Learning about sex.
It was Aunt Alice who told me about "the curse". She was afraid to go down the yard in the dark and so I accompanied her. I must have been very young when she showed me her sanitary towel, a piece of old sheeting folded into a wad and pinned to the gusset of her drawers. This was left to soak in a bucket in the lav and a clean one replaced it. My first sanitary towels were similar until I learnt to make more comfortable disposable ones from muslin and cotton wool.
I can't remember how old I was or a time when I didn't know about this monthly horror. I was amazed when I found a schoolfellow of twelve or thirteen crying her eyes out in the cloakroom fearing she was bleeding to death. It seemed impossible that anyone didn't know about the curse.
Menstruation was a misery. As well as the horrid smell from the disgusting rags, the soreness they caused, the constant fear that blood would come through to your outer clothes there were the restrictions that were also imposed. You couldn't wash your hair or have a bath. You mustn't indulge in physical exercise and you developed spots.
Sex lessons were not part of the school curriculum until the final term of the final year and so knowledge was gained, very early, in the playground and although my parents didn't talk directly to me about sex, warnings were in overheard conversations and in the stories I read. I grew up understanding that no man would marry "second hand goods" and that once a man had "had his way with you" he would throw you over.
As a teenager I learnt from friends that there was some truth in this as it happened to two girls I knew. One had actually been engaged and was persuaded to go away with her fiancé on the pretext of discovering whether they were compatible. After the night of passion he threw her out saying she had deceived him as she wasn't a virgin.
The other girl very quickly became pregnant and her boyfriend claimed it wasn't his baby and as she wasn't a virgin when they first had sex, he didn't want anything more to do with her. Both these girl friends insisted these boys were their first lovers.
Aunt Alice warned me about the wicked ways of men. She had been courting once but threw him over when he put his hand up her skirt; she wouldn't have anyone who acted dirty. That was the first time I thought she was daft because by then I knew that men did that sort of thing. Mam said the chap had begged Momma to intercede for him but she shook her head and said, "it was for the best". I thought that was terrible.
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