“Smith, stop shoving that…urm.. that..urm.. cotton wool up Scotson’s nose and pay attention will you!” was the kind of thing you’d hear during a sex education day at a mixed comprehensive high school in the 1980s. Smith would have nicked a packet of free Tampax given to the girls, exclaimed “ooh look a mouse!” and then would have proceeded to use his new toy to taunt the class swot in order to show his male prowess to the disinterested girls.
When I was growing up, back in the 80s, sex education was a fairly new phenomena; it was whispered male and female anatomical words; it was a very red-faced male science teacher explaining female reproductive organs; it was separating the giggling teens into the two genders where puberty was very briefly described and it was giving the girls free Tampax ready for Smith to steal them for his own entertainment. This was pretty much the extent of sex education at a mixed comp state school thus I gleaned most of my information from Just 17 teen magazine.
One thing you definitely didn’t hear in 1980s sex education was “and when the female reproductive system starts to decline, this is referred to as peri-menopause, with the end state being the menopause”. You also wouldn’t hear the teacher continue to say “it is during this phase of life that women may suffer from increasingly difficult physical and/or mental health symptoms”. Nearly 40 years on and sex education has made significant progress, however you still won’t hear those latter two comments.
The only time I heard the word menopause during my childhood was when my mum made reference to my Nanna who had apparently given my dad a really bad time during hers. Therefore, in my pre-pubescent brain, menopause was incredibly negative, turned women into evil harridans and meant that DIY stores made a mint in the sales of garden sheds; the only escape for the menopause tormented man. However, I didn’t need to care about the menopause; it was a disease of the old and who said I was going to ever get old?!
Had I received some education on my finite reproductive system I may have retained some of that information to the creaking bone, hair thinning, mental fogging part of my life, or maybe I wouldn’t have been listening in class due to the broken heart that I would have been carefully fashioning on my exercise book with my initials and those of the boy who had snogged my mate at a recent party. But maybe if my daughter had also received some more updated education, she could have helped to educate me, could have possibly spotted some of the symptoms that she’d learnt in class.
Then maybe I wouldn’t have waited nearly a year to visit the doctor; maybe I would have known that the prefix peri wasn’t just associated with chicken; maybe I wouldn’t have been surprised that at age 45 this could be happening to me; maybe I would have accepted that each woman’s experience of this stage in life is unique; maybe I would have understood that mental health symptoms were very common during menopause and maybe I would have had an understanding of the treatment options before I went to the doctors.
Perimenopause/menopause is not a choice; it’s nature; it’s biology and it affects everyone, even if not directly. I felt incredibly privileged to be involved in the BBC’s Wake Up to Menopause campaign this week where the topic has been demonstrated this with great clarity and empathy. Maybe now is the time to use this as a model to include similar information in education. Knowledge increases compassion; knowledge increases support; knowledge reduces ignorance.
You can continue watching the BBC campaign on Thursday and Friday this week or why not suggest topics that you want us to research into and discuss on our Hot and Moody podcast in order to increase your knowledge.