Womanhood, First Periods, & Passing on Wisdom

What does it mean to "become a woman?" Is it a moment or a long process? Is it something innate or socially constructed? Is this an embarrassing transition or something to be celebrated?

As a society we have an understanding that a girl's first period is her launch into womanhood. Although mentally and emotionally she still may be an adolescent and immature, her physical body has signaled that it is prepared to give birth.

A good friend of mine emailed recently that her 14 year old daughter just got her first period. She wrote: "I'm sharing this news with you, my closest, most lovely friends, because you embody the power, strength and passion of being a woman. In lieu of an entire red event, I'd love to start another tradition - we send each other's daughters, nieces, and friends anonymous letters filled with congratulations, tenderness and praise. Perhaps you'd like to share your own story, words of advice, or even a funny moment or situation... I know she'll appreciate the welcoming."

I think this is a phenomenal idea and was thrilled to have this opportunity to pass on the wisdom I've gained through my work and personal experiences (admittedly though, a bit abstract, sociological, and esoteric to articulate and grasp). I've included below most of what I wrote in my card, welcoming her to womanhood.

Congratulations! A little birdie told me that you've joined the ranks of "womanhood" this week!

While is certainly takes a lot more to be a "woman," I do want to honor your physical transition to being a woman. This can be a scary time because you body is doing new things, you're growing in new ways, and you may be having new feelings. But I know you have an amazing mother who loves you beyond belief and thinks the world of you.

I wanted to use this opportunity to share with you what I've learned in the past 20 years of "being a woman." I've learned that at the core of everything we do and think is our own ability to love and respect ourselves. This isn't always easy because we get so many conflicting messages from family, school, religion, and media. But checking in with what you know to be true about yourself, and being honest with yourself, is always the best path.
I've learned that it's OK to enjoy our body and say yes. It's also OK to say no if that means we are respecting and honoring our body. And I've learned that the female body is so beautiful and amazing! It's a source of so much pleasure and so much pain, and all of this is the power of being a woman. It is a power to be respected, so always remember to both enjoy and respect it.
I think you are a beautiful, intelligent, witty, and clever young woman!
This may all be in the abstract for you right now, but as you grow older I think the messages will make more sense.
Lots of love :)

What would adolescence be like for young women if we all took the approach of educating, honoring, and celebrating the first period?

Jennifer Gunsaullus, Ph.D.

Sex Therapy & Relationship Counseling in San Diego