Although half of the population needs to deal with menstruation cycles during a large part of their lives, we know so little about how others experience this. Maybe we talk about our periods with friends, siblings, our mother or other family, but in general period-talk remains a sort of taboo. We mostly do not know how other people experience their period.
E&M wants to contribute to the conversation and break this silence, and we would love to hear about how your period is for you. Whether it’s easy and hardly an issue in your everyday life, or whether your menstruation is always the hardest time of the month: every experience is valuable.
With your contributions we want to show how periods are different for everyone: there is no normal, there is no right and wrong.
What we’re seeing in the answers though is a lot of pain: body cramps, mood swings, discomfort, fatigue and lots of painkillers.
From the female editors of this piece to all you contributors: WE SEE YOU.
At what age did you have your first period?
I remember my mum giving me and my sister a book, and we had some talks in school – but that mostly consisted of an embarrassed teacher handing out some free sanitary pads.
Did you know what it was? Did you have a prep-talk beforehand?
Sahra: I didn’t know so much about it and had a talk with my mum afterwards. I felt terrible because I didn’t know what was happening to my body.
Camilla: Yes, with my mum.
Daria: My mum and I talked about it – so I knew what was going on.
Nicoletta: I had learnt about my first period in school, all my sex-ed was essentially about my period. Nonetheless, when I got my first period I didn’t know that it happened once a month but thought I would have it every day for the rest of my life…My mom quickly assuaged my fears.
Laura: I knew, and I felt proud – my mum told me that now I was a woman.
Lilly: Yes to both.
Sarah: Yes, but probably could have been better prepared too! I remember my mum giving me and my sister a book, and we had some talks in school – but that mostly consisted of an embarrassed teacher handing out some free sanitary pads.
MC: Yes. My Mum did tell me about it when I was tiny. Sometimes she also changed her sanitary pad in front of me.
Victoria: Yes, and two older sisters, which helps a lot.
Cat: I did know what it was. My mom took me out one day to have lunch somewhere and “tell me everything” – although I feel that at this point I already knew most of it because of friends, magazines, tv, etc. But it was nice to have the chat anyways.
How was your period during your teenage years?
Sahra: A lot of pain and shame.
Camilla: Not stressful nor painful. But some friendships broke because of it – lots of girls didn’t want to say that they had it.
Daria: I had really bad cramps for the first two days, slowly started to get more regular with time.
Nicoletta: Quite normal and very regular.
Laura: I went on the pill early on due to hormonal “problems”. So my period was ‘artificial’ – I had no problems.
Lilly: It always came with awful stomach cramps. It came one week early or 1 week late but never on time.
Sarah: At times definitely felt intrusive in that it affected plans..I had bad period pain and dealing with that at school etc was not fun.
MC: I didn’t bleed much at first, I had no cramps but also it wasn’t punctual. Ever.
Victoria: Very irregular!! I would spend 2-3 months without having them. Sometimes they were very painful.
Cat: Quite soft. My menstruation has always been very irregular until I started to take the pill, at the age of 17. My mom had the same when she was my age and she always told me not to worry too much about it, that I would just have to trust my body and let my body regulate itself over the years. And actually it was quite convenient as sometimes 3 months would pass without menstruating and I loved that, so I did not worry too much either. Then I started to take contraceptive methods so it has not been a natural cycle since – with the pill my menstruation cycle became regular just like any other.
VD: Painful, heavy bleedings, very scary.
Painkillers, painkillers, painkillers. It always sets me out from work for a couple of days, I am exhausted and desperate, really.
How is your period for you now? Has it changed over the years?
Sahra: Starting with the anti-baby pill the period-caused pain was washed away and with the years I felt more confident having my menstruation. When I stopped taking the pill my period started to act like a rollercoaster. It became better with a copper IUD as contraceptive method.
Daria: My cycle changed a lot, also affected by the pill. I now have a cupper IUD – but I learned toI better understand how my cycle works and I have less cramps now than when I started getting my period.
Nicoletta: It has gotten far more irregular and far heavier. Especially since the coronavirus pandemic it is consistently more irregular. I have extreme ovulation pains which occasionally means I cannot get out of bed – for this I have been recommended the contraceptive pill which I refuse to take due to a terrible experience with microgynon (where I got the side effect of depression induced by hormonal imbalance).
Lilly: Absolutely! Now I have a headache instead of stomach cramps.
Sarah: Much more regular and lighter now, but also because I take the pill. I would prefer not to take a hormonal contraception but like lots of women it’s the only thing I’ve found (or that a doctor has offered) that alleviates my symptoms.
MC: Yes, it has changed over the years. However I do not use any contraceptive tools on a regular basis apart from the morning after pill a few times. I noticed that the colour had changed. Maybe because my environment had changed? The duration used to be shorter. I now have more severe cramps – I take painkillers. Sometimes I even get a feeling of discomfort during the ovulation.Also I always notice a change of my skin a week before and after.
Anonymous: Stopping the pill was the best decision!! Wish I hadn’t waited till I was 31.
Victoria: I am on the pill now so it’s regular but painful still for the first 2 days. Most importantly, today I welcome my period as a reminder to take care of myself, to slow down and listen to my body.
Cat: I started taking contraceptive methods when I started to have sex on a regular basis, not because of my period. But it has changed because of it. The pill made my menstruation regular but also more intense, I would have very soft periods and when taking the pill I started to have some pain and nuisance sometimes. But nothing too heavy. Now since some years I have a contraceptive implant, which made my periods again irregular and quite soft.
VD: Changed for even worse, I just got used to it.
Do you experience any health problems due to your period? Do you have to take medicine?
Sahra: Yes. I did a lot of pain killers – and still do. At a time my period stopped for couple of months I’ve seen a doctor and took medicine for balancing. Unfortunately, I’ve also had several cysts which had to be treated with hormones.
Daria: My cramps were quite bad when I was younger so I got a “stronger” pill.
Nicoletta: As mentioned above, I have been to several gynaecologists for my ovulation pains, all of which either recommended I take the contraceptive pill or gave me some herbal remedies which unfortunately so far have not worked.
Laura: When I still took the pill, I had nearly no problems. Now I need pain medication once in while.
Lilly: It really depends on the circumstances – anything from mildly shitty to two days spent in bed is possible.
Sarah: Without the pill I would often be more or less bed bound for a couple of days. With the pill I still get some symptoms but no major health problems.
MC: Luckily my menstruation has never been too harsh on me. 3-4 painkillers can solve everything.
Victoria: No health issue, but all I want to do is spend the first day of my period in bed.
Cat: No, nothing. It has always been quite easy, except for the irregular cycles.
VD: Painkillers, painkillers, painkillers. It always sets me out from work for a couple of days, I am exhausted and desperate, really.
Does your period affect your everyday life? Are there things you cannot do due to having your period?
Sahra: We’re getting along 🙂
Daria: I feel low and not that comfortable for the first two days mostly.
Laura: I feel the hormonal downs very strongly. This affects my mood a lot.
Clitsclub: Sometimes, yes. Sometimes you need to plan things differently due to mental instability like mood changes of period pains.
Sarah: When I was younger I would avoid some things when I had my period but as I got older you learn to deal with it better and it doesn’t affect my everyday life so much. But just the nuisance of it is annoying still and for example when possible I would try to avoid travelling/being on holiday when I have my period.
MC: Weirdly I have noticed that I have a sharper mind, I became more productive and I find it easier to concentrate during my period.
Victoria: I do plan around it (e.g. I would not run a marathon then – … not that I would ever though).
Cat: No, not anymore. When I was a teenager I hated having my period during the summer months, as I would go swimming every day. When having my period this was always an issue, because I was always afraid my tampon would leak (it never happened). Nowadays I trust my tampons.
VD: I cannot sleep well, I can’t do physical activity, I can’t focus – it makes me even more antisocial.
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What do you use – pads, tampons, anything else?
Sahra: I’m using tampons and sometimes period underwear.
Camilla: Pads, mostly.
Daria: I use the cup.
Nicoletta: I use pads and occasionally tampons – I tried the cup but the size I got wasn’t right for me and I forgot to exchange it (oops). In the new year I am considering transitioning to period underwear.
Laura: Period underwear (ooia) and tampons.
Lilly: Tampons or pads, depending on my mood.
Clitsclub: Always a cup!!
Anonymous: Mooncup <3
Victoria: Tampons, but increasingly considering period underwear.
Cat: Normally a menstruation cup. On the first 2 days of my menstruation I sometimes use tampons, as the bleeding is more intense and it’s easier to replace tampons, e.g. when at work or in public toilets.
VD: Only pads – LOTS of them.
Do you feel that period-talk is taboo in your group of friends and/or family?
Sahra: I do have period-talk with friends and my mum with shame or taboo.
Camilla: No, not at all.
Daria: We talk about it quote openly but I so think that my male friends don’t feel affected.
Nicoletta: I am lucky in that it is not taboo to discuss with my friends and family. Probably I would not discuss it with my grandparents or other older extended family members but this is not something that has had a large impact as I imagine it would have for other people who menstruate.
Laura: No, not at all! 🙂
Clitsclub: Not anymore… actually never with (especially feminine) friends and also most masculine.
Lilly: It’s increasingly getting less of a taboo.
Anonymous: Not in my current circle of friends. And I try to be open about it at work too.
Sarah: In my friendship group no, and increasingly in work environments it feels less taboo. But when I was younger it definitely seemed more so – which is ridiculous as that’s when you have most questions! Maybe that has changed now… I hope so.
MC: I feel totally find talking about it, but male family members might be uncomfortable with it. With friends I have never experienced any problems.
Victoria: No, I have two sisters and went to an all girls school so it’s never been taboo. And I refuse to let it be now.
Cat: Not necessarily taboo, but also not something that is talked about a lot. Friends and family members sometimes share that they don’t feel well because of their menstruation, also with men, but it is not something that is openly talked about.
Do you want to recommend any accounts to follow, stories to read or brands that have encouraged you to be more in sync with your period?
Nicoletta: Bloody Good Period and Amika George are so inspiring about period poverty in the UK. Additionally, I have also learnt a lot from Kenny Ethan Jones about the experiences of other people who menstruate (i.e. trans men) and how vastly these can differ. Especially regarding JK Rowling’s transphobic comments against ‘people who menstruate’ as a term – prompting a larger discussion on why menstruation should define my womanhood, when also some cis-women do not even have their periods. Lastly, a special by Samantha Bee on this History of Woman’s Pain (whilst still perpetuating the idea that only women have their period) really opened my eyes on how unfair it is that so little money is invested in women’s pain and why we can have really advanced AI but no functional painkiller for menstruation.
Victoria: Can’t think of any right now-now BUT I really recommend an orgy of herbal teas during periods 🙂
Cover photo: by illustrator Ines Ehinger (@cloudsandillustrations)