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Sex + Relationships

6 Things You Never Learned About Periods in Sex Ed

As we learned last week with a previous article about vaginas, 50% of us have no clue what our bodies are capable of. While I’d love to spend the entirety of this article ranting about the many inadequacies of the American sex education system and listing out all one trillion reasons why we need comprehensive and inclusive sex ed, instead I’ve decided to take a more positive approach. We all deserve to know what’s happening in our bodies, and whatever part I can play in that mission I am willing to. Better late than never, right? This week’s edition of the sex ed series is going to cover the most enigmatic and notorious of all: periods. So, without further ado, here’s six interesting things you never knew about that time of the month.

1. People are getting their periods earlier than they used to.

I’m sure every person who has a period remembers the slightly anxious rush of their first period. I was 11 years old and I got mine in the middle of gym class, the day before I was about to go to Disney World with my family. Really in terms of timing it doesn’t get much worse. But the interesting part is 11 years old. I was the first person in my friend group to get mine, which of course made me the wisest and the person all my friends went to for a tampon in the years to follow. But did you know that as little as a century ago, getting your period at 11 would have been extremely unusual? Most people didn’t get their periods until they were approximately 16 years old, but now it’s not unusual for young people to start at as young as 8 years old. Why are we being subjected to menstrual cramps so much earlier than our ancestors when many people aren’t bothering to start families until much later? Simple. Better overall health, hydration, and nutrition. One of the first things to go when your body is under some kind of distress, like being underweight or dehydrated, is the period. One reason is because it’s a waste of valuable water, but the other is because your body knows it won’t be able to support a fetus anyway in a state where it is struggling to support itself.

2. You can still get pregnant on your period.

I hate to break it to you, but period sex is not a fool proof form of contraception and not a guarantee that you won’t become pregnant. While becoming pregnant from period sex is unlikely, there is a scenario where it is possible. If you have a short cycle and a heavy period, it is possible to have period sex and start ovulating only a week later. Sperm can survive in the vagina for up to 6 days. So moral of the story, use protection. If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve had unprotected period sex in the last 24 hours you can use Plan B, which you can get slightly cheaper than sticker price at your local Planned Parenthood Clinic. Also, if you live on campus at UH, don’t forget to check out Planned Parenthood Generation Action’s free condom campaign to avoid STIs and unwanted pregnancy, on and off your period.

3. It looks dramatic, but you hardly lose any blood.

Most people lose an average of 10-35mL of blood during their periods, only 1-2 tablespoons! Stretched over an average of 5 days, this is basically nothing. Thinking back to myself at 11 years old and my first ever period, it was super light but lasted nearly 10 days, and I remember thinking that that should not be healthy. But in the end, very little blood is lost, regardless of how heavy your period is. Also, it’s common for people on hormonal birth control to bleed even less as a result of hormone interference. I think this fact is particularly important to teach our children. The more they understand about periods the less terrifying it is for them to get their first.

4.You can have anywhere between 150-450 periods in your life.

Every BODY is different, and that mean’s every person who has periods experiences it a bit differently, but you may be surprised to know that the number of periods you have in your life may come down to cultural differences. One sure fire way to cut down on periods is to spend more of your reproductive years pregnant, the more babies you have the fewer periods you will have in your life. Another less obvious way is to nurse your babies for longer. In western culture, most people nurse babies for 6 months before weaning them, but in some parts of the world it is common to nurse a child for up to two years, disrupting hormones in the body and lessening the odds of pregnancy while significantly reducing periods.

5. Period brain fog is proven by science.

That’s right, you heard it here first folks. Period brain fog is totally a thing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but also don’t let someone blame your period for any of your flaws, whether it’s true that day or not. If your boyfriend seriously asks if it’s you or your period talking, you should always see that as a red flag. This being said, period brain fog is definitely real. Scientists believe it is related to menstrual cramps. Think about how hard it is to function when you have a bad headache or a stomachache or even a sore finger. All pain is distracting, and that includes pain related to periods. Remember if your period cramps are so severe that they regularly make it difficult to complete your daily activities you should always see a doctor to make sure everything is okay and come up with a plan for pain management that works for you.  

6. You don’t need to have your period on birth control.

Many forms of birth control give users the option to take a break for a monthly period or to skip the period entirely. There has been some concern as to whether or not it is safe, but you don’t need to worry because it absolutely is! Feel free to skip over that period if you have something big planned for the next week or if you’re already stressed for finals. However, do this with caution. Many report that if they skip their period, the next time they have one cramps tend to be much more painful. I can confirm this, but that doesn’t mean that skipping it for my beach week wasn’t worth it. ;)

BONUS: Breasts are way more than blobs of fat.

Inside the breasts are nine layers called lobes, and each lobe is connected to lobules, and each lobule ends in many bulbs which are the areas that produce milk. Between all of that is the fat people so often reference. Underneath the breasts is the muscles of the chest, and through all of this runs blood vessels, nerve endings, and lymph vessels. There’s a lot going on in there no matter the size so give boobs the credit they deserve.

Hope you all learned something new this week and enjoyed the hint I dropped for next week’s edition of things you were never taught in sex ed. Next week it’s all about boobs, although let’s be honest, isn’t it always? ;)

My name is Lauren, I'm currently a senior at the University of Hawaii at Manoa double majoring in Chinese and communications, I'm also a very passionate Planned Parenthood volunteer/intern. In my free time I like to dance salsa and read books on the beach.
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