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What boys need to know about Periods

We need to normalise talking about periods. There really needn’t be the big taboo amongst the sexes that there have traditionally been. Periods are natural. Period. That said, we know that men may have questions… so we’ve answered a few of the most common ones.

“Do girls get any warning that their period is going to start?”

Cycles vary from person to person and from cycle to cycle. Irregular period cycles could be caused by stress, travelling between time zones, strenuous exercise, illness and drastic changes in weight and diet. Bodies don’t run like the clockwork, so a period can turn up a few days early or a few days late. However, there are a few warning signs. That’s things like mood changes, greasier hair, and cramps. These all tend to make their presence known before the period starts.

“What’s with the whole “Arghh! I’ve just come on” thing?”

This is because the first day of a period is usually the worst – it tends to be the day when the flow is the heaviest. Some will report a serious backache, others will have tender nipples, others get cramps that can be felt in the legs, lower back, and tummy. This cramping is usually caused by our body’s response to a hormone called prostaglandin, which causes the muscles in the uterus to contract. The same hormone can also be the cause of headaches before a period.

“How much menstrual blood loss is there during your period?”

The average person who menstruates (not that there is such a thing!) loses about an eggcup full of blood during their period but this depends on the person and which stage they are at in their cycle. Women know that the clotting action of blood and the shedding of the uterus lining mean that blood flow and texture will differ considerably throughout their period.

“Can you lose your virginity by using a tampon?”

Virginity is a “status” that can only be changed by having intercourse. So the only time virginity can be lost is when you actually have sex; that’s it. This is a very common myth among girls and women too, and it’s due to a misunderstanding about the nature of the membrane inside the vagina in virgins (the hymen). The truth is that the hymen radically differs in thickness between women and that it’s actually more like a perforated piece of paper.

“Is it really painful?”

Imagine you’ve eaten two Christmas dinners – one round at her mums and straight round for one at yours – your belly is swollen, sore and feels like it’s going to burst then imagine that someone pokes you in it – not a quick prod but a long hard push that feels like it’s never going to end. Well, that’s how it feels. Don’t forget that we also have a backache, sore nipples, a banging headache and we’re bleeding.

“So there’s tampons and pads to plug or soak up the blood. What else?”

We use period pads (disposable or reusable) or tampons to protect our underwear. Or we can use a menstrual cup.

Period pads fit inside our knickers by means of a sticky strip, which keeps the pad in place. There are different types of pads and it’s all a matter of choice which we go for. So if you’ve been sent to grab a pack it’s worth checking before you leave the house so you don’t have to guess! There’s a huge number of options out there. Some are for daytime or regular flow, others for heavy days or night time. Reusable pads work exactly the same way same except you wash and dry them each time, then reuse.

Tampons are also available in different sizes to suit the amount of blood loss. Some tampons are digital – yep, this confused us too when we first heard the term – this just means that they’re inserted using a finger. Other tampons have a cardboard or plastic applicator to help insert it into the vagina.

Menstrual cups are small, flexible cup made of silicone or latex rubber. Instead of absorbing the flow, like a tampon or pad, it catches and collects it. Cups are more expensive than other products, but they are simply rinsed and reinserted. One single cup can last for years. They’re good for the environment too as they don’t create any waste.

“This all sounds really expensive – How many tampons or pads do you get through in a month?”

A box of 16 tampons costs around £2.00, organic cotton ones are a little more (but worth it), and your average pack of period pads costs around £2.50. Cotton or Bamboo pads cost a little more at around £3.00 but they don’t contain Chlorine and Dioxin bleach. They’re also free from plastic and chemical nasties. For us, it’s well worth the little extra not to have chemical near your VJ when it’s swollen and painful.

According to a recent study women in the UK spend as much as £18,450 on their periods over the course of their lifetime. We use about 22 pads/tampons per period. A total of 24% use only tampons, 31% use only period pads, 39% use both tampons and period pads, and 6% use a menstrual cup. So to break that down:

Pads/tampons/panty-liners/menstrual cups – £13

New underwear (due to spillages) -£8

Pain relief – £4.50

Chocolate/sweets/crisps – £8.50

Other (magazines/toiletries/DVDs etc.) – £7

Taking these monthly estimates into account, researchers were able to work out that the average period costs £492 annually. With the average woman menstruating 450 times, the total cost of a period during a woman’s lifetime was worked out at a whopping £18,450.

“OK. So what can I do to help?”

Over the counter pain relievers will help if the pain prevents them from doing their usual activities. Offering a hot water bottle or wheat bag may help to ease the cramps too.

Other than that there’s not much you can do about the actual symptoms, so behave how you normally would. Gifts of chocolate, hot drinks and cuddling up to watch all those Netflix movies that you hate will no doubt go a long way to helping!

“My girlfriend gets moody, a bit on the aggressive side when she’s on her period. What should I do?”

A top tip would be for you to think of ways to diffuse rather than engage, there’s a chance that something that seems like a really big deal right now will be less important later on. It probably won’t help to be googling things like – ‘why is my girlfriend mental?’ Instead, it might help to take a step back and consider what’s going on for her during her menstrual cycle. Remember, just because she’s a bit more emotional than normal, doesn’t mean that you can ignore her or that her emotions are invalid!

“Right, so is that pretty much everything I need to know?”

Pretty much! The key thing is to remember that the experience of having a period differs from woman to woman. In fact, it can even differ from month to month for each woman. Hopefully though, this guide has armed you with plenty of useful info and, perhaps most importantly, the understanding needed to effectively support your girlfriend, sister, daughter, pal… whoever!