A visit from the painters.
Surfing the crimson wave.
That time of the month.
We’ve got all kinds of fun ways to talk about periods without talking about periods.
Menstruation, best known as a woman’s monthly “period”, is the time within an on-average 29 day rotation when an unfertilized uterus sheds its lining, causing a steady discharge of blood through the vaginal canal. This means the woman is not pregnant (good looking out, birth control) and that her body is executing its cyclical rhythms. For anyone with a uterus, periods are natural, normal, and albeit an occasional pain in the ass, they are a pretty amazing thing for the body to undergo. What other organ takes time each month to cleanse itself and reset for a completely fresh month, shedding a layer on a timely schedule? Answer: none. In my humble opinion, the uterus is a pretty shnazy organ and one whose street cred it way undervalued.
So if this completely natural and pretty spiffy process is so great, why do we get so weird when it comes to talking about periods? Women often refrain from discussing their menstrual cycles in public, even with other women, despite the fact that it is a fundamental biological process that many of us share. Thinking about discussing your period with a man? I bet you won’t. My father, who is a pretty liberal guy who I’d describe as being extremely supportive of the women in his life, shudders every time I bring up menstruation. TV and print advertisements for pads and tampons do an amazing job of marketing a product specifically for menstruation without talking about menstruation and one of their biggest selling points is how discreet they are so that you can smuggle a pad or tampon into the bathroom unnoticed. For all the hush hush around periods, you’d think we were talking about an illicit substance or an illegal behavior, not a 100% natural biological process.
I first started getting my period at the ripe young age of twelve, ahead of most of my later-blossoming peers. My period came every month like clockwork, lasting at least seven days and always accompanied by painful cramps. I did not like my period. Then at the age of sixteen, I went on oral contraceptives which with time made me amenorrheic – meaning I rarely got a regular period while on these pills, a complete normal side effect of oral contraceptives for some women. For a couple of years, that was the dream – no period, no problem. I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without fear of having to accommodate an unexpected and/or uncomfortable period. But since I recently changed my birth control to Nexplanon, an in-arm implant that works the same as an IUD, my monthly bleeding has changed pretty considerably – and surprisingly, I’m not mad about it.
You are catching me right now after a record setting four week long bleeding spell. Yes – that’s correct – four WEEKS. It was no walk in the park but this prolonged bleed helped me learn to love my period a little more. Sure, it absolutely helps that now I can use tampons with reckless abandon (only reckless within eight hour windows obviously) but it was inexplicably intriguing to be actively bleeding for that long a period of time. Over this Menstruating Month, I noticed changes in the consistency, color, and flow of my blood, I noticed changes in my mood and energy, and I noticed changes in my body. If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that a body could bleed for twenty eight days and still fully function. If any other part of you was bleeding that regularly for that long, any sane person would encourage you to seek immediate medical attention. [For the hypochondriacs in the room, I did check in with my doctor just to make sure that everything was alright and apparently this is totally par for the course when it comes to changing birth control methods, especially when switching to an implant birth control method.] After some google searching revealed that I might be in it for the long haul and could bleed pretty consistently for many moons before my cycle recalibrated, I figured I might as well embrace it and experience my period as fully as possible. I tried all different kinds of tampons, finally landing on my newest favorite, the ob tampon (the only tampon designed by a female gynecologist!) and I bought a pair of Thinx underwear. I tried having sex while on my period, I went to yoga on my period, I went for runs on my period, I took a bath on my period – all things I wouldn’t have gone near with a ten foot pole not so long ago.
And most of all, I told people, whoever would listen, about my month-long bleed. The longer I bled, the less embarrassed I became to talk about it and I was pleasantly surprised by the responses I received. Some people were weirded out but most people were over the moon to talk lady shop with me. Through these conversations, I was directed to an awesome menstruation zine and learned about the Blood Cycle Conference. I learned about my best friend’s birth control and my boss’ first gynecological appointment. I explored Diva Cups and learned just how bad pads and tampons are for the environment. I gained knowledge and accumulated support all because I talked to the people in my life about my period.
The stigma around female menstruation is real – you don’t have to look to far afield in the world to find places where women and girls are cast out from society and excluded from school during menstruation because they are deemed unclean. Thankfully, we don’t have it as bad in this country and yet, like most things in America, we do have some seriously old and entrenched biases around the female body and its processes that like to lurk just below the surface and subtly dictate what we do and don’t do and say in public. But since pretty much every living human is a result of the biology which leads to menstruation, I think we should be giving periods WAY more credit, praise, and airwaves than they currently get. So I will keep talking about my period and asking friends about theirs. I look forward to my next period and in the meantime I will keep reading everything I can get my hands on about periods. Because periods may be messy but they are a uniquely powerful female process that deserves to be discussed, destigmatized, and celebrated – PERIOD.