The period and menstrual cycle

Women, part 2.1

* This is the first part about the menstrual cycle and period. In this part can be read about research that I did to get more knowledge about it. I discuss my personal view as well. Such as the social aspects and what we can do (as men) to support women in this period. It ends with the lesson that can be learned and how (not) to act, when women are dealing with it.

This is a part that probably a lot of men do not want to hear about, let alone learn about. Still, I’m going to write about it, because I think it is important. I believe knowledge about a woman’s period can improve the relationship between men and women. Even if it is the limited knowledge that I have of it. Also, the reason the period happens has to do with the fact that the female body is made to get pregnant during reproductive age. Biologically speaking. Don’t worry women, I know your value extends far beyond giving us children. This will be described in later pieces. As described in part 1, pregnancy is a beautiful biological process. But when it doesn’t happen, that is, when a female egg isn’t fertilized, there is no need for the functional layer (lamina functionalis) of the uterine lining (endometrium) to stay attached, so it is shed. This is what happens during the period and the reason for it.

Picture
Normal menstrual flow. The functional layer detaches itself from the uterine wall (Period Blues. z.d.).

But women have to endure much more during this period. This is what is important to know. Especially for men. In this piece I want to talk about that. I believe people will be more suportive to women, if ithey know what women have to endure. So let’s learn to understand why it is important to be supportive and help out during a woman’s ‘most fragile period of the month’. Again: biologically speaking. This support can in my view lead to a better relationship between men and women. Also, women are people that are willing to pay you back for the extra effort you took during their period. In the time they feel better they reward you with their beautiful sides again. And thus, it could be that how you handle ‘the most fragile period’ could lead to improvement of the relationship in general! Wouldn’t that be great? I’m not saying you have to discuss it during breakfast, but making a bit of effort to understand it would be great.


It is important to make women feel comfortable (photo by Andrea Piacquadio).

Increasing comfortability
It is a shame that some women do not feel comfortable talking about their period or menstrual cycle. Especially to men. It is something we have to touch on and even resolve. This because I think that women who feel more comfortable about their bodies and the processes that happen within them are able to feel happier in life.
Also, they will feel more comfortable in general and tackle other problems they have to deal with. Lastly, women can feel closer to the ‘biological ease’ with which men can live. And this can happen without changing anything about the period itself. The period is at minimum still an ‘inconvenient’ situation. But understanding from the man will help, because an effort is being done. Every woman likes this. Men can support women, but for that they have to know and understand what women are going through (each month!). 

I don’t know yet if I should be ashamed to confess I read the Cosmopolitan. Anyway, this is the magazine in which I first read about the variety of symptoms women can have during their period. From the moment I read it, some years ago, I became interested in learning more about it. But walking up to a woman and asking: “Hey, can you tell me how you experience your period?” is maybe not the question women are most comfortable to talk about. So instead I just asked about their sex life… No, just kidding,.. I don’t do that… very often.
Anyway, I got even a more respected view on women than I already had, because of that article. I think it is important that more men know about the period and menstrual cycle. Then more women would feel more comfortable talking about it. And increasing comfortability for women can only have positive effects.

So, step 1 (as a man): listen to women and be respectful about the menstrual cycle, the period and a woman’s feelings caused by these processes. Let them feel they can talk to you about it if they feel like it.
Because you will never experience it as man, I don’t say you have to fully understand everything. Also, women; please do not expect that every man knows everything about your period/menstrual cycle and how it affects you, for this reason.
However, men; there is no excuse for not trying to make an effort and not try to learn about what a woman goes through. Especially since we all care about women, right? And don’t forget: women go through this every month to probably make you a father once or more times in your life. I think we can´t diminish the beauty of that. 

Being a father is something very special. Women go through their menstrual cycle to reset their bodies for getting pregnant (photo by Biova Nakou).


“She is probably on her period.”
So something very important we have to touch on, put in a statement: as a man, you are not the victim of the period, the woman is.

Women can suffer a lot during their menstrual cycle. Often during their period or the week before (photo by Andrea Piacquadio).

Too many times in my life a man came up to me and naggingly whispered in my ear: “She is probably on her period.” referring to a somewhat grumpy woman (possibly their girlfriend) across the room.
First of all: that’s sexist. Second of all: that’s not very nice. Which is also part of the definition of ‘sexism’. A lot of women hate the saying as well (see part 2.2). Third: there is a great chance you are wrong. Moodiness doesn’t have to do at all with the period. Not even with something that is referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which will be discussed later. For that, just pay attention to men… I can tell you two things for sure. 1) They don’t have the period and 2) they are grumpy often enough.

Almost all women in reproductive age experience emotional or physical symptoms in the days or week before the period. This week can be referred to as the PMS week. And yes, one of those symptoms is irritability. But irritability is not only caused by PMS (or the period). It could be that the reason was a man, making a senseless statement about something they don’t have any knowledge about.
Anyway, while symptoms in PMS for most women can be labeled as ‘mild’, 5-8% of the women have moderate or severe symptoms that can cause substantial distress or functional impairment (Yonkers, K. A., Shaughn O’Brien, & Eriksson, E., 2008).

Cycle
As the second word of ‘menstrual cycle’ already indicates, the menstrual period is a cycle. This doesn’t mean it is the same for every woman or it is at all regular. Not only can there be a big difference in mental and physical symptoms, there can also be a big difference between the duration of the menstrual cycle. The graph below shows this. It can be seen that a reported regular cycle is 28 days, but that there are many women who experience a cycle with a different duration (Jukic et al., 2007).

Distribution of the observed geometric mean cycle lengths and the reported cycle lengths for each woman from the DES Reproductive Health Study born in Chicago, Illinois, studied in 1990 (N = 352) (Jukic et al., 2007).


In each phase of the cycle, different hormones are being released. This can be seen in the figure below. Each hormone has a different effect on the body and emotions (Women in balance institute, 2019).

The presence of different hormones during different periods of the menstrual cycle (Women in balance institute, 2019).

Week 1 is the period. In this week, many women experience menstrual complaints. Estrogen levels increase during this period, which makes women feel somewhat better.
Week 2 is the week in which many women often feel their best. Estrogen levels keep rising and at the end of the week the testosterone hormone kicks in as well. This makes women get a higher sex drive.
In week 3 estrogen levels decrease very fast in the beginning while the progesterone hormone increases in the body. This often causes mood change. Food cravings and dejection can be present during this period of the cycle.
The last week, week 4, is as said often referred to as the PMS week. Estrogen levels plummet again to a minimum, just as the progesterone hormone. Many women experience this week as the hardest week of the whole cycle and many symptoms and complaints occur during this period (Gezondheidsplein, 2018).     

The lessons to learn
I have never been in a (romantic) relationship with a woman. Still, I think there are some things you can do to help and support a woman (possibly your girlfriend), during her period or in other hard times of her menstrual cycle: cook for an extra night, clean up the house while she’s at work, don’t take irritability always personally and accept that she is maybe more irritable and expresses her displeasure to you. Think before you talk, get those foods she likes from the supermarket around the corner or a bit further away, while she’s is ‘unable’ to get of the couch. Understand if she doesn’t want to have sex with you, due to the physical or emotional uncomforts she has at that moment. Don’t make life more difficult for her than it already is in her period, without taking it into account and never forget step 1.

It’s not about that you should already act as is expected of you. It is about being willing to learn from situations women have to deal with and change your behaviour accordingly. I wouldn’t be writing this piece if I had no believe in that people (read: men) can do that! The period, and PMS period are at least uncomfortable for women and possibly not men’s favourite periods either if they have to deal with it. But there is something we can do as men to help women: deal with it! Help and support women when and where you can and listen to them.
Shame shouldn’t be one of the symptoms of the menstrual cycle. The openness about this subject and the comforts more women will have with their behaviour, bodies and processes that happen within them, because of it, will improve the man-woman relationship. It will directly increase women’s satisfaction in life, which will in turn indirectly increase that of men.

*This was part 2.1 about the menstrual cycle and period. I highly recommend you to read part 2.2 in which women give their personal experiences with their menstrual cycle and period. Closer to the source than in part 2.2 you are not going to get (without asking women yourself). It gives you a lot of information about what happens during the menstrual cycle and period, such as the different phases and symptoms.

Sources
Gezondheidsplein. (2018, 20 juli). Gedrag en humeur. Geraadpleegd op 28 juli 2020, van https://www.gezondheidsplein.nl/dossiers/menstruatiecyclus/hoe-beinvloeden-hormonen-je-gedrag-en-humeur/item68079

Yonkers, K. A., Shaughn O’Brien, & Eriksson, E. (2008, 5 april). Premenstrual syndrome. Geraadpleegd op 4 juli 2020, van https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3118460/

Jukic, A. M. Z., Weinberg, C. R., Wilcox, A. J., McConnaughey, D. R., Hornsby, P., & Baird, D. D. (2007). Accuracy of Reporting of Menstrual Cycle Length. American Journal of Epidemiology, 167(1), 26. Geraadpleegd van https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/167/1/25/185921

Period Blues. (z.d.). Menstrual phase [Illustration]. Geraadpleegd van http://pPeriod Blues. (z.d.). Menstrual phase [Illustration]. Geraadpleegd van http://periodblues.weebly.com/menstruation.html

Women in balance institute. (2019, 12 april). Hormone Imbalance, Menstrual Cycles & Hormone Testing. Geraadpleegd op 4 juli 2020, van https://womeninbalance.org/about-hormone-imbalance/

Published by Vincent Donders

Groot muziekliefhebber en erg geïnteresseerd in wetenschap en educatie. Instagram: vincentdonders.

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