Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
How do you explain periods to men? Menstruation. Period. Tampons. Sanitary pads. Vagina bleeding – just a list of words that when mentioned are guaranteed to make men shift uncomfortably in their seats.
Despite the increasing societal pressure to eliminate the stigma associated with the concept of menstruation, many men are still uncomfortable discussing the subject, even in homes and relationships. Here is the reality – most people with a uterus that you know will spend about 40 years menstruating. Whether you acknowledge the fact or not, avoiding the topic will not make it go away. Menstruation goes on and on and on.
A poll commissioned by Thinx of 500 men in the United States revealed that 51% of men believe it is inappropriate for women to openly discuss their periods in the workplace. Nevertheless, 44% of the men admitted to having made a joke or comment about a partner’s mood when she’s on her period.
In a study by Kindara on how men perceive menstruation, a large number of men stated that a woman on her period is “less clean and less attractive.” So let’s get something clear. Menstruation is a normal bodily function just like going to the bathroom (#1 or #2) or sneezing and affects half of the world’s population. Look at it from this angle, men and women poop (far more often than menstruation occurs) and yet, we do not see each other as less clean than the next person, so why should we see menstruation differently?
Understanding how periods work and learning to separate the facts about periods from the myths can go a long way in demystifying the topic. Here is what those without uteruses need to know.
Starting point – Every person with a uterus experiences menstruation in a different way, so do not rely on this explanation as a binding guide to how the all those with uteri menstruate.
What is menstruation (aka having a period)?
The uterus develops a lining intended to nourish and protect a fertilized egg (fetus) approximately every month. The fertilized egg must attach itself to the lining in order to grow. When no pregnancy occurs during the cycle, the lining is shed along with nutrients, dissolved remnants of the egg, and tissue such as blood which is what is known as menstruation.
Basically: No pregnancy = no need for uterine lining = Periods/Bleeding each month.
How often should menstruation occur? Every person with a uterus’ cycle is different but the normal cycle is between 23-35 days long. A menstrual period starts with the body expelling the old uterine lining with blood when the egg does not get fertilized and ends with the female body preparing to get pregnant (releasing eggs from the ovary, eggs traveling to be fertilized). Days of bleeding can vary from 3 to 8 days (generally) with the heaviest bleeding occurring on the first few days. When the menstrual cycle occurs for longer periods or are extremely long, heavy or painful, this could be a sign of a medical condition like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or a bleeding disorder like Von Willebrand’s disease. If you bleed more than 7 days in a row or have symptoms of dizziness, cold extremities, or severe pain, please see a doctor and get this evaluated/treated.
Every month, those with monthly bleeds experience different symptoms just before the actual period starts. These symptoms are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. While the media has been consistent in portraying food cravings and mood swings as the the key symptoms of an upcoming period, women experience all sorts of symptoms. Symptoms such as cramps (this can range from mild to painful), acne breakouts, sore breasts, bloating, and diarrhea are all fairly common.
Cramps can easily be the most dramatic part of having a period and the most painful. Cramps can happen at any time of your cycle with different intensity, signaling ovulation or pre-menstrual cramps. But severe cramps or pelvic pain could be a sign of a more serious condition like endometriosis.
Emotional symptoms can also be expected by someone dealing with physical discomfort triggering emotional responses with different women experiencing unique intensities. Please note that this is not the appropriate time to make crude, humorless jokes about these emotions. They are very real, so please be empathetic.
Just in case you are wondering, sperm can live for up to 5 days in a person with a uterus’ body compared to the female egg which only lives for 24 hours. This concept established what is known as the fertile window (a period of 7 days when intercourse is believed to possibly lead to pregnancy). Contrary to popular belief, it is possible for a woman to get pregnant if she has intercourse during her period – it is just very unlikely. Predicting when ovulation occurs (as a method of preventing pregnancy) is a lot more complex than just counting days. A woman with a short cycle can start ovulating a few days after her period and sperm from intercourse up to 5 days earlier can still fertilize the egg. Contraceptives are still the advisable option to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
If you have ever walked down the toiletries aisle in a grocery store, you would have noticed many different sanitary products available to help with menstruation. From pads to tampons to menstrual cups or even period-proof underwear, these sanitary products serve different women with different preferences. There are so many factors that influence a woman’s decision on sanitary products like comfort or the heaviness of flow (how much blood and how often the bleeding occurs during the day).
Having a period is a big deal. Periods are much more than that time of the month that a woman bleeds non-stop and menstruation is not one big dirty secret that women in the world share. It is the body self-cleaning in preparation for another ovulation phase in a female body. The secrecy and shame associated with menstruation only makes it worse for women. Men have a major role to play in normalizing periods and understanding the basics is definitely a step in the right direction.
Interested in how much periods cost the average woman? Here is a quick guide through the $$$.
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