China’s graduating high school students are bracing themselves for the grueling "gaokao" college entrance exam, a test that's notorious for driving students to do anything to get an advantage. For girls, that might mean taking charge of their menstrual cycle.
According to Education News China, female students often worry about how their menstrual cycles and related side effects, like painful cramps, could negatively affect their studying and test-taking. “I’m very worried that during the days of the test, my ‘good friend’ will show up and affect my test results,” one girl was quoted saying. According to China’s state-run newspaper People’s Daily, a teacher in eastern Anhui province even advised her female students to take birth control pills, a fix that's apparently being considered and embraced by some.
A recent post on a Ma’anshan, Anhui website, by the mother of a female student said a teacher had asked her daughter about her menstrual cycle and related cramps, then recommended the girl take oral contraceptives as soon as possible to avoid having a painful period that could affect her gaokao scores. The mother, interviewed by Nanjing’s local Evening News, said she appreciated the teacher's interest in helping her daughter but thought it would have been better to talk to parents first.
Reporters went to several high schools in Ma’anshan and spoke to 10 female students who were gearing up for the test. Half of the interviewed students said they were “very worried” about their period affecting their scores. Two of the students had already gone to a doctor for medicine that adjusts when they begin menstruating for after the test.
One student, identified as Li, realized her period would begin during the days of the gaokao test, and said she would probably take her teacher’s advice and take contraceptives to delay it: “I get serious cramps and other issues every time I have my period, and I am worried that over 10 years of study might be ruined by my period.” She'd be going against a doctor's advice: “The doctor recommends that I do not do this, that I would be fine just using some painkillers, but I’m still quite worried.”
Another student, named Jie, told reporters that her teacher had gathered all the girls in the class and talked to them about menstruating during their tests. The teacher, however, was a young male, and couldn’t offer much advice, telling the girls to “go to the pharmacy and buy some medicine called Levonorgestrel (an oral contraceptive), then take it for a few days before the test.”
The Ma’anshan Department of Education responded to the incident by saying that it has never encouraged nor promoted birth control methods to assist female students; at the same time, the department said, it also does not have the authority to prohibit it.