Question Box

We got this absolutely priceless question from a young boy in a class not long ago; the lesson
was on the changes of puberty, and in a room full of uncomfortable looking 10 and 11
year-olds, he raised his hand, looking confused. “So if having a period is where the body just,
like . . . flushes that stuff out . . . does that mean, like, is . . . menstruation . . . like having...diarrhea?”

I would like to congratulate my co-teacher, Yvonne, and myself, that neither of us laughed. He was so deep in thought, so genuinely curious, and so earnest in wanting to understand other people’s experiences; naturally, he would compare it to something he was already familiar with. I love everything about the way this kid processed what he was learning about human bodies. I told him it was a great question, and explained:

“The differences between menstruation and diarrhea are that when you need to go to the
bathroom, your body gives you a warning, and then hopefully you have time to find a bathroom
so you can go. But with menstruation, it’s a much smaller amount of blood and tissue and
nutrients, and it just flows out of the body—it’s not something anyone can control or 'hold'
until they get to a bathroom. It can be caught by pads, tampons, silicone cups, or special
underwear, and people who menstruate have to learn to carry those supplies with them when
they might be close to starting their period.

“The other big difference between menstruation and diarrhea is that menstruation is totally
normal and healthy; the vast majority of bio-sex- females have periods, somewhat regularly, for
a large portion of their adult life, and it happens on a cycle. Diarrhea is a sign that something is
wrong or unhealthy in your body, like maybe you ate something you shouldn’t have, and your
body is trying to get it out. Does that make sense?”

He nodded and smiled, every teacher’s favorite million-dollar- smile: the look of a child who is
proud of themselves that they have learned and understand something worthwhile. I smiled
back. And I thought, for a minute, about all the adult men in the world with a weaker
understanding of menstruation than this 5th grader now has.

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