Florida High Schools Ask Female Athletes 5 Questions About Their Periods

Want to play high school sports in Florida? Well, the Florida High School Athletic Association has a form for you to fill out. And you can tell the form has some “interesting” questions, period. In this format, there is a section labeled “WOMEN ONLY”, with the following five additional questions:

  • When was your first period?
  • When was your last period?
  • How much time do you usually have between the start of one period and 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 if everyone would just say, “no big deal” about these questions, you’d be somewhat mistaken, especially in light of the two legislative changes that have occurred in the last two years. One of those changes came on June 1, 2022, when Florida Governor Ron DeSandis (R) signed into law a ban on transgender women playing on girls’ sports teams in Florida public schools. The other came on June 24, 3022, when the US Supreme Court overturned something called Roe v. Wade. This decision has since allowed the Florida state government to make abortion illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Even in the absence of these two legislative changes, a number of people on social media have wondered about the Big Brother nature of such questions. For example, Pam Keith, a lawyer who ran as a Democrat for a Florida seat in the US House of Representatives in 2020 but lost in the general election, called it a “State for Women” and apparently wasn’t referring to English rock band:

And Linda Girgis MD, a family physician and its editor-in-chief Doctors Weekly said that such questions “flagrantly trample on women’s rights,” in the following tweet:

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

Yes, collecting your private and potentially sensitive health information isn’t the same as asking if you like meatballs, the Ratcatcher 2 character in the movie The Suicide Squad, or wearing your underwear over your pants. There is a federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), that requires national standards 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 used for this form are actually HIPAA compliant. (By the way, being HIPPA 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 answers to these five questions may go. What if, as a result of this information, “coaches, principals and teachers can track their students’ menstrual cycles,” as Carabello warned in the tweet thread:

Yes, imagine your boss asking you “how’s that period going” or knowing how long your periods are.

At the same time, you need to ask yourself what any of these five questions have to do with your fitness for sport. For example, take a look at the first question, which asks when you had your first period, otherwise known as menarche. Onset of menarche tends to occur sometime between age 10 and age 16 with the average age of onset being 12.4 years, according to StatPearls. Since kids usually enter high school at the age of 14, you as a high school student may or may not have already had your first period. So what exactly happens if you answer “three years ago” vs. “a year ago” vs. “never” vs. “sometime in the future and, no, I don’t have a crystal ball” to this question?

One may try to argue that menstrual cycle disorders may is a sign of overtraining with an emphasis on the word “can”. But that would be a pretty indirect way of getting at that possibility, since many other things can affect menstrual cycles. Furthermore, these five questions alone will not 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 better yet, have an actual healthcare professional ask you about your practice habits when they do a history and physical exam, which the form already requires. This may help ensure more dialogue about the dangers of overtraining with someone more qualified to discuss such matters than a form.

One might also argue that the word “optional” accompanies these five “WOMEN ONLY” questions, meaning you technically don’t have to answer any of these questions if you don’t want to. However, whenever you see the word “optional” next to a question on a form, it’s easy to wonder what might happen if you don’t answer the question. This could look like a question like “what makes you interested in this job” or “how was your day” during a job interview. Technically, you have the option not to answer such questions. But responding with “I choose not to” or simply looking at the interviewer silently may not send the message you want to send, especially if you really want the job. Likewise, if you want to play sports, you feel some pressure to answer any questions on a form, even those marked as optional, just to make sure there are no issues with your eligibility.

Therefore, anyone building a form that collects health information should first determine which questions are really necessary to include. Asking something just because you’re curious isn’t enough justification to embed a question in a form. Otherwise, you’d see questions like “when you dream, how often do you think of dogs driving cars”, much more often in health-related forms.

Which brings us back to the original question: why include these five “WOMEN ONLY” questions? Many of the other questions not marked “WOMEN ONLY” seem to have a clear connection to sports participation. For example, asking if you have had a history of seizures or symptoms such as chest pain and dizziness during exercise could help determine if you have an undiagnosed major heart condition. Running on a pitch in such a condition and without proper precautions can end up being life threatening. On the other hand, what exactly would be the risks of running a pitch when you had 14 innings last year versus 12? Why ask “WOMEN ONLY” questions like this when the form doesn’t have a “MEN ONLY” section that asks questions like “when was your first erection?”

Well, author and actor Benjamin Siemon shared his thoughts on why such questions are asked:

The original intent of high school athletics control forms in general was to make sure kids were health-safe to play sports. Is this Florida figure yet another example of politics trumping science, so to speak? Overall, asking you to provide personal health information on a form without clearly explaining how that information will be used seems like very bad form indeed.

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