Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, we can’t completely rid ourselves of the negative messages we internalize from our native cultures.
Even when we know better, even when we’ve done the self-work, even when on a good day we love and accept ourselves, there are still moments which elicit knee-jerk, immediate reactions to stimuli. Moments where our subconscious lizard brains activate and old programming tries to slip back into place.
Earlier this week, I was talking with my partner about this news article, and how some men still shame women for having those messy female bodies leaking fluids everywhere and keeping them from being efficient worker robots like all the men in the office.
Coincidentally, I was in that any day now phase of waiting for my period to start.
Before birth control, I could set my watch to my period. My cycle was also irritatingly short at 21 days, but at least reliably annoying. On this new birth control, even though I start the inactive pills on a Sunday, I don’t actually start bleeding until Tuesday or Wednesday.
My partner and I ended up having sex, which was really nice because despite the mild cramps, I was still experiencing residual pre-period horniness.
I’m not one of those people who gets squicked by period sex and thankfully, neither is my partner.
But I have had partners in the past who were either put off by it or just didn’t feel like dealing with the mess once past the NRE stage of the relationship.
I’ve done a lot of work to move past the internalized shame and secrecy surrounding periods. In fact, when I was in college and discovered that there were women who made art out of their menstrual blood or that some girls get thrown a party when they get their period, I thought it was the best thing ever.
I value the fact that I can talk to my partner openly and honestly about cramps, bleeding, birth control, and PMS without the bat of an eye.
I had mentioned starting to feel crampy to my partner a bit earlier when I took some medicine. After we were finished having sex, he said that if I didn’t realize, I had started bleeding because he had some blood on his fingers.
I immediately apologized, feeling that internalized shame for my messy, disgusting female body rise to the surface. I was momentarily embarrassed for getting blood on my partner, or for not warning him in the moment that I had started bleeding.
But then he reassured me, saying no apology was necessary and he just didn’t want me to get a stain on my panties if I hadn’t realized.
And I felt relief, and gratitude. And I remembered that I don’t have anything to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, and that anyone who says otherwise isn’t worth my time.
This is only to say, we’re all in a process.
One of my graduate school professors said that the more immediate, visceral, and intense our reaction to something is, the deeper the cultural conditioning goes. The things we’re most sure are disgusting and wrong are the things we most need to work on unlearning.
So it’s okay if you sometimes revert to those feelings of shame, embarrassment, or disgust.
We’ve been inundated since birth with certain images, beliefs, and codes of ethics.
Even if we intellectually understand that our culture is only one culture of many and not inherently superior to others. Even if we choose to reject certain beliefs in our own cultural norm in favor of others…. that original conditioning still exists.
Don’t hold onto those knee-jerk reactions as a sign of failure. Just use them as a benchmark for where you are in the process. Take the insight, forgive yourself, and move on.
Tomorrow is another day.