I wanted to give this post a less crude title but the word ‘axewound’ has been in my head all week. Frankly, it seemed like a lot less effort to just roll with it rather than trying to think of a suitable aphorism that perfectly juxtaposed the mythos of menstruation with the spotty, painful reality.
So, ‘axewounded’ it is. As in, ‘I am bleeding from the axewound’. It’s an extremely unfeminine name for what is considered our most biologically female part, and nothing better sums up exactly what happens down there around ‘that time of the month’: a painful, bloody mess.
For something that happens so ‘regularly’ (more on that later), it feels quite taboo to even write about menstruation. More taboo than even porn, which got a guernsey in my first few months here, sooooo… that’s BS. What’s needed is some good, practical information about one’s internal bleeding to help demystify the whole thing. In that spirit, here are some facts that my ladyfriends and I have come up with that would have been of use to younger, naive versions of ourselves and the even less informed menfolk who would go on to interact with us on both an intimate and everyday basis. If you have any period tips a pubescent you would have benefited from, please put it in the comments!
1. No girl is really surprised to find red stuff in her underwear. We’ve been told from the age of 6 or so that when we become a woman we will start bleeding “down there”. No, what’s really surprising is to find that, in a lot of cases, your first period isn’t so much red as brown. You are going to think you have crapped your pants. You haven’t.
2. Actually, the whole “becoming a woman” thing is bullshit. Some people who don’t identify as women have periods and a lot of people who do identify as women don’t have periods. (Libra, take note.)
3. On that, the whole period business really captures the distinction between “sex” and “gender”. Many biological female people could not feel less feminine than when they are on their rags, although they are ostensibly performing their sex as accurately as possible.
4. “That time of the month” is also, by and large, redundant for you. For the first few years, your period is going to strike spottily and without warning, sometimes within weeks of the last one, sometimes they will be many months apart. This is perfectly normal. Maybe when you are older you will be lucky enough to have a regular cycle. Not too regular, though: when you go on contraception that makes you bleed for three months straight, you should go see a doctor to have that shit removed.
5. When your period is being erratic, you should be aware that blood comes out much easier in cold water than in hot. Learn to scrub your knickers out in the shower so your mum doesn’t have to teach you.
6. Not that you can’t ask her, because your period shouldn’t be a secret. GOD, WHY DOES NO ONE TALK ABOUT IT WHEN IT HAPPENS TO SO MANY OF US. Or ask your friends. If they are having their periods they will help you (maybe not physically with the scrubbing, but maybe with a sanitary pad or spare pair of underwear). If they aren’t, they will be curious about what it’s like to have a period. And if they tease you about it, they are a really shitty and immature friend.
7. As a teenager/pre-teen though it is likely you will have some shitty and immature friends. So if you do want to keep your internal bleeding a secret, that’s totally cool. You’ll probably worry though that everyone will be able to smell the period on you or see your pad (not tampons – more on that later) through your clothes. #1: No one is looking at your crotch, and if they are, you should call them out on it because that’s weird. #2. I’ve never smelt anyone else “on their period” so at this point I have to assume that the same is true of me. I guess, worst case scenario, people may have thought that I need to take another shower. What I’m trying to say is: no one is going to know you’re having your period unless you tell them, probably. Don’t worry about it.
8. Tampons are going to seem simultaneously cool and scary. Cool, because everyone on TV has one and not pads. Scary, because the ones on TV are really massive. Don’t panic – the ones on tv are applicator tampons and only about half of that length actually ends up inside you. In Australia they aren’t very popular at all, so you probably won’t even have to even look at a tampon packet that size. That said, even the teeny tiny tampons you are going to start out with are hard to use. Don’t even bother with the pack instructions, just try to work out exactly where your vagina is for a start. Yes, you are going to need to stick your finger in there. Because you won’t be comfortable with fingers anywhere near that area for a while, I recommend starting out with pads with wings because you just stick them on your underwear and bam! protected from leaks (and toxic shock syndrome). You might one day hear about a mooncup too. I still haven’t tried one (they seem like a lot of upkeep) but I imagine they pose a lot of the same problems as a tampon.
9. It’s a part of you, it’s totally normal and it’s not going anywhere until menopause, pretty much. While you may not get period pain now, you’re going to get it later. You are going to accept and like a lot of things about your body but your period isn’t one of them. The best you can do is manage it and celebrate each time you are reminded that you’re not pregnant. (One day you will probably curse it because it’s telling you you’re not pregnant but that day is still a long way off. ) So, if you are feeling shitty, tell someone. It can be your female friends who go through the same thing on a regular or irregular basis or it can be your boyfriend who is actually mature enough to deal with “women’s issues” (again, despite what Libra might tell you. He will do this because you are a person he cares about, and he is also a person who understands how to emote). It’s ok to take painkillers to deal with the STABBING PAINS UP THE GASH, and it’s ok to curl up on the couch and cry and it’s ok to eat everything you see and it’s ok to feel extremely frisky although you’ve never felt less sexy and it’s even ok to not do any of those things because, actually, maybe you will feel fine despite what pop culture tells about our monthly visitor (unlikely, though).
RESULT: That we can’t talk openly about periods is pretty fucking sexist. Also, when is science going to do away with this problem for good?? (For the bleeding people that want to, that is. Oh god. The pain.)
Up next: Next week I am privileged to host the Down Under Feminists Carnival.