Menstruation has long been considered a “curse” by many cultures. Menarche (the onset of menstruation) begins the process of biologically and psychologically becoming a woman. In Western culture, there is still a stigma of menstruation being unhygienic and bothersome. Communication regarding menarche and menstruation is an integral part of enhancing attitudes and promoting optimism around this life changing event and cycle. Ensuring that clear and concise communication transpires can impact an individual’s future experiences and understanding regarding menstruation. The purpose of this essay is to examine: how to prepare a pre-adolescent girl for menarche; how to teach her about her menstrual cycle; what attitudes are optimal to develop regarding menstruation and assessing how knowledge of menarche might impact the experience of menstruation.
Menarche is a biological milestone in the development of female adolescents, indicating preparation for sexual maturity and fertility.1 This milestone highlights the maturation process, translating into a psychological and social milestone which is vital to the sexual development of females.2 Adequate preparation for this event can influence future interpretation and attitudes towards sex and sexuality in young women.3 Such discussions are often perceived as difficult and it is important to communicate positively to produce an affirmative understanding of this experience.
How to Prepare a Pre-adolescent Girl for Menarche
Research indicates that young women are interested in their bodily functions and are eager to know that theirs is functioning “normally”.4 It is therefore important to explain that menarche can occur at any stage from approximately 8 years old and onwards. Over the last century, the age of menarche has decreased exponentially5 and preparation is vital in creating positive attitudes towards menstruation and ensuring factual and relevant information is conveyed.6 It is useful to begin a discussion regarding menstruation by first enquiring how much the child already knows about puberty, menstruation and reproduction so as to make the conversation interactive and allow a space for any questions or misconceptions to be clarified. This can create ease in the situation and equality can be achieved through adopting language which matches that of the child.
Timely preparation for menarche is conducive to more optimistic attitudes towards menstruation making it important to ensure that this discussion occurs early in the pre-pubescent girl’s life.7 Thus, bearing in mind that the age of menarche is decreasing, 8 years old may be an appropriate age to initiate a discussion regarding menstruation and the reproductive cycles experienced in womanhood. Combined curiosity and exploratory impulses in children can create situations where menstrual items might be discovered well before this age possibly resulting in these conversations happening at younger ages. Dealing with these possible situations in a relaxed manner can open lines of communication while fostering a sense of naturalness around bodily functions, reproduction and awareness of sexuality and its components.
- McGrory A. Menarche: responses of early adolescent females. Adolescence. 1990;25(98):265-70. Epub 1990/01/01.
- Mansfield PK, Stubbs ML. The menstrual cycle:feminist research from the society for menstrual cycle research. Women & health. 2007;46(1):1-5. Epub 2007/11/23.
- Rembeck GI, Moller M, Gunnarsson RK. Attitudes and feelings towards menstruation and womanhood in girls at menarche. Acta Paediatr. 2006;95(6):707-14. Epub 2006/06/07.
- Oinas E. Medicalisation by whom? Accounts of menstruation conveyed by young women and medical experts in medical advisory columns. Sociology of Health & Illness. 1998;20(1):52-70.
- Bancroft J. Human sexuality and it’s problems. 3rd ed. United Kingdom: Elsevier Limited; 2009.
- Rembeck GI, Gunnarsson RK. Improving pre- and postmenarcheal 12-year-old girls’ attitudes toward menstruation. Health care for women international. 2004;25(7):680-98. Epub 2004/10/19.
- Stubbs ML. Cultural perceptions and practices around menarche and adolescent menstruation in the United States. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2008;1135:58-66. Epub 2008/06/25.