7 Things Every Woman Should Know About Periods

by Gina M. Florio
Originally Published: 
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Whether it's in the form of advertisements telling us to keep our periods discreet and fragrant, or we're stuck in a useless sex-education class at school, it's abundantly clear that menstruation taboo is still a thing. What's worse is, it keeps women from asking questions about menstruation. Unfortunately, society has ways of telling women that bleeding once a month is gross, and that we need to do everything we can to keep it under wraps. This successfully perpetuates period shame and prevents women from finding out what every menstruating woman should know about periods.

This taboo doesn't only exist in the United States, of course. According to a survey carried out by the United Nations' sanitation agency, 70% of women in India think that menstrual blood is dirty, The Guardian reported. Moreover, a UNICEF survey showed that 40% of girls in Iran thought menstruation was a disease. The results of these statistics are devastating, because they illustrate that the majority of non-Western females have not received adequate menstrual education.

Even though there are very few menstruating people in the U.S. who view periods in this negative light, there are still far too many of us who don't know enough about them. You may hate your period sometimes, but I'm guessing you would still like to know more about it. Regardless, it's important to stay educated on how your body functions so you can learn how to keep yourself healthy and happy.

Here are seven things every person who menstruates should know about periods.

1. We Don't Have To Have Monthly Periods

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Although nurses, WebMD, and moms everywhere would have us believe that maintaining a "regular" cycle (about 28 days) is ideal, there is no scientific proof to back up this claim. Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told the Atlantic that there's no medical reason for us to menstruate every month, and there's "nothing wrong with tweaking the system if bleeding is difficult for women."

"People get really discouraged if people have been tracking their period and it's irregular and they feel like there's something wrong with them," Keely Semler, MPH, a doula based in California, tells Bustle. "Just because someone's period is irregular doesn't mean there's an issue, it just means that our bodies are unique."

When the first birth control pills were being issued to women in the 1960s and '70s, gynecologists and researchers found that most of them asked for monthly periods, mainly because they wanted the assurance that they weren't pregnant. However, the periods you have while on the pill — or any other similar hormonal birth control, for that matter — are purely pharmacologic.

Because of this, more OBGYNs are coming out to encourage women who struggle with extremely painful periods to speak with their doctor about finding a form of birth control, like the Mirena IUD, that can reduce the number of periods they get or even stop them altogether.

2. Regular Periods Don't Necessarily Mean You're Fertile

Dr. Lauren Streicher, MD, associate clinical professor of OGBYN at the medical school of Northwestern University, told BuzzFeed that a regular, monthly period doesn't guarantee fertility. You can get your period with or without releasing an egg. This is called an anovulatory cycle — basically, a cycle in which ovulation hasn't occurred.

Most of us are under the impression that normal menses equals fertility, and the common belief is that ovulation kicks off 14 days after the first day of your period. According to the American Pregnancy Association, this is a myth, and we'd be silly to automatically calculate our ovulation schedule this way. Ovulation could happen anywhere between day 11 and day 21 of your cycle.

Rather than simply relying on the dates of your period to figure out when you're ovulating, you could start tracking your basal body temperature and peeking at your cervical fluid every day. (There are great apps out there to help you keep an eye on all of this.)

3. A "Regular" Period Doesn't Have To Mean A 28-Day Cycle

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A cycle can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days. If your monthly cycle falls under that description, you might think you're in the clear — but that doesn't mean you are.

Even if your monthly period occurs within the 21-35 day frame, it's still not considered regular if the number of days that pass between periods doesn't stay steady. For example, if your cycle is 24 days one month, 30 days the next month, and 26 days on the third month — you're not technically having regular periods. Also, this could mean you're not ovulating periodically.

4. You Can Get Pregnant During Your Period

Did you know sperm can live for up to five days in your body? This means if you have a shorter cycle, and thus start ovulating sooner after your period than women with a longer cycle, you could get pregnant by having sex on the last day of your period. Yikes.

"Sometimes, we don't always ovulate at day 14," Semler says. "I've had clients who ovulate on day six. I've had clients that ovulate on day two." Day two is two days after you first start bleeding; meaning, if you have sex during your bleed, and you're also ovulating, it is possible to get pregnant during that time.

You should also be aware of the differences between mid-cycle or ovulatory bleeding, and menstrual bleeding. If you mistake the former for the latter and have unprotected sex, your chance of getting pregnant could be much higher. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about these particular patterns, because you need to know when you're most fertile.

5. Periods Are Really Expensive

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When you add up all of the pads, tampons, over the counter pain meds, heating pads, and birth control pills the average woman has paid for over a lifetime of trying to manage her menstrual cycle, it comes out to about $18,171. Isn't that crazy? We've earned a menstrual tax rebate of some sort, if you ask me.

Put it into perspective, though, and it doesn't sound so bad — there are countless people around the world who don't even have the option of spending money on their periods because menstrual products simply aren't available to them.

6. PMS Is Very, Very Real

PMS is no joke — and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Moodiness, diarrhea, migraines, cravings, and even clumsiness are all very real symptoms of PMS. So don't think you're "crazy" or "weak" for being affected by PMS.

The final days of your menstrual cycle, right before you start bleeding, is prime time for pre-menstrual syndrome to kick in. Your progesterone is high at this point because it's been rising the past few days — but around this time, it plummets right along with your estrogen and testosterone. "Before your period, estrogen levels and progesterone levels can fluctuate suddenly instead of slowly, which is why headaches, nausea and flu-like symptoms may appear," Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In GYN Care, a gynecological urgent care network in New York, tells Bustle. You might face exhaustion, (which isn't surprising, as your body is trying to tell you to slow down) and you shouldn't ignore it. If you do, you'll only exacerbate any anxiety, frustration, and resentment your hormones might be causing you to feel.

Take care of yourself, and if your PMS is interfering with your daily life, don't hesitate to chat with your OBGYN about it immediately.

7. Your Food Can Affect Your Period

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Keep a balanced diet — complete with lots of fresh fruits and veggies, protein, complex carbohydrates, and fats — can help you manage PMS symptoms. "There's tons of books and research out there that talks about how what you eat throughout the month will influence how your cycle occurs and how your period is experienced," Semler says. She mentions seed cycling, a protocol that involves adding different seeds to your diet, helped her manage her period cramps. "But what works for me may not work for you," she adds.

That's really the gist with all period-related info, anyway — that what's "normal" for one menstruator may not be another person's experience of their period, and that's OK.

This post was originally published on November 26, 2015. It was updated on July 2, 2019.

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