Having the painters in, shark week, Aunty Flo is paying a visit, all of these are euphemisms for ‘that time of the month’ – periods. For those of you who don't have periods, don’t stop reading, this is must know information. Obviously, the discussion below will contain references to blood, so if that is something you are really uncomfortable with, why not pop over here.
For those who don’t know (and worryingly whilst education in the UK is pretty good about the menstrual cycle worldwide it’s not so sharp), for just under one week every single month the majority of women in the world aged between about 11 and 50 will have their period (where the lining of the uterus (which has been building in preparation for a baby) is shed through the vagina). I say the majority, as there are some women who will never experience a period, or who experience periods for a little bit and then never again, and there are also some men who experience periods.
Sometimes a period will come and go no problem, other times it will feel like your uterus is trying to forcibly remove itself from your abdomen. Menstrual cramps are essentially like birthing cramps, and can sometimes be painful enough to cause vomiting (one girl even mistook appendicitis for menstrual cramps). Obviously, this can make it very difficult for some women to live a normal life, particularly as most societies try their best to avoid the topic of periods (which is why I want to write a bit about them today). I'm quite lucky in that I very rarely experience cramps, but I almost always feel bloated during my period, and the weeks before and after I usually have either a vastly increased or vastly decreased eating-drive (ie, not hunger, but I either feel the need to eat a lot more or a lot less than I would normally).
Some contraception’s can help regulate periods – for example, contraceptive pills can make periods lighter and maintain the monthly cycle, and for some people the implant can stop periods almost all together. For me, my periods were almost always irregular (meaning a worrying couple of weeks around the time my period was due whilst I waited for the tell-tale blood spotting) and lengthy, so a more regular and lighter cycle was an appealing option, and it’s what I now have.
There are also various different methods of keeping clean during that time of the month. The most popular by far are sanitary towels (a nappy-like material that sticks to the crotch of your pants – they come in various absorbency levels and should be changed at least every eight hours) or tampons (a cotton stick which sits at the back of the vagina with a small string attached to it to help it get pulled out – and no, as one boy asked me back in high school, it doesn’t feel like you’re walking around with a penis in you).
Most women use one or both of these options. The advantages of towels are that you can clearly see when you need to change it (ie, if you’ve got a heavy flow and need to change it every three to six hours rather than every eight), however depending on absorbency it can be quite thick and bulky. Plus, if it has wings (which wrap around the underside of the crotch of your pants to help stop leaking) then when you take off your trousers it is obvious you are wearing one. The advantage of tampons are that they are almost completely unnoticeable (both to other people and the wearer), although once again if you need to change them more regularly you have to guess when you need to change it. Both tampons and towels are disposable, so they have a lot of plastic waste, and tampons in particular have a greater risk of toxic shock (a result of the sterilisation process and the fact they sit against the cervix, holding any bacteria there as well).
However, there are other options. My personal choice is the Mooncup (although there are other similar options available). It’s a small, silicone cup which sits low down in the vagina (reducing the chance of toxic shock). Again it’s an eight hour change cycle, but because it forms a suction with the vagina you don’t need to worry about it leaking. When you do need to change it, you simply tip the contents down the toilet, rinse it out with a light soap, and re-insert. If you’re in public toilets where it’s not entirely appropriate to walk around with a bloody cup in your hands, you can just wipe it out with toilet paper then rinse it at the next opportunity. Once you notice your cup is empty at the end of the week, you sterilise it by boiling it in water for ten minutes, then it’s ready to use next month! A more comprehensive video about this can be found here.
Obviously, this isn’t an option for everybody – you need to have a certain degree of comfort with your body and blood, but everyone I know who uses it love it. It reduces waste and, although it’s a bigger one off payment, overall it’s a lot cheaper than buying tampons or towels as it lasts up to two years. As well as this, in the UK female sanitary products are classed as ‘luxury items’ meaning they are susceptible to tax, and if you want to join the petition to stop taxing periods, you can sign here.
So, there you have it. I’m fed up of living in a society where the subject of periods is avoided and seen as disgusting, when for most women it is one of the most regular experiences they will have for the majority of their life. I’ve given you my recommendations, and if you do want to try out a Moon Cup, you can buy one here (although I do suggest you check out the other alternatives to find out which is best for you). Let me know your experiences, both with periods and talking about them. You can comment below or tweet me @VickiMaitland.