Nobody wants to have a period. Nobody. And as you're about to find out, the ten minute talk with your parents and lack-luster sex ed class in 7th grade did not even begin to cover why.
When portrayed on TV and the like, a woman's period is a perfectly scheduled event that allows her to bitch and moan and eat a tub of chocolate for a week. It's a wonder people don't set their watches to it.
Most girls DO level out in time, where they can look at a calendar and say "Oh yeah, I need to bleed from the crotch for the next six days, better buy some tampons.". This might be based on a lunar or solar calendar - say, every 4 weeks no matter what date it is, or on the 15th on the dot.
But firstly, that's in time. Most girls' bodies can take a year or three to really even out. And if you're like me and don't bother to chart Shark Week, you can spend a couple of days in existential dread, changing out pads in paranoia, before anything actually happens.
One thing people don't really think about is that each month, one ovary or the other will be ovulating. This means that you can have a light and free week one month, followed by bloating, cramps, and a heavy flow the next, as they alternate. Again, people who actually bother to chart this will be better off because they'll know what to expect.
Some of you might be saying "But what about synchronized cycles?". Well, I've heard arguments for and against synchronization, so I'll reserve judgement for the time being to simply say that if you have multiple peope with the same odds of having their period, it's not unreasonable for them to hit it at the same time.
While we're on the subject of time, just think about this - if an average woman in menstruating 1 week out of 4, that's three solid months a year of bleeding. If she hits puberty at the age of 12 and menopause at the age of 52 (40 years for those of you keeping score at home), that's ten solid years of bleeding from the crotch.
Even the one fringe benefit of having a period isn't a sure thing - a large number of woman have had one or more periods after becoming pregnant. So even if you're on schedule, you can still be knocked up.
One of the few things people know about having a period is that you're going to have cramps. But that's hardly the whole story.
First, those cramps can be much more than a little ache. It could be constant, dull pain, like you did a few too many sit ups; it could be an uneven, bubbling pain, like you have bad gas or ate something on the turn; it could be a gripping, solid, "who just stabbed me in the damn kidneys" kind of pain, for 5-7 days solid. While I don't have the worst possible cramps, I remember one time in middle school, while I and my body were still acclimating to having a period, that I had such bad cramps that I had to basically crawl to the nurse's office and lay under a heating pad for several hours; the pain was so bad that I literally could not walk. Some woman have to deal with pain like that every 4 to 8 weeks, for forty or fifty years.
That's just abdominal cramps - you can also get leg and groin cramps, like you stretched every inner thigh muscle you have all at once. Your crotch might also ache, whether naturally or because you were trying to manually force out as much blood and tissue as possible to get it over with sooner.
Then you have breast pain - some woman suffer soreness, ache, and tenderness of the breasts and/or nipples during ovulation and/or menstruation. This doesn't sound to bad, but keep in mind that breasts can have a lot of surface area, your nipples are one of the most sensitive places on your body, and boobies in general are kind of delicate.
After that we have everyone's favorite, nausea! Yes, you can totally get sick to your stomach during your period, including actual vomiting if it's bad enough. The cause here is all the hormones rushing through your body, which can result in heartburn or a puke-fest, depending on how bad it is.
Other fun things to deal with are headaches, back pain, fluid retention that can lead to swollen feet, and so much more! But we're not done yet - we haven't even gotten to the fact that...
Intellectually, you know that when shedding the lining of the uterus (such a neat little phrase that does nothing to convey the true horror of the act), there is going to be blood. But subjectively, unless you've had a few periods, you don't really realize how much blood we are talking here.
Not to mention the smell.
Oh, you didn't know about the smell? Envision this - there was a sale on meat at the store a few days ago. You picked up a few pounds and immediately lost it in your fridge. Three days later, and the power goes out overnight. You don't really remember the meat until you catch that whiff of rotting, putrid flesh.
Now apply to your crotch and live with it for a week.
Washing, perfume, and even applying deoderant to your thighs can help, but when you have a stink week, nothing really makes it go away. And yes, they do make deoderized sanitary pads for that very reason.
A recent Cracked article mentioned a man's confusion when trying to buy pads, which is understandable. One of the main issues when trying to get "sanitary napkins" (also does nothing to convey the gravity of the situation), tampons, etc. is that all girls are different. We're built different, internally and externally. And we make different levels of mess.
There are some girls out there (and occasionally, some months for others) where that teeny little "small" pad is enough for the whole period. Sometimes a small or medium pad or two and a large one at night is all it takes; others, it's a large pad that you have to change out every ten minutes.
Some of the writer's confusion was over the absurd-seeming lengths of the pads - but if you're a big girl with a heavy flow, you might need that huge thing at night. Plus, shifting around, whether while walking, driving, or in your sleep, also creates a need for extra coverage - a case of "better to have it and not need it".
Because you know what happens when you leak?
You throw out a set of sheets. A pair or six of panties. Brand-new jeans.
Because when you do leak, you don't always catch it right away. I'm not sure what's worse, waking up in a rancid puddle or waking up with your legs crusted to the bed. Sometimes you can wash the blood and such out, other times...better hope you remembered to sleep on top of a towel, too, because yes, you CAN stain the mattress. Ever tried to get dried blood out of a feathertop mattress?
Even when you don't leak, morning bathroom visits can still end with you wiping and coming up with a completely red forearm. Some people can get blood on their thighs and not anywhere else - it's like pixie magic, but less enchanting.
So grab a mestrual cup, tampon, pad, and adult diaper, because when you leak through you learn...
When you talking about period needs, your immediate thought is just "grab a pack of pads/tampons to tide you over". But keep in mind, this is money spent on a consumable resource every single month.
The average pack of pads costs about $4. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less - depends on brand, type, and area. Let's say that pack has 24 pads in it - if your period lasts a week, and you are changing every "recommended" 6 hours, that's about 21 pads used up. More if you have a heavy flow. So that's an essential four dollars down the drain, every single month. Or you could spring more like $6 and get enough for two months...provided the size and type you need come in packs that big and that cheap. Again, it's essentially a crapshoot, and pad companies have us by the balls, so to speak.
You could try to save money by changing less often, but it's probably going to cost you more on topical cream and deoderant in the long run - having a cotton swab full of rotting blood and uterus lining pressing against your skin for hours on end can cause a rash easily, not to mention - again - the stench.
If you decide to go with tampons, that's closer to $5 a month. Haha, just kidding! If you're having, again, a week-long period, and are using a box of 18 tampons and changing at the recommend times (if not, enjoy the toxic shock syndrome! Yes, you can get sick just from having a period), which is once every 3-4 hours....that's at least two boxes you're buying every month.
Or, you could get a menstrual cup, which is exactly what it sounds like. They last closer to 12 hours depending on brand, and can be reusable. They also cost between twelve to twenty five dollars apiece. However, they're touted as environmentally friendly and, in the long run, cheaper. Plus, there's a much lower chance of mold growing on them. Yes, that is totally a thing. Mmm, penicillin!
So if you're okay with sticking a piece of plastic up your nethers for hours on end, the menstrual cup may be for you.
Of course, that's just covering the direct costs. Fringe costs, like replacing clothing and sheets as mentioned above, are also pretty heavy on the pocketbook.
Of course, you can avoid these costs, some of the symptoms, accidental pregnancy, bad acne, and ovarian cysts by going on the pill. Just kidding, a month's supply can cost between nine and fifty dollars, and is not covered by health insurance. Oh, did I say $9? That's only if you buy the generic, not-prescribed-by-a-medical-professional brands - you know, the ones with all the side effects.
This segues handily into our last section, which is....
I've tried to keep the sexism to an absolute minimum over the course of this list (and may have even succeeded), but to avoid sounding like a bland, boilerplate sex ed class over this section, I might not be able to keep that up.
The main problem is that, since half the population only experiences the menstrual cycle from the sidelines, there is a disconnect between males and females that is causing some issues.
As another Cracked article mentioned, PMS as we know it does not actually exist. However, since sadly the majority of the population does not read Cracked religiously, they still act like the big bad PreMenstrual Syndrome is still out and stomping. And this is a problem, for two reasons: one, women will continue using PMS and hormones as a free pass to be a bitch; two, more worrying, is that men and women alike will use it as just one more reason to dismiss any expression of emotion from a woman (whether or not she is actually ovulating or menstruating). But that's a different article.
Another problem is the outdated, stale, overused cliches of the period as seen in basically any media: once a month a woman will cry a lot, want to have sex a lot, want a lot of babies, get angry, and eventually will be soothed by chocolate. Having a period, as hopefully you will have understood by now, is not so cut and dry. Chocolate helps, but a bite-sized Snickers is not going to make the rest of a terrible week melt away. I might get a little weepy every now and then, on my period or not, but I do not make with the waterworks every time the moon is full. Again - all women are different. Everyone has their period differently.
Of course, we could decide not to have our period at all - if we're willing to part with $300 or more every year. Remember what I said about birth control pills not being insured, despite all their useful properties and the worrying side effects that come about from taking the generic version? Guess what - Viagra is covered by most health insurance plans. Viagra does not prevent pregnancy, bleeding, cramps, nausea, acne, or ovarian cysts. But it does allow a small percentage of the male half of the population to get a boner (at the risk of several dangerous side effects), so it's clearly worth it. Keep in mind that the woman in a relationship is expected to pay that average $25-$30 a month for birth control pills (a pack of condoms costs about $4 for five, depending on type and brand), not to mention that literally 50% of the 14-55 population can stand to benefit immensely from them, relationship or not.
But nobody's going to consider relationships, let alone dire health concerns (by the way, some women have such heavy and/or long flows that they need birth control pills) - if you are on the pill, you are a slut. This is how much of society views you, this is how idiotic government officials views you, and this is how you will feel terrified of being viewed as you slap down two days' paycheck to avoid getting cancer. I've already linked this article for price purposes, but here's a summary of the jackass who accused a girl doing that very thing of being a slut (I'll get into slut-shaming another time - this is already a novel).
Don't forget the part where they were trying to pass a law that forced women to appeal to their boss every six months for permission to buy birth control. Oh, sorry, that's using any contraceptive, if it clashes with your boss's personal beliefs. Better hope you're not working for a tight-ass Catholic or anybody who has reason to hate you!
Here's another one that requires not only employer consent, but a personal processing fee for you to use your insurance to pay for it. Keep in mind that these are bills that will never, ever effect men. Oh, here's another one (you keep chugging, Arizona!) that lets your boss fire you if you use the pill for what it was designed for - not getting pregnant. Yes, you have to show your boss proof (?) about your sex life, or more accurately lack thereof, to avoiding getting fired, after you paid a premium to get the pills in the first place.
All of these violate a person's right to medical privacy, but since when have we let logic get in the way of utter stupidity?
Speaking of stupidity, there's still more ways that nobody will be taking you seriously during your period. When just talking to people (read: guys), you will find disgust and shying away from the topic, from the person who just took an hour to talk to you about their recent post-Taco Bell bowel movements. But that's really not a fair comparison, and neither are any of the others you're going to get, like "why don't we talk about my erections while we're at it, Jesus" and "yeah, like having wet dreams, right?".
I am not about to blame all guys for this. But I am saying that it's really going to be only guys saying this, because there's really no way to comprehend the other's position. At best, this is well-meaning but misguided; at worst, it's horribly insensitive. Until the gender-bender ray is finally perfected, a male is not going to be able to fully understand a female's point of view when it comes to bleeding constantly from the crotch. The best I can say here is not to compare it to something you go through, because you're nowhere near on track. I'm not asking for special attention and favoritism here, just please, don't be an asshole. We're going through enough without the patronization.
The best way to deal with a woman talking about her period is for the listening party to be open-minded if not sympathetic, and for the speaking party to speak as calmly and rationally as possible, and be willing to put up with a few blunders. You won't fully understand each other by the end, but hopefully you'll have learned something.
So there you have it. If you were born without a uterus, feel free to let a wave of relief wash over you; if not, well, I hope I've at least brought some things to light.