How well do you know your period? Probably pretty well, since it’s yours, right? But, how much do you know about periods in general? Probably not a lot, and you’re not alone. Many studies have shown that students have a ton of misconceptions about their periods, and some of those are likely to bleed over into adulthood. Turns out, despite having to deal with the red tide once a month for 30 to 50 years, most women hold a fair number of misconceptions about what’s really going on down there during that time of the month.
Your Period Is Weird: False!
Let me guess, you have a weird period. Maybe it doesn’t come every month. When it does, it stays around way too long or way too short. Maybe you suddenly spot in the middle of the month, or maybe it comes a few days late. And, every month, when your stupid irregular crimson tide finally has the manners to show up (probably at the most inconvenient time possible, like during a job interview), you think to yourself, “Ugh, I wish I was like all the other girls with normal periods.” Here’s the thing, though: nobody has a normal period. The myth of the once-monthly, four-day-steady bleed is totally bogus. Women are highly variable. The MayoClinic says, “Menstrual flow might occur every 21 to 35 days and last two to seven days.” Yes, that’s a huge range. You and your weirdo period probably fall into it.
Of course, sometimes changes in your period can indicate a problem, and if you’re really worried, you should go see a doctor. But, most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about. Your period is probably normal. Or, everybody’s period is weird. Whichever makes you feel better.
This is probably the most widely referenced concept in all of menstruation. From commercials to movies to sitcoms, we all know that PMSing women are literally insane. They cry, they scream, they’re irrational, and they should be avoided at all possible costs. But, it’s not their fault! It’s the hormones at work! Well, maybe, but more and more research suggests that PMS has way less to do with hormones than it has to do with whatever else is going on in your life.
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Sarah Romans, a psychiatrist at The University of Otago in New Zealand, followed 78 women around for months, asking them about their mood, family lives, and stress levels. By the end of the six months, Romans tried to find a connection between their moods and their cycles. She couldn’t. Instead, things like stress level and home life were much bigger predictors of someone’s mood. Romans also took a look at 47 studies that followed the moods and menstrual cycles of healthy women. Only half of them found any statistically significant link between menstruation and mood, and almost none found that moods became worse as menstruation approached and got better once it started. Also consider that in other parts of the world, the symptoms of PMS are completely different than the moodiness that we associate with that time of the month. In some Asian countries, for example, rather than feeling irritable, women who are PMSing feel cold. In other words, your hormones probably aren’t making you nearly as unstable as your stressful life is.
You probably know that what you’re bleeding out during your period is the lining of your uterus, and inside that lining somewhere is an unfertilized egg. Logically, it might follow that the time during which the plush lining of your uterus is escaping from your body is the perfect time to have unprotected sex. Seriously, what are the chances that sperm are going to want to wade through mountains of old, goopy blood to find a possibly already shriveled-up egg? Gross.
Turns out that sperm have absolutely zero dignity and will, in fact, go through your period blood to find an egg. They won't find the old one — the one that your body is getting rid of — but they might find the new egg that has been implanted in the new lining that's forming. In other words, you can definitely get pregnant on your period. I repeat, you can definitely get pregnant while on your period. So, use protection. Unless you’re trying to get pregnant, in which case, have at it.
Women who live together bleed together, right? Probably not. In 1971, researcher Martha McClintock published a paper that claimed to show proof of menstrual synchrony — a phenomenon that sounds far more elegant than it actually is. But, since then, most researchers haven’t been able to reproduce the results, and scientists haven’t come up with a good explanation for why we’d get on the same schedule in the first place.
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While the science isn’t totally conclusive here, it’s safe to say that the burden of proof currently falls in the menstrual synchrony camp. So, while it might seem like you and your roommate are bleeding together, it’s most likely coincidence rather than some grand biological connection.
While it might seem like you’re hemorrhaging blood down there, you’re really not losing very much at all. All told, most women only lose somewhere between four and 12 teaspoons of blood. (Yep, it’s a big range, remember our first point?) If you find yourself changing pads or tampons more than five times a day, it might be time to talk to a doctor, but most of us aren’t bleeding all that much. So, that crimson wave? More like a crimson trickle. Think of it more as a relaxing, cramp-filled beach than a tsunami.
NEXT: Sexy Time, Gender Roles, & Credit Where Due
This post was authored by Rose Eveleth.