The monthly cycle a woman’s uterus goes through should, most accurately, be called the reproductive cycle, since its primary function is to enable a woman to reproduce. However, most commonly it is called the menstrual cycle. The origin of the term menstruation comes from the Latin mensis, meaning month. Derived from the Latin is the English word menses, which means the flow of the womb’s lining. The unfortunate result of this terminology is that our reproductive cycle, our monthly cycle, our fertility cycle has, in most people’s minds, now come to mean “The Bleeding Cycle”. However, bleeding is only a small part (on average about 16%) of our overall cycle.
Within the whole of the monthly reproductive cycle there are 4 phases: the follicular phase, ovulatory phase, luteal phase and the menstrual phase. The name I prefer to use is the “The Fertility Cycle”. This redefining of our most womanly feature brings the focus back to where it should be – on the positive, life giving, unique femaleness of the cycle, rather than on the cleansing phase which is so frequently thought of as “dirty, messy or inconvenient”. Due to these subliminal connotations, so many women have negative feelings about their body at the time of their period. They feel unclean, inhibited and less sexually appealing. These feelings are exacerbated by the focus put onto the menstruation phase of the whole cycle. Even the term period is a misnomer. Girls say – “I’ve got my period” as if that is the only thing they get in a month. A period just means a part of something, so more correctly they should say they are “in their menstrual period” or in their menstrual phase. At some time they will also get their “ovulation period” too.
Most women focus their vaginal observances onto the later part of their fertility cycle, watching for the arrival of the menstrual period. Some women believe that ovulation, which occurs some 2 weeks prior to menstruation, is hidden and undetectable. Yet our bodies give us clear signs about ovulation and all other phases of the cycle. If a woman can individually educate herself about her own body and pass on such knowledge and appreciation to her daughters, then collectively, we will be able to change the
attitudes and artificial confines of this repressive and “polite” society into ones which celebrate and fully appreciate the wonder of our fertility.
Right from the beginning, as body awareness emerges in children at about the age of twelve months, babies should be allowed to explore themselves and learn about the workings of their body. In fact most babies do this spontaneously. When their nappy is off for a change or a kick, many times they will fondle their genitals, exploring the area where a warm trickle of urine seems to come from, where their own mother seems to endlessly attend to them. They want to know what is all this activity going on down there! But many parents are embarrassed by this self touching and discourage it.
Very early on, girls will consciously discover the connection between clitoris and pleasure. By age 2 or 3, they usually appreciate that “girls / women have different things than boys / men”. In an open type of household, where bathroom activities are not all carried on alone and behind locked doors, a young girl will realise that “every now and then mummy does something between her legs other than peeing and pooing”. Depending on her own curiosity, a young girl who has a comfortable relationship with her own body, and a closeness with her mother, will gradually begin to gain some knowledge of her femaleness. Her knowledge will come from a healthy acceptance of her body, and will be enhanced by being around adults who are equally comfortable with all the natural processes of life. I believe that such a time is ripe for the beginnings of sex education, rather than later on when all sorts of social conditioning have already set in. And when her menarche arrives (the time of first period), followed by her first ovulation some 6 months later, such a girl will welcome, and maybe even celebrate the fact that she is becoming a woman. Rather than suppression of budding womanhood and feelings of embarrass-ment, a healthy puberty should cause more interest in understanding of her body’s maturation.
Even before a young woman begins to think about having sex, she should be able to recognise the changes within her body each month. If a girl is allowed to