Periods 101

About half the world’s population will spend a good three or four decades on their menstrual cycle, yet very few non-bleeders would know what tampons their femme friends use – if they even know what a tampon is. Periods are as normal as bread and butter, but so many people don’t know the first thing about them. We’re here to break it down for you.

What is menstruation?

Menstruation is the technical term for ‘getting your period’. It is blood and tissue that is discharged from the vagina, after a female’s uterus sheds its protective padding when pregnancy doesn’t occur.

In other words, the inside of a woman’s most sensitive organ literally disintegrates every few weeks – think about that the next time we’re called the weaker sex!

But, it’s a completely natural occurrence that allows women to conceive children – so we think periods are a pretty beautiful part of life.

How often do girls get their periods and how long for?

Although many are quick to mansplain their all-encompassing period knowledge with ‘it must be that time of the month again’, that’s not exactly the case. The menstrual cycle is typically 30 days, and constant or intermittent bleeding usually occurs within the first five days of that cycle.

But, periods are rarely this regular for a girl in her first few years of menstruating age, nor for those with hormone imbalances (which is more common than you think). Some contraceptive methods and endurance exercises can also alter a female’s cycle. Sometimes we have no flippin’ idea when our period will come, and that’s usually okay – irregular periods are rarely harmful.

When do females get their first period?

Most girls get their first period when they’re about twelve-years-old, but any age between eight and fifteen is just as normal. Every female has their own biological clock.  

When do females stop getting their period?

When menopause hits, anywhere between 45 to 55 years old. Just as puberty is often a bumpy development, women can have irregular periods for years as they go through menopause. Once it’s all over, women cannot conceive children naturally.

Do periods really make girls irritated and grumpy?

This has gotta be one of the biggest myths on periods. Yes, some girls may get a bit moody – whether its hormone-related, or because she’s just plain fed up with all of the other things that come with bleeding, like cramps, breakouts, and tiredness – but a lot of girls breeze through their periods without batting an eye. This isn’t to say that we won’t experience these not-so-nice symptoms at some point, nor to understate their potential nastiness; so, y’know, a hot water bottle or a hug would be much welcomed by your bleeding femme friends.  

Can females swim on their periods?

You betcha, tampons are pretty handy in that situation. In fact, women can also exercise, work, study, have sex, and do pretty much anything while they’re bleeding; as long as they’re not experiencing debilitating symptoms.

What do women use to deal with their periods?

There are so many answers to that question across the world, and Taboo exists solely to change some of those answers. Here in Australia, most of us can afford sanitary products (though it was only last year that the period tax was dropped). We are lucky to have such easy access, as well as safe places to change our pads and tampons. But, these things aren’t a privilege – they’re basic human rights. Unfortunately, these human rights don’t exist for so many women across the world.

Image sourced from Unsplash

In Sierra Leone, sanitary pads are expensive, inaccessible, and often not trusted (as they’re wrongly believed to cause infertility). Tampons and other sanitary items are practically non-existent. Instead, women make do with bits of re-used cloth or other materials. Due to poor access to safe water, the cloths are rarely cleaned properly, and cultural stigma forces women to dry them out of sight in humid, airless rooms. More often than not they remain damp and a fertile home for infection-causing bacteria.

The situation is much the same in India. Cultural taboos underpin poor sanitary health and education, which is responsible for 70% of the country’s reproductive diseases. In Nepal, one in five women spend their period in a menstrual hut. The often windowless huts barely protect women from freezing conditions, and several have died from smoke inhalation after lighting fires to keep warm.

Due to these difficulties, it’s no surprise that so many girls drop out of school when they have their periods. They may have a sanitary-related infection, nowhere safe to change, or simply too much shame to show that they’re bleeding.

Even in the UK, one in ten girls haven’t been able to afford pads and tampons. Instead, they’ve improvised with toilet paper rolls, or overused pads. However, the #FreePeriods movement is quickly changing that. Within two years the campaign has resulted in legislative commitments to make sanitary products freely available in UK schools.

Taboo, alongside #FreePeriods and many other initiatives around the world, are doing incredible things to end period poverty – but it’s a long fight yet. Join us.

Everything expressed in this article is based on the writer’s own research. It does not substitute professional medical advice.

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