A recent study revealed that 30% of women were “confused” when they got their first periods, 40% were “scared” by the experience, and almost half had never had a conversation about what to expect from menstruation before their first period hit. All told, this adds up to a problem.
While many grown women talk freely to each other about menstruation—the horrors and joys of period sex, the menstrual hygiene products we swear by, and our home remedies for cramps—girls still aren’t getting the information they need. In the U.S., just 24 states mandate sex ed, which means kids in 26 aren’t necessarily learning about the changes their bodies will go through and how to cope with them.
This study, conducted by OnePoll and Diva International Inc., makers of the DivaCup, got the HelloGiggles staff talking about our first periods, and what we knew and didn’t know about puberty. We decided to share them in hopes of starting more conversations about periods among friends and families.
“Allow me to set the stage: The year was 2000. I was 12 years old and in 7th grade. I was at my friend’s bat mitzvah, rocking a black crushed velvet dress and a tattoo choker completely unironically. I was dancing my adolescent heart out to ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ when something felt…off. Now I know the feeling of getting your period, but without a frame of reference, the best I could come up with at the time was I had somehow peed my pants. Did I jazz square too hard? I went to the bathroom and something clicked like, ‘Oh!’ I realized what it was, and I was strangely proud of it. Instead of being mortified, I balled up some toilet paper (you know how that goes) and returned to the dance floor to tell everyone that on the day my friend became a woman, I did too. I think it even made the final cut of her bat mitzvah video.”
— Elizabeth Entenman, books editor
“My mom told me that she got her period the summer before going into 6th grade, and that I might also. So she suggested I pack some pads during my trip to Florida to visit my grandparents. Embarrassed, I left the pads in my drawer at home. The second day of my trip we went to the zoo, and I was watching a crocodile show eating Dippin’ Dots when I had a sensation that I definitely just got my period. I excused myself to the Tampa Zoo bathroom, which is about the worst place to try and quickly fashion a makeshift pad. I stuffed some very rough, economy-grade toilet paper into my Limited Too khaki shorts and continued my day at the zoo, because the show must go on. Later that afternoon I walked over to Eckerds alone and bought the exact pads my mom gave me that I left in my drawer at home.”
— Emily Popp, deputy editor
“I remember the exact date I got my first period: Saturday, December 8th, 2001. I know this because on Friday, December 7th, I was at a sixth grade school dance (we called them canteens) rocking back and forth in the bathroom, holding what I now know is the area above my uterus, thinking I was going to die. The pain was immense and indescribable. (Now we just call it ‘cramps.’) After I woke up and realized I was period-ing, I ran into my mom’s bedroom and started crying hysterically. She excused me from chores that day (the literal only first period perk) and gave me a pad that felt like a diaper to soak up my sorrows.”
— Nicole Adlman, senior editor
“My first period was embarrassingly late in life. I remember going to the doctor, asking why TF I was old as heck (15) without my period, coming home, going pee and being like, ‘OH, THERE IT IS.’ Then I went to school and bled all over my pants because I didn’t know how to use a pad, and my later-in-life BF saying ‘DAAAAAAAAYUMN’ because he saw it before I did. Also I pretended until literally this moment that I’d had my period for years before that point, so when someone handed me a tampon, I inserted it with the cardboard because I was too afraid to ask.”
— Steph Kent, former social media director
“I was 12 years old and was spending the day doing yard work with my dad. I took a quick bathroom break—covered in dirt and sweat—when…there it was. Fresh blood in my underwear. I was in shock. As a total tomboy who also prided myself in being ‘daddy’s little girl,’ I did not want this. I snuck into my older sisters’ bedroom and stole several pads, awkwardly put one on, and resumed yard work as if literally nothing had happened. My mom confronted me several days later while doing laundry, and I was forced to confess that yes, I had gotten my period. I wanted as little fanfare or conversation about it as possible…which, looking back, definitely revealed my complicated and contentious relationship with ‘womanhood,’ and all that it entails in our culture.”
— Toria Sheffield, news editor
“It started off like any other middle school day in 2002. After a rousing game of basketball, my friend turned to me and said, ‘Um, hey, I think you might have a problem,’ while pointing downwards. I rushed to the bathroom to find that my period had decided to make its big debut in front of my peers at school. My period didn’t scare me. I had read the American Girl The Care and Keeping Of You book enough times to know what was going on. I zoned in on the public aspect of it. Pre-period, being a total dork, I had many embarrassing experiences where I let what other people think get the best of me. Sitting in that bathroom alone, I first thought of how many kids must have seen me like that but not said anything, or snickered behind my back. But then I made an important realization. After the initial shame wore off, I thought, ‘Well I can walk back out there and feel embarrassed, or I can own it and keep playing.’ Luckily, I chose to do the latter.
Adolescence takes you through the wringer. Significant days hint at the adult you have the potential to become. Shortly after that memorable day in P.E., I learned to embrace my quirks and own who I am. Events like my first period taught me resilience and how to not be affected by the opinions of others. That confident mentality has become a cornerstone of my adult self, serving me well to this day.”
— Louisa Frahm, SEO manager
“Five days after my 12th birthday, I sat in my middle school bathroom in complete denial. I’d felt a weird twinge in my stomach during recess, but I’d refused to believe it could be anything other than a stomach ache (even though my first armpit hair popped up earlier that week and gURL.com had said that new body hair could be a sign of impending menstruation). I saw the blood on my underwear, gasped, immediately pulled up my yellow Xhilaration bell bottoms, and pushed open the stall as if to say, ‘Not today, Satan.’ I think I figured that as long as I went about my day like my uterine lining wasn’t shedding uncontrollably, then…maybe…it would…stop???
Before I left the girls’ restroom, though, I remembered my upcoming poetry presentation in English class. Not one to allow my journey into womanhood to be exposed for all to see, I rushed back into the stall, rolled some toilet paper into a makeshift pad, and tied my sweatshirt around my waist. A few hours later, I stood in front of a bunch of sixth graders with my index cards awkwardly held in front of my crotch for fear of bleeding through my clothes, and tried to talk about Robert Frost’s place of birth. Thankfully, I can still enjoy “The Road Not Taken,” but I never wore those yellow Xhilaration bell bottoms again (too triggering).”
— Rachel Sanoff, features editor
“I remember when I got my first period when I was around 11, I knew what it was because a few of my friends had gotten theirs. I also remember that I absolutely, under no circumstances, wanted to have one. So when it happened at home, I didn’t do anything. I let my undies get ruined and then hid them so my mom wouldn’t know. At some point or other (like later that day), I had to fess up and my mom was super cool about it, but mostly confused as to how I thought hiding my undies would stop my period from coming. I guess I thought if you didn’t name it, it wasn’t real?”
— Missy LaPlace, producer
“I was 12 years old, and next door at my best friend/godsister Andrea’s house when I got my period. I went to the bathroom, looked down at my blood-spotted underwear, and literally smiled to myself. (LOL.) I was so happy to get my period and ‘become a woman.’ I’ve always been very pro-period so it makes sense that I was excited when I first got it.”
— Marie Lodi, senior beauty editor
“I was 12 when I got my first period. I was in grade 8, and my dad had taken me to a research library to do some work on a school science project. We were in the car on the way home when I felt something abnormal happening in my underwear, and when I got home, there was my period. I told my mom and she gave me an enormous, diaper-esque pad, which we for some reason kept in another room (out of sight, out of mind, perhaps?). So for the first few years I had my period, I had to run—pants-less—to another room to get a pad every time I had to change it. I finally rebelled in high school and put my menstrual products in the bathroom, and eventually graduated to a menstrual cup—#freedom.”
— Stephanie Hallett, senior lifestyle editor