Periods. That time of the month. Chums. Aunt Flo. Code Red. Leak week. Lady problems.
Periods are as natural as the rain or wind. The biology behind them is the reason why humankind exists! We live in the 21st century, but ‘those’ days are still called ‘those’ days. Sadly it’s still not okay to call out one of the most regular functions of our bodies.
Smuggling pads into our bags and any kind of period shaming needs to end. And as always, at Lokyatha our tool to tackle this issue is knowledge and awareness.
So let us read on to understand why periods occur and how to best manage them.
What are ‘periods’?
As part of the natural reproduction process, women’s bodies go through a menstrual cycle. This cycle lasts on average for 28 days (although it differs slightly for everyone). Every month, this cycle involves:
- thickening of the uterus lining with tissue in preparation for pregnancy; (the tissue lining helps with pregnancy by protecting and nourishing the egg),
- the growth of an egg,
- the release of the egg from the ovary through a process called ‘ovulation’, and
- finally, if the eggs are not fertilized in time, release and shedding of the uterus lining through the vagina
Note: Fertilization happens during vaginal intercourse when a man ejaculates and a sperm fertilizes the egg.
- The uterus lining, accompanying blood, and bodily secretions are exited every cycle. This process is called menstruation or periods.
- Women menstruate or have periods from puberty to menopause (around the age of 50 but this also differs from person to person).
- This blood is shed through the vagina for an average of 3 to 5 days a month. But 2 days and 7 days of bleeding are also normal.
- It’s important to note that women are not alone in experiencing periods. New research has proven that transgender men, non-binary, and gender-queer individuals can also get periods. At the same time, there are transgender women who may not have periods.
Are periods painful?
The experience varies from person to person. While some have no pain, others experience severe cramps. These cramps may be in the stomach and lower abdominal region. The pain could even extend to the back and thighs.
What is PMS and does everyone have it?
Many people feel irritated or notice major mood swings during this time or before their periods. This is when people may ask if they are ‘PMSing’.
PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. A few symptoms of PMS include moodiness, sadness, anxiety, bloating, and acne among others. The symptoms go away after the first few days of a period.
PMS occurs due to hormonal changes in the body. So there is no need to feel guilty about it. A bit of exercise and meditation can help improve PMS symptoms.
Again, for PMS as well, individual experiences vary widely. So we must be careful and not generalize one’s person’s experience as the norm for everyone. We have to recognize that every person is different. While some may have severe discomfort, others may barely experience any discomfort, physical or emotional.
So what should I do when I am on my periods?
The most important thing during periods is maintaining hygiene. Staying clean ensures that we don’t get any bacterial or fungal infections.
There are many options at our disposal to choose from. Sanitary napkins (commonly called ‘pads’), tampons, menstrual cups, etc. are widely popular for period care. While commercials suggest one over the other, each one has its own pros and cons.
Menstrual cups have recently seen success as they offers an eco-friendly solution to the waste generated by pads with plastic lining. Cups are reusable and hence, cost-effective.
Many pads these days are made from biodegradable substances such as banana peel or bamboo fibre. Cloth pads which can be washed and reused are also gaining popularity these days.
It is important to change pads and tampons regularly (within 5-6 hours depending on the flow) to avoid odour and infection. It is also a good idea to shower and gently cleanse the vulva using unscented soap.
In case of cramps, holding a heating pad over the painful area helps immensely. If the doctor recommends take medication; else it is best avoided.
The most important thing when someone is on their periods is to be kind to them.
Bleeding for five days straight with hormones pulling their tricks can take a toll. So try not to isolate the individual and instead, take care of them. If the person is you, practise self-compassion.
What NOT to do during periods?
During periods, the estrogen levels go haywire which may reduce our endurance to pain. It is recommended to avoid waxing during this time for the same reason.
While it is suggested to clean the vulva for hygiene purposes, the vagina is a self-cleansing organ. It is recommended to avoid douching (washing or soaking the vagina with water or a mixture of water and vinegar) as it can strip off the vagina of essential bacteria as well.
Some people prefer to avoid sex during their periods, and others have no issues with it. Some even find masturbation or sex as a relief during this time. This is a personal preference and there is no right or wrong approach.
However as always, it is recommended to practise safe sex even during one’s periods. The chances of getting pregnant may be slightly lower at this time, but it is still a possibility.
Sperm can live in the female reproductive tract for about 5 days. This means there is a change of the egg getting fertilized even during this time. To avoid unwanted pregnancy and STD transmission, safe and responsible sex is recommended.
Is there a parallel of periods for men?
Men do not bleed like women, but changes in their hormonal levels affect them as well. The term coined for this is Irritable Male Syndrome or IMS.
Men’s testosterone levels keep changing during the day. When there is a significant drop in it, they show symptoms similar to a woman who is PMSing. This means they get irritated easily (as the term suggests), and may suffer from anxiety and depression and feel tired.
The testosterone drop may be due to various reasons such as:
- changes in diet,
- lack of sleep, and so on
Are periods impure?
NOT AT ALL! Periods are a natural phenomenon. Many cultures consider this time in a girl’s life as impure, but that is far from the truth.
Perhaps in order to ensure that women rest during their periods, they were asked to stay separately and not move around. They were also asked not to touch things. Inability to move or touch things ensured rest.
Slowly this turned into a restriction. Women on periods then came to be seen as impure. Some parts of the world treat periods in a rather shocking way. Girls in Bolivia carry used pads in their bags because they believe that the period blood is very dangerous and if anyone comes in contact with it, they may suffer from cancer.
Many women in India are not allowed to enter the kitchen or temples during their periods. Women in some parts of Bangladesh are banished from their houses to live in cattle sheds during their periods.
However, all of this is a part of patriarchal control of women and their bodies. It’s fortunate that there has been a lot of activism all over the world to do away with the stigma attached to periods.
We must continue to educate those around us to create a generation which has outgrown the stigma and myths that revolve around menstruation.
Let’s normalize this very human, biological process. If you are someone who menstruates, look after yourself and others. If you are someone who doesn’t menstruate, have empathy and compassion for those who do.
Remember, it is because of this process that human beings are able to reproduce and survive as a species.
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