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Cycle mindfulness: what happens when you teach fertility awareness to teen girls

posted on March 18, 2017 by Anna Migeon, Writer and Co-founder of Natural Womanhood Anna Migeon

In the 1980s, Leslie Carol Botha taught basic fertility charting to 13-17 year-olds at eight different restorative care homes for at-risk girls. A typical girl in the program had been a victim of sexual assault, ran away from home, used drugs and alcohol and ended up in jail. In working with these girls, Ms. Botha made an amazing discovery: teens who chart can regain control of their life.

Here is what she found out: for 90% of the girls in the program who had ended up in jail, it happened during the premenstrual phase of her cycle, that monthly darkness that Ms. Botha calls “falling down the rabbit hole”: increased anger, disruptive and self-destructive behaviors, suicidal ideation, and drug and alcohol cravings.

Teenage girls education fertility awareness Natural Womanhood

Teenage girl meditating Picture courtesy of Amanda Tipton CC

Ms. Botha engaged the girls in a comprehensive menstrual health education program that included tracking their cycles as an art project, complete with colorful markers and stickers.

“The data I walked away with was mind boggling,” she reported. Generally more stickers and bright colors are seen early in the cycle, followed by a plunge into darkness upon reaching the eight days on each side of the start of the period.

“No matter the girl, her background the type of abuse she endured, her weight, or body image,” Botha writes, “they all fell down what I call the ‘rabbit hole’ in their mind.”

Teenage sex ed fertility awareness Leslie Botha Holy Hormones Natural Womanhood

Original charts from Leslie Botha students

Teenage sex ed fertility awareness Leslie Botha Holy Hormones Natural Womanhood

These young women hadn’t been equipped with an understanding of the hormonal shifts in their cycles and how these changes were driving their moods and behaviors. After three month of charting in this rudimentary fashion, the girls starting noticing clear patterns emerging from their charts, and they became aware of that monthly “rabbit hole.”

These girls became empowered and in control, Ms. Botha reported. Mindful self-awareness and the understanding that such phases are normal and only phases made all the difference in their ability to handle them. Ms. Botha noted also that she referred to the class in her own mind as “abstinence through empowerment.”

Since then, Mrs. Botha has become an internationally recognized expert on women’s hormones and behavior. Her work and research focuses on the significance of the hormone cycle and its profound relationship to a woman’s psyche. Botha’s 30 years of research demonstrates how hormone fluctuations in the menstrual cycle affect women’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

TeenSTAR: Teaching girls to chart all over the world

For over 30 years, another organization has taken this concept beyond an experiment and into a full blown curriculum. TeenSTAR is also an “abstinence through empowerment” education program: evidence-based and internationally renowned, their instructors teach middle and high school girls about their cycles and how to chart them in schools all over the world.

TeenSTAR Sex Education Fertility Awareness

A TeenSTAR class in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dr. Hanna Klaus, founder of TeenSTAR, explained to me the beneficial change evident in girls who go through the program:

“We have found that it takes three cycles on average for girls to own their fertility.  One of the process steps is that when they come to know their cycle, and the length of their luteal phase, they will know exactly when to expect their period. When that happens their body is talking to them and they are in charge.  At that time they often move easily from peer pressure to making their own decisions, they move away from group pressure if the group proposes something they disagree with.”

One of the documented outcomes of Teen STAR’s work is the much lower likelihood for these girls to engage in premature sexual activities. The program was evaluated by ChildTrends  a leading US nonprofit research organization, which reported “that this program is effective in reducing the rate of pregnancy, delaying the onset of sexual activity, decreasing sexual activity in sexually-active youth, and improving attitudes towards abstinence, compared with students in the no-treatment groups.”

Here are more changes that Teen STAR teachers from 17 countries reported:

  • Students can be themselves, become more mature and self–directed.
  • It moves girls from being victims of their hormones to being in control.
  • It encourages students to think ahead and to make decisions ahead of crisis.
  • It enhances movement from middle to late adolescence, thereby enhancing students’ level of ego development.
  • It affirms the youth’s right to know about their own sexuality and helps them find answers to their questions.

Just as natural hormones drive moods and behaviors, so do the synthetic ones in hormonal contraceptives generally used to “treat” hormonal fluctuations in young girls by suppressing the entire cycle. While knowledge empowers, young women on the pill are 80% more likely to be in treatment for depression (1). During the teen years, a young woman should be developing her self-knowledge and self-image; the brain is undergoing major developmental changes in  structure and function (2). How else are might birth control drugs be warping this process?

Putting women in touch with their cycles puts them in touch with the power of their fertility and brings the most unexpected results. True mindfulness for a woman includes the awareness and understanding of her natural fertility.

Be well,

Anna Migeon

[1] Association of Hormonal Contraception With Depression, Charlotte Wessel Skovlund, MSc; Lina Steinrud Mørch, PhD; Lars Vedel Kessing, MD, DMSc; et al JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(11):1154-1162.

[2] Cognitive and affective development in adolescence, Laurence Steinberg, PhD, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.9 No.2 February 2005

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Posted by Anna Migeon, Writer and Co-founder of Natural Womanhood Anna Migeon

14 Responses to Cycle mindfulness: what happens when you teach fertility awareness to teen girls

  1. Avatar Suzanne Spence says:

    RIGHT ON, Anna!
    I have seen to it that our five daughters all learned fertility awareness around their 16th birthday, and have witnessed all the positive effects that you list! Convinced that this is the “missing gap” between abstinence-only programs and “preventative” (i.e. contraceptive) programs, I became certified as a TeenSTAR trainer myself. Fertility LITERACY is the way to TRUE “reproductive justice” for all women from all walks of life; safe, effective and FREE.
    Suzanne, R.N.

  2. Avatar retiti says:

    Charting when I was a teen was astoundingly useful for me, but ultimately, I did need birth control to bring my PMDD down to the point that I could function as a member of society. My grades went up because I could actually attend school for the full 4 weeks a month, instead of being bed ridden by the week of hell every single month.
    For girls who don’t have that extra burden, I highly recommend charting. When we know that it’s our hormones driving our feelings (not controlling or causing them, just pushing them), it’s so much easier to be in control of ourselves.

    • Avatar Juliet Martinez says:

      I too had severe and mostly untreated PMDD as a teen, and into adulthood. In the past year I found that taking a high dose of inositol daily alleviates much of my PMDD. There are studies on this you can easily find. Inositol is a B vitamin with a low risk of side effects – you just decrease your dose to one your body can tolerate. Not sure if PMDD is still an issue for you, but it’s very common and I hope this information can be useful to someone.

      • Thank you for this constructive comment. I had many doubts if “birth control…” is necessary to anybody to “…function as a member of society”

        • Avatar Juliet Martinez says:

          Well, when I was a teen I took oral contraceptives briefly for my PMDD so that I wouldn’t have long bouts of uncontrollable crying, chopping off my hair, etc. You can only do what is available to you at that time and for the short time I had access to them, oral contraceptives were very helpful.

  3. Such an interesting research! 🙂 Especially the color aspect. It is amazing to read about it now because we started a similar experiment a few months ago. Our users instantly save on their devices what theme color they have for each day and will be able to see the record with some delay (to keep color choices independent).


    DonnaMobile – fertility tracker


  4. Avatar Whitney Kolongowski says:

    This is amazing in so many ways. One way it is not amazing is using the word “abstinence” even though their phrase also contains the word “empowerment”. Why must you try and control the outcome of empowering young women? Why not just leave it open ended and trust that for the most part, when you show them the tools for empowerment, they will make the best choices for them, whether that includes abstinence or not.

    • Avatar Meadow Lark says:

      Yes. Feeling like the abstinence agenda his riding on the coat tails of something really beautiful.

  5. Avatar Carol says:

    Where can I get a blank copy of this chart for my granddaughters?

  6. Avatar Meadow Lark says:

    I agree. There is so much good happening here, but is that a guise? These “rabbit holes” and “plunges into darkness” are part of the huge “psych connection” that make us female. The body of any woman, physically begs to be paid attention to, pre menstral. This can be an intense reaction to anything the woman hasnt dealt with in her psych, or has deliberately stuffed away because she hasn’t found a safe place to express her self. Why use such diragatory language to describe something that is a part of being a woman? And in my opinion, a beautiful tool for staying in tune with the mind and body? Empowerment means loving yourself, and understanding the glorious workings of our cycles. Leave the negative labeling out of it.