Swinging on the swing set, very coolly, I asked my friend what she knew about sex; asthird graders, and basically grown ups, it was only natural that we should address the matter. The word had been dropped here and there on the playground and in class; Dayton’s older brother had watched the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and Elaine… And so, I knew what the word meant, but I wanted to make sure that I knew what it was…
Later, as a pre-teen, I had a hunch (everyone knew) that sexuality was the Spice Girls and that the lyrics of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” contained not-so-subtle metaphors (about s-e-x). However, despite an ever-increasing awareness and vocabulary relating to sexuality, the truth was that we knew little about the reality of our own bodies. Even so far as high school, long after anatomy quizzes and mandatory sex education classes had been taken, the general perception was that the whole of the female reproductive cycle boiled down to periods and pregnancy:
Periods, the curse, visits from “aunt sally”, typically start when you are 12 or 13; you get one every month. Pregnancy, if you’re smart, won’t happen. As for contraception: take it. Take it as soon as you’re sexually active (now). Take it even if you’re not sexually active (it’s good for regulating periods and even helps with acne) and only stop taking it when you’re ready to have a child (much, much later in life…).
Most of the girls had other questions (I had questions), but who wants to admit, in high school, when you’re pretending to be a sexual sage, that you don’t actually know very much (anything?) about the biological markers of your own body… and your … (shhh) fertility? Who knew there were specific signs happening “down there” which related to female fertility? Umm… Nobody.
That’s why, sitting in the bleachers at a volleyball tournament, discussing the plight of a girl who had gotten pregnant, we dreamed of a better world, a simpler world; a world where girls’ eggs would just be frozen and shelved from the time of first period until she was ready to have children. (At which point you would simply walk in to the egg-freezer, tell the kind lady in the lab coat that you were ready to have children, give your last name, and voila! Your eggs would be returned, reinstated, reinstalled? Magically, painlessly, by whatever process such a utopian scenario might involve… the point being that female fertility would be easy.)
But, tucked away in the back of our minds was a slice of fear, veiled as reality. “Can you imagine,” said one of my teammates in dismay, “if, after all these years of being on the pill, when you were ready to have children, you found out that you had actually been infertile all along? All those years of taking the pill or worrying if a condom should break for nothing!”
Because, after all, the idea that we could get pregnant on any day and at any time was, and admittedly is, a scary thought. Luckily, Mother Nature isn’t so cruel; our dream of being able to personally manage our reproductive health and fertility doesn’t require a giant egg-freezer. Had FEMM been a part of our sex education, we would have known this. We would have known that there is more to our female cycle than PMS and menses and so much more to our reproductive health than the avoidance of pregnancy and STIs.
Women need not choose between the stork and the drug store. FEMM demystifies reproductive health and empowers women and girls with the knowledge to chart their own reproductive course. By learning the biological indicators of fertility and the changing effects of estrogen and progesterone on the body, women are able to read the signs of their bodies, as Shakira might say. With this information, women and girls are better able to monitor potential signs of abnormal reproductive health for early detection and treatment of health issues.
So, I think it’s time we talked about real reproductive health. I think it’s time for the talk about F-E-M-M.
By Clare Halpine, WYA North America Director
FEMM is a sister organization of World Youth Alliance, and works to make knowledge-based reproductive health accessible to all women.