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That which must not be mentioned

Picture from Where Did I Come From, by Peter Mayle & Arthur Robbins

Picture from Where Did I Come From, by Peter Mayle & Arthur Robbins

Apart from eventually dying of course, there are a few things in the world that we will all do:
Eating & drinking
Producing waste
Having sex

Even if we don’t have sex often, most of us do it. At some point. More people will have sex in their lifetime than will have a bank account, than will be a Christian, than will kill someone, than will own a house, than will learn to cook. There are more people having sex today than there are people becoming a vegetarian! This is because even though we don’t all have money or a shared faith or live in a safe country, we all have bodies and we all have hormones. Without them, there would be no us. How many adults do you know who have never ever had sex?

It’s up there as one of THE most natural things ever in the world to do. Breathing, eating, drinking, going to the loo… good, good, all good, all necessary. We must keep doing them… but stop having sex or do it badly or thoughtlessly and we’re also in trouble. We’re all in trouble. Rape, AIDS, other STDs, population problems. We need sex. But we need proper sex.
What we don’t need are wars or people beating the crap out of one another.

So… Why are books to do with such a normal, average, everyday human function seen as naughty? Why is violence allowed on TV earlier than sex? Why do we worry about our children knowing about sex? Why is it hidden like a bad thing, only allowed out late at night?
Why is okay to scare the willies (excuse the pun) out of our children with, lets face it – unlikely but very realistically portrayed – scenarios about aliens, monsters, soldiers, danger, death, violence, entrapment, on TV? Children believe a lot of what they see on television. We are hardly protecting them, keeping them safe and prolonging their childhoods by doing this. Unreal fear and violence are not the same as imaginative escapism – something which I am all for.

I’m not saying parents should be giving sexual demonstrations in front of their children (not until they are 16 and can be thoroughly ashamed, at least! ;)) or allowing them to look at pornography. (I don’t consider pornography safe, thoughtful or realistic…. But that’s another argument) But can’t we allow sex to be normal, and worry less when explaining the ins and outs (tee hee) of reproduction. After all it is more normal and useful than shooting people and plenty of kids have had hands on experience of pretending to murder people on computer games.
I’ve seen stabbings on soaps on TV before 9pm; blood, shootings, violence, punches thrown, and yet the major complaints the public seem to make are often to do with something of a sexual nature – such as a homosexual kiss. And kissing hurts whom exactly?
If it’s less hidden, if it’s less naughty, if it’s less forbidden. If it’s just assumed that it is a natural human function, surely that reduces the mystery, the fear, and therefore the danger and the chances of doing it wrong, badly, illegally.

Here’s something else completely amazing: there are two major body types; the one with dangly bits inside their pants and the one with no dangly bits inside their pants. Apart from some rare and interesting variations, just about every single one of us is one of those two major body types (Yes, really!) So why all the secrecy? It’s no big deal. What is a big deal is the way we try to make out that our bodies are in some way wrong, or dangerous, and naughty even. I’m not about to advocate naturism everywhere – (each to his or her own) it’s too cold here for one thing but can we get over this, please?
Do we go to swimming lessons and say to the teacher, ‘What ever you do, don’t talk about breathing in front of my child.’?
Do we ask people not to use the bathroom before dark, because no one wants to know that they might be having a wee?
Do we put a watershed on cookery programmes, call them The Korma Sutra or The Joy of Woks and stick an 18+ “Contains gratuitous food shots” symbol next to them?
No. Of course we don’t. I know I’m exaggerating ridiculously. But we do let children see adults driving at life-threatening 200 miles an hour on the Grand Prix, getting drunk at any time of day on television and punching each other as if those things are more safe and acceptable than having a sexual relationship.
What the bloody hell is wrong with us!?

Do you want to know what sparked this post?


They’re everywhere. Bloody everywhere. They have a hugely, massively, gigantically significant impact on the way the human race operates and yet we are not allowed to talk about them. Well maybe only titillatingly (OOH- she said ‘tit’!)

Every month, millions and millions ( I know – that’s nearly all of us!)… Millions of women in the world of child-bearing age, go though a pattern of hormones. Then, as we get older, we have to learn to live with a new pattern of hormones. Increases and drops in hormones change our skin tone, our appetite, our concentration levels, our weight, even the water levels in our body, our energy, our tiredness and our ability to deal with stress. Some days we are literally stronger than other days. Literally. Some days we are really quite fabulous and other days we need to be less fabulous or just differently fabulous.
Our society has two major ways of dealing with these patterns: Denial, and humour. Just like sex then.

Some of us treat our hormones with medication; try to make them go away. Some of us load ourselves up with pain-killers, vitamin supplements, herbal and homeopathic remedies. Often we just feel we have no choice but to pull our socks up, grin and bear it, pretend it’s not happening. Everywhere you go there will be women pretending they are not struggling, while – with almost animalistic instinct – they secretly crave a big mug of hot chocolate, a cheese sarny, a nap, ibuprofen, and a hot-water bottle.
Why secretly?
Because talking about it is seen as weak? Because it’s too much to do with body parts? It’s too closely related to reproduc – shhhh…..

I don’t know. I don’t blooming know.
So. I’m going to break this nonsense and tell you that once a month I get constant pain in my right hip for two days so that I can barely walk. I become very pale, and weak and dizzy. I get confused and find making decisions incredibly difficult. I get so over-sensitised that smells, tastes, lights, and noises are extreme. I am clumsy and have been known to have accidents that have involved trips to A&E. I am slow, hungry, unbelievably exhausted, and detached. By the time I have walked upstairs I feel like crying.
It hurts. It’s horrible. It has got worse as I’ve got older. But if I can be honest about it and take it easy for just one day, I’m absolutely okay. Why pretend otherwise?

We seem to have normalised being abnormal in this society.

Women seem to need to look like dolls but act like men to get on in the world.
I blame Lara Croft. What’s she got to do with real women?

The macho barbarian. I bet she doesn’t have periods.
‘Periods? Oh my God, she said “periods”!’
(I’m still trying to figure out how Margaret Thatcher managed to have children…)

I’m not blaming women. I’m not blaming men. I blame the gradual shifts in society that got us here and I blame fear. We’re too frightened to stand out and say, ‘Well actually… you know what… I think we might not be getting it quite right, here. I think I’d rather my kids learned about the reproductive system than how to blow someone’s brains out.’
I think we’ve got feminism all wrong too. Women are feminine. We are as strong as men but in very different ways. Different is good. It works better when we acknowledge difference. Like the dangly bits.

Where did I come from by Peter Mayle – a great book.

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. clarekirkpatrick #

    Yes, yes, yes! Perfect post!

    My friend said to me the other day that she looks on bemused as women furtively sneak tampons up their sleeves before going to the loo when they’re bleeding, when at least half the staff there bleed monthly as well, and the other half have partners who bleed monthly.

    Also hate reading posts on parenting forums about parents who hide their menstruating from their children – what a way to make children terrified of their own periods when they start, or those of their girlfriends.

    And you are entirely right that all this furtiveness over sex and periods is what causes problems with sexual violence, child abuse, and misogyny in general.

    And don’t get me started on homophobia and the say same-sex relationships are treated so differently to heterosexual relationships!


  2. Reb #

    My lovely 12 year old started her periods two months ago. We’ve talked about it, planned it, bought books, talked about it in the car, over dinner and while on long walks. She was worried she would start while I was in Winchester but big sister had her back. In the end, she started two weeks after I got back – and already all the women in the family are on the same cycle.
    The best bit was when her three brothers – and my future son-in-law – all in their own ways congratulated her. She will be able to grow a whole human being inside her body, and the boys get that too. So we celebrated. Yet when she talked to her friends about it, she got a very mixed reaction from embarrassment to teasing. There’s something wrong here…
    Lovely post, thank you.
    PS Only checking A363 website intermittently. They probably wouldn’t put results up on Sundays so I only need to check every 20mins or so!


  3. I have this theory that society’s problem with sex stems from the fact that it reminds us that we’re actually part of the animal kingdom. All the other things we do by instinct – breathing, eating, drinking, growing etc – we can do in a polite, civilised way, but there’s very little that’s polite and civilised about sex. It’s primal, fleshy and animalistic. It’s the same with hormones. We try to be sophisticated and above all that, but our bodies constantly remind us that we’re not. We’re totally at the mercy of nature’s ebb and flow.

    I gave up taking the Pill a couple of years ago because it was messing with my mind and body, and although my hormones are fierce, I decided I’d rather be tired, grumpy, bloated, cranky, clumsy and leaky for a few days each month, than constantly bonkers with high blood pressure and headaches! And something that doesn’t get mentioned a lot is that in the middle of the month, around ovulation time, many women get really, really, really … amorous. Another primal urge, the urge to make a baby.

    As for sex ed: both my kids (aged six and nine, one girl, one boy) know about the ins and outs required to make a baby and about what will happen to their bodies as they go through puberty and become adults. I just answer their questions when they arise in an age-appropriate way.

    (@Reb: I love the idea of celebrating advent of a girl’s period … Might use that when the time comes.)

    Great post!


  4. As a step parent for a time, I found violence an easier topic to deal with. We say it is wrong to hit other children from a very early age but the problem is there is far too much violence on TV before 9pm which normalises it. Conversations about alcohol, drugs and driving F1 cars were relatively easy too i.e. in moderation, not a smart idea and the coolest thing on the planet! I accept I may have been a little out of step on that last one.

    Sex is a far harder topic and I think the conversation really depends on the age and maturity of the child. It’s not the mechanics. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by how our bodies work, I agree and there were some really good books on the topic for kids.

    The difficult bit is the relationship piece around the sex. Many of the ‘relationships’ you see on TV are not necessarily healthy nor what we would want for children when they grow up. I found it easy to explain sex as part of a normal loving healthy relationship between two people in a stable relationship who love each other but there’s not much of that on Eastenders! Relationships can also be messy, abusive,unfulfilling and destructive (it’s compulsory for Eastenders as far as I can see) and associating these issues too closely with sex for young kids in an uncontrolled viewing environment doesn’t strike me as a great idea. I think the watershed is on the whole a good thing although it should more restrictive on other things like violence and drinking too.

    On the subject of periods, I wish it was less of a taboo subject. It would just be easier for everyone to cope with.


  5. Oh – such tremendous feedback, where do I start?! And so great to have a man’s perspective too, Pete. I do absolutely agree that the taboo is incredibly unhelpful for men. How on earth are you supposed to understand? As Clare says, we must stop hiding it, and well done, Reb for involving the males in the household.
    I was the same as you, Nat. I tried to change my hormones medically and didn’t like it or me. I’d rather have the bad – as bad as it is and then enjoy the plusses. So much more to say. Would love to have you all sat at my table drinking a bottle of red with me xxx 🙂


  6. Chicaderock #

    Loved this blogpost. Makes me realise it is largely cuture driven.

    I live in a small rural area in Spain, andt there seems to be far less ”shame” talking about sex and hormones. It’s just not a taboo thing here.


  7. Kathryn #

    Spot on Rachel. We had the policy of answering our children’s questions about sex, periods etc., when ever they asked and tried to do so in an ‘age-relevant’ way. No more or less than they requested at the time. They seem to have grown up into sensible relaxed adults who are not hung-up or obsessed about sex. Are there any problems with that? No!



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