It happened in fifth grade. I was sitting at my desk and had a crawling sensation between my thighs. I’d been waiting for my period to arrive. Phantom cramps, tender breasts and teasing by peers let me know the mark of womanhood was on it’s way.

This story isn’t going to go the way you expect, unless you expect I didn’t bleed through my pants, I had liners handy, and all my parents said was, “Oh. You’re growing up.”

Trigger warning for violence and body trauma. Just saying.

The story I’m telling you is about how sex was traumatic for me, and not because I was raped, assaulted or abused for being female (although all those things are true). Sex caused me to tear every time because I had a constant bacterial infection from the use of pads, tampons or any other feminine hygiene product monthly. It took some serious marriage counseling and several vaginal exams to determine what was happening. Then there were medications and creams alongside trial and error with “natural” hygiene products, most of which still contributed to infection.

Eventually, I did heal. You know what ended up working? Cloth. If I could have made it through my period in just underwear, I would have, but period underwear did not yet exist. Instead, I wore inserts and washed them like diapers.

It gave new meaning to a phrase I’d always hated: “On the rag.” I did not want to be “on the rag” or any other phrasing thrown at me by the boys in my classes. It seemed. . . dirty. But there is nothing inherently dirty about a period, an idea that became conflated with my sexuality due to abuse (I guess I am mentioning it) and sexual pain. 15+ years of infection takes its toll.

But there are new options. Today, underwear for teens exists that allows not just for greater mobility and freedom when menstruation happens, it also prevents stories like mine.

I have daughters. I’m glad they have options.

Shawna Ayoub Ainslie is a mental wellness advocate and writing coach in Bloomington, IN. Her work has recently appeared in Role Reboot, The Manifest-Station, Huffington Post and On the Verge Magazine. You can find her most regularly on The Honeyed Quill.

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