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Sexual Health (young people)

Starting periods

Periods usually start any time between the ages of 10 and 15, but some start before this and others start later. If they haven't started by the age of 16 women can get a doctor to check there is nothing wrong. 

Most young women learn about periods from their mums, or magazines, although some who start early may not be prepared - one woman we interviewed 'knew nothing' when she started at 11 and another said she was 'terrified' when she started at nine years old.

 

Explains how clueless she was about periods. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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Nothing whatsoever, nothing at all. I just got a shock one day.

Okay, tell me about it.

Well, I was just, went to the toilet and saw blood in my urine and thought 'oh my god, what is that?' So I ran and I told my mum, and she was like, 'oh my god, I can't believe you've started so early'. So I was like, 'what are you talking about, what's going on?' And then she explained it all in about fifty seconds flat. She bought me some towels and stuff, and said that every month' don't worry' you're growing up'. But I think because my mum was late, well not late, she started when she was fourteen or fifteen, so she didn't think I would start so young, so she obviously didn't give me you know 'the talk'. 
 

Explains that at the age of nine she did not know anything about periods and that she was totally...

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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When I first had my period I was at my Nan's house and I started crying, I was in the bathroom, I started crying and I called my mum and I said to mum, mum come quick, come quick, you've got to call an ambulance, I'm bleeding, and I didn't know anything about it, no one had ever told me anything about it. 

And I think schools, junior schools, I think had the talk in Year 6, I would have been about eleven, but by then I'd had periods for two years and my parents were kind of leaving it to the school to do and the school didn't see anybody, to tell anybody anyone younger than that kind of age ten/eleven, because most people don't start their periods that young, its really embarrassing, I don't suppose, I don't really know, so I didn't know anything about it at all.

What was your mum's response when you told her?

I think that my mum came into the bathroom and she said 'what are you on about' and she saw blood in my underwear and she went through to my nan's living room and said 'right, wait there I'll be back in a minute', and went through to my Nan's living room and got a sanitary towel out of her handbag, she just came in and said 'right, put this in your underwear I need to go and talk to your Nan' and took my Nan into the kitchen. 

And that terrified me because I thought oh my God, I'm dying, do you know what I mean, because they're having a serious talk and the door is closed and I'm not allowed in, and so when I went back in my mum said that, she sat me down and explained what a period was and why I was having it and that it means that I'm a real women now and that I've got to grow up, I've got to act grown up at nine years old.

Many girls feel happy about starting their periods, but others can feel nervous or embarrassed. Some cultures celebrate a girl's first period, which can make them feel special. The majority of young women don't mind having them, even if they're not big fans of periods.

 

Explains that having her periods made her feel all grown up.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I felt like I was a big woman. So, I felt like, yeah, this is another milestone in my life. I'm starting puberty now so this, only up from here, I guess. A couple years from now, I'll be a big woman.                                                                       

I love it, I love having periods 'cos then I know that everything's working down there. 
 

Explains that she was the first from her group of friends to start her periods and discusses her...

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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How did you feel about starting your periods?

A bit nervous because I started quite early and before most of my friends had so I felt yeah, so just nervous and a bit embarrassed so...

Embarrassed, why?

Just because of having to go and change tampons and things like that, that no one else was doing it and you just feel a bit self conscious.

At school?

Yeah at school and things.

Did you tell your friends or the teacher?

I think I told my close friends, yeah probably my two closest friends but no one else.
 

Explains that in her culture the starting of a girls period is celebrated by the whole family. ...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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Well traditionally in my culture, when a woman has her period, there's like a full sort of party for her. And they cook her a big chicken, which she has to finish by herself, and things like that. So that's when I started my period, that's what happens' 

It was kind of embarrassing because my Dad was there and my brother was there, 'Oh, no she's got her period' and I was all like on, so the whole house knew but you know.

So it's something that it is celebrated?

Yeah, because in our culture it's like you've become a woman.

So, your mother, your father and your brothers and, and your second family also?

Yeah, there was my cousin, my uncles, there was this big chicken there, and they all go 'Ahhhh' and held it up. God, I was a wreck.

And you had to eat the whole chicken?

Yes you had to eat the whole chicken on your own.

So what does it mean when you're eating the whole chicken?

You've become a woman.  
 
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Describes having periods as natural pain.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I think to start with I was really pleased because I'd started a bit later than my friends and I thought oh no, I'm not ever going to start. But once, you know, once you've actually had to deal with having a period for a month, I'd rather have had another few years not bothering.

 

It's a bit of a pain in the arse, yes. I'd rather, no, I think it's natural and I'm not saying I don't want to have periods but it is a pain, yes.  

Girls usually tell their mums when then start, and some said that their mums were 'proud' of them. Sometimes girls don't tell their mums right away because they feel shy or embarrassed.

 

Explains she was feeling rotten and that her mother knew that her period was going to start and...

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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Yes, yes she knew because I'd been crying around and I'd been in tears all day and my back was hurting so much and I didn't know what was happening. Then my Mum went out to the shops and bought some sanitary towels and she said 'your period's going to start' and it did.  

And what was her response?

Oh God, it was so embarrassing, she said well, she told my Dad and she said 'oh we're so proud', but it was fine. I wasn't that embarrassed, well I was a bit I mean I was embarrassed when she told my Dad but it was fine.
 

Explains why she did not tell her mum that her period had started. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Quite a lot, I was sort of one of the later people to start my period in my peer group, so I knew what was going to happen and what to do about it, but I was quite frightened of telling my mum, I don't think I told her for about a month.

I think at that age you find it really hard to speak to your mum, at least I did, you know how to approach the subject. So I did talk about it to my friends but not necessarily to my mum.

Now we talk openly about these sort of things and it's brought us a lot closer and it makes it a lot easier to talk to her about things like this, and I think that she felt quite upset when she realised I couldn't talk to her about it and now feels a lot happier about things. I think she felt a bit like, 'I wish I could of told her'.

Sometimes coming to terms with growing up is more upsetting than the physical side 'I didn't want it to happen and thought 'No I don't want this, I don't want this'. I think I just realised that I was growing up and it scared me. I was starting a new school at the end of the summer and it was just a lot of change for a little girl and it was scary'.

When they are at school most girls worry about 'leaking' or 'showing' when they first start, and are scared they may have a mark on their clothes or chair. Some girls also notice they change in their behaviour and feel more grown up.

 

Remembers that for several years she was worried about having 'an accident and leaking' while at...

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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The novelty wore off pretty quickly. As I was saying before, I'm very active and hated it, it really got in the way, really, really got in the way and I hated it at school always feeling a bit hot and sweaty.  

And I remember obsessively every time I stood up looking and checking I hadn't leaked on the chair and then always checking the back of my skirt and hoping that nothing had happened and hoping that no-one would see me checking. And like there never ever was a problem but I always thought there was going to be one, always for about 5 years or so. 

No longer than that, because it was from 10 until, probably, probably until I was 17 that I was confident enough to say I mean, come on, it's not going to happen. If it hasn't happened yet, why is it going to start happening now? You can stop checking the chair every time you stand up!

So you were worried about it?

Yes, because it always made me feel really hot and sweaty so that you always felt a bit sort of damp and clammy and then you were sort of 'oh my god, it's happened, it's happened, I knew it was going to happen'. And you would stand up and think, oh okay, carry on with the rest of the day, because they always had those awful plastic chairs at school.
 

Explains that she stoped 'mucking about' with boys once her period started. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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And how did you feel about starting your periods?

I knew that kind of seeing you as a woman in those terms and even mentally I felt a change in myself. I've noticed this with my younger sister, that before she started her periods she was all jokey, mucking around with people, my brothers you know, she doesn't do that now. She's got much older, much older than my younger brother, she's not as childish as he used to be. And like I've noticed the same changes in myself. I wouldn't go and muck around with my brothers and my brothers friends. I just felt really...

Why? Were you told that you have to behave in a certain way?

No, no, not 'cos I felt like I had to, I just felt different in myself, I was like oh gosh, you know. Especially when I'm on my period I wouldn't go near people in case I leaked or, the usual fears of being like on your period, like do they know or can they tell that you are, you know.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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