If you’ve read my memoir, Amish Girl in Manhattan, saw one of my posts on social media, or heard me speak, you might not be surprised by what I’m about to say: I didn’t know what my period was the first time I had it.
(Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.)
I’m not the only fundamentalist-raised girl who didn’t know what her period was. This isn’t unique to Amish girls, but what is more unique is that we don’t have access to the internet to teach ourselves when our mothers and religious institutions refuse to provide us accurate information and safe educators.
In a nutshell, my now-no-longer-practicing, converted-to-extreme-evangelical-born-again-Christianity Amish mother physically beat me while screaming at me for . . .
. . . being disobedient, for not telling her that I was bleeding. I’d been so embarrassed when I saw my panties—I thought those spots were inexplicable poop discharges—that I hid them in the hamper, naively believing they’d get washed without incident.
Probably needless to say, my relationship with my body and sexuality didn’t improve after that beating. To make things even worse, I had no resources (e.g., textbooks and books) to teach myself accurate knowledge about the ins and outs of menstruation, exactly how I could get pregnant, and the actual versus perceived dangers of running and playing softball during school at recess when I had my period. The latter was a restriction my mother placed on me that incurred more beatings if I dared disobey (my younger sister was the tattling spy my mother engaged to monitor me at school). Physical harsh beatings apparently didn’t pose a threat to my body during menstruation, but running and other strenuous activity did.
Instead of telling me that actual blood would spontaneously drip out of my body every month for the next 40 years or so of my life, my mother instead went above and beyond telling me that when I got my period, boys would from then on be tempted by me and that I was to run away from every boy in sight for the rest of my life. That is, until for the purpose of marriage, of course. I was expected to get married inside the Amish Church at which point the purpose of my life was to be a breeding machine, with no contraception, until such time God decided to no longer bless me with children.
Long story short, I grew up hating my body for a multitude of reasons but all connected to the shame and taboo associated with femininity and sexuality within the Amish.
Go Ask Alice! Answers 25+ Years of Health/Sex Questions
My work as the founder and executive director of The Amish Heritage Foundation is to empower Amish women and girls through education. Part of that mission includes providing accurate and frank sex education, because anatomy, biology, and sex ed (including abuse, consent, and rights) aren’t taught in the Amish. The resource I’m sharing in this post is one that every Amish and educationally deprived person should become familiar with.
Go Ask Alice! was the first resource I found as an Amish escapee that helped me learn things about my own body, in plain everyday language. Go Ask Alice! covered topics that I didn’t even know to be aware of and things that I was way too embarrassed to ask anyone about—not my OB/GYN, friends, and even anonymously. Keep in mind that the internet wasn’t nearly as developed and comprehensive it is now.
Go Ask Alice!‘s goal, according to the site, “is to make accurate, reliable, culturally competent health information more accessible”, which it certainly did for me when I needed such information the most. Knowing who was behind the site also gave me the peace of mind I needed. The info I was getting was scientific, and not questionable like stuff floating around the internet or what I was taught in the Amish:
"The Go Ask Alice! site is supported by a team of Columbia University health promotion specialists, health care providers, and other health professionals, along with a staff of information and research specialists and writers. Our team members have advanced degrees in public health, health education, medicine, counseling, and a number of other relevant fields."
Go Ask Alice! was a resource initially restricted to Columbia students but went live on the internet in 1994, “likely making it the oldest major health Q&A site on the web“. Among other accolades over the years, a 2010 study from “Stanford University lists Go Ask Alice! “first among websites for accurate reproductive health information on the web”.
If you’re embarrassed to ask about things you don’t understand (like I was), or don’t even know where to start on your way toward becoming more informed and health-literate, I hope this wealth of knowledge helps you become more comfortable about all the things you were taught to be ashamed of, or see as evil or sinful.
Watch the Video (coming soon)
Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.
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