In areas of the United States where comprehensive sex education is offered, students are taught about procreation and sexually transmitted diseases. But next to none learn about periods.
In Washington D.C., this will change in the upcoming school year for students fourth grade and above, who will be given menstrual health education regardless of gender. The new lessons make the district the first jurisdiction in the country with specific universal standards for menstrual health.
At younger grades, students will learn about the menstrual cycle, including personal hygiene practices and the emotional changes that can occur. By eighth grade, they will be informed on how to safely track cycles, and how to identify irregularities. They will also compare different products and their benefits. High schoolers will learn about the effects contraception and the menstrual cycle have on each other.
The curriculum was approved by the school board after being in development for over a year. It was created to comply withh the D.C. Council's legislation requiring the development of guidelines that ensure students “have the information, support, and enabling-school environment to manage menstruation with dignity, safety and comfort."
The law also required schools to provide free pads and tampons in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms, as well as in men's bathrooms in places where gender-neutral bathrooms are not available.
“Traditionally, all that [students] learn about, as far as menstrual health, is how to use a pad or a tampon,” Melisa Holmes, co-founder of Girlology and the Period Education Project, told The Washington Post. “Menstrual health is a much broader topic that really covers what’s normal, what’s not normal, when to seek medical attention. It’s destigmatizing. It’s for all genders."
Holmes said that men and women alike are uneducated about menstrual health at staggering rates, and that many who have health complications are unable to detect them due to their lack of knowledge. She noted that "it takes an average of seven to 10 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis, because we write off period pain."
“When we educate all genders, we are decreasing that stigma," she said. "We are normalizing the process as being vital and part of the human experience.”