Elizabeth Rios got her period in fifth grade. The 20-year-old Miami native knew her mom and older sister developed early, but when it came, she was scared.
“I thought I was in trouble for getting it early. I thought it was something I had done wrong,” Rios told Glamour. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m not supposed to get it yet,’ as if there was a certain time when it was supposed to come. But I think that just comes from a lack of education about it.”
Rios is one of the many Floridians who got her period before sixth grade. Now, as Florida legislators debate whether or not a bill—referred to as the “Don’t Say Period” bill and meant to limit education on sexuality and health in the state’s schools—would prohibit young girls from talking about their periods in the classroom, young women like her have a message to their elected officials: Leave our periods alone.
While the bill doesn’t explicitly mention menstruation, an early version sought to limit health education before sixth grade. The proposed bill is the latest example of Florida legislation meant to curtail what can be taught in the classroom. Pressed by Florida state representative Ashley Gantt, a Democrat, last week over whether the bill would limit conversations about girls’ periods before sixth grade, the bill’s sponsor, Republican state representative Stan McClain, said, “It would.” When Gantt pushed back, asking if teachers could be penalized for talking about menstruation with students who get their periods earlier, McClain said that while they “haven’t contemplated that,” it was not the goal of the legislation, and he would be willing to adjust the language. A later version of the bill appears to have removed the grade provisions, but still restricts conversations about sexuality and health education.
Though she went to a small Catholic school, Rios thinks her home state should be prioritizing sex education, not limiting it. “I feel like, if anything, it should be talked about more,” she said. As for conversations about menstruating, she said periods shouldn’t be “looked at as something weird and hard to talk about, but natural for every single woman.”
“It’s just a medical thing that happens. It’s like, ‘Oh, I broke my foot,’” she said.
Like Rios, young girls and women in Florida—many of whom got their periods before sixth grade—say they’re concerned about the reality that (mostly male) legislators want to limit sex education in the state, calling the push “dangerous” and “unnecessary.”
“Banning any discussion of menstruation or other ‘sexual’ topics before sixth grade will be harmful to kids who start menstruating before that cutoff,” said Floridian Emilia Rubalcaba, who is 15 years old and a student.
Rubalcaba got her period when she was 11 and in fifth grade. As the first of her friends to get it, she talked to them about it. “They had lots of questions, and over the next two years as everyone else caught up, they knew to come to me for pads or anything if they were ever short,” she said.
“It can be scary not knowing what’s going on with our bodies. And if we can’t go to a teacher or a school friend, it’s just going to perpetuate that kind of fear and worry around a process that’s completely natural and normal,” Rubalcaba said, noting that more girls are going through puberty earlier.