There are a lot of things they don't teach you during your school years; what the letters mean in your tax code, how a mortgage works, the trick to a perfectly ironed shirt, or how to replace an iPhone screen. While I am happy in the knowledge that I know what Mg stands for in the periodic table (obviously Magnesium, duh), there are a few life lessons I wish I had been equipped with instead.
At some point during Year 9, a couple of biology lessons were dedicated to explaining the 'birds and the bees', but while a few sniggers went around the classroom when the penis diagram appeared on the whiteboard, that was pretty much it. As far as I can remember, there was nothing about periods, sexually transmitted diseases, vaginal tears or contraception.
I get it...trying to explain the benefits of the IUD or that the pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception to a classroom of fifteen-year-olds is far from a teachers' dream. However, something like contraception is going to affect every teenager, and in order to practice safe sex, one has to at least understand what it is. Unfortunately, the majority of my knowledge was sourced from my friends and Google, and even more unfortunately, at that point I had no idea the trouble I was about to face.
As a teenage girl, I was graced with my first visit from Mother Nature when I was around fourteen, and for the first hour I was quite excited. Eight years down the line, I would probably trade in my left arm to eradicate periods. Back pain, nausea, crippling stomach cramps, acne, ferocious mood swings, weight gain... but at least you aren't pregnant, right? After a few years of this, I knew something had to be done; these monthly 'treats' were becoming a bit of a nuisance.
I will say now, some of the content I am about to divulge may sound a little TMI, but there is actually nothing embarrassing about a period, so I am going to go right ahead and tell you my ongoing battle with contraception.
One rainy afternoon, (I made that bit up, I have absolutely no idea what the weather was like on this particular day) my sixteen-year-old self decided it was time to get on the pill. I had a slightly awkward conversation with my Mum, who asked me if I had ever thought about going on contraception, and after a trusty Google search informed me that some contraception's could lighten your period, and maybe even stop it, I leapt with joy. No more cramps, I thought, no more four-day bloats, I thought, hurrah!
Although I knew the basics, I had never given contraception much thought. I, accompanied by my Mum, bogged off to my doctor's surgery the next day and had a chat with my GP about my options. Ten minutes later, I walked into the pharmacy with a prescription for a six-month supply of the combined pill in my hand, and an embarrassed smile on my face. My first pill, the lovely Rigevidon and I, remained good friends for about a year and a half. We had a good relationship, I took him every day for three weeks, we had a week-long break, and repeat. No arguments, no fall outs, no drama. However, I began to have some continuous break-through bleeding, and this means instead of one week of ugly pants every month, it was 2-3 weeks of ugly pants every month.
Once again accompanied by my long-suffering Mum, I returned to the GP to explain my predicament and see what could be done. Within a few weeks, I was given the Depo Provera injection. This is a contraceptive injection that you get in the bottom, it lasts for three months, and is highly effective at preventing pregnancy. However, the honeymoon-period with Depo Provera only lasted for about two weeks, before I endured a further ten weeks of bleeding, weight-gain and stomach cramping. One real downside of the contraceptive injection is once it is in, that's your lot. I returned to my GP after the 12 weeks were over, and explained in no uncertain terms that I would rather burn all of my possessions on a bonfire than receive another shot. No thank you.
I won't go into too much detail, but the following several years saw me date Levest, Microgynon, Cerelle, Noriday, you name it, I have probably had a three-month fling with it. I flailed from GP to GP, desperate to know why I was having such a terrible time when none of my friends had any issues. Some months, my PMT was so bad I could have killed a man. I had headaches, horrible mood changes, heavy and painful periods, and was waking up to five new spots a day. While I had some doctors' try and explain what was happening, no one could give me a definitive answer. I wished that instead of a lesson on Pythagorean theorem, an hour or two could have been dedicated to explaining exactly what the pill is, what it can do to your body, and what options are available, so a few years down the line, I had some idea of what was to come.
There really is no shame in discussing sex and contraception, and while I hope my newest partner, the Mirena coil, will be my saviour, I can imagine there are a lot of young women who are experiencing similar problems. The education system should be equipping young people to deal with the real world, and this is a real issue that can have a massive impact on your life. While I don't expect Contraception 101 to replace History or Spanish, it could at least knock a few P.E lessons of the timetable.