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Everything everyone needs to know about periods.
1. What is period bleeding?
In the menstrual cycle the uterus creates a bloody lining for a fertilized egg to implant itself in. If the egg isn't fertilized, or if it fails to implant, the egg and the lining falls away from the uterine wall and is passed through the vagina and a fresh lining begins to form. Period bleeding is normally composed of about 3 tablespoons of blood per month, plus 3-6 tablespoons of tissue, blood clots and mucus. The consistency and quantity varies by age, from person to person, and between the different days, and can be pink, bright red, dull red, dark red, brown or even black. The menstrual cycle is judged from the first day of bleeding until the next first day of bleeding, and is typically 20-40 days long, although in younger women it can be very unpredictable. A period normally lasts between 2-8 days
Menarche is the first menstrual bleeding in biofemales, and typically occurs around the age of 12 or 13, but can happen anytime between 9 and 15. Although the blood lining has already started to form and fall away from the body each month, ovulation doesn't normally occur until 18 months after menarche.
3. PMS and period pain
If someone tells you that they don't get any pain or discomfort with their period at all, believe them. Because not everyone suffers from PMS or period pain. If someone tells you it's utter hell and they become a nervous wreck, believe them, because PMS and period pain can be very severe. Typical symptoms include
- Stomach ache or cramps
- Vaginal contractions
- Weak legs
- Fatigue or nausea
- Mood swings, depression, anxiety or increased irritability
- Bloating or temporary weight gain
- Changes in acne
4. Managing PMS and period pain
- Stretching and mild exercise
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- Heat packs
Some biofemales use contraception to regulate periods, make them lighter, or decrease the severity of symptoms. Some contraception methods, like the implant, can make periods go away completely, and the hormonal IUD is used to either stop period bleeding or make them very light. Other contraception methods, like the copper IUD, can make periods heavier and more painful.
7. Feminine hygiene products
Disposable pads - pads made of plastic, paper pulp, cotton and/or absorbent gel that stick onto the underwear with adhesive and are thrown away after use. Pads are useful if it is uncomfortable to use internal protection and come in lots of lengths and absorbencies. They can be used overnight, but not for swimming and may be uncomfortable to wear during exercise. Disposable pads are not ideal for sensitive skin as they can cause rashes. Disposable pads can be worn through the night, but during the day should be changed every 2-4 hours to prevent leakage or odour.
Reusable pads - pads made of cloth that are washed and reused. Reusable pads are more cost-effective than disposable pads and are more suitable for sensitive skin. Reusable pads can be worn through the night, and changed as necessary throughout the day to prevent leakage.
Tampons - a mass of cotton or rayon that is worn internally to absorb menstrual flow and thrown away after use. Tampons can be used whilst swimming or exercising, but should not be worn for more than eight hours or overnight and tampon use is associated with TSS. Tampons should be changed every 4-6 hours and not worn longer than 8 hours.
Sponge or soft tampons - a synthetic sponge worn against the cervix to absorb menstrual flow. Easier to insert than tampons and can be used during swimming or exercise, but should not be worn for more than eight hours or overnight and sponge use is associated with TSS. They can also be used during sex. The sponge should be changed every 4-6 hours and not worn longer than 8 hours.
Sea sponge - a natural sea sponge that has been processed and cut specifically for use as menstrual protection, worn against the cervix. The sea sponge is rinsed between uses and sterilized at the end of each cycle. They can be used during swimming, exercise, overnight and during sex, although they should not be used by someone who has previously had TSS. The sea sponge should be changed every 12 hours.
Reusable menstrual cup - a rubber or silicone cup inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow. The cup is emptied and rinsed between each use and sterilized after each cycle.The menstrual cup can be worn overnight and during swimming or exercise, and is not associated with TSS. There is a learning curve to learning how to insert and remove the menstrual cup but it is suitable for heavy flow as it has a larger capacity than pads or tampons, and tampons or sponges can be put inside the cup to increase absorbency. The reusable menstrual cup should be changed every 12 hours.
Disposable menstrual cup - a plastic cup inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow and thrown away after use. The cup can be used overnight, during swimming or exercise, and during sex. The disposable menstrual cup should be changed every 12 hours.
Semi-reusable menstrual cup - a plastic cup inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual flow. It is emptied and rinsed between uses and thrown away at the end of each cycle. The cup can be used overnight, during swimming or exercise, and during sex. The semi-reusable menstrual cup should be changed every 12 hours.
8. Periods and sex
You can have sex during your period, although not everyone is comfortable or interested in that. Sex can relieve symptoms of PMS, and sometimes the influx of hormones can make some women horny during their period. In most women the menstrual flow stops or slows down during sexual excitement. The disposable and semi-reusable (but not reusable) menstrual cup, sea sponge and soft tampons can all be used during sex. Whilst pregnancy risk is reduced during a biofemale's period (although pregnancy is not completely impossible), the cervix is much more vulnerable to infection during a period.
Toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, is a potentially fatal illness caused by a bacterial toxin. This bacterial toxin can be introduced to the cervix by using tampons. To avoid TSS, wash your hands before and after inserting tampons or internal menstrual protection, and don't wear tampons or soft tampons for longer than eight hours or sea sponges and menstrual cups for longer than twelve hours. Symptoms of TSS include high fever, low blood pressure, malaise and a characteristic rash that resembles sunburn. If you get any of these symptoms remove and internal menstrual protection and go to the hospital immediately. Anyone who has previously had TSS should not use internal menstrual protection.
10. Period stigma
I had my menarche when I was quite young, and so I've received lots of period hate - mostly from boys and girls who hadn't started yet. I think the period stigma in men comes from a place of ignorance; a lot of men, especially men who haven't been with a lot of women, don't understand menstruation and everything it entails. When I was in primary school the sex education was particularly vague, and so many people had the wrong idea about periods and just assumed that periods were connected to pregnancy or promiscuity. Period stigma can also be seen as a result of male entitlement - a woman's right to exist is based purely on her attractiveness and accessibility to men, and, well...periods aren't sexy. But you know what? Women do not exist for the sole purpose of being sexy. Periods are crap enough as they are without being mocked or demonized.
I had my menarche when I was eleven, and for the first year or so it was fine - fairly regular, fairly light, and not too uncomfortable. Then after that it took a turn for the sucky and my periods became very heavy, irregular and painful. The symptoms have varied through the years but at the moment I get really bad contractions, cramps, and the most unbelievable mood swings. Before my menarche I had a very traumatic bullying experience involving little fuckwits being morons about menstruation, and when I was fourteen a boy grabbed a pad out of my bag, tore it open and then dropped it on the ground for everyone to see. The hardest part about having my period is the total lack of sympathy - many boys think period pain doesn't exist, or shouldn't be acknowledged, or that we're just being wimps about it. But believe me - I have lived through major open heart surgery and countless medical scares. I have been in so much pain that I screamed that I wanted to die, and I meant it. And period pain, when it gets very intense...it's almost up there, with that.
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