By Amber Brenza
In a perfect world, your period would be but a blip on your radar – you’d get it at the same time each month, be just slightly uncomfortable for a week, tops, and then go about the rest of your 21 days unbothered and period-free.
But a perfect world, this is not (as if you needed that reminder); periods can be unpredictable and messy at best, and totally mind-boggling and life-altering at worst. Even more: They’re different for all women, so the concept of “normal” goes out the window.
That’s why it’s so important to know what’s normal for you – and the first part of that is knowing what is going on down there to begin with. So, it’s time to test your knowledge and maybe (definitely) learn a few things
Let’s start with something that seems to stump everyone: Can you get pregnant on your period?
Answer: It’s unlikely that you’ll get pregnant after having sex on your period, but it’s not totally impossible. Theoretically, if you ovulate within days of having unprotected sex, there’s a chance that sperm (which can survive in the vagina for up to five days) will hook up with an egg and, well, you know the rest.
How long can (or should you) leave a tampon in?
Answer: Unless you want to up your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome (TSS), you need to change that thing at least every eight hours, says Dr Diana Hoppe, a gynae based in Encinitas, California. True, TSS is super rare, but if you have your period, can’t remember the last time you changed your tampon and start feeling any flu-like symptoms (fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, rash), get to the ER as soon as possible.
Is it safe to use birth control to skip your period?
Answer: That’s actually a trick question. That blood you see during your week of sugar (or placebo) pills isn’t actually a period at all – it’s actually a hormone withdrawal bleed, says Dr Lauren Streicher, associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and author of SexRx. So you’re already skipping your period by taking birth control. But yes, you can skip that placebo week if you want to forego the faux flow, Dr Streicher says.
Here’s a tricky one: Does your period mark the beginning or the end of your menstrual cycle?
Answer: The first day of your period is also day one of your 28-day menstrual cycle. That lasts for about four to eight days; about a week later, on day 14-ish, a woman begins ovulating (that’s when you’re most likely to get pregnant). On days 15 to 24, the newly released egg starts travelling down the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where, if it’s not fertilised by day 28, it breaks apart and leaves the body (along with your built-up uterine lining). Then you’re back at day one.
Is it normal to see blood clots in your period blood?
Answer: Not every woman gets blood clots during her period, but it’s not unusual to see a few, says Susan Wysocki, a nurse practitioner and board member of the American Sexual Health Association. “Our bodies are engineered in a way that blood, with the help of internal chemicals, clots so that we don’t bleed to death,” she says. Some of those “clots” could also be uterine tissue that wasn’t properly broken down, she adds. But, if you regularly see clots the size of a 20c piece or bigger, it’s time to see a doctor – those could signal a more serious problem like uterine fibroids, hormone-related issues, or other illnesses.
Are awful period cramps (like, ones that keep you home from work or school) a normal part of having a period?
Answer: Some cramping is, unfortunately, to be expected during your period (thanks to prostaglandins – hormone-like substances that trigger uterine muscle contractions to help you shed your lining, per the Mayo Clinic). But super painful cramps that disrupt your life each month may be a sign of something more serious like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Can hanging out with your BFF all the time make your periods sync up?
Answer: There’s no hard-and-fast, yes-or-no answer here, but some research (specifically a 1971 study published in the journal Nature suggests it is possible for women to sync up, thanks to odourless chemicals called pheromones. Another possible reason you can sync up with your BFF: People living in close proximity may have similar diets, exercise routines, sleep/wake cycles and shared stressors that can impact menstruation, says Dr Alyssa Dweck, a gynae at the Mount Kisco Medical Group and author of V Is for Vagina.
Is it true that a missed period always means you’re pregnant?
Answer: Yep, there are tons of reasons you have a late (or missed) period that have nothing to do with something growing inside of you, says Dr Dweck. Those include major weight loss or excessive exercise, stress, a thyroid irregularity, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your birth control, premature menopause and other chronic illnesses like celiac disease.