Blood is a secret

Tenderness and freedom

For thirteen years of my life, I did not know about the existence of menstruation. Nobody talked to me about it. I don’t remember seeing sanitary pads, liners or tampons anywhere in my childhood. My first contact with them was around the sixth grade of primary school. Then the family life education classes began. The librarian teacher who led them, however, decided that the topic of menstruation did not apply to boys, and then asked us to leave the class.

In junior high school, we also couldn’t find out about menstruation. I do not remember any family life education classes from that period. So maybe we were made aware in biology classes? Yes, we covered the reproductive system in the class. But at sprinting pace – this is the vagina, this is the penis, thank you, end of class. We didn’t even laugh, as we used to at similar topics.

So Maciek, a classmate, started our “education”. It was probably the second grade in junior high school. Before class, I entered the cloakroom sleepy. I collapsed on the bench. I started lacing my shoes. With me: some boy and some girls. Suddenly Maciek waltzed in. He approached the girls, ostentatiously pretending to be sniffing around them. Finally he frowned and pronounced:

“Oh, one of you is a bloody bitch today!”

He laughed and looked at the boys, looking for us to confirm his joke. However, the class froze. Except for one girl who turned red and suddenly attacked him. She was hitting his head. Unlike everyone else, she had the courage to protest. Back then, I knew almost nothing about periods. Intuitively, however, I linked it with Maciek’s words. By his definition, I figured a woman must smell different during her period, and even worse, even stink.

In high school, in biology class, I had a lesson on the menstrual cycle for the first time in my life. I was impressed with the woman’s body. And most importantly, I found out that periods often cause stomach pain and are associated with bleeding. Only then did I understand what my colleagues meant when they bragged: “A good seaman will even cross the Red Sea!”. I also understood some guys’ fear of their girlfriends’ delayed menstruation.

But my wife gave me the best lesson. She never hid hygiene products from me. I asked her about her period and she answered my most naive questions. Also about the tampon phenomenon. I wondered how something so small could get so big. So my wife filled a glass with water and threw it into it. She also explained to me what liners are or that there are different types of pads. I would buy her hygiene products from then on. At first I prided myself on it. That here I, a guy, know about sanitary pads and I’m not ashamed to put them on the conveyor belt at the checkout. And today? I don’t see anything extraordinary about it. However, the discovery while writing this text is extraordinary for me. Thanks to it, I realised that it was only at the age of twenty-two that I learned everything about menstruation.


At the age of six, Michał first heard about menstruation. Kasia, a year younger than him, took a sanitary pad to the yard. She was bursting with pride – she got it from her mother. She showed it to her friend and explained that the object absorbs blood. To prove it to him, she did an experiment. She poured water from a bottle on it. As the liquid seeped in, the girl said triumphantly:

“It absorbs our mothers’ blood as well.”

Michał felt unsatisfied. After all, water is not blood! He ran home and asked his mum who was a physician not to forget to take blood from the hospital next time. Otherwise, he and Kasia would fail the experiment with the sanitary pad. His mother explained to him what periods were about. That it appeared every month. That it was a symptom of health. And that the woman is not harmed by the bleeding, although menstruation itself often causes abdominal pain.

Michał did not see anything strange in her story. He thought there were debates about menstruation in every home. Especially since even on television there were commercials for sanitary pads. Before he returned to his friend, however, his mother handed him a book. It was most likely about puberty, navy blue, for children. The boy took it to the yard. There, with Kasia, he analysed the chapter on the build of a woman, which they found particularly mysterious. Three words caught Michał’s attention – “bloody vaginal discharge”. He read that all women have it. Just in case, he decided to consult this new knowledge.

First he went to his grandmother. He called her while his mother was away. “Grandma, do you have vaginal blood?” he blurted out.

Grandma, taken by surprise, said no. And there was a problem. After all, the book talked about all women! So Michał wondered why Grandma and Kasia did not get periods. He stated that they must be somehow defective.

He decided to check the information from the book in another way. He went for a walk with Kasia around their elderly neighbours living in the vicinity. They asked everyone about vaginal discharge with blood. One of the women became concerned about the visit. She went to see Michał’s mother, and after her intervention, the children stopped the visits. They did not get bored, but they noticed that menstruation was an embarrassing topic. That it is not proper to ask every person you meet about it.

After four years, the topic of menstruation returned to Michał. All because of the literary magazine “Brulion” which he found at home. In this issue, a short poem by Zbigniew Sajnog was published. It sounded like this: “– I have flups – I heard / from the girl and I think: what? / – What? – I ask / – well, my cunt bleeds.” The shocked ten-year-old ran with the poem to his grandmother. He inquired what flups were. He heard from her that it was about menstruation. At the same time, his grandmother explained to him what profanity adults use towards their reproductive organs.

In junior high school, Michał changed his approach to menstruation. Back then, his female friends competed with each other which of them was already menstruating. Those that had their first periods boasted that they were women. And that Dawid, the biggest thug in the class, would finally like them. The boy even invented a game – he followed the girls, bent down and checked for any bloody leaks. Despite this, almost all the girls wanted to date him.

“He was considered a stallion, and he was an ordinary bumpkin. His fame passed a bit when the form teacher found out about the menstrual rivalry. Well, she had no teaching talent. She shouted at us. She forbade talking about periods, as a punishment she divided the form period on the basis of gender and intervened in the course of biology education. The biologist had to teach us about the reproductive system and the urinary system through her,” emphasises Michał.

Only then did the boy realise that menstruation was something much more embarrassing than what his mother had said. Besides, the form teacher repeatedly accused him of his immoral behaviour. For example, when he openly talked about sexuality, which resulted in a lower conduct grade on his school certificate. Girls, like him, also felt intimidated. And they mentioned menstruation less and less. Michał envied them then. He would also like to menstruate, because he noticed that some of the girls did not exercise on PE during their periods. And he hated it.

“Fortunately, in high school, the family life education teacher took the embarrassment of periods from me. He repeated exactly what my mother had told me a dozen years ago,” emphasises Michał.


In Kacper Kubiak’s home, menstruation did not exist. There were no pads or tampons in it. At the age of thirteen, however, he saw menstrual blood. He had just left with his family to visit his aunt and was walking past the bed where his mother slept. There was a red spot on the sheet. First he thought: mum had probably hurt herself. Second: or maybe she wasn’t in pain but was pregnant? Either way, the boy decided that the blood was a secret. He never mentioned it to his parents.

Nor to any of his classmates. And they had already talked a lot about menstruation. Mostly in jokes. On the pitch and in the classroom, they laughed that girls who get their periods are cripples. Or that their aunt from America had come for a visit. They often shouted after their female classmates: “Oh, that’s the leaking one!”. Kacper was ashamed of such expressions. And even more so that he did not know how to respond to them. For example, he froze when a boy shouted to him and his friends during a summer camp:

“Get to the toilet! Someone left a used sanitary pad there!”.

Almost all the boys rushed to the toilet. Apart from Kacper, who thought: why make a scandal around menstruation? After all, the girls will hide even more now.

“And that was where my education at school ended. I learned the rest from my girlfriend in high school,” recalls Kacper.

Today he is almost forty years old and has recently found out that boys are still excluded from knowledge about menstruation in school. When he was driving with his twelve-year-old son, he mentioned that he had to leave a family life education class. The teacher told him and the other boys to go, saying: “Now we’re going to talk about girly things.” The teenagers did not understand why they should not hear about their friends.

“Did you learn anything?” he asked his son. He hoped that the boys left at least at the end of the class. When the twelve-year-old denied it, his father gave him the first lesson on menstruation in the car. He described the egg’s journey, the monthly pain and where the blood came from. The son could not understand one thing: why did only women get stomach aches?

Around the same time, Kacper read somewhere that there was no access to personal hygiene products in public spaces. He was even more surprised when his friend’s teenage daughter mentioned that free sanitary pads were also needed in schools. “I treated the lack of these products as a form of exclusion,” says Kacper.

Before he supplied the first school with a box, however, his childhood shame caught up with him. And the prejudices that he, a guy, shouldn’t be concerned with the topic of menstruation.

However, he was persuaded to act by a doctor who spoke openly about menstruation in the media. If he can, Kacper said, why not me? So he posted on Facebook. He offered to buy the first box and bring it to the school of his choice. Lots of women, including schoolgirls, contacted him. They wrote that thanks to him, the topic would be more attractive. “I respect your courage to talk about a matter that does not directly concern you,” he read in one of the posts.

He got the first three boxes from the Różowa Skrzyneczka [Pink Box] foundation dealing with menstrual taboos. A school immediately ordered them from him. In Zielona Góra, where Kacper lives, his actions caused a storm. So he rolled with it and set up a fundraiser. Thanks to the donations, he bought fourteen more boxes. It was easiest in private institutions – almost all of them were happy with the gift. State schools often refused. In one, he was told that free sanitary pads sexually indoctrinate teenagers. From a certain headmistress Kacper heard that a box in the pandemic was a substitute topic. She was surprised when the student council had a different opinion. Only then did she accept personal hygiene products from Kacper. Some people didn’t like tampons in the boxes. They claimed that they interfered with the girls’ bodies, which could give them pleasure. “It’s absurd,” Kacper says indignantly. “I’ll tell you what motivates me. Recently, a friend’s daughter saw a box in her school. My friend associated it with me. She was proud that we know each other. Because thanks to my activity, her child can cope with an emergency.”

Some names have been changed.


Author: Łukasz Pilip

Illustrated by: Marta Frej

The text was published in „Wysokie Obcasy” a magazine of „Gazeta Wyborcza” on 23 October 2021