April 15, 2016 | 11:58 am | Lauren VanEnk

Imagine when you were in middle school, somewhere between the ages of 10 and 14. It was an awkward time for most of us. Our bodies were changing. And most of us had little understanding of what was fact and what was fiction when it came to information about our own bodies. You may be thinking, “If only I knew then what I know now.”


Do you really know more now?

The way in which our bodies work is incredible but quite frankly poorly understood. Studies conducted in numerous countries have shown that very few people understand their fertility and the way in which their bodies work.


This lack of knowledge constrains our ability to protect our reproductive health.

It’s not uncommon for adolescents to be confused about puberty, especially menstruation. There are many myths that kids encounter during this time because there are so few trusted sources of accurate information. This information is shrouded in mystery. Adolescents are encountering insecurity, teasing, shame about their bodies, and for some young girls it is even jeopardizing their education.

In a survey with 10-14 year olds in Rwanda, girls and boys were asked about their attitudes and awareness of puberty changes.  Here’s what we learned:

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50% of girls who had gotten their period said they felt uncomfortable attending school while menstruating.

10% of girls had missed 3 or more days because of their period. Missing school. Because of their period!

 

50% did NOT know a young girl could get pregnant the first time she has unprotected sex.

 

What if we helped youth understand their changing bodies?

What if we supported influential adults like parents and teachers to walk alongside adolescents during this time, giving them the tools they need to have tough conversations?

You may be thinking YES, kids need this information. It’s critical to their healthy development. But do adults know any better?


Do YOU know more about your body than a 12 year old?

In the US, we see the same trends. Knowledge about the menstrual cycle is low. In a 2014 survey of 1,000 women, we see that:

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1 out of every 3 (34%) women do not know that a regular menstrual cycle can range between 25-35 days. Nor did they know that ovulation occurred around the middle of the menstrual cycle.

3 out of 5 (59%) of women believed wrongly that having sex AFTER ovulation increases your chance of getting pregnant.

For many, pregnancy seems beyond their control, random even. Yet, we know this isn’t true. It’s possible to understand pregnancy risk and how your body works. A woman’s body gives her clues about what it’s doing each month.


We challenge you to see how much you know.

How do you think your knowledge of reproductive health matches up with the rest of the world? We have a new digital quiz at www.knowyourbod.org where you can find out!

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With a little bit of effort, it really is possible to understand our bodies. It has everything to do with having the correct information.  It’s information people can act on. It’s knowledge that really is power.

Fertility awareness and body literacy can:

  • empower people to identify what is healthy and normal for them and know when to seek reproductive health care.
  • create the basis for understanding, communicating about and correctly using family planning.

  • foster communication between partners, parents and children, teachers and students, and health care providers and patients.

  • and reinforce concepts of reproductive rights and gender equality

What you are doing to improve Fertility Awareness and Body Literacy in your own way? Share your thoughts in the comments or connect with us on Twitter (@IRH_GU) using the hashtag, #KnowYourBod.

For more information:

Learn about the ongoing FACT project: Fertility Awareness for Community Transformation.

Read about our work with very young adolescents in Rwanda: Grow Up Smart and GREAT.

Posted In: Focus Areas, FACT Project, Fertility Awareness, Family Planning, Adolescents