Supporting each other through periods is a familiar pastime for most women. From the colleagues trading ibuprofen and sanitary products on Slack to the housemates curled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle, watching Jennifer Lopez films, we've managed to turn one of the downsides of the female reproductive system into a bonding experience.
But imagine, if you will, what it must be like if you don't get a period. For many of us, the first reaction to this is probably, "Great!" But it's an issue that requires deeper thought. Because of course, having a period carries factors which can be hugely integral to your life, from the camaraderie of period pain all the way to fertility.
Women don't get periods for many different reasons. Some may undergo early menopause, some have had hysterectomies for medical issues. Some may be transgender, some suffering from eating disorders. The reasons women don't have periods can be complicated and diverse, but don't take away from one central fact: period or no period, if you identify as a woman, you are a woman.
Photographer Bex Day has travelled around the UK and Germany meeting, talking to and photographing these women. Read on to find out how being period-free has affected their lives.
I was diagnosed with a rare form of womb cancer when I was 24 and the treatment I was put on, a hormone-blocking treatment, didn’t work. I had no other option but to have a total hysterectomy with ovary preservation. This surgery included both my womb and cervix being removed, so I no longer menstruate, although my ovaries still work and I have a monthly cycle (and PMS!) like other women.
It’s very easy to get used to your normal and forget just how bad having periods was. My friend had to deal with a heavy period when she was skiing, and just the disruption and faff to her day, along with incredible pain, really made me think, "Thank God I don’t have to deal with that anymore!" Every now and then I also get flashbacks to horrific situations I was in from heavy bleeding, like going past a café in Hyde Park and remembering being there and running to find a toilet, feeling blood down my legs and on my trousers. It was awful and I am so glad I don’t have to live with that worry anymore.
I once had someone say to me, "I know the menopause is hard, I have been through it," likening my situation to hers and completely ignoring and undermining the fact I was only 24, on cancer treatment and had lost my fertility. The same person – a colleague – also said to me: "I know cancer makes people selfish, you have to be to survive, but you need to start thinking about work now…"
I am so glad I don’t have a period anymore. It is such a relief to not have to worry and navigate my way through life with regular toilet stops. Everything else that led to and has followed from my surgery takes an awful toll on me. Recovering from cancer is a difficult and long process and I would do anything to not be infertile. But that can’t be changed, it has happened now and not having a period is just the small silver lining I get from all of the shit I have been through.
In 2013, after years of struggling with my health and period, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). I had very irregular or nonexistent periods for years but have worked hard to live healthily and they are, at the moment, okay. Before, though, I was very difficult and moody; when my hormones were out of whack, it felt like no reason or logic could bring me out of that dark headspace and physical discomfort. Weeks of my life disappeared every month to a silent monster that refused to budge inside of me. I lost, overall, eight years of my life to period-related hormonal stuff.
Not having my period forced me to take a closer look at my health holistically, so I am grateful for that. But I do find it frustrating when older women say to me things like, "That’s strange. I never had that problem. I barely noticed my period. Ever."
Now, I've accepted it. It is what it is. Not having a period doesn’t impact my identity. I feel womanly precisely because I am.
I am an open, transgender woman and I was born with all things male. I came out as transgender this year but had been mentally transitioning for four years. While I cannot ever physically experience what other women feel, I feel so much empathy towards women on their periods, I want to sympathise and talk to them about it. And I can hug them to comfort them.
Some people will never see me as a woman, only as an "aesthetic woman", because I cannot fulfil the practical elements of womanhood. I cannot have genetic children or give birth. Does that make me less of a woman? To some, yes.
I accepted not having a period a long time ago, and it rarely passes my thoughts. I can’t do it, therefore I can’t yearn. I am happy I don’t get all this pain and the painfulness of childbirth but I can also wish that I could experience the things that I would have if I was born with a female body.
The way I see it, there are a lot of women who don’t have their period. A lot of women can’t have children. Some women around me can’t. My identity does not hinge on a technicality and neither does theirs. Are biological women who don’t get their period still women? Of course they are. So I am still a woman because I don’t have one. My experience is just different from the other women around me. My experience as a woman is beautiful and not having a period cannot take away what burns so strong inside me.
I do get my period now, but for several years I didn’t as my weight wasn’t on a healthy level. I tend to lose weight when I’m stressed and, several years ago, when I was doing a very demanding internship, I lost a lot in a short amount of time. It shouldn't have been a surprise that because of this my period stopped. Because I'm naturally slender, it took a long time to gain enough weight to get back to normal in a healthy way.
I sometimes think that part of the issue was that for a long time I was more in touch with my "masculine" side, always putting work first, trying not to show stress or insecurities. It wasn't until I started taking more time for myself and allowing myself to be more in touch with myself and my "feminine" side that everything got back to normal. You could say the balance between feminine and masculine was a bit off. Nevertheless, I did feel just as much a woman then as I do now that my period has come back.
For a very long time I wasn’t sure what to think of not having my period. In a way it was a good thing, as I used to have horrible cramps and it was nice not having all the trouble that comes with that. It was only after my period had stopped for more than two years that I started to worry if I had harmed my body for good – especially as I get older and start to think about whether or not I’d like to have children one day.
I have never actually had a full, natural period. When I was 15 years old I was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure, this means that before reaching puberty I had already experienced my menopause.
When I was told what was happening, I was incredibly angry as it was very clear to me and my family that I was born to be a mother. I struggled for a long time, questioning my identity and my purpose as, for so long, "being a woman" to me was "being a biological mother" – I felt my body was wrong. It has taken 10 years to accept that even though naturally I cannot conceive, I can still be the woman I want to be. I used to long for periods just to be "normal", and for a long time I would lie about it to everyone around me, to avoid explaining why I don't have periods.
When people suggest that "maybe it will happen soon", it’s very frustrating. I don't think many people understand, or can even contemplate, experiencing menopause at 15. I was put on six different pills to try and stimulate my ovaries, I had countless blood tests, ultrasounds, CT scans and God knows how many invasive procedures to come to a conclusion of why my body wasn't responding to any kind of medication or therapy. But what more can I do? The NHS can't do anything else and unless a miracle happens, there is no solution. The thing about the menopause is it is final.
Women are so resilient but I've also come to believe that most, if not all, women have a maternal instinct and with that choice and decision being completely taken from you it's hard not to challenge who you are. If you are a childless woman because you CHOSE not to have children, that is one thing, but being a childless woman because you didn't have that choice can really damage your identity.
I don’t get my period because I suffer from endometriosis and take the pill back-to-back to avoid having a "normal" period, which would leave me in a great deal of pain and would potentially encourage more endometriosis to form. Not having my period allows me to pursue the things I want in life. Because of modern medicine, I have a successful career, a good degree, I’ve travelled to different countries and formed great friendships and relationships.
I missed a great deal of school because of pain to do with my periods, which I now understand was as a result of my endometriosis. Fortunately this did not have too much of a detrimental effect on my future, but memories of my adolescence are dotted with episodes of severe pain, vomiting and the feeling of missing out.
When I was about 20 I approached my (female) GP with a list of ongoing symptoms and queried whether they could be caused by endometriosis and she laughed at me, and told me categorically that it wasn’t, without any medical checks, scans or further investigation. I went away feeling like a fool, and didn’t raise it again until four years later, when the pain and bleeding became unbearable and I was being prescribed three codeine a day just to cope with daily life. They then found that endometriosis had spread across three different areas.
When I was first diagnosed I felt like a ticking time bomb – it was flagged by my consultant that my eggs may be poor quality, and that my endometriosis could affect my fertility. I was recommended to start being proactive by the age of 27 if I wanted to have children. I’m in a happy relationship, with a dog, lovely partner and house that we call home, and I have now accepted that what will be, will be. I am in control of my own body and I’m 26 and a half and not planning on trying for children any time soon.
It’s strange because I do not feel that not having periods affects my femininity in any way; it actually makes me feel empowered as a woman that there are medical ways of not letting this condition control my life and hold me back.
I always had very strong, long and painful periods and when I got into a long-term relationship I researched the best contraceptive for my needs. When I learned that in most cases the implant stopped periods altogether, I opted for that. I'm on my second one now and had only one period in the last four years.
There are many little incidents that make me feel like not having my period is a good thing. In between implants, for example, I have a very, very strong and heavy period for up to two weeks. I often wake up with my sheets or clothes stained.
Something people often say which I find so frustrating is: "I don’t think it’s healthy to stop your periods entirely." As if I haven’t researched, plus you are not a doctor!
For now I feel free, I feel like I can do anything without worrying about my period, especially because when I have it I’m in a lot of pain. I will want to have children in a couple of years so I will have to stop the implant and go back to having periods.
Sometimes, even though my periods are very heavy and painful, I do miss it. I miss that feeling of my body working in a cycle. I know my body still works like that, but I can’t actually see it anymore. Sometimes not having my period and having my girlfriends talk about how painful theirs is, makes me feel kinda jealous – almost left out.
*Indicates name has been changed