If you’ve gotten this far, you’re curious.
I write this in the spirit of empathy for those of you who do not menstruate to get off the cases of those of us who do. Lots of people menstruate, about half the population of people between the ages of twelve and sixty. You’ve probably spoken with someone who is menstruating this very day! So for those of you who don’t (or who haven’t yet), I’m about to lay down some cold, hard, truths about what this process feels like.
There is no universal period.
It can change throughout a person’s life and varies greatly between people. Starting, switching, or stopping birth control or other hormonal treatments can affect how often a person gets their period and how it feels. If a person has ovarian cysts there can be far more physical pain. Someone who has recently given birth, stopped breastfeeding, had a miscarriage, or had an abortion may have a very different experience than from what they are used to. Some people need to quarantine themselves away from society while they are menstruating, whereas others find it to be nothing serious. Basically, everything I lay down from here on out may be true in some cases but not in others. This is what I have come to learn from myself and the other menstruating people in my life.
There are a lot more physical changes than just blood coming out of a vagina.
Those cramps people talk about can be mild to nonexistent or really something horrible. When a person complains about cramps, their body is literally wringing out the wet washcloth of their uterus. This can feel pretty sucky. Sometimes midol or ibuprofen help, sometimes they don’t. In addition to cramping, back muscles can get all knotted up and you’re eating/pooping/sleeping/sex schedule gets all out of whack. Basically, nothing is easy. Oh, you wanted to wear your favorite pants to make yourself feel like a human? Too bad, because you’ve gained five pounds and they are too tight for today. Don’t worry, those five pounds will drop away as you emerge from the cranky chrysalis of menstruation and you can emerge in your sexy pants like a butterfly.
Everything gets more complicated.
Sometimes periods are all “surprise, motherfucker” while we’re out and about. Luckily, people who menstruate like to help one another and will often lend a spare pad or tampon to a fellow menstruater (so long as they have one). Speaking of which, pads and tampons are pretty much the worst ever. Neither is particularly comfortable and they cost a lot. Also, tampons can kill people if they are not used correctly. There are other reusable options out there, like sponges and cups, but they cost more up front and can be uncomfortable to use in scuzzy public bathrooms or porta potties (a menstruater’s nemesis). Surprise periods are also the #1 killer of favorite underpants, pants, and sheets (pro tip: hydrogen peroxide and water when it is fresh).
The emotional changes get a real bad rap.
Some people do turn into crazy monsters when they menstruate, but most of us remain able to function within society. Smarmily asking a person if “it’s their time of the month” when we are in a crappy mood (menstruating or not) is some real bullshit. People that make such remarks generally grind other people’s gears, menstruation aside. If someone is menstruating and in a crappy mood, please remember that their body feels all crazy right now and they may have lost a pair of really cute underwear to period stains, but they still managed to get up and function within society so they are doing okay. If they need to go home and watch a romantic comedy while eating junk food then they have earned that privilege.
It’s not all bad, though.
For people that are (hetero) sexually active and not trying to grow tiny people in their uteruses, the first sighting of menstrual blood is a welcome relief. For those that ARE trying to grow tiny people inside of their uteruses, it means that in two weeks their uteruses might be in baby-making prime time, complete with a fresh, healthy ovum. Doctors will routinely ask about menstrual cycles because disruption means something is happening to that body, which may be good or bad. It’s a signal that things are working, which is kind of nice to have despite all of the other baggage that comes along with it.