Male-bodied people who know and relate to female-bodied people: no one is asking you to bathe in menstrual fluid or to worship at the altar of the moon goddess. But if you want to be a good boyfriend, partner, one-night-stand, or gay best friend you need to be have a good grasp of Period 101.
Here is the thing: periods are actually really rad. Our bodies are fascinating and intricate and do really amazing things. In women, there is a correlation between having a positive attitude towards menstruation and healthy behaviors and desires. Feeling good about periods behooves us all. The more you know, the less scary it is! And the less scary it is for men, the less women will have to worry what men think about periods! It’s win-win.
So for the non-menstruaters out there, here is what you must know about (as Cher calls it) “surfing the crimson wave.”
It Means She’s Not Pregnant
To refresh your memory of high school biology, “the lining of the uterus has thickened to prepare for a fertilized egg. If no conception occurs, the uterine lining as well as blood will be shed. The shedding of an unfertilized egg and the uterine wall is the time of menstruation.” This is why missing a period is often the first sign that one of you needs to get to the pharmacy for a pregnancy test, and both of you can start pacing around the apartment in anticipation/dread, depending on the circumstances. Important for both of you to learn and internalize: sometimes women experience spotting (blood coming out) at the beginning of a pregnancy and mistake it for a period. (Like you’ve really never seen an episode of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.)
PMS Is Real
Contrary to what lousy jokes on the television told you, not every woman has Premenstrual Syndrome symptoms, but for those who do it can be a real day (or three) ruiner. With approximately 85% of menstruating women reporting at least one PMS symptom, it’s a phenomenon that you really need to wrap your mind around. It looks different for everyone, but some of the most common symptoms are swollen or tender breasts, upset stomach, feeling tired, depression, anxiety, changes in appetite and headache. “That sounds bloody awful,” you may be thinking (while patting yourself on the back for the pun). Well, it is. And it happens about a week or two before the bleeding part, so many women have to go through a roller coaster of pain and feelings twice a month, for several days.
Don’t Complain About PMS
Women are allowed to discuss PMS but it’s verboten for a man. Your role is to be kind and compassionate to the ladies in your life. If a woman tells you that a week before she “has the painters in” that everything she says comes out sounding like a lion’s roar, trust her. And most important: The idea that decision making or rational thought is impaired when a person is menstruating or experiencing PMS is insulting. We all have to work with pain sometimes, be it from a cold or from a hangover, and we do our jobs just fine.
We’re Not Just Constantly Leaking Blood
Menstrual blood is not just flowing out of us all day, everyday, for the entirety of our periods. We are not menstrual lady-fountains. In fact, healthy women lose only between one and six tablespoons of blood total per cycle. You know how when you have to pee, you can feel it? Well this is different. We could be jogging, or teaching a class, or about to do a shot of tequila when it trickles out. Most women have some idea of what time of day their period normally starts and if they’re keeping track of the days, they will know it’s coming (not to mention those PMS symptoms as a friendly reminder). As for knowing when it’s going to flow out, we don’t know until it happens. However, like everything these days, there’s an app for that.
The Bloody Truth
Now, as for whether it’s gross: yes, it is. It is the lining of a uterus. If you’re generally squeamish in life, you’re likely to be squeamish about this. Sometimes it has chunks. Sometimes it has a subtle but unique period smell. Sometimes it’s messy and slimy. It’s okay to feel a little funny in your stomach when you think about what it is, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to think women’s bodies are disgusting. Because we’re fertile reproductive goddesses and this comes with the beauty of creating life. Namaste.
Tampon Vs. Pad
Don’t get me started on how horrific commercials for pink and purple-boxed lady products are, but we’ve all seen them. There are a stupid number of different brands of tampons and pads, and they come in all shapes and sizes. You need to know this stuff in case you’re sent to the store to pick up emergency supplies (or if you offer, you chivalrous fox)! If you’re picking up tampons or pads for a menstruating type female, ask her which size and brand she likes. It matters!
A tampon is a wad of cotton, in one of a few sizes, that women insert into their vaginas for up to eight hours at a time (no more than that, there’s a risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome that could be fatal). A little string hangs off the bottom of the tampon and outside of the body for easy removal.
A pad is absorbent cotton with adhesive tape on one side. Menstruating babes stick them on the inside of their undies. Lots of ladies love this option because it means they don’t have to insert anything, but it is arguably the messiest option. Blood comes out of the body (whenever it feels like it) and just hangs on the pad until she changes it.
A plug for the menstrual cup, which more and more women are using: It’s a small medical-grade silicone cup that is shaped like a funnel (but obviously doesn’t function like one). It catches the flow and then women empty it as often as they need to. The most popular brands are the Diva Cup or Moon Cup and (this part will interest you), they are completely internal unlike tampons or pads, so you two can do all the sexy external stuff you want, and you won’t even notice that it’s lady shark week.
Because Period Sex Can Happen!
In fact, some people are all about it! They can’t get enough of it! They don’t let a measly period get in the way of getting down, in whichever way they want to. It does take some forethought, of course. For example, you’ll want to discuss cleanup if you don’t want your bed to look like a crime scene. The idea that women’s reproductive happenings are gross is no longer cute. That idea is old and tired and potentially means you’re having 25% less sex!
Birth Control Periods Are a Different Beast
Assuming all goes according to plan (and it mostly does between 97 and 99 percent of the time), hormonal birth control stops ovulation. The “period” that women have when they’re on hormonal birth control (like birth control pills, for example) is not really a period at all. Most hormonal birth control options work on a 28 day cycle: 21 days of hormones and seven days of placebo. The drop in hormones is just enough for “withdrawal bleeding” to occur. While it looks and feels like the same thing, Aunt Flo on hormonal birth control is an imposter of sorts. It’s the fake orgasm of periods – it looks and feels real, but it doesn’t do the same thing to our bodies. In fact, many women on hormonal birth control skip that week altogether and carry onto the next three weeks of hormones.
Image via Veer