**Update: There has been some recent concern of sea sponges being unsafe. Please do your research before choosing and using these.**
A woman typically experiences over 400 menstrual cycles in her lifetime.
Menstruation is a certainty of womanhood. It’s like death and taxes—we know it’s coming.
Despite this, most women pay little mind to their cycles beyond summing them up as an utter inconvenience or, at best, something to just plug up and power through. Many of us spend our entire fertile years dodging the reality of it.
Regardless of your take on menstruation, whether you appreciate it, endure it or suffer through it, I’d like to share 11 things I think women need to know about their menstrual cycle.
1. It is normal and it is not something to be ashamed of.
Gratefully, there is movement in the direction of diluting and ultimately changing the taboo around menstruation. Even Newsweek magazine recently printed a cover issue on ending period shaming. Nonetheless, generally speaking, most women feel some sort of shame, embarrassment, disconnect or disgust for their cycle and their bodies.
Menstruation is entirely normal, affecting all women born on this planet (barring those with unique experiences due to health or other circumstances).
2. It is not normal to suffer.
Our menstrual cycles are not meant to be cruel battles within ourselves. Yet, millions of women endure monthly struggles year after year, cycle after cycle.
Cysts, endometriosis, menorrhagia, amenorrhea, fibroids, infertility, migraines, severe PMS, depression, PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, etc.
Some women suffer to the depths of near despair, feeling isolated, lonely, confused, rejected, and bitter about their bodies and menstruation. This is entirely understandable.
Many of these menstrual challenges stem from hormonal imbalances, health imbalances, and life/emotional imbalances. Some say spiritual reasons play a part.
Regardless of the many unknown, overwhelming and confusing reasons behind these challenges, we can see why women often have so many negative feelings associated with menstruation.
What is critical to know is that your cycle is a not just a window of reproductive health, but also of emotional and spiritual health. It is a barometer of health across the board, a cyclical peek into your overall well being.
Healing often requires a great investment of yourself, your finances and your time, and women must become mavericks of their own health, seeking resources to source the suffering and prioritize healing.
Sometimes this takes a lifetime, but it is always a worthy journey.
3. You are cyclical.
You are magnificently like nature. Waxing and waning like the moon, swelling and receding like the ocean, shifting and shaping like the seasons.
Women are intricately connected to nature, and nature has a profound impact on our overall well being, including our menstrual cycle.
We must enter and engage with nature often to recognize and benefit from this connection with one another.
Hiking, hammock swinging, gardening, moon walks, beach bathing. The options are endless. Close your computer, shove your smartphone into a drawer and go outside! You don’t even need to Instagram the occasion!
4. It offers a time of rest.
It’s obvious to most of us what an on-demand go-go-go culture we are. One in which we power on, power through, power over, under and around, prioritizing productivity and connection to the outside world and foregoing connection to our inner world.
Unfortunately, even when we aim to rest we aren’t typically resting, but rather zoning out on social media or binging on Netflix.
A menstrual cycle, as mentioned above, is cyclical. There are times where the body is optimally more fit for productivity (leading up to and around ovulation) and times where our body is meant to turn inward for rest (leading up to and during menses).
Following these rhythms and making room in your life for rest can have one of the most profound impacts on your health and well being.
Menstruation offers a built in rhythm that demands respite. Even taking one true day off of productivity, work, email and contact with the outside world a month can be profoundly restorative.
5. Charting your fertility is one of the most devoted acts of self care.
Your menstrual cycle is an incredible gauge of health as a woman. It is constantly revealing wisdom about your body. Taking two minutes each day to monitor the greatest governor of your health—your cycle—is one of the sincerest acts of self care.
Charting your cycle is one of the simplest and most impactful ways to monitor your health and create a kind, caring and observant relationship with your body.
It’s about taking responsibility with your body and prioritizing its messages to you.
The most reliable and in-depth version is known as the Fertility Awareness Method.
You will not regret making this a part of your daily routine.
6. Your menstrual cycle is wise.
Your menstrual cycle reveals massive amounts of truth about your health and body. Your cycle symptoms, such as low temperatures (when charting your fertility), unbearable cramps, recurring infections, miscarriages, and the many sources of suffering mentioned above are all revealing something about your cycle, your hormones, your body, your habits, and your needs.
Taking a chance on trusting the symptoms of the body and recognizing they are revealing something about you is the first step in accepting the wisdom of the body and your cycle.
7. Tampons are toxic.
Tampons are one of the most used, toxic items on our planet. If that isn’t enough to chew on, think about how they are placed inside of women’s vaginas, a most precious place meant to function at full capacity.
Tampons dry out your vagina (absorbing blood but also absorbing the natural moisture of your body), cause infections and disrupt the natural pH. They are filled with chemicals (rayon, dioxin, asbestos, genetically modified cotton) and they leave bits of these chemicals behind in your vagina. They inhibit the natural downward flow of your blood, intensify cramps (as they do not naturally conform to the vaginal walls), cause toxic shock syndrome, and contribute to the over taxing of landfills.
Obviously disposable pads are affected by many of these negatives too.
There are other products besides pads and tampons. Menstrual cups, cloth pads, sea sponges, and period panties. All of these are healthy, reusable, and free of terrible chemicals—and they’ll save you money to boot!
Yay to happy, healthy vaginas!
Not ready for the leap? I suggest making the change to organic pads and tampons to cut the chemicals!
All this being said, choosing which products to use is a deeply personal choice. What’s critical is that you are armed with the information. Do your research, experiment a bit and find the products that best suit you.
8. Your period while on birth control is not really a period.
It is rather a withdrawal bleeding due to an abrupt hormonal drop when taking the sugar pills. Many of us use birth control as a means to make an unbearable cycle bearable. This is understandable and our right as a woman. Just take note that birth control is suppressing the most basic and intricate natural rhythm of the body. Birth control, like all medications, mask the symptoms rather than healing the source.
9. Your cycle is affected by the moon.
Our hormones are highly affected by light.
Once, many moons ago, women’s cycles were linked to the moon, bleeding on the new moon and ovulating on the full moon. This is a difficult rhythm to maintain in today’s world, as we no longer sleep under the sky and are now exposed to massive amounts of artificial light through phone, tablet and computer screens. These lights disrupt our circadian rhythm and ultimately our hormonal rhythm.
Try to limit artificial light in the evenings and spend more time under the night sky.
10. Our hormones are affected by food and stress.
Our hormones are made of proteins and fats—prioritizing both in your diet is critical to healthy hormones.
Stress and illness affect our cycles more than we realize, inhibiting ovulation (as the body recognizes it is not a good time to conceive) and inducing plenty of the hormonal madness we endure.
Maintaining a consistent healthy—but not obsessive—diet and having key components in place to relieve stress are critical for a healthy menstrual cycle.
11. You are a woman, regardless.
The menstrual cycle is a sensitive and touchy topic, as it affects us all in different ways. We all have our own stories and experiences with menstruation and we can feel protective and understandably delicate about the topic. No matter yours, no matter what you’ve been through, what you go through ,or what you’ve endured in efforts to heal, you are a woman and your body is sacred.
Author: Falan Storm
Editor: Travis May