Things we need to know…. Periods

Oh yes, we need to know about periods. My mum just kind of let me get on with it. I can’t remember her ever explaining it, as such. Just showed me where the tampons and pads were kept. And gave me that book!
At school, as has been mentioned, boys and girls were separated while the girls were initiated into these ‘feminine mysteries’. Thus spawning a generation of young men without a fucking clue what periods are or do…… I apologise in advance if this seems incredibly basic, but it’s necessary!

Periods, menstruation, that time of the month, the decorators being in, being on, the reds playing…..
They all refer to the bleeding that happens to most women of childbearing age, roughly once a month. Ok, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to take that mythical woman, ‘the norm’.
So, she’ll have a cycle of 28 days – 4 weeks. In reality the cycle can be anywhere around 4 or 5 weeks. She won’t be using any kind of hormonal contraception, so her periods are “real” periods.
The point of the cycle is to prepare her body to carry a baby. To conceive. So, for the first three weeks of her cycle, the lining of her womb – which is generally a kind of spongy flesh – will get thicker, and spongier, and generally a nicer place for a fertilised egg to be.
Around about the second week, one of her ovaries will release an egg. This egg is pointless without sperm to fertilise it. (You know when you eat hen’s eggs? Same principle. Those eggs aren’t fertilised. If they are, you crack the egg and a little bloody eye and beak pops out.)
Back to humans – the egg hangs about for a week or so, waiting to be fertilised. If it is, and it manages to attatch itself to the lining of the womb, everything has done its job, so to speak, the woman is pregnant, and takes no further part in this discussion.
If it is, and fails to attatch, or if it never got fertilised in the first place, the womb gives up in despair, and begins to shed most of the excess lining – after all, it’s pointless without a fertilised egg.
So sometime in the fourth week, the woman will begin to bleed. It’s actually not that much blood. Only a few tablespoons, but it’s bulked out by tiny bits of womb lining. Mmmmm. Nice.
The egg will come out as well, but being only one cell, you wouldn’t notice it.
Beforehand, many uncomfortable things, like aches and pains in the small of the back, or the front, over the womb, or in the breasts, and water retention, bloatedness, may make her grumpy, or tired, or any number of different things. She’s not being hysterical, she’s probably not making it up, and she’s not in general any less capable of doing her job. Although she may have a shorter fuse.
While she’s bleeding, there may be more pain, proper cramps, etc, etc. Add to this having to schedule in sorting out getting rid of the blood, and you get a very, very grumpy me!

Personally, at the end of my period, I tend to feel curiously empty. It’s an odd feeling. But it’s nice when my bras fit again.

None of the taboos surrounding periods make that much sense. You can still swim, wash, be in the company of men, lead your normal life.

There are other things that affect periods. Girls who are underweight often have erratic periods, or none at all, simply because their bodies could not take the stress of supporting a foetus. Girls who have recently started their periods also often find them erratic, or lighter. A brown smear in one day’s underwear is apparently fairly common for a first period, if girls’ magazines are to be believed. (A heavy period will involve a lot of blood-coloured blood. There’s more of it, it’s travelling out quicker. A lighter period, or a period that has almost ended, and you find darker, or brown blood. Just one of those things. You can also get blood clots appearing. It happens.)

Many forms of contraception work by disrupting the cycle. The pill prevents ovulation – it stops eggs being produced, creating a hormonal state not unlike pregnancy. Although you still have periods, they are “pretend” periods – there was no egg to begin with – and they are often lighter. Girls with very heavy periods often use the pill to control them.
The implant or injection does, as far as I’m aware, roughly the same thing.
An IUD – InterUterine Device (nice name, huh?!) is, if I remember rightly, a coil of copper inserted into the womb that makes it less likely that a fertilised egg will implant itself into the womb lining. It has a string, much like a tampon, which makes it sound bloody weird to me, and makes me wonder whether you could use tampons without the potential to remove the wrong thing….

To clear up the mess, you get a variety of things – tampons, pads, sea sponges, little cups….
Tampons are cylinders of cotton which are inserted into the vagina. They are roughly the width of a finger, for ease of insertion, and once inside, expand with the dampness to provide a snug fit. They have a string to pull them out once they’re full, and get thrown away, or flushed away. You know when they’re full, because the blood starts to soak the string, like a candle wick. Because they dry out the vagina, however, these can’t be used for a whole day without taking a break. Vaginas are meant to be slightly wet. All kinds of nasty things happen if they aren’t, and besides, it feels weird, and makes it difficult for another tampon to be put in.
Pads are worn outside the body, in your underwear, and have one sticky side – to stick to your knickers – and one soft side, to catch the blood. If there particularly bulky, it feels like you’re wearing a nappy, and indeed, in a pinch, a large pad can be used as a nappy. Useful to know. Some of them come with ‘wings’ – sticky flaps which curl under the knickers to keep the pad more safely in place.
Sea sponges and little cup things also go inside the vagina. They are designed to be reused, and are more difficult to find. They pretty much do what it says on the label – sponges act like tampons and soak the blood up, the cups just collect it.

There, nice and informative. Periods are not evil, or scary, or weird. They just hurt a bit.

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One Comment on “Things we need to know…. Periods”

  1. Kirsten says:

    I recommend http://www.scarleteen.com.

    Everything you could possibly want to know. Heck of a lot more useful than anything I was ever taught at school.

    The one thing I would add is that there are medical conditions which can make periods far, far eviler. Like endometriosis or fibroids.


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