Menstruation. The Period. Ragging. Aunt Flo. The Crimson Wave. Shark Week. The Red Mask of Death. (I haven't actually heard that one, but I'm going with it.) If it's something you're ashamed of, embarrassed by, grossed out by, or just don't know much about, this post is for you.
First of all, Shark Week is totally natural. How does it work? Seriously, not everyone knows this, and we should, considering 51% of the world has dealt with it or will deal with it at some point or other. So let's discuss it. Basically, every woman has a uterus. Roughly every 4-6 weeks, the uterus builds up a special lining in preparation for a fertilized egg. If an egg is fertilized, it will nestle in the lining and a pregnancy will develop. If there is no fertilized egg, the lining will pass out of the woman's body. That's her period.
This is a totally natural and essential process. If you value any woman who has ever had kids (including your mother), then you must appreciate the period.
A few facts about periods:
1. Girls can first get their periods as early as around age 11, basically at the onset of puberty. They last into menopause, which is somewhere in the 50s.
2. Periods can last anywhere from a couple days to a full week.
3. The blood can be different colors, either very light or very dark, but all some version of red.
4. There will be heavy days and there will be light days.
5. There is an urban legend that you can't get pregnant during your period because you're shedding your lining. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Yes, at some point during your period, you're shedding your egg, but you have no way of knowing at what point during the period you're losing it, so it is possible to have started your period, have unprotected sex, and to get pregnant even though you're on your period. If that's what you want, mazel tov. If not, don't risk it.
Now, since this blog is primarily about sex, how does your sexual life get impacted by your period?
That's entirely up to you and your partner. I've had some partners who were totally fine with Shark Week from the get-go. I've had other partners who were seriously grossed out and had to be trained to think otherwise. But trained they were.
First of all, if you're going to do any messing around at all, invest in some dark towels. They don't have to be black - ours are a deep purple and they're very pretty. But one of the easiest things you can do to keep things tidy is to lay down a towel before you start messing around. It can even be a tip to your partner that you're feeling frisky.
What can you do while on your period? Anything you want. X and I tend to avoid oral (it tastes very salty), but manual and coitus are totally on the table. It's basically natural lube and makes everything slicker. Who doesn't like lube?
But let's say your partner is still grossed out, but you want to have some fun. You have a couple options:
1. Make it all about your partner and drive him up the wall.
2. Use toys on yourself.
Note that the toys can be totally hot. You can use a dildo on yourself while your lover kisses you and plays with your breasts. You can control the speed and depth of the toy and enjoy it as long as you want until you finish or get bored. You're still playing with your partner, but you're also keeping things very clean. After, you just clean off a toy (which you should be doing after each encounter anyway).
Now, I mentioned training your partner. How do you do that? Find a time when you're on your period and your partner is aroused. Get things going and have some foreplay fun, then put down a towel. If your partner asks what it's for, say something like "In case things get a little messy." Everyone can appreciate that. If that tips your partner off, great. If not, before any real vaginal contact happens, you need to tell your partner you're ragging. This isn't because it's gross, but because it may royally freak your partner out to retract a finger or a penis to find it covered in blood.
So you tell your partner you're on your period, and your partner balks. Here's where the training comes in. Have him touch your labia and your clitoris. Teach him the fun things you can do without actual penetration. Remind him that it still feels good to you and that you don't feel any different to his touch. Once he's comfortable with that, encourage him to penetrate you. Verbalize how good everything feels. Once your partner realizes that you're still the same wonderful, horny partner, he should have no problem continuing.
One thing that can also help is to come up with a code phrase to mean "I am menstruating." I don't actually know anyone who likes the word "menstruating." Seriously, do you like it? It's so clinical. What X and I say is that it's Messy Time. We'll start kissing and I'll tell him "Get the towel - I'm messy." He gets the towel and we keep going. It's as simple as that. That being said, I kind of like the phrase "Shark Week" and that may come into rotation as well. I know a woman who would go off her birth control on a Tuesday (so she'd start her period shortly thereafter). She just referred to her period as "Tuesday" all week. It can be anything you want, so long as it's clear between you and your partner.
Let's say you do stain something. This is not the end of the world. If you can, just throw it in the wash right away on a cold/cold cycle. If you use hot water, it will cook the blood into the material and you'll never get it out. So only cold water. If you don't have easy access to laundering facilities, soak the stain in cold water with a little dish soap rubbed directly into the stain. Problem solved.
Finally, if your period is unpredictable at all, I encourage you to invest in red and black undies. They can be cute, they can be sexy, and any staining just blends right in. I have about eight pairs of black undies, all with fun embellishments (lace panels, zebra print border, etc.) that I wear because they make me feel pretty, but I can save for messy days and they save me a world of trouble.
Your period is a part of you. Any long-term partner needs to be comfortable with it. Take him with you next time you need feminine supplies. Better yet, send him to the store to get them while you stay home with ice cream (just make sure to show him the box you like to be absolutely sure you're getting the kind you want. No one likes getting the wrong feminine supplies.)
Speaking of feminine supplies, let's talk about them. Pads and tampons. More "taboo" words. So let's talk about them! Some women use one, some women use the other, some women use both.
Pads come in different widths, thicknesses, and lengths, depending on what you need. Some of them are just liners while others are full blown thick. Some come with wings that wrap around your panties to hold them into place. It totally depends on what you want them for. Some women rely solely on pads, for whatever reason. My best friend has a thick hymen and basically can't use tampons without a lot of pain, so she only uses pads. One advantage of pads is that it's easy to tell exactly how full they are and when you need to change them - you just look.
Tampons are even more varied than pads and are a little more complicated. First, using them. There is a technique to it, if you've never tried. WikiHow has an awesome article, complete with pictures, that clarifies this. You can find it here. For the record, the first time I used tampons, I didn't have this article or even my mother's guidance. I pulled out the directions from the box and read them. Old school.
Tampons come in different shapes and styles. Some have flushable applicators, some are plastic and need to be thrown away. My favorite tampons ever are the Playtex Sport. They come in different strengths for lighter or heavier days (as do most brands). But what I like most about them is that instead of the tampon just being a solid tube of cotton, it flowers out as you apply it to better fit. It's extremely comfortable, even if I'm being active (dancing, yoga, walking, running, etc).
I always wear liners, even if I'm wearing a tampon and here's why: experience can tell you when you need to change a tampon, but if your flow isn't regular, you don't have a really good way of knowing when it's time to change a tampon. Enter the liner. I just wait until I see stains on the liner and then I change them both. It's simple and it keeps my undies clean.
That's it! But to return to my original point: society tells us that our periods should be secret, that we should hide whenever we have them and restrict ourselves from doing the activities we love. Some cultures even consider a woman ragging - and anyone who touches her - unclean. This is total bullshit. It's one of the most natural processes there are. Having a regular period means you have a healthy reproductive system - who doesn't want that? (Note: if you don't have a period for three months or more, consult an OB/GYN. You may be pregnant or you may be having problems with your plumbing. Either way, get medical help to sort things out.) Periods can be gross, yes. They're certainly messy. But they're not the end of the world and they certainly don't have to mean the end of your sex life.
EDIT: One last tip to the ladies: Keep track of when you're on your cycle so you know what to expect. What I do is I draw a tiny circle in my planner for a light flow day and a dark circle for a heavy flow day. Doing this for a few months will let you better anticipate your cycle and how to manage it. Bye!