A boy’s guide to understanding periods

An introductory note for those of you to whom its parts may be unfamiliar

Whatever we each choose to call it, menstruation is one of the few remaining conversation taboos.  Though it’s getting less so every day, and at least in the Western world we’re lucky enough to be educated about such things, there still remains a somewhat gendered line about going into really visceral depth.  Girls might talk about it with each other, sure, but how many of us have gone into gruesome detail in front of guys?

For many men, there’s still a shroud of mystery surrounding the intimate details of how it actually feels to shed womb lining for a quarter of your fertile life.  So, for the uninitiated and uncervixed, here is one girl’s anatomy of the different components that make up our monthly visitor.

The warning sign

This varies from woman to woman but will usually be one of the following:

  • Bloating (your belly feels about 5 times its usual size)
  • Cramps (the stabbing kind.  Oh, the stabbing…)
  • Spots (yeah, we love it too)
  • Emotions (ALL the emotions)

Fun fact: these can often lead to wondering if you might actually be pregnant, especially when you know you’re due but not yet bleeding, leading to 24 hours of extremely frayed nerves.

The Somme

There is then a time of what I like to call “The Somme”, where you magically turn toilet bowls into battlefield reconstructions; days where coughing, sneezing, jumping or any other sudden movements must be avoided on pain of, as someone else once so eloquently put it, giving birth to a jellyfish.

Or, if such movements are unavoidable, must at all costs be performed with tightly-crossed legs.

The smell

Warm, slightly metallic, slightly meaty, plus salty sweat.

The pain

The shooting, stabbing pains of the early days give way to aching (mine spreads through to my back, YAY) and a grinding/throbbing at the base of your womb.  Also: headaches, nausea, muscle soreness, jelly bowels…

The regression

Did we mention that one of the most common forms of sanitary wear is an adult nappy?  Except with far less attention paid to preventing nappy rash than your average Pampers.  Despite protecting your underwear, outerwear and general dignity, you still want to rip them off.

Sanitary towel adverts seem to love proclaiming their ability to form to your crotch (but Bodyform seem to have finally got the memo and must be applauded for this excellent ad).  This means nothing – it will still end up going up your ass.

Other options are pretty much limited to tampons and mooncups, both of which involve inserting very foreign objects into a very sensitive area and can exacerbate the pain, or other reusables that you wash out (all well and good, but then what do you do at the office, keep the worn ones in your bag all day?).

The fear 

Of ANYTHING WHITE.  Or pale grey.  Or soft chairs.  It takes an enormous feat of mental courage to reassure oneself that although you can feel liquid slowly leaking out of your most intimate place, it’s OK and it’s not going to stain anything.  (Physically, at least – although Leviticus has some really fun thoughts on how unclean we supposedly are at such times…)

After over a decade of having periods, I still to this day consider it a success if I manage to get through a whole one without getting blood on my underwear at some point.

The clock-watching

When once days used to be measured in candle-time, for a week your life exists in tampon-time, living precariously from one to the next.

Where you must assess the bathroom facilities wherever you are, or expect to be (a special place in hell is reserved for women who don’t have bins in their bathrooms, particularly when you KNOW someone of menstruating age lives there).

Where three-hour meetings mean stuffing yourself tighter than a ship’s keel and hoping to God that neither the meet nor your womb runs over…