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Florida bill banning period talk in schools resurfaces history of menstruation


Nine decades ago, the death by suicide of a 13-year-old girl after her first period sparked an effort to educate children about their bodies to avoid fear and confusion – a once-addressed problem that the new legislation in Florida resurfaced.

This teenager daughter in 1935, who had never been told about menstruation, thought her period was a “terribly shameful and retributive disease”, says one account of the story. The fact that this British girl who thought she had venereal disease had no one to tell him about his body and no one to talk to, deeply marked Chad Varah, the 23-year-old deacon who performed his funeral.

Standing over her grave, Varah, who later became a priest, vowed to dedicate his life to combating ignorance and despair over sexual issues. “Little girl, I never knew you, but you changed my life. I will teach the children what I learned when I was younger than you. …” he said at his grave in England, according to the Samaritans of Rhode Island, a chapter of the suicide prevention charity he later founded.

Eighty-eight years after that suicide, across the ocean, a sexual health bill introduced by a GOP lawmaker in Florida would ban girls from talking about or learning about their menstrual cycles. in school until sixth grade, even if a girl starts her period earlier. This has left some gender experts and historians worried about children’s mental and physical health.

Not trusting adults to discuss body issues with “can leave girls very isolated and anxious because they might not understand what is happening to them or why,” said Cathy McClive. She is a professor of history at Florida State University and author of “Menstruation and Procreation in Early Modern France”.

Florida bill would ban young girls from discussing periods in school

The bill, which requires that instruction in sexual health, sexually transmitted diseases and human sexuality not begin until sixth grade, passed a Florida subcommittee in the House.

Girls typically begin menstruating between the ages of 8 and 16, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Eight-year-olds are usually in third grade.

State Rep. Stan McClain (R), the sponsor of the bill, later clarified that he would consider amendments to the bill if they were introduced and the bill failed to l intended to penalize girls who wanted to ask teachers questions about their menstrual cycle. .

McClive, the Florida teacher, said girls and young women have always wondered about their periods. “Even Queen Marie Antoinette worried about the regularity and health of her menstrual cycle,” McClive said. “She exchanged letters to her mother about this early in her marriage.”

Varah, the deacon who presided over the teenager’s funeral in 1935, was so inspired by her tragedy that in addition to his priestly duties, he also became a sex therapist. He spent the next 18 years giving premarital interviews to young couples, solving people’s sexual problems and distributing sex education at every opportunity.

It was in 1953 that Varah was able to fulfill his promise to the young girl by launching the Samaritans, one of the world’s first suicide hotlines.

A lot of damage has been done to people by cracking down on sex education, Varah said while discussing the girl’s tragic suicide with Washington Post reporters in 1978. He said he felt tired of people imposing their “suffocating” attitudes about sex to others in the name of the church.

Historians have said that most American parents have never felt comfortable discussing sex or body issues with their children.

That’s why it’s “strange” that parents in Florida want schools to stop providing this educational service to girls that has helped countless girls and their parents, said Lara Freidenfelds, historian and author of “The Modern Period.” : Menstruation in Twentieth – America of the Century.”

When Freidenfelds asked women growing up in the early 20th century what it was like to have their first period not knowing what to expect, they all said the same thing: “terrified, ashamed and confused,” said said Freidenfelds.

“And if young girls today don’t know what to expect, we’re going to see physical and mental health issues,” she said.

Freidenfelds said that historically, American mothers didn’t really talk to their daughters about menstruation because they didn’t know the right language or the right time to talk about it.

Companies like Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kotex products, and Johnson & Johnson have stepped in to fill the knowledge gap by producing pamphlets with needed information about menstruation, Freidenfelds said.

And soon, schools took on the task of educating girls about their periods.

“The mothers were happy with the education the school provided,” Freidenfelds said. “Why stop it now?”

Parents should be encouraged to have these conversations with their children, Freidenfelds added, but taking full responsibility for educating them about the mental and physical aspects of menstruation is a cultural shift.

“Barring young girls from discussing their periods in school means they may miss vital peer support and the support of trusted teachers, mentors and guidance counselors,” said McClive, professor at Florida State University.

The connection between a girl’s first period and the knowledge and support to help her cope has long been known. Varah noticed this eight decades ago.

“I got my start in the ministry by burying a 14-year-old girl who had committed suicide at the start of her period because she thought she had a sexually transmitted disease – which affected me deeply,” said he said towards the end. of his life.

The Samaritans, the charity he set up inspired by the girl, responded to 10,000 crisis calls in the UK in 2020. Locals across the US have helped thousands of others struggling with mental health issues.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit or call or text Suicide & Crisis Lifeline on 988.


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