It will be compulsory to teach about periods at schools in England by 2020, which endometriosis sufferer Alice Smith calls “massive”. The 23-year-old was diagnosed with the chronic condition at 14 and has been campaigning for menstrual health to be on the school curriculum.
Alice says the new guidelines mean girls will know “from a much younger age what is normal” and what isn’t when it comes to their periods. Consent is also to be taught at school. And children will learn about domestic violence, relationships and staying safe online. “My experience at school would be very different now,” Alice says.
Endometriosis, which affects one in 10 women in the UK, is where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows elsewhere in a woman’s body. It causes chronic pain, fatigue, bowel and bladder problems, and can lead to infertility.
Alice first started having symptoms when she was 12 and was diagnosed with endometriosis two years later. “For any other illness that would be a long time but unfortunately that’s a really quick diagnosis for endometriosis,” she says.
She says being in the hospital on morphine every two weeks, whenever she ovulated and had her period, is the reason it was picked up early. But things didn’t get any easier after the diagnosis.
“Reading that it was life-long and there’s no cure, and we don’t know what causes it. I was reading blogs by women who’d lost their jobs and their marriages had broken down because of it and they didn’t have kids and they were suicidal. “It felt like a death sentence.”
Sex education has been compulsory in England since 2017, but there has been a public consultation about what should be on the curriculum. All pupils will now learn about menstrual health and the menstrual cycle starting in primary school.
Pupils will also learn about relationships, starting in primary school, and relationships and sex, starting in secondary school. The curriculum will also be LGBT inclusive.
For Alice, there will “always be more” campaigning to do on endometriosis, but she says we’re “heading in the right direction” for more research to find out what causes it and find a cure.