Many men are uncomfortable talking about things like periods, premenstrual symptoms and unintended pregnancies, but talking openly can lead to better understanding, health and relationships.
As Chief Product Officer and co-founder of the popular female health app, Clue (www.helloclue.com), here are what I've found to be the most useful things for men to know about menstruation.
1. Most adults still have a basic level of education about sexual health and the female body
You're probably still operating with whatever you remember from school sex-ed classes. This knowledge gap doesn't usually close until later in life when trying to have a baby, if pregnancy doesn't come easily, or if a medical condition occurs.
Tip: It's easier to talk about female health when you understand it. Be curious, ask questions and read on.
2. Around 1 in every 7 women is having their period right now
The median cycle length of Clue users is 29 days, with menstruation lasting a median of 4 days. This means women with a cycle are menstruating about 14% of the time and 1 in every 7 women you encounter is on their period right now. Periods are literally happening all the time.
Tip: Keep a small number of regular absorbency pads and tampons on hand for the 1 in 7 women you encounter.
3. The period is obvious, but there's a lot more going on.
Every cycle, an ovary releases an egg for fertilization (ovulation) and extra blood and tissue are added to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) where a fertilized egg can attach and grow. That extra blood, tissue and dissolved remnants of a tiny egg are all expelled from the body if pregnancy doesn't occur. That's the period.
Tip: Everyone has their set of symptoms. Try not to make assumptions.
4. There are over a hundred premenstrual symptoms. Most of them are uncomfortable
Premenstrual syndrome is a set of symptoms that repeat each cycle in the days before the period starts. Most of these are physical - not everyone experiences changing emotions.
Up to 88% of women experience cramps every cycle; ~ 60% of women get acne breakouts; ~ 70% have sore breasts ~ 60% feel bloated; ~ 25% have diarrhoea.
Tip: Learn about the premenstrual symptoms and coping strategies. You may be able to help
5. A "regular" cycle is 23-35 days long and may vary by as many as ±8 days from month to month
It's considered normal for a cycle to vary by ±8 days, so the first day of menstruation can often be a surprise. Menstrual cycles that fall outside of these ranges, and periods that are very long, heavy or painful, are considered clinically "irregular". Consistently irregular cycles can signal a serious medical condition.
Tip: Learn about polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. Talk to the women in your life if they experience an irregular cycle.
6. A woman is only fertile for about 7 days every month
Telling kids that having sex on any day can lead to pregnancy is not true, but it's the safest thing to say without going into the details. Her egg only lives for up to 24 hours, but your sperm can live for up to 7 days, meaning she can still get pregnant if you have sex six days before she ovulates. Watch this handy video to learn about ovulation.
Tip: Don't stop reading without looking at number 7.
7. Figuring out when those 7 days are requires more than counting days
The days someone can get pregnant differ for everyone and can fluctuate by ±8 days cycle-to-cycle. It is possible (although unlikely) to get pregnant during a period. Counting days is not much better than guessing, leading to surprise periods and surprise pregnancies. Getting an accurate idea of ovulation timing requires methods like ovulation tests, tracking basal body temperature (BBT), or blood tests.
Tip: Don't rely on counting days, or average estimates, to avoid pregnancy.
8. How to avoid unintended pregnancy (...and STIs)
In 2011, nearly half of pregnancies in the United States were unintended (45%). The simple answer for men is to use a condom every time, and use it correctly. Other options include vasectomies, non-intercourse sex play or never having sex. The "pull-out" method fails 18% of the time and day-counting (aka "rhythm method") fails 25% of the time. Neither are considered reliable. Hormonal birth control methods don't protect against sexually transmitted infections (STI).
Tip: Find a condom that fits you well. Use a bit of lube on the tip, before putting the condom on, for greater sensitivity.
9. There is a huge amount of unacknowledged stress, and risk, for women who are sexually active
The unique stresses, risks and physical burdens of intercourse for women go largely under-acknowledged, including full-term pregnancy, emergency contraception, hormonal birth control with side effects, miscarriages and abortions. Nothing related to pregnancy can happen to men's bodies.
The burden of STIs also falls disproportionately on women, including more screening, more treatment procedures, more susceptibility to some STIs and more likelihood of severe long-term health consequences.
Tip: Always have condoms and lube available to help offset stress and prevent unintended pregnancies and STI.
Hopefully this information was helpful, and if you're lucky, some of the women in your life may be willing to talk about how those things affect their lives and that can be a great thing for their health and for your relationships.