What Do Cis Men Want to Know About Menstruation?
5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | September 25, 2019
Once when I was 14 (fine… 16), one of my friends, Pete, saw a pad in my backpack. One of those bulky plastic-wrapped pads that had probably been sitting in there for too long, and had become partially unwrapped.
“EW!” he screamed (he probably didn’t scream, but memory works in unique ways, okay?).
Rolling my eyes, I tore off the rest of the wrapper, and slapped it on his shirt (wow, don’t I sound like a fun teenager?). This time, he actually screamed. Our male teacher wasn’t too pleased either. Pete didn’t stop cringing until I peeled the strip of cotton off his back like a leech (sorry, Pete).
“Oh, I thought it was used,” our teacher, who I’m not gonna call out because I think we might be friends on Facebook, said.
I was too busy laughing hysterically, drunk on the chaos that simply brandishing a feminine hygiene product had caused, so my (female) friend responded for me: “Why would she be
carrying around a used pad?”
This grown man with a wife and two daughters stared at us, frowning while we giggled at him. “Well, I’ve never thought about that.”
I’m not trying to paint with a broad stroke here — I don’t think that most men are as terrified of the very idea of periods as my friend Pete was when we were 16 (again, sorry Pete). I do think it’s safe to say that many men are more like our teacher, and it’s just not something they have to think about. Often, boys aren’t even in the room when girls are taught about managing menstruation in school, which makes you wonder, how much do cisgender men really know about our flows?
Today Thinx launched our first national campaign, a commercial that answers this question: “If we all had periods, would we all be more comfortable with them?” Here’s the thing — men who don’t have periods aren’t going to become more comfortable discussing menstruation (or advocating for our rights) without being invited into the conversation. And yeah, that means starting with some basics: I asked a few of my cis male friends, the men here at Thinx, and some random guy I met in a bar last week for questions they had about periods.
...Okay, a few of these aren’t so basic — some of these dudes do work at Thinx, after all.
How many tampons/pads/cups do you go through in a cycle? How much does this cost?
The average person with a period uses 20 tampons in one cycle. If they’re a pad user, this number tends to be a bit lower due to the absorbency of pads. Many of us use a combo of these things. This adds up to approximately $270 a year.
Since cup users (or Thinx users!) aren’t disposing of their products, this is a harder number to keep track of, but many menstrual cup brands recommend emptying cups at least every 10-12 hours.
Why is some period blood not red?
*All* blood changes color when it is oxidized, which you probably learned in science. So older blood tends to be browner, which is why periods tend to get darker throughout the week. Besides blood, periods are also composed of tissue, mucus, and some other fun things, which also affects the color.
Are you able to control bleeding at all with your muscles?
Nope! That’d be cool though!
Is it okay if I ask someone if they’re on their period?
As a pejorative? No. Did they leak through their pants? Sure, but let them know discreetly.
Why do people seem to know when their period is ending, but often seem caught off-guard or surprised when it starts?
It tends to be a lot easier to note when your period is going to end, because menstruation gets significantly lighter towards the end of your ~flow~.
A lot of us still get caught off-guard by our periods (even after YEARS) because they can be extremely irregular, and set off by a number of seemingly arbitrary factors, including your diet, level of exercise, or your stress level. Many of us don’t bleed every 28 days on the dot, so it can be difficult to prepare.
If a girl has unprotected sex before her cycle starts, is she more prone to pregnancy? When is the best time to have unprotected sex for a girl to avoid pregnancy?
Okay, before I answer this one, can you reconsider *why* you need to have unprotected sex to begin with? Have the options — barrier methods, pills, IUDs, etc. — been exhausted? This seems like an annoying answer, but mostly because there’s no real universal “best time” (and also because the only people qualified to discuss someone’s BC options are them and their doctor).
If you and your partner do choose the fertility awareness method (aka FAM, which basically track a person’s ovulation to identify their fertile days), a number of factors come into play, such as the length of their cycle, which can vary between 26-32 days. There’s a lot of room for error here, which is why FAMs are only 76-88% effective as a birth control method. I know there are plenty of people who do successfully use these methods, but I would definitely recommend that your partner further discusses birth control methods with their doctor if you’re committed to avoiding pregnancy.
When does menopause start on average? Is it true that libido increases prior to menopause?
Menopause is a longer stage of life than many people may believe. It begins when a woman stops menstruating for 12 consecutive months, but that doesn’t include premenopause or perimenopause, two other transitional stages that come beforehand. On average, menopause is experienced between the ages of 45 and 55, but this too can vary wildly.
Entering menopause can typically have a negative impact on the libido, due to hormonal changes, but of course, *every body* is different. No two people really experience menopause in the same way.
If there was one thing that YOU wish you could enter in the common knowledge of men regarding periods, what would it be?
I’m gonna cheat and say three things, because it’s my blog. 💇
Believe women when they say they’re in serious pain.
The people in Walmart/CVS/the bodega do not care that you’re buying period products.
If someone is angry with you, and on their period, it does not mean their emotions aren’t real, and you’re not allowed to discredit them.
Is there anything I can do to help?
Yes! *High five*
On a personal level, ask the people in your life if they need anything when they’re period-ing. Listen to them!
On a ~societal~ level, help us break the taboo! This doesn’t have to mean anything more than normalizing conversations about periods, even if it’s to tell your coworker that no, it’s weird that HE thinks the women in your office shouldn’t talk about their period cramps. Call that sh*t out!
by Toni Brannagan