One of The Vagina Monologues, called The Flood, tells the tragic story of an older woman recalling her first and only sexual experience, so traumatic for her that she never again explored her sexuality beyond that first kiss.
Neither she nor the guy she was with, who got so angry when she "flooded" his car seat, had any idea her reaction to their passionate kiss probably heralded a rich and healthy sex life for her -- and a few great nights at least for him.
Instead, she had nightmares about it for the rest of her life.
It's lucky we're so much better informed about women's bodies and sexuality nowadays, right?
Except we're not.
I have a friend in Turkey who saved herself for marriage and now barely tolerates the sexual part of her relationship because she can't get past the feeling that she's going to pee. No matter that that feeling is very likely the path towards a pretty fantastic orgasm, she's too scared of relaxing to see where it leads. What a shame for her and her husband.
OK, so maybe Turkey nowadays is not so far in some ways from 80 years ago in America.
It's lucky we're so much better informed about women's bodies and sexuality over here, right?
Except we're not.
When I was about 27, a guy I'd been seeing told me he'd noticed a lump inside me. The word lump has an instant and visceral connection -- you might as well just say "cancer" and be done with it. I had never noticed anything odd myself, but I figured he had far more knowledge of vaginas than I did so I believed him. Terrified, I went to the doctor and asked for an examination.
And it turned out to be my cervix.
A part of my own body that I was so lacking in knowledge about that I was more ready to believe was cancer than something natural. Not to mention the fact I thought a man should know better than me.
The poverty of the education girls receive about even the basic anatomy of their bodies is the fault of education, government policy and lack of research. It probably contributes to unhappy relationships, unwanted pregnancies, difficulty conceiving and millions of days off work from badly-managed menstrual pain.
After years of suffering badly from period pain, all I was ever advised by doctors was that I needed to learn to manage the pain better. I had medication which worked, but only if I managed to start taking it at least four hours before the pain started. No doctor ever told me how to make this mystical calculation. My cycle ranges from 27-34 days, which would have meant up to a week of taking medication, just in case.
As a result, I almost never caught it and some months I was unable to function at all for a day - crouching in a fetal position, nauseous with the pain and the surge of hormones. I became afraid to go anywhere or make important plans for the vague duration of my expected period. Then I discovered Internet sites about fertility cycles. It's actually incredibly easy to read your body's signals to tell when you're ovulating and your period falls 12-14 days** after ovulation.
There's actually no such thing as a "late" period, only late ovulation. And so I can now predict to the exact day when my period will come. That no doctor ever told me this beggars belief.
Your cycle has implications for conception, contraception, libido and mood, not to mention "little" things like planning your daily life and calendar.
How many women could save themselves the unpleasantness of taking the morning after pill if they knew they were not ovulating?
How many men would be able to understand their partner better if they knew about their cycle?
And this is before we get to the mysteries of female orgasm, sexuality and enjoyment of sex, all of which are not well informed. Scientists can't even agree whether women ejaculate or not and if there is a G-spot. As a result millions of women don't even know those two things might exist.
I bet that poor older lady, phobic about her own body, was a female ejaculator or at the height of the fertile time of her cycle. That little bit of knowledge could have brought her years of happiness, perhaps children and grandchildren, beautiful dreams and the wonderful sex life most people are built to enjoy.
**varying for the individual and assuming normal hormone levels. Some sites list this number as between 14-16, or 12-16. It doesn't matter, learn your own pattern!
Check out this site for working out your cycle. Don't be put off by the fact it's focused on trying to conceive. This is essential knowledge for any female as soon as she starts menstruation.