I’ve been getting my period once a month since I was 13. I’m 28 now, and yet, it feels like my first rodeo each time. Somehow, my period still surprises me—I’ll wake up bleeding all over my sheets, or, I’ll suddenly realize why I broke into tears the night before looking at a video of a teacup pig playing with a kitten. (Sure, it’s cute and all, but an hour spent sobbing? That feels a bit excessive). On the other hand, I know women who track their periods on their calendars, know exactly where they’re at in their cycle, and are totally prepared each month. Either way, the mysteries of menstruation will inevitably bring some mayhem—and destroy endless pairs of panties—time and time again.
That’s why we’re demystifying periods, their blessings, and their curses, so that we can all be a little bit more informed and a little bit less embarrassed the next time Aunt Flow comes around.
The Sneak Attack Period. Those times when you think you’re in the clear and then suddenly you’re out and about tampon-less in a thong when BAM, your period comes back. This can be caused by a few different things, such as the different consistencies in your period causing blockage for a day or so, or the hormones that control your period being in a constant ebb and flow. It’s kind of like when mercury is in retrograde—just another shift in direction and balance that we can totally blame for our problems. Our suggestion is to keep a panty liner in your undies for two more days after you think the coast is clear to be totally sure your cycle is complete.
I’m Actually Crying Over How Good This Burrito Is (AKA PMS). PMS is one of the few mysteries of menstruation that a lot of us learn about in sex ed class. Compared to the other suuuuuuper fun ways our menstrual cycles impact us throughout the month that are hush hush, PMS is more widely talked about. That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s entirely understood. PMS stands for “premenstrual syndrome” and can start up to five days before your period. Beyond fatigue, zits, food cravings, and cramping, PMS can make you feel absolutely batshit. Mood swings that range from unexplained crying to severe anxiety and depression in more serious cases are, for many of us, par for the course. Causes of PMS include increases in certain hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, that shift in balance depending on where you are in your cycle. Levels of serotonin, which is the chemical in your brain closely tied to mood, can also change at the beginning of your menstrual cycle. While certain medications, including some birth controls, can help alleviate symptoms of PMS, they also come with their own set of side effects. Bottom line: your period impacts you before the time you actually spend bleeding, so go ahead and eat (or cry) your heart out without shame.
Period Sex: It May Look Like A Crime Scene, But Can Be Ooh-So-Worth-It. There’s a lot of false information thrown around about period sex, like you can’t get pregnant on your period, you can’t get an STI on your period, or, on the other side of that coin, your partner can get an infection from your period blood. More than anything, though, the idea of period sex is totally stigmatized because period blood, in general, is thought of as being “dirty”. But here’s the thing: period sex can be straight up awesome. Sex and orgasms can alleviate cramps and the blood flow can provide some natural lube, so as long as you throw a towel down, you’re good to go. And, good to cum: because of the hormonal shifts that happen at this point in your cycle, your libido may be extra high. All that said, babes, while it’s unlikely, you can get pregnant on your period, and you can contract an STI, so play responsibly. If you’re riding solo or your partner has a phobia about blood, I highly recommend masturbating during this time—not only will it help with cramps, it’ll also improve your mood.
Because Cramps, Mood Swings, and Ruined Panties Aren’t Enough…let’s throw some diarrhea into the mix, shall we? This one is relatively new for me. I was on birth control for many years so I never noticed this whole period poop phenomenon since the pill decreased the intensity of my menstrual cycle. Recently, though, horrible diarrhea always accompanies the first day of my period, and sometimes the second and third day as well (SO. MUCH. FUN). After talking to a few friends about this, I’ve found that I’m definitely not alone—it’s like a sisterhood of the period poops. Believe it or not, there’s science behind this messy combination and it’s all thanks to the chemical prostaglandin. Your body makes this chemical compound to reduce inflammation and increase blood clotting, thus preventing excessive blood loss during your period. As your body releases prostaglandins, your muscles contract to help shed the lining of your uterus. It’s all well and good, but the issue is that these same lipids can get into your bloodstream, triggering similar reactions in other parts of your body, like your colon. So when your colon is contracting like it’s a uterus, this can increase poop production, thus causing diarrhea (and the excessive wiping that follows).
Tackling all of the mysteries of menstruation would take a novel (Judy Blume books don’t count). While understanding what’s happening in your body is useful, it won’t necessarily take away the cramps, poops, or stigmas that can make our cycles feel so chaotic. The best thing we can do aside from heating pads and designated period panties is to normalize the conversation around menstruation. Periods aren’t gross (although they may feel like it when you sneeze and your tampon pops out) and we shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about them in all of their bloody glory.
Amazing illustrations by Ariella Elovic. Ariella is an NYC-based illustrator and founder of Cheeky. On any given day, she’s typically painting boobs or spunky New Yorkers, eating cheese and wishing she had a dog on her lap.
Written by Box Babe, Liz Weske.