I would have been mortified to have to tell male priesthood leaders (or even my father) about it. YW leaders would have been almost as bad, but it would have been nice to celebrate with a few women- aunts, maybe?

    I’ve heard LDS women refer to menstration as “the curse.” This really bothers me- yes, it’s uncomfortable and messy, but it is also an important part of a woman’s identity. I believe that the first thing that needs to change in LDS culture with respect to menstration is the way we talk about it.

  23. Tigersue says:

    First off, I agree with the thing about YW having new beginnings. In our ward the young women and brought up to the front just like the boys as they advance from Primary to the YW program, and also get the YW medalion in front of the ward. IS that not recognition. I frankly would have been mortified if my “coming of age” would have been announced, there is much more about becoming a woman than when a period starts.
    As for the temple, my daughter doesn’t go when she is on cycle, neither did I because it is a matter of health and cleanliness. As a nurse there is such a thing as body fluids and there is a special way to treat it. Would you really want to expose your child or yourself to a tampon that fails while they are in the clothing for baptism, would you really want to put that embarrassement on them. Maybe this is a midieval view, but I embarrasse easily and I would be absolutely mortified at the thought.

  24. Dora says:

    When I had my first period, my mother told me that in Japan, it’s called ane-no-hi … translated as Anne’s Day, for Anne Frank. I read the book soon after, and loved it. My mother was very affirming and consulted me about telling my father The whole family ended up going out for a celebratory dinner, although we didn’t tell the other kids why.

    As the for temple baptism bit … I was never as concerned with blood in the water as I was with having the red appear on the white jumpsuit. Say what you will, the idea of walking past the recorders, witnesses and other people waiting in line just seems espcially humiliating.

    For the reasons Rosalind talked about, I’m rather glad that my reproductive status, between menarche and menopause, is privileged info that I can choose (or not) to share.

  25. Amber says:

    I did a performance art piece all about having a period. I would get very very painful periods (I just had a baby, so we’ll see if they come back) and woke up in the middle of the night in pain, but with inspiration. I wrote a poem called Jesus that generally went something like this:

    Jesus, once a month I hate you.
    To say you’ve suffered my pains.
    You’ve never suffered THIS, man!

    Jesus, once a month I love you,
    To be show me the glory of womanhood,
    To go beyond what men can do…

    Jesus, once a month I AM you,
    to suffer and bleed
    for nothing more than the potential
    to give life to another.

    ***
    That’s not it exactly (I can’t find the poem right now) but that’s the jist of it. When I did the entire presentation of this in performance art style, one woman exclaimed “I wish you could do this in sacrament meeting!”

    Nothing has made me understand the possibility of the atonement more than menstration. I often feel psychotic for saying so, though.

    For my transition to motherhood, I orchestrated a “Mother’s Blessing,” reclaiming the now lost practice women in the church used to do for eachother. “Blessingways” have become more and more popular, but it seems to me the perfect way to celebrate this change in a girls’ life. A personal, intimate, ritual celebration of this transition… in the companty of women who have gone this way before, and those who haven’t, but will.

    That’s what I would dream…

    Personally, I never told anyone in my family about my first time. My little sister had hers before I did. I just quietly grabbed a pad from the bathroom and thought “finally!”

  26. Tammy says:

    Yellow, you made the following comment:

    “Nothing has made me understand the possibility of the atonement more than menstration. I often feel psychotic for saying so, though.”

    I don’t think you are psychotic. I think your sentiments ring of truth and if more women would capture the vision of what it means to shed their blood every month, maybe we could begin to be rid of the idea that menstruation is dirty or icky.

  27. amelia says:

    thank you, yellow. your thoughts about the connection between menstruation and the atonement and your poem resonated with me.

  28. Caroline says:

    Yellow, I love the idea of a mother’s blessing.

    Here’s my menarche story: I think I was a pretty typical perpetually embarrassed 13 year old. I had a very close relationship with my mom (she was my only parent), but I still had no desire to tell her. I think I waited a few weeks and then finally spit it out. She was very laid back, asked if I needed her to show me how to use pads, etc. I quickly assured her I didn’t. That was pretty much the end of it. I was very glad that my mom didn’t make a big deal out of it in any way.

    The only question I asked was if it was ok to use tampons when I got a little older. Clearly I must have picked up from somewhere that there was something shady about tampons (maybe it was from my mormon community?). But I remember my mom looked at me strangely after that question and said “of course.” That told me that she had no issue with them, so I felt comfortable using them after that.

    Perhaps there was a subtle discouragement from some church people against girls using tampons 20 years ago. If so, I hope things have changed…

  29. Starfoxy says:

    When my older sister first tried tampons my mom greeted her outside the bathroom door with the question, “Are you done masturbating now?” So, I can really relate to the idea that many older women see something shady about tampons.

  30. meems says:

    Starfoxy: OH. MY. GOSH!
    I don’t think it’s necessarily a church thing, but maybe a generational thing. I was also told that young girls should not wear tampons – it was totally inappropriate. Girls who did were basically Bad. I think I remember something about only married women or girls exiting their teens should wear tampons… I think it had to do with a virginity issue (!).

  31. Tracy M says:

    Wow. So many interesting stories. I have to agree with the general consensus that the Church should just stay WAY out of it. Commemorating the YW medalian and moving from primary are good, general ways of acknowledging a girls’ moving on, without divulging personl things to the congregation.

    I would have wanted to die if my menache had been publicly noted. The day I began, at 11, my youngest brother was born. (I am the oldest and only girl)- and I think it was more emotional for my mom than for me. I just remember being embarassed and not wanting my dad to know.

    It took me years to be ok with the whole process- and it’s still not one I love or relish, however, I do appreciate my body more now than when I was a teen. Someone mentioned being open with boys too, and I think this openess would be helpful for girls as well. My brothers were all well informed, appropriately, about what happened to a young woman’s body, and the squirm-ick-factor was not really an issue with them as they matured. I know their comfort with the issue has helped their wives’ comfort too.

    There is a book called “The Wise Wound” about menses and the taboos and social issues throughout history associated with it- a very good read. The book tends to agree with Rosalynde regarding the oppression of women and their fertility cycles being public rather than private. I can’t recall the author, unfortunately.

    Oh, and there is nothing more embarassing than staining through your clothes, weather you are 12 or 32.

  32. maria says:

    I had a friend in college whose family celebrated each girl’s first period with a LOT of fanfare. When one of the girls in the family would start, all of the sisters, aunts and female cousins came over to the house that night (they all lived nearby) for a “period party.” A period party is a huge, complicated ritual that involves all attendees wearing only the color red, eating lots of red foods (spaghetti, red cake, red koolaid, etc.) and playing a bunch of games that were all associated with either the color red or blood. All men were banished from the house from the evening, all of the women wrote in a special red book for the girl to commemorate the day, and lots of pictures were taken for future scrapbook pages. It sounded like a really great mixture of just plain silliness/fun (to ease any awkwardness about the transition) and also seriousness (to mark the importance of the event).

    When I asked her if she was embarassed to have everyone in the family know she had her period, she said that it was actually one of her favorite memories she had from her teenage years. She said she remembered when her older sisters and cousins started menstruating and had their parties–that from that moment onward she couldn’t WAIT to get her period like all of the older girls. It was something to look forward to, something to be excited about.

    I don’t know if I’ll do anything quite so elaborate with my future daughters, but I really liked the idea of creating a special time for each girl and helping her feel excited and positive about her body’s changes.

  33. jana says:

    Hey all—

    Just a quick note of thanks to everyone who has commented on this thread (and to all who still might have something to say).

    Thank you for those who’ve had the courage to share their stories–esp the painful ones. Thank you for those who shared some great ideas that I can use with my daughter!!!

  34. bigbrownhouse says:

    I grew up with a very matter-of-fact attitude about menstruation, but nonetheless, I would have been VERY uncomfortable with a public celebration of the event. The onset of a biological function doesn’t necesarily coincide with a mental or emotional stage. Count me as another former 11 year old not yet ready to “celebrate womanhood.” Or what about my friend who started her period at 17? Sorry, you’re not becoming a woman yet? (she would have thought that was funny, having been sexually active for two years.) I think, given the randomness of its timing, it doesn’t make sense to load up first menstruation with too much external meaning. It implies “you are at the mercy of your body.”

  35. Juliann says:

    The only thing worth celebrating is menopause! I don’t care how dressed up it is…menstruation is a pain. Literally. I know that it serves an important purpose but so do our other bodily functions that expel unpleasant things at inconvenient times. I can’t even imagine this being made a public thing. But then…I am still traumatized by having to walk by giggling boys as the elementary school girls were led into a room for THE FILM.