Cool project alert! We are working with Kristen Lilla and Christian Hoeger, two badass sex educators from Nebraska who are working on a touch-and-feel pop-up book to normalize menstruation and bodies to a wider audience. We caught up with them to find out more about sex ed in 2018. the pop up book project, and why options are always good.
Want a pop-up book for yourself? You can back their Kickstarter here.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m Kristen Lilla, LCSW, AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Sexuality Educator. My partner-in-crime is Christian Hoeger, MA, EdM, LMHP. We’re from Nebraska, where the standards to do what we do is pretty high. We’re the authors of Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book, which is currently raising funds on Kickstarter.
We met working at Girls, Incorporated of Omaha, which is an organization dedicated to encouraging girls to be “strong, smart and bold”. We’ve organized The Vagina Monologues in Omaha for four years now and we’ve raised over $20,000 in donations to local women’s shelters. We’ve also presented at conferences throughout the country and have been published in sex education manuals. At Girls Inc., we often teach young people about menstruation, and we saw that there was a need for a fun educational tool that was accessible to a wide variety of people, from parents to primary care providers to sex educators.
What’s it like demystifying menstruation in schools today? I mostly just have memories of a vague warning against wearing white jeans.
Well, we work with a few different age groups. Our inspiration for the book really stemmed from our experience teaching menstruation to pre-teens. At this age they are still in that science, investigation stage so they always have lots of questions. We’re really invested in helping menstruators become aware of their options, including cloth pads, period underwear and menstrual cups and the girls love touching all of the sample products we have.
Disposable pads and tampons are really problematic. We don’t really know what’s in them. Part of our syllabus is to do a kind of science experiment where we immerse tampons in water and observe how the water becomes clouded with cotton. It makes other menstrual product options more appealing too.
A lot of people think that disposable pads and tampons are the only options. We explain that there are other options and that yes, we’ve used these things. They’re not weird or gross; they are legitimate ways to manage your period. I’m a big fan of period underwear myself!
Are students often grossed out by periods?
Often, we find that the teenagers are more grossed out than younger students. In fourth and fifth grade, it’s really a time of curiosity. We get more push back from teens who feel weird about touching their own blood.
We talk about what your period is supposed to look like, and that discharge is normal, and fill in a lot of gaps. For example, a lot of people don’t know you can pee with a tampon in – that you’ve got a urethra, vagina and anus on a menstruating body. There’s some shock as well as a a sense of normalization.
Why a menstruation pop-up book?
We realize that a lot of people never see a diversity of vulvas, and part of the book is to help people get up close with a variety of vulvas. Diversity is a huge part of the book – we have intentionally worked to add people of colour and non-binary characters into the narrative.
Fundamentally, the book is an accessible way to start a conversation about vaginas, and everything that they do. Menstruation is a normal, natural function that is often considered taboo, and it is detrimental when people don’t get the vital information they need.
Sounds so awesome. Good luck with the book!