Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book, is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter:

A pop-up book about vaginas? And menstruation? Who would write that? Who would read that? Well, that would be me and my colleague Christian Hoeger! We’ve been teaching sex education at Girls Inc. of Omaha for over four years now. One of my favorite lessons to teach is the one on menstruation. It’s a totally fun, interactive, and hands on lesson we teach to youth from 4th grade through high school and one that is modeled from a college class I took. Yes! A college lesson that is being implemented with 4th graders. Let’s be honest though, learning about menstruation in college is about a decade too late for most.

This is why we decided to write the book, Vagina’s and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book to bring this favorite lesson outside of the classroom!  Our book follows this lesson plan as closely as possible because we believe it is such an important one. It’s fun, hands-on, and colorful.

For any of you educators out there, you know hands-on lessons are more fun because they are interactive. This is true for any age group from pre-schoolers to adults. The lesson we do in the classroom starts with discussing general anatomy and operationally how menstruation works and why it occurs followed by a hands-on lesson. We also talk about and explain there are actually a lot of different menstrual products a person can use, besides tampons and pads, because we think it’s important to know what your options are, what you’re putting into your body, and to feel empowered to make the right choice for you.

To illustrate how products feel and how they can break down, we take a variety of menstrual products, made by various brands, and let the participants pass them around, touch them, tug them, and examine them. It’s a great way to normalize traditional products and introduce products such as cloth pads, period panties, menstrual cups, and sea sponges too. By getting to touch and feel these products participants learn about these all of their options but also get to see exactly how they would work and become less intimidated to use them.

In the next part of this hands on lesson we put all of the products, including a wide variety of traditional tampon brands in a jar of water. (*FYI Tampons and pads aren’t FDA regulated to disclose ingredients because they are considered “medical devices” so many products contain harmful ingredients like chlorine, bleach, and even asbestos. Yikes! Bleach inside of your vaginal canal??????) Our body temperatures are typically 98 degrees, so we use hot water for our experiment. Of course the body doesn’t bleed an entire jar but it is a science experiment and participants love watching what happens to tampons when they are immersed in the jar. We also put a reusable cup and sea sponges in jars too.

So, can you picture what’s happening yet? Well, depending on the tampon brand, you start to see cotton floating around in the jar. You also see the tampon expand, which makes sense since it has to fit and expand inside the vaginal walls to collect menstrual blood. Some brands expand in a less than ideal way though, and the participants can see that when they have to pull it out of the vaginal canal the tampon will have has to come back together. And did you know, pulling a tampon out of the vaginal canal can actually cause little tiny ulcerations, or tears, on the vaginal walls which can increase your chances of contracting an STI/STD? This is why it is so important to know what you are inserting inside of you! There are a lot of great tampons out there too and it’s one reason we are so excited to be partnering with Maxim Hygiene in our book, because they use organic cotton for their tampons and pads, and they are free of chlorine, bleach, and asbestos! We just think you everyone should do your their homework before using them and believe that this lesson plan is a great way to learn about finding the right product for you. 

Participants are always fascinated that Jade and Pearl sea sponges, which they call sea pearls (and makes me want to use them even more) can be used as a menstrual product. If you really think about it, sea sponges are probably one of the oldest options out there since luxury products (that’s what the government says since we pay a luxury tax on menstrual products) didn’t exist 2,000 years ago. In fact, Cleopatra is said to have used sea sponges for her menstrual cycle! So consider yourself a Goddess too.

Menstrual cups are also an option participants are fascinated by. Made with FDA approved medical-grade silicone, the cups are used like tampons and inserted into the vaginal canal to collect blood. They can be worn for up to 12 hours and are reusable for years. They’re expensive upfront but can be extremely cost-effective over time.

For those who don’t like inserting something inside of their vagina, they can try a product by Lunapads, who make both cloth pads and period panties. We love this option, especially for younger participants who don’t feel comfortable putting something inside of themselves. They are also washable and reusable so you can wear them for years too! Plus they offer a variety of sizes and materials (including organic cotton).

The last part of the lesson is normalizing discharge and the appearance of menstrual blood (guess what, it’s not always like a bright red nose bleed).  This is such a well received lesson because it is fun and interactive, but participants also learn a lot and are invited to ask questions.

However, teaching a lesson like this to a classroom or to your own children can be expensive. Imagine going to the store to buy pads, tampons, cloth pads, period panties, menstrual cups, and sea sponges, not to mention models to explain anatomy. Not only would it be very expensive, all of these purchases would really start to add up and you won’t find most of those things at your local convenience store.

It was this amazing lesson plan and trying to figure out a way to put the products into one compact place that would be convenient to everyone, that the idea was born to create the book Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book.  This translated into pop-ups that help explain anatomy and a touch n’ feel section describing the wide variety of menstrual products as a way to create this fun (have you checked out the art by Sara M. Lyons? FUN!), empowering, informational, educational, and interactive book, just like our lesson!

We have hooked up with the totally fun and awesome illustrator Sara M Lyons who has created characters that are diverse, spunky, and independent (just like us). The book will not have any gendered language (such as boy/girl) because we know men menstruate too and we want to include our trans friends in the adventure, plus our non-binary character (wearing the coolest cat shirt ever).  We will also highlight some amazing resources at the end of the book for both the reader and their trusted adult (including GIRL by Karen Rayne and PERIOD.)!

Now here’s the really important part and where we need your help if you think this is a book and lesson that everyone needs! We have to print a minimum of 5,000 copies of Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book book which is a costly endeavor. The pop-up prototypes alone cost thousands of dollars. You can help us though by supporting us on Kickstarter and by signing up for cool backer items. Plus we’ve found a way to bring it full circle by having a backer option to buy a book for yourself and give a book to a Girls Inc. affiliate in the country (encouraging girls to be “strong, smart, and bold”). You can share the Kickstarter link and like the project on social media (FB- Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book, Twitter- #VaginaPopUp, Instagram- #VaginaPopUp)

Thanks and we’ll be popping up again soon!