Talk to your daughter about periods, sexual health and contraception
I wish Lara Briden had already written her book Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods when I was a teenager. It’s a book all mothers should read with their daughters, or gift to their daughters with an invitation to discuss any questions they may have about their period, health, and contraception options.
I believe it is important to talk to your daughter about sexual health and contraception even if you believe that sex belongs only in marriage. Your daughter might make different decisions regarding her sexual experiences. By the time she gets married, she may have already made decisions about contraception. She may or may not know how to look after her sexual health. So it is in her interest that you make the information available to her.
You want to make sure your daughter knows that she can talk to you about her sexuality, health and contraception. She needs to know that you are there for her. You want her to come to you, rather than a friend who may have dubious advice. Even worse, you don’t want to leave your child to figure these things out alone or by trial and error.
It can be hard for a parent to accept that their child is growing into a sexual being. Even if your daughter has not yet reached puberty, start talking to her about your first period and what it was like for you when your body started changing. Start these conversations early when they are still easy. Don’t wait till the day before the wedding when it will be awkward for all.
Inequalities in women’s health research hurts women
Women’s health is under-researched and this applies to women’s reproductive health as well. The FDA excluded women of child-bearing age from clinical trials until 1993. The chances are many of the medications you take have only been tested on men. The assumption that women’s and men’s bodies are similar enough is not only false but also dangerous to women.
When medical professionals treat men’s and women’s bodies alike, it is women who suffer. Women may present different symptoms than men and doctors then fail to diagnose women accurately. As a result, women are less likely to receive an appropriate referral for treatment.
When women’s ailments are minimized or dismissed, women suffer. In one study researchers found that when women are treated by a female cardiologist, they get better treatment than when under the care of a male cardiologist.
Not only is women’s health care still of poorer quality than men’s, women from ethnic minorities fare even worse. The CDC reports that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes compared to White women. Racial biases do not, of course, only apply to minority women. For example, doctors undertreat the pain Black Americans compared to White Americans.
Your period reflects your health
According to Briden one in two women will struggle with their period health. When you go for a medical check up, your doctor should ask you about your period as it is one of the vital signs of your health. If something is not going right health-wise, your period is likely to reflect that. After reading this book, you may be on the lookout for a doctor who asks you about your period, or you might volunteer some information and expect to be taken seriously.
As hard as it may be for her, your teenage daughter should also speak to her doctor about her menstrual cycle in order to make sure that her menstrual cycle is healthy. That’s where you come in. Support and help your daughter to have these discussions with her doctors. Remember the Latin proverb ‘Nothing that is natural is disgraceful.’
The trouble for many adult women is that when women are on the pill, they don’t have a period. Pill bleed is not a period and will not tell you about overall health. If you are on the pill, you not only lose access to this vital sign but the contraceptive pill shuts down your ovaries and you lose out on the benefits of progesterone.
Progesterone is a hormone that does wonderful things. It’s good for your mood, metabolism, digestion and bones. If you are on the pill and struggle with health problems, such as depression, loss of libido, hair loss or weight gain, the culprit could be the pill. A woman’s fertility is an expression of health. The contraceptive pill shuts down a woman’s hormonal system. It is impossible not to have serious adverse side effects from using the pill.
Empower yourself and advocate for yourself
Briden’s book is a good first step for you to encourage your daughter to take control of her health. It covers time before a girl starts to ovulate to when periods ends and a women reaches post-menopause. The book addresses various difficulties that women may face during their lifetime, using your period health as a signifier for what is going wrong.
It’s not a book where you will agree with everything, nor should you consider all statements as irrefutable facts. It’s going to be a challenging read if you are a strong believer in the contraceptive pill. However, it’s a book that will help both you and your daughter think about health and wellbeing holistically. It will encourage both of you to take charge of your wellbeing. It may help you see how women’s reproductive health is still being treated in outdated ways and how women deserve better health care.
Need help in empowering yourself? Women’s health is a growing field, even in the Middle East. For example, Nabta Health wants to empower women to take charge of their health journey.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.