Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial TeamUpdated on May 4, 2021

How do you explain periods to men? Menstruation. Tampons. Pads. Uterus. Bleeding – 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. 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. Additionally, 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 participants stated that a woman on her period is “less clean and less attractive.” This is ridiculous. Menstruation is a normal bodily function that 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 facts from myths can go a long way in demystifying the topic. Here is what those without uteruses need to know.

Disclaimer: Every person with a uterus experiences menstruation in a different way, so do not rely on this explanation as a binding guide to how all those with uteri menstruate.

explaining periods to men

How do periods work?

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 = bleeding each month. 

How often is a menstrual cycle?

How often should menstruation occur?

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 as blood when the egg does not get fertilized and ends with the body preparing to get pregnant (releasing eggs from the ovary to be fertilized). Bleeding can last three to eight days with the heaviest bleeding occurring on the first few days.

What to do for an abnormal menstrual cycle?

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 seven days in a row or experience dizziness, cold extremities, or severe pain, please see a doctor and get this evaluated/treated. 

What are premenstrual symptoms?

Before a period starts each month, the individual may notice symptoms. These symptoms are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms. While the media has been consistent in portraying food cravings and mood swings as the key symptoms of an upcoming period, women experience all sorts of symptoms including, but not limited to: cramps (this can range from mild to painful), acne breakouts, sore breasts, bloating, and diarrhea are all fairly common.

Food cravings

In the weeks/days leading up to their period, women may crave especially sweet and starchy foods. Before and during a period, hormone levels fluctuate, leading to an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, which causes cravings. Furthermore, when we eat certain foods, our brain releases serotonin, helping to alleviate PMS symptoms.

Cramps 

Cramps are caused by contractions of the uterus, which occur as it sheds its lining. They 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.

Mood changes 

Emotional symptoms can also be expected by someone dealing with the physical discomfort of a period. Additionally, changes in hormones may cause mood swings. There is speculation that estrogen levels correspond to serotonin, the neurotransmitter associated with our mood, ultimately affecting a woman’s emotional state. 

Pregnancy & period 

How long does sperm live?

Sperm can live for up to five 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 could lead to pregnancy.

Can you get pregnant during your period?

Contrary to popular belief, and although unlikely, it is possible for a woman to get pregnant if she has intercourse during her period. A woman with a short cycle can start ovulating a few days after her period, and sperm from intercourse from up to five days earlier can still fertilize the egg. Contraceptives are still the advisable option to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

What are the different sanitary products?

If you have ever walked down the toiletries aisle in a grocery store, you have likely noticed many sanitary products available to help with menstruation. From pads, to tampons, to menstrual cups, or even period-proof underwear, these products are designed to serve different women with different preferences. 

Tampons

Tampons are the little rods with a string hanging from one end. They are normally made out of cotton, rayon, or a mix of both. These sanitary products in particular are single-use and meant to be inserted into the vagina. They typically last for about 4-8 hours, absorbing blood until they are replaced with another.  

tampons

Pads

Pads (a.k.a. sanitary napkins) are worn in the underwear to absorb any blood that comes out of the vagina. They come in many sizes based on the heaviness of one’s flow. Like tampons, these are meant to be replaced after a few hours. 

pads

Menstrual cups/disks

Menstrual cups/disks are a more sustainable period product compared to tampons and pads. They are little cups made of medical grade silicone that are meant to be inserted into the vagina to collect blood. Unlike a tampon, menstrual cups can be left in the vagina for up to 12 hours before needing to be emptied, cleaned, and reinserted. One menstrual cup can be used multiple times and, if taken care of properly, can last around 10 years! Menstrual disks, like menstrual cups, are inserted in the vagina to collect blood. They can also be worn up to 12 hours, but must be discarded after use and replaced with a new one.  

Menstrual cups disks

Panty liners

Panty liners are very similar to pads in that they are worn in the underwear and collect blood that comes out of the vagina. The only difference between panty liners and pads is their size and absorbance level. Panty liners are generally much smaller and thinner and cannot absorb as much as a pad. These are normally used in the very beginning or very end of a period, when there is not a lot of menstrual flow to collect. 

panty liner

Period proof underwear

Period proof underwear is made of absorbent material, much like a pad. But there is no pad. It’s just underwear. They are meant to keep any absorbed liquid locked in so it does not ruin the individuals clothes. Once the underwear is worn for a certain amount of time (depending on type and amount of menstrual flow) they are supposed to be washed and used again. 

How much do periods cost?

Unfortunately, all of the things that are necessary for getting through menstruation are not offered to women for free. Furthermore, individuals with a uterus spend large amounts of money on period products. Interested in how much periods cost the average woman? Here is a quick guide through the $$$.

What’s the takeaway?

Having a period is a big deal – they are more than the “time of the month” when a woman bleeds non-stop. 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.

How can Pandia Health help?

Pandia Health makes women’s lives easier by delivering the pill, patch, and ring at no cost. Sign up today so you #SkipTheTrip to the pharmacy. 

We also educate individuals with a uterus about how they can make their periods optional. Check out our social media to discover the exciting world of taking control of your reproductive system by using birth control to safely skip your period. 

woman standing

Frequently Asked Questions

What are fallopian tubes?

Fallopian tubes connect the uterus to the ovaries and are responsible for transporting the ovum from the ovary to the uterus every month. 

At what age does a girl have her first period?

Girls can get their first period between the ages of 10 and 15, with many getting it at around 12 years old. This is normally a sign that they are getting close to the end of puberty. 

What is toxic shock syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare, fatal condition that comes from certain bacterial infections. TSS is mostly associated with leaving in a tampon for too long, but it can affect almost anyone as it is caused by toxins that come from Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. Other risk factors include: having cuts/burns on your skin, having surgery, and having a viral infection. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.