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A Guy's Guide To Periods

Common questions guys have about periods, answered. From why tampons come in different sizes to what period pains really feel like, here’s everything guys should know.

Hello guys, welcome to the wonderful world of menstruation. The fact that you’re reading this already tells us a lot about you (spoiler alert: we like you already). Informing yourself about periods is a great step towards destigmatising ‘that time of the month’.  

Just because it’s not physically happening to you, doesn’t mean you can’t be supportive and understanding toward the people with periods in your life. So, we’ve rounded up some of the most common questions guys have about periods, and compiled some tips for how you can be part of the change that’s needed to normalise conversations about periods.

A guy’s comprehensive guide to periods

This guide should give you all the information you need to understand periods.

What are periods, really?

We’re glad you asked. Pop culture doesn’t do a good job of explaining it does it? All that talk of the ‘red tide’ or ‘shark week’ can create quite a confusing mental image.

Here’s the deal:

From puberty until menopause, every 21-34 days, the lining of the uterus is shed and a mixture of tissue, mucus and blood flows out of the body via the vaginal canal. A normal period can last between two to 10 days, depending on the person’s body and hormones.

The start of a period marks the beginning of the menstrual cycle. The cycle is governed by different hormones in the body, which control the release of an egg (a process called ovulation) from one of the ovaries, the building up of the uterine lining in preparation for pregnancy, and the shedding of this lining when pregnancy doesn’t occur within that cycle.

It’s important to note though, having a period isn’t an indication of one’s fertility. And many people have periods without actually ovulating (it’s complicated, we know).

PSA: You can get pregnant while on your period

While we’re talking about fertility, let’s just take a quick moment to clarify – you can absolutely get someone pregnant while they’re on their period. Always use contraception and practice safe sex. 

When do women get their first period?

Periods typically start between the ages of eight and 14 (with some people starting earlier or later). A common misconception is that the onset of one’s first period, means you’re sexually active. That’s simply not true. Someone getting their period for the first time depends entirely on the development of their body and hormones, sex has nothing to do with it.

Can you just 'hold your period in'?

Lol. No, we can’t. Menstrual fluid flows out of the body via the vagina. This is different to the urethra which is connected to the bladder, and which can be controlled via sphincters. Having a period is not like emptying your bladder. The uterine lining is slowly broken down and expelled over the course of one’s period, it’s not something we can physically control.

What are all the different size tampons and pads?

Another misconception is that the size of the tampon especially relates to the size of the vagina. That’s not true. It’s all about your flow and how much menstrual fluid needs to be absorbed. Tampons and pads are available in different absorbencies which cater for the way in which the flow of menstrual fluid changes over the course of one’s period.

Some people have heavier flows than others, while most people experience light, medium and heavy flow days during the same period. Pro Tip: Days one to three are usually the heaviest – this is when we use higher-absorbency products. But some menstruators may also experience a heavy flow throughout their entire period.

Our range comes in Mini, Regular, Super and Super Plus absorbencies – and they’re colour coded to help everyone easily find the right product. Use this simple guide next time she asks you to get her the “pink ones” and you’re not sure what that means.

Are period cramps really that bad?

This is how we hear that question: ArE cRaMpS rEaLlY tHaT BaD? But the answer is: Yes. They can be that bad.

Menstrual cramps are hard to describe to people who’ve never experienced them – just like you might struggle to describe what being hit in the ‘crown jewels’ feels like to people who have different anatomy.

But let’s give it a try: It’s almost like someone is holding and squeezing your organs from the inside. Pain can vary greatly between different people, but it’s common to experience a sensation of the uterus contracting, accompanied by shooting pains or a dull ache.

Ever had a stomach bug? It’s a bit like that, but felt lower down in your abdomen. Severe period pains can be a sign of an underlying condition and when they’re debilitating (or suddenly worse than before) it’s worth having a check-up with a GP.

And if the cramps and bleeding weren’t bad enough on their own, periods can also be accompanied by lower back pain, nausea, diarrhoea and changes in mood. But more on that just now (see PMS below).

Is it okay to ask someone if they're on their period?

As a general rule, no. Rather don’t. All too often this question is only asked in response to a woman appearing to be angry, upset or having a bad day. The problem with this is the underlying assumption that their feelings or decisions are irrational and not valid – which is incredibly frustrating. Let’s put it this way – when a guy gets angry or frustrated, would your first reaction be to invalidate it and question his state of mind? Ask him if he has indigestion? Probably not.

That said, if you’re asking because you genuinely want to help your partner / sister / mother / friend by buying some sanitary products, or bringing them some chocolate or other period comforts, then ask away.

So, what is PMS and why does it make you emotional?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms often experienced in the week leading up to menstruation due to the change in hormones during this phase of the menstrual cycle.

Symptoms can vary greatly between different people and it depends on how the individual reacts to the change in hormones in their body. Some people don’t experience any PMS symptoms at all, while others can experience them quite severely. For those who do experience PMS, common symptoms include feeling tearful, irritable or struggling to concentrate. Physical symptoms like lethargy, headaches, cramping, swollen breasts, and food cravings (chocolate, anyone?) can also be experienced.

If someone in your life tells you they’re struggling with PMS, try to be understanding and supportive. While we may often downplay it and even joke about it, PMS is very real and we could all do with more empathy – no matter what time of the month it is.

What can I do to be more supportive?

Don’t be awkward about it. There’s nothing ‘dirty’ or unhealthy about periods. For too long, the shame and stigma around menstruation (mostly due to a lack of understanding) has led to people feeling uncomfortable with their bodies and not getting the help they need due to fear of judgement and shame.

Here are some practical things you can do to help change this:

Don’t get freaked out by sanitary products
If you see a box of tampons in the bathroom, or a pad falls out of someone’s handbag, don’t make a big deal of it. Think of it in the same way you would an earbud or toilet roll. Better yet, offer to buy pads or tampons for your household when doing the grocery shopping (and refer to the colour guide above). Trust us, no one’s thinking you have suddenly started menstruating when they see you at the till with some sanitary products. If anything, they’re probably wishing there were more guys like you in the world!

Keep some sanitary products in your bathroom
There’s nothing worse than running out of pads or tampons or being caught unaware by our periods – and it happens to even the most experienced among us! Be the guy who’s comfortable with having period products in his bathroom cabinet (or car, or backpack). Instant brownie points for you.

Call your friends and family members out
If you’re ever around people who humiliate or shame others for having a period or even just buying or carrying period products – call them out on it. Educate them.

If you feel like you don’t understand enough about menstruation, keep reading up, keep asking questions, and keep talking about it. The better your understanding, the better your ability to support the people with periods in your life – as a partner, father, brother, colleague, or friend.

Here’s to more open conversations about periods! PS. Did you see YouTuber, Bokang Lehlokoe’s, brothers and dad tackle the #LilLetsTalkGuys challenge? Check it out here.

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