Women, part 2.2
*This part is a continuation on part 2.1 in which the menstrual cycle and period was already discussed.
For this part I asked some of my female friends and sister to describe their period or menstrual cycle to me. I did this, because I knew not one cycle is exactly the same. I wanted to get a broader knowledge by hearing about (the symptoms of) different periods from different women. It gave me such a great feeling that women wanted to talk to me about this, that I asked more women than initially intended. This makes the read maybe very long (again). But it also makes it much more interesting. Because knowing about the periods of more women is more interesting. The understanding in this topic will grow even more (especially amongst men).
I learned a lot from the experiences of these women and I would like to thank them deeply for sharing this information with me. Because even though the period is a natural female process, it is personal for every woman. I would understand every woman who doesn’t feel comfortable to talk about it (especially not to a man). Improving this comfortability was discussed in part 2.1.
Women about their menstrual cycle and period
All the women interviewed are women/girls that I know. They are from four different countries and multiple states, but all younger than 30 years old. It could be the case that women (above this age) experience their cycle or period very differently and do not recognise themselves in (one of) the experiences described below. If there are any women who want to give feedback or share information, please let us know. Also if you want to share your experiences like the women below. All anonymous of course. If it’s up to me, and it is, the list of women below can be endless. It is very easy to add women to the list, in contrast to my love life. Every other experience is another source from which we can learn. And at least, that’s what I’m interested in.
“My period is not regular. I have ‘polycystic ovary syndrome’” [polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)’ is a hormone disorder in which the eggs in the ovaries are encapsulated in fluid that makes it more difficult for the egg to be released from the ovary (Mayo Clinic, 2017)].
“This means I sometimes have a cycle of 40 days.”
“The first week is my period. I bleed a lot, my back hurts, I have pain in my uterus, I gain weight (because water is retained in the body) and feel imposed to exercise.
The second week is my best week! My mood is great, I feel happy, relaxed, my skin looks amazing and I lose weight.
In week three is my ovulation period usually. In this period girls get also usually horny [since from an evolutionary perspective this is a good time to have sex, because the sperm can fertilize the egg (NHS, 2020). This enhanced sex drive is due to the rise of ‘testosterone’ (see the bump in the figure below in the yellow line of ‘testosterone’ from day 12 to 16). Men have higher levels of testosterone (Women in balance institute, 2019). This partly explains the higher sex drive that men have in general compared to women].
“The fourth week is my PMS week. My mood is terrible, I’m inpatient, I want to eat chocolate, cry about everything and my breasts get bigger and sore. Also, I have headaches as if my head is going to explode!
Then the period starts again and this cycle happens every 28 days in general, the same thing over and over… Some days I can be in a lot of pain and it feels more heavy, but this depends on the month.
The saying ‘She is probably on her period’ is very sexist to say, because the fact that we are grumpy doesn’t mean we have PMS or are on our period.
I am not someone that is ashamed when I am on my period. I don’t hide tampons or anything. If other people get uncomfortable, especially men, honestly, it’s their problem.”
“Five days before my period starts I have acne, which I had even more some years ago.
When the period starts I have five days of [blood] flow. The first days I have cramps, from which I know that more girls have them. They are often bearable, but sometimes very heavy for a few minutes.
A couple of weeks after I have very good skin [which is often referred to as a ‘natural glow’, caused by the three important menstrual hormones from the figure above (Rodewald-Sulz, W., 2019)]. I don’t experience headaches usually or a bloating feeling, but I know other people do. Normally, I also do not have mood changes and I know this goes for more people in my life as well.
I have an average [blood] flow I would say. The first day is quite light and the second or third day is the heaviest. After that it decreases again.
I don’t use tampons, but pads. To me, they [pads] seem to leak less, because they take up blood, instead of stopping the blood flow. Tampons can leak, which is terrible. I had a bad experience once, where I had blood all over the crotch area of my pants in public, because the one time I used a tampon, it leaked.
I just want to say for the record that the question ‘Are you on your period or something?’ (or anything related) is the worst that can be said, because it degrades a woman’s emotions to an involuntary chemical change in the body. With that line, men in general are minimizing a woman’s argument by something that not per definition has anything to do with the period. And if women are on their period, they are even going to be more pissed. People (men) should be extra nice to girls in their period (when they know), because tension in the lower abdomen, headaches and other symptoms are all around not a great feeling. Some people have to get medication for cramps. It can be pretty bad.
I use an app called ‘Clue’, which tracks your menstrual cycle. I experience a very reliable period every 34/35 days with a duration of five days and it usually doesn’t deviate. In the app you can log your cycle in and it is really helpful. You can insert tabs such as ‘flow intensity’, ‘sexual activity’, ‘sleep schedule’ and ‘PMS’ (in which you can have symptoms such as headaches, tendered breasts, bloating and acne). This is different for every woman. I experience my period as very moderate, which means I can do almost everything what I normally do. But for some people, it is really a hard time of the month. I wouldn’t use the word ‘horrible’ to describe the period, rather the word ‘inconvenient’.”
“For some women, the fact that they always have to struggle through this period is unbearable.
In my puberty, I had an irregular period, which was noticeable in the sense that I suddenly started bleeding in school or during playing sports. Now, my cycle is more stable, which I’m very happy about, but I have much more symptoms.
I have PMS, which means I have heavy emotional and physical complaints before I have my period. I have cravings for food (which I don’t mind), my skin is getting bad and I get more acne. My breasts are intensely sensitive and painful. I even experience depression, but only for two or three days. Emotionally, I try to make it not that big of a deal, because I know why I have these complaints and that they also will go away. Still, I notice that it bothers me in my daily life, because from one day to the other I don’t feel as myself anymore and I want to cry the whole day, lie in bed and eat chips.
The day I get my period I am grumpy and I have cramps in my lower abdomen, which is sometimes unbearable. Luckily ‘Aleve Feminax’ [a painkiller, specially against menstrual pains] exists, which helps against the pain.
My period takes four or five days. In this period I am a bit more irritable and I cry faster about certain things (although, I have to say, I already cry fast). One month is worst than the other.
I like tampons more than ‘pads’ now that I’m ‘older’.
Unfortunately, they are incredibly expensive. [The average cost of a tampon box is almost €6 ($7). Tampon users need an average of 9 boxes per year. Pad users need 12 boxes per year on average. One box costs around €5 ($6)].
Also, some tampons are difficult to insert, which can be painful. Pads, to me, are less comfortable and less hygienic, so I use tampons. Unfortunately, I bleed a lot during my menstruation, so I have to change my tampons every two to three hours during my period.”
“The first thing that comes to my mind, talking about this subject, are the commercials. The message that these commercials send into the world is that it is not bad to have your period and you smile all the time. Also, the taboo on this subject, which is present, isn’t shown. But it’s all the same, both the products as the message. And let’s cut to the business: the period sucks (figuratively)! Because it [the period] is so different for every woman, it could be the case that even women do not understand each other fully in how the period is experienced. Let alone men. Because of the commercials, young girls, but also men will get an erroneous image of the period, which feeds the misunderstanding.
Another irritating factor for me is the price on pads and tampons, which is too high if you ask me. There is 21% tax on these products [in the Netherlands], which basically means the government is collecting 21% tax on blood coming out of the vaginas of women in the reproductive age. In extension, I think the pill should be part of the basic health insurance, because I see it as a necessity of life.
The period is a rollercoaster. Especially in the beginning, when you start having them. I think it’s a shame that the understanding isn’t there. I believe we could handle it more openly (for instance about having tampons in your bag and going to the toilet because you are on your period).
I hate the question: ‘Why are you so grumpy?‘. Because, or men assume you are on your period, or you are just being bitchy. But you could have a bad day, just like everyone. Yes, I agree that grumpiness can and is sometimes linked to the period, but come on; there is blood coming out of your vagina and you have to think about getting to the toilet from time to time, because otherwise you will leak blood and it will get on your pants. It’s not very hygienic and comfortable, which also applies to both tampons and pads, for me. It all is just very annoying. We [women] have to live with it and not be difficult about it. But the least men can do is not ask if you are on your period, while clearly showing they are bothered by your behaviour. It’s always a sensitive subject. In the eyes of men, it’s always the woman’s fault She is the one that gets her period and they [women] shouldn’t complain and live on. There is a pressure from society [that is dominated by men], that can be felt by women from all sides. That’s a shame.
Maybe talking more about it could help resolve these problems.
“Since three months, I have an app that helps me with the insight in my period. It is called ‘Ferometer’ and every morning I measure my temperature. I clearly noticed that I do not feel so great when my temperature is higher than 36.5℃ (97.7℉). At those moments, I experience fatigue, some pain in my joints and ‘heavy legs’. In the app you can also see when you have your ovulation (yellow circle in figure). This really helps. Before it was all just so random.
I have a ‘copper coil’ [which is also referred to as an ‘Intrauterine Device’ (IUD). This device is inserted in the womb by the doctor or nurse and releases very small amounts of copper, which protects you from getting pregnant for five to ten years (NHS website, 2020a)] so I don’t take hormones, that makes it very difficult for me to estimate the course and duration of my cycle and period. Lately, they are extremely long; around 10-12 days and also very heavy for four days. So that’s pretty annoying!
Some people that I know have a ‘hormonal IUD’ [Intrauterine System (IUS), sold under the brand name ‘Mirena’, which works in the same way as an IUD, but releases hormones instead of copper (NHS website, 2020b). Both the IUD and IUS are forms of birth control, but where the IUS prevents a woman with it from menstruating, the IUD makes menstruation for women often worse/heavier. In any case, the cycle continues with a copper coil].
When I was younger, I didn’t have any complaints. Now, there are certain things I actually cannot do, such as skiing or all other activities where I cannot go to the toilet every 50 minutes or one hour.
My boyfriend pays a lot of attention to my cycle and how I feel. Also, he sees it as a normal subject. Both things are very nice. He fully understands if I do not feel great because of my period and takes that into account. Especially by not taking it personally. He is really supportive. He even often knows before myself, when I am going to get my period.
“One of the main symptoms for me is tears. All of my emotions come out in tears because I am sensitive. I already cry when I’m sad, happy, angry, and excited. When I’m on my period, that is elevated!
I usually feel bloated, but I don’t get many cramps or headaches or anything else. If I do have cramps, it’s usually during the week before my period.
I have a very mild menstruation. Not much pain and not a ton of bleeding. Just more tears than usual because I’m extra sensitive.
I don’t really mind my period. I’m glad to have it because it means that someday I could have children which is something I am so looking forward to!”
“I don’t often think about my period, especially because I have a ‘hormonal IUD’ [(IUS), see ‘woman #5’] which makes sure that I have almost no periods anymore. I have the coil for almost three years now and in this time I practically had no periods. I do notice that I have a certain [menstrual] cycle and the longer I have had the coil, the more I experience this cycle again.
I am someone that is very sensitive to hormones, but this has more to do with taking the (contraceptive) pill. So I did react very heavily to that. It made me somewhat more depressed and emotional. So, it was very good for me to stop taking them and switch to the ‘hormonal IUD’, which does give of hormones, but much less, because it is much more local.
In the time I did menstruate, I had the typical ‘female cravings’ in the week before my period. I was more hungry for eating chocolate. I also got a more blemished skin. Sometimes I was more insecure in the week leading up to my period. I noticed I had hormonal imbalance and I was a bit more emotional. I had periods in which I had many cramps and I had periods in which I had few complaints and uncomforts. I do have the feeling it has to do with age.
I never had many difficulties with the duration of the periods, because I never had it for very long. Maybe the maximum was five days of which the first and the last day were barely bothering me. In the three days in between, I did menstruate, but I never leaked [blood] or anything. So yeah, I think I can’t complain, referring to the period.”
“I’ve always been comfortable talking about this. Me and my friends talk about it all the time. We are really open about it. If you would ask a girl in school for a tampon, she would 100% give you one. I have the feeling everyone is really open about that.
I do get really bloated, but I’m always really bloated, so that might just be me. I normally find myself craving bad food, which isn’t good of course. I don’t really get headaches, but before and during the first days of my period I get cramps. I usually only get really emotional the week before my period. In this week I also get horrible lower back pain. Sometimes even an hour before I start my period, so that’s ‘nice’, that I get ‘a signal’ that my period is about to start. I also do get really bad skin when I’m on my period, which usually also starts the week before.
I am normally having sexual desires the week after or the week I’m on my period.
I use tampons and pads. I recently found out that you are not supposed to wear tampons to bed. This is to prevent ‘Toxic shock syndrome (TSS)’ [a condition caused by some types of bacterial infections. While all people can get TSS, the chances are increased when inserting intravaginal products such as tampons into the vagina (Mayo Clinic., 2020), since the primal barrier against bacterias, the skin, can be easily passed in this way. Symptoms of TSS include many physical and mental complaints, but can even lead to death (Marton, M., 2016)]. So I should wear pads, but I really don’t like to wear pads, because they are uncomfortable. I am however trying to switch to ‘diva cups’ [a ‘diva cup’ (also known as a ‘menstrual cup’) is a product women can insert into their vagina that catches and collects period fluids. Reasons for women to use them instead of tampons is because they are safer, take up more blood and are reusable (Scaccia, A., 2020)]. You can boil and clean them. They are better for the environment and I really want to look into being more sustainable.
It is very annoying how expensive period products such as tampons are. Unless you want women to be able to ‘free bleed’ everywhere, you can’t make tampons so expensive. It is a big problem, especially in poverty to be able to afford tampons. I don’t understand that.
My period lasts about 4-5 days, with light to medium [blood] flow and I use an app to track it.
Finally, I would like to add that when women show any sort of emotion, men automatically ask: “Oh, are you on your period?” and it invalides women’s feelings.”
“My period comes every four weeks. I notice that I always get very emotional the week before I have my period but also during my period. I can cry about the smallest things because hormones flow through my body.
I have my period for about four days. The first two days I usually suffer from abdominal pain, headaches and pain in my lower back. My period is the worst these first two days. These two days I prefer to do as little as possible, but if I have to, I take a few paracetamol to soften the pain.
The remaining two days I still suffer from blood loss but not as severe as the first two days. I also no longer suffer from abdominal pain or the other symptoms that I had in the first two days of the period. However, I do often suffer from mood swings during my period. I am very short-tempered but can also burst into tears during this time. I also long for chocolate when I’m on my period. But I notice that if I eat too much of this, I immediately get troubled skin. So I try to eat that as little as possible.
To summarize, it’s a rollercoaster of all kinds of different feelings and effects on your body that you cannot do anything about and sometimes drives you crazy. I am always happy when it is over.”
“The week in advance I am feeling very down and I have a bloated feeling. I am also very tired this (PMS) week. Two days in advance I have big food cravings, but now less than before. I can also imagine that you get pimples and bad skin due to eating greasy foods in that period and not only from the hormones.
The day the period starts I feel better (mentally). I do have cramps for the first two days of my period. My period takes five days and my cycle is very regular. Exact 28 days.
I experience the mental complaints as more difficult than the physical. In the week before I am so restless. This feeling is difficult to have. Also, it just sucks that it happens every month. I think for me it is mentally heavier than for other women.
I used to take the pill. It makes the hormone levels remain constant. But I got heavy mood swings from the pill, so I stopped taking them.
I also had a copper coil, but I had it removed. For the same reason. It made my periods much worse and longer.
I also use an app to monitor my periods which is very accurate. This also means I know almost exactly when my period will start and when I ovulate. Also, when I can have sex without the chance of getting pregnant and when to use contraceptives during sex. However, this is not only my responsibility, but also the man’s.
It is very difficult to explain to men because they do not experience it and I don’t expect it of them. I do have to say that the men around me act quite well if we are talking about this subject. I think it also has to do with age. When men get older they have met more women (that of course have to deal with menstruation). Therefore, men know how to deal better with women during their period. So in general, I think you can say that the older you get as a woman, the more you encounter men who know how to act.”
“My cycle is always very irregular, and usually lasts 4-5 days.
The week before I usually feel more down and very emotional. This often let’s me know that I will get my period.
The first day is always the most intense: I have very bad stomach cramps, headaches, back pain and uterus pain (as if I’m being stabbed). I suffer from fatigue, have breast tenderness (every now and then), and am more irritable.
Often these complaints vary per period; some months I have more problems than other months.
I always take two aspirin (Aleve feminax) the first day or I will not survive!
The second day I still suffer, but luckily much less! From the third day on I feel okay again. I have almost no complaints from then on (apart from the bleeding). I always try to drink a lot of water and eat healthier. I am often more hungry when I have my period. Since I no longer eat meat, the complaints have gradually subsided. Still, I have always had a lot of problems with my period! But again, this differs per month.”
“I have a regular cycle, but I can honestly say I deeply hate the period! I suffer a lot during the period! Especially in the summer when it’s very hot (in the winter somewhat less). During the first two days it is the worst! As if I’m dying! Often I have pain in my stomach. Also, I have a lot of pain in my back. It’s terrible, because it makes it very hard to get out of bed. Even walking is difficult and very uncomfortable for me when I have pain in my back.
In the week before and during the cycle it is just all a bit different. Especially my feelings. For instance: I wake up, I am super happy, I love everyone and ten minutes later I hate everything and I want to kill everyone (and they probably want to do the same to me). Other days I wake up and I am pessimistic the whole day. It’s very difficult to deal with these changes of mood and I also don’t always know if I can. I always try to behave respectfully to everyone and I know I shouldn’t react to some people in a bad way. I should breathe and count to ten and then react in a better way, but it is so hard to do that! It is an impulse that I can’t control. I prefer to not speak much to people in this period, so I can’t offend and hurt them. I know I say things I don’t want to say, but this is because of the hormones and how I feel in this period.
Me and my friends talk about the period and our cycles and we help each other out when needed. We can do this because we ‘experience’ the same of course (even though in different ways). This is very nice. I also experience it as something nice that there is something that all women can share together. This is a good excuse to talk about it in whatever moment. I know that I shouldn’t be ashamed about menstruating, but often I am.
Something I hate and am not lucky with is this: having my period when I am away from home. I have to bring a lot of things from home and I don’t like that. Also when I am enjoying myself somewhere, I am not thinking about my period. So I have to ask my friends to keep an eye on me and tell me when I leak blood. Taking this in mind is something I hate, because I want to be free, relaxed and careless. Also I think that the costs for period products in my country [Italy] are much too high.
I don’t take, or at least try to not to take a lot of painkillers or medicine. The body gets used to this and when you really need them, they wouldn’t have an effect anymore. So I rather suffer during my period and hope it all gets better quickly by itself. But I do have friends that take a painkiller every time they have pain somewhere. I take none, as long as I don’t die of the pain.
I think the biggest difference between women is the part of the body where we feel pain or how strong we experience symptoms. My mother for instance does have the period, but almost without any uncomfortabilities.
I think women should be able to talk about their period and menstrual cycle with women and men. It is something they can’t control and is a natural process. Also, sometimes I like talking to men about my problems. But often when I talk about it, they don’t listen and walk off. This is very unrespectful, because it is something I can do nothing about. It is sad, because women also need men at their side. Especially in this period, men should be supportive.
A very clear and informative article about the five most used period products. It discusses the advantages and disadvantages of pads, tampons, menstrual cups, menstrual discs and period-proof underwear. Such as cost, user friendliness, sustainability and time efficiency: https://uthealthaustin.org/blog/period-products#:~:text=Tampons%20and%20Pads&text=Pads%2C%20followed%20closely%20by%20tampons,synthetic%2C%20including%20cotton%20and%20rayon.
A well written piece about the cost of pads and tampons in different places in the world: https://rubycup.com/blogs/news/would-your-period-be-cheaper-if-you-lived-in-another-country
*It could be that stories are added to this article in the future.
Gatbonton, M. A. (2019). Reliable and effective birth control: IUD & IUS [Photo]. Geraadpleegd van https://pregnancytoparenting.ca/2019/04/02/reliable-and-effective-birth-control-iud-ius/
Marton, M. (2016). Staphylococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome Caused By An Intravaginal Product. A Case Report. The Journal of Critical Care Medicine, 2(1), 51–55. https://doi.org/10.1515/jccm-2016-0003
Mayo Clinic. (2017, 29 augustus). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – Symptoms and causes. Geraadpleegd op 4 juli 2020, van https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439
Mayo Clinic. (2020, 18 maart). Toxic shock syndrome – Symptoms and causes. Geraadpleegd op 14 juli 2020, van https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/toxic-shock-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20355384
NHS. (2020, 26 juni). Menstrual cycle: animation. Geraadpleegd op 4 juli 2020, van https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/getting-pregnant/
NHS website. (2020a, 12 juni). Intrauterine device (IUD). Geraadpleegd op 5 juli 2020, van https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/iud-coil/
NHS website. (2020b, 12 juni). Intrauterine system (IUS). Geraadpleegd op 5 juli 2020, van https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/contraception/ius-intrauterine-system/
Rodewald-Sulz, W. (2019, 9 december). How Your Hormones Affect Your Skin Before, During and After Your… Geraadpleegd op 4 juli 2020, van https://www.dermstore.com/blog/how-your-hormones-affect-your-skin-before-during-and-after-your-period/
Scaccia, A. (2020, 3 juli). Everything You Need to Know About Using Menstrual Cups. Geraadpleegd op 15 juli 2020, van https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/menstrual-cup
Tampax Pearl. (z.d.). Period product commercial [Photo]. Geraadpleegd van http://www.alljolene.com/tag/tampons/
UT Health Austin. (2019, 16 april). Period Products: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Geraadpleegd op 1 augustus 2020, van https://uthealthaustin.org/blog/period-products#:%7E:text=Tampons%20and%20Pads&text=Pads%2C%20followed%20closely%20by%20tampons,synthetic%2C%20including%20cotton%20and%20rayon.
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/