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Florida High Schools Asking Female Athletes 5 Questions About Their Menstrual Periods

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The Florida High School Athletic Association has a form that those interested in playing high school … [+] sports must complete. And the form has five questions labeled “FEMALES ONLY.” (Photo: Getty).

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Want to play high school sports in Florida? Well, the Florida High School Athletic Association has a form for you to complete. And you can say that the form has some “interesting” questions, period. In that form, there’s a section that’s labeled for “FEMALES ONLY,” with the following five additional questions:

  • When was your first menstrual period?
  • When was your most recent menstrual period?
  • How much time do you usually have from the start of one period to the start of another ?
  • How many periods have you had in the last year?
  • What was the longest time between periods in the last year?

If you were wondering whether everyone would simply say, “no big deal” about these questions, you’d be kind of wrong, especially in the light of two legislative changes that have occurred over the past two years. One of these changes came on June 1, 2022, when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law the barring of transgender females from playing on girls’ sports teams at public schools in Florida. The other came on June 24, 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned something called Roe v. Wade. That decision has since allowed the Florida state government to make abortion illegal after 15 weeks of gestation.

A number of people on social media wondered about the Big Brother-esque nature of such questions, independent of these two legislative changes. For example, Pam Keith, a lawyer who ran as a Democrat for a Florida seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 but lost in the general election, called this a “Police state for women” and she presumably wasn’t referring to English rock band:

And Linda Girgis MD, a family doctor and Editor-in-Chief of Physicians Weekly indicated that such questions are “blatantly trampling on women’s right,” in the following tweet:

Meanwhile, Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at the Harvard Law School Cyberlaw Clinic, pointed out in a tweet thread that some school districts may be using a third party to handle the responses to the form:

Yeah, collecting your private and potentially sensitive health information isn’t the same as asking you whether you like meatballs, the Ratcatcher 2 character in the movie The Suicide Squad, or wearing your underwear over your pants. There’s a federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), that requires national standards to be in place to protect sensitive health information about you from being disclosed to others without your consent or knowledge. So a big question is whether the third party or parties being used for this form are actually HIPAA-compliant. (By the way, since over the past two years some politicians have been tossing around misinterpretations and misspelled variations of the acronym HIPAA, being HIPPA-compliant or HIPPIE-compliant is not the same as being HIPAA-compliant.)

When a third party may not be clearly HIPAA-compliant, who knows where your responses to these five questions may go. It could be the equivalent of standing on a table in the middle of lunch period and yelling, “my last period ended on Wednesday.” What if, as a result of this information, “coaches, principals, and teachers can track their student’s menstrual cycles,” as Carabello warned in the tweet thread:

Yeah, imagine your principal asking you, “how’s that menstrual period going” or looking at you with a knowing nod while you are having your period.

At the same time, you’ve gotta wonder what any of these five questions has to do with your eligibility to play sports. For example, take at look at the first question, which asks when you had your first-ever menstrual period, otherwise known as menarche. The onset of menarche tends to happen sometime from age 10 to age 16 with the average age of onset being 12.4 years, according to StatPearls. Since children typically enter high school at age 14, you as a high schooler may or may not have had your first menstrual period already. So what specifically is going to happen if you answer “three years ago” versus “one year ago” versus “never” versus “sometime in the future, and, no, I do not have a crystal ball” to this question?

One may try to argue that menstrual cycle disruptions may be a sign of overtraining with an emphasis on the word “may.” But that would be a pretty indirect way of getting at that possibility since many other things can affect menstrual cycles. Plus, these five questions alone won’t be able to properly assess whether you are overtraining. Maybe a better way would be to, you know, ask you more directly about your training regimens. Or even better yet, have a real health professional ask you about your practice habits when he or she performs a history and physical exam on you, which the form already requires. That can help ensure more of a dialogue about the risks of overtraining with someone more qualified to discuss such issues than a form.

One may also argue that the word “optional” accompanies these five “FEMALES ONLY” questions, meaning that technically you don’t have to answer any of these questions if you don’t want to do so. However, whenever you encounter the word “optional” next to a question on a form, it’s easy to wonder what may happen if you don’t answer the question. This could be akin to getting a question like “what makes you interested in this job” or “how has your day been” during a job interview. Technically, you have the option of not answering such questions. But responding with, “I elect not to answer” or simply staring at the interviewer silently may not send the message that you want to send, especially if you actually want the job. Similarly, if you want to play sports, you feel some pressure to answer any questions asked on a form, even those labeled as optional, just to make sure that no problems emerge with your eligibility.

Therefore, anyone constructing a form collecting health information, should first determine what questions are really necessary to include. Asking something simply because you are curious is not enough justification to incorporate a question into a form. Otherwise, you’d see questions like “when you dream, how often do you think of dogs driving cars,” a lot more often on health-related forms.

Which brings us back to the original question: why include these five “FEMALES ONLY” questions? Many of the other questions not labeled “FEMALES ONLY” seem to have clear relevance to sports participation. For example, asking about whether you have had a history of seizures or symptoms like chest pain and dizziness while exercising could help determine whether you have an undiagnosed major heart condition. Running on to to a playing field with such a condition and without proper precautions could end up being life-threatening. On the other hand, what exactly would be the dangers of running on to a playing field when you had 14 periods last year versus 12? Why ask such questions of “FEMALES ONLY” when the form doesn’t have a “MALES ONLY” section that asks questions such as “when was your first erection?”

Well, writer and actor Benjamin Siemon offered his thoughts on why such questions are being asked:

The original intent of high school athletics screening forms in general has been to make sure that kids are safe health-wise to play sports. Is this Florida form then yet another example of politics trumping science, so to speak? It’s difficult to say for sure what the motivation may be since the form does not indicate the specific purpose of the five “FEMALES ONLY” questions. All in all, asking you to provide personal health information on a form without clearly explaining how this information may be used seems to be quite bad form indeed.

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