A woman passes a menstrual product to another.

It’s time we talked about periods: The case for standardised menstrual education in schools

Brought to you this Menstrual Hygiene Day by Missing Perspectives and Moxie.

Today is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. If you don’t know what that means, no stress. It’s an annual day celebrated every May 28 to highlight the importance of good menstrual hygiene management at a global level. It’s a day dedicated to promoting education around menstruation and menstrual hygiene, and breaking down the stigma that surrounds menstruation and makes it a taboo. To do our bit, we sat down with the Founder of Moxie, Mia Klitsas, who has been running this Australian company, dedicated to ‘anything and everything to do with periods and intimate health’, since 2005. 

We couldn’t ignore that this year’s World Menstrual Health Day comes at a time when it’s really scary to be someone with a uterus. We saw Roe v Wade get overturned last year and people’s bodies become a battleground. We saw a controversial bill introduced in Florida, the initial version of the bill potentially restricting teaching and education around human sexuality, menstrual cycles included. When asked whether the bill would prohibit discussions around menstrual cycles, Representative Stan McClain confirmed that it would. 

This essentially means that those in elementary school - basically capturing the time where students would be starting to menstruate and have the most gaps in knowledge about their bodies - would not be able to be taught critical information around what is a very natural healthy bodily process. Young people now won’t feel safe to have these absolutely vital conversations about their bodies and that doesn’t sit well with us or Mia, who believes “​​this bill is regressive, damaging, and it doesn’t seem well-considered.” 

She goes on to say, “I get the sense that its being masked by the Republican party and its followers as ‘intended to protect [our] children from over-sexualisation’ (someone literally texted me this in defence of it) and in many ways I can appreciate that; very young minds may not have the capacity to comprehend some of the themes they are presented with. Though I’m a firm believer that periods can be taught, nurtured and supported without broader sexual education or themes related to intimacy/pleasure.” 

“Menstruating is generally not a choice; it’s a biological occurrence that will happen to most young women or anyone born with a uterus/female reproductive organs, whether that person is mentally ready or not. Young people have the right to understand what is happening to their bodies, and to seek help if they need it; especially in an environment they should feel safe in. This bill proposes a ban on materials and education below the 6th grade, but the glaring issue here is that many will get their period before 6th grade – hence why I don’t think this has been properly considered. It’s all just so problematic.” 

Formalised menstrual education is something also lacking here in Australia. While menstrual health education is indirectly part of the Australian Health and Physical Education curriculum, it’s actually not mandated for schools to teach students about menstrual health.   

Without a mandate, Mia believes “there’s a huge disconnect in what is being taught, where – if at all, in some cases. This obviously affects the amount and quality of information and support young people have access to. We (at Moxie) receive so many period education resource requests from teachers, which just further highlights the need for support; I personally feel that schools, teachers and students would really benefit from at least a basic resource kit as a minimum, perhaps one that’s government-subsidised, that all schools can have access to. But I also believe that educators need to be, and should feel, properly equipped to discuss the topic in an appropriate way with students. There needs to be trust established both ways. I also really believe there’s a place for boys and non-menstruators to be part of the discussion/education, too.”

Research conducted by Western Sydney University last year revealed that young people in Australia are not receiving adequate information or education around periods and menstrual management. The research findings found that only 40 percent of participants reported that they had learned about menstrual health in their Health and Physical Education classes. The Project’s Lead, Dr Mike Armour, said that “We know from our past research that most young people in Australia don’t find what they learn about menstruation in these school classes helpful, as the classes are mostly about biology and very little on management or what is ‘normal’ when it comes to periods.” 

From Mia’s point of view, Australian schools can and should do better. “Let’s not follow in Florida’s footsteps and stifle education – banning books and literature? It’s madness. I remember the days of hiding in the corner of the school library at primary school with a group of friends to peek at the “rude” book as we called it, as if it were something shameful. Our bodies are not shameful and periods are natural - they are going to happen whether we ignore them or not. The best thing we can do as influential role models on young people when it comes to periods is to be there when they need us to be, talk openly about menstruation as if it’s just a part of life - which it is – it’s really no big deal - and help them get prepared.”

And let’s face it - there’s plenty of things to be unsure about. As Dr Armour stated, “Menstrual issues such as period pain or heavy bleeding affect more than 90 per cent of women aged under 25 in Australia and can affect attendance rates and concentration in school or higher education or work. Understanding how to manage period symptoms with medication and non-medication strategies like yoga can help reduce pain and in turn help young people be able to perform better at school or university, and you are able to participate in their normal activities.”

The current menstrual health literacy framework in Australia exists in the form of in-class programs, including PEPP talk and Period Talk. However, research suggests that this requires buy-in from schools and training to deliver these programmes, which can be a considerable cost for schools. It has also been found that limitations on educational approaches taken by teachers potentially result in poor menstrual health literacy which can have long-term negative health consequences for some individuals.

One of the impacts of a lack of standardised menstrual education is that young women are turning to social media and brands for the education piece. 

As Moxie’s founder, Mia Klitsas sees this all the time. “Our TikTok in particular is very heavily focused around period-related education, and its astronomical growth in a mere few months has really highlighted to us just how much of a need there is for this type of information and content for the younger demographic. We’re so thrilled that people are openly sharing and asking questions about periods and intimate health but are equally often alarmed at the lack of awareness of what may be deemed basic education around periods and anatomy. For example, there are endless questions about ‘what’s normal’, from discharge, to the colour of period blood, to what age you should or shouldn’t be when you get your period – the list goes on - but it just shows how little credible, trustworthy sources of information young people have access to.”

This Menstrual Hygiene Day - a day that aims to raise awareness about the challenges regarding access to menstrual products and education, whilst ending the stigmas surrounding menstruation - we want to ask you: should period education be mandated in Australian schools to help improve menstrual literacy? And if so, when?

Take our short survey to have your say, and stay tuned on @missingperspectives and @moxiehq to learn the results.