What even is it?Let's start from the very beginning (a very good place to start - h/t Fraulein Maria). When females are born, we've already got like one or two million eggs in our ovaries. By puberty, only about 300,000 are left. And of those, only 300 - 400 go through ovulation. Once a month, the "ripest" egg gets released. At that point, if it gets fertilized by a sperm cell and attaches to the uterine wall, badabing badaboom, you're preggo. If not, the egg will break apart, hormone levels will drop, and the uterine lining sheds, coming out as your period.
Are menstrual cycles and periods the same thing?
Nope, not really. Our "cycles" are technically the day you start bleeding until the first day of your next period (roughly 28 days if you're of the rare "regular" species), and it consists of a bunch of super important stages (like ovulation, for example)––and there's actually two different cycles goin' on at a time: the ovarian cycle, and the uterine cycle. Menstruation is a part of the uterine cycle. The period itself is only 5-7 days, which might also be around the same time you start craving ice cream... Or is that just us?
Cut it out, mainstream media. PMS is not another way to say "perpetual grumpiness." PMS stands for Pre-Menstrual Syndrome, and refers to a variety of symptoms: soreness of breasts, bloating, breakouts, headaches, nausea, food cravings, moodiness, sadness, etc. There are more than 150 physical and psychological symptoms associated with PMS (#blessed). Why exactly it all happens isn't 100% understood, but it's def connected to the hormone changes that happen during our monthly cycles.
Why do you feel like a tiny dinosaur is clawing its way out of your ovaries?
Well, your body is literally tearing apart the nice uterus-home it built for the fetus you didn’t create, after all… but that isn’t really why you’re hurting. The pain is actually caused by prostaglandins (i.e., fancy word that's not super crucial to your understanding of cramps) telling your uterine muscles to contract. Some feel this in their lower bellies, others feel it in their backs.
How much do you actually bleed each month?
The amount of blood that comes out of the cervix each month varies, but it can be anywhere from 4 tsp - 1 cup. Yes, 1 cup. Like the measuring cup you have in your kitchen cabinet. It's a lot of blood, we know. This is why we are basically superheroes (sheroes, really); vigilantes, out to save bedsheets, pants, and skirts around the world.
What is period blood, really?
Raise your hand if you thought period blood was the same as regular ol’ blood. ...NOPE! It's fine though, we didn't know until we became period pros. In addition to the 4 - 12 teaspoons of blood you lose each cycle, your body is also shedding its uterine lining. This is why it's thick or clumpy sometimes (don't deny it). Maybe even goopy. Heh, goopy. Thanks Gwyneth.
How am I supposed to handle this?
There are a number of solutions that women around the world use— everything from tampons, pads, and menstrual cups (all either disposable or reusable) and sea sponges (yes, really, look it up). Every woman manages her period differently, but if she's really awesome, she probably has some THINX to back her up every month, too :)
Why should I care?
A lack of understanding about periods and how remarkably normal they are fuels stigmas against menstruation worldwide. As long as periods are something to be ashamed of, menstrual hygiene will simply not be a priority, which means that millions of girls will continue to miss school during their periods, which ultimately contributes to a cycle of poverty and marginalization for women around the world. Awareness and education are the antidotes to ignorance, and are the first steps in breaking this taboo. Click here to see how we help.
And here's a bunch of guys trying to explain it all (you know, for kicks):