Menstruation is a very normal female experience. But in many societies, people are tight-lipped on the topic, causing a huge knowledge gap. Some women never find out about it until their first period is upon them. It is hardly surprising that many young men have little to no awareness of menstruation until they get into the bigger world. In commemoration of Menstrual Health Day 2021, five men share stories on their exposure to menstruation.
When I was about 10, my aunt who was living with us at the time would go out sometimes then return with a black nylon bag later. She did this very often. Each time, she held the content of the black nylon close. That got me curious. I would disturb her to show me what was inside, but of course, she always ignored me. One day, I got to press the nylon, and it felt soft, like bread. I got more confused. Why was this bread so colourful? Why was she secretive about the bread? It was later, in senior school, I got to understand menstruation and pads properly.
The first time I heard the word “menstruation” was in maths class. When the maths tutor introduced us to mensuration (the part of geometry concerned with measurements) and asked us to repeat it after him, some of my friends were saying menstruation instead. And it wasn’t a mispronunciation. I remember girls being uptight about the whole thing. They were not happily chanting menstruation the way boys did. After the class, I looked up the meaning and saw that it meant the flow of blood. I couldn’t imagine why and how someone could bleed when they’re not dying.
That day, I caught my sister sneaking food to her room when it was supposed to be the Ramadan fast. I, thinking I was a detective, ran to report to my father. After I finished narrating everything to him, all he said was “okay”. I was confused and angry. I narrated it again and he told me to leave. I was convinced that my father loved my sister more than me. She wasn’t praying too. He’d have flogged me if I ever did that. It happened the next day again and my father saw her do it this time. Of course, there was no need to point it out anymore. After Ramadan, he sat me down and explained menstruation the best way he could and that women on their periods were not supposed to fast or pray. I didn’t fully understand it then— neither do I now —but I know not to harass a Muslim woman not fasting or praying.
My first exposure to menstruation was in Primary 4. A girl in my class was stained and it was very obvious. Many of us were scared for her. I can’t forget how much the girl cried that day. It must have been her first because she didn’t know what to do. The school nanny removed her from the class to clean her and she returned wearing the school’s sportswear. After the lunch break, her parents came to collect her and our teacher told us she was taken to the hospital. For the longest time, I viewed menstruation as a severe illness that affected girls.
My mom used to send me to buy pads for herself and my sister. I would go get it without asking what it was. Sometimes I wondered what it was that they never gave me a share of but it wasn’t a priority. I didn’t even know it was considered shameful by boys my age to be seen with a pad until one day in school when a friend told all the boys in my class that he saw me buying a pad. They mocked the hell out of me. The whole time, I had no idea why pads were a shameful object or what menstruation was. After that incident, I stopped buying pads for them at home. When they eventually taught menstruation in my school, they sent the boys out of the class but told the girls to remain. It was my first girlfriend that later explained everything to me.
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