The menstrual cup in the feature image is the GladRags XO Flo Cup.
You shed your uterine lining every few weeks! Or maybe you suppress that shedding and call it a day! Either way, we want to talk about how that’s going. We asked the bleeders on staff to tell us about how they experience their menstrual cycles — the first time they bled, what blood-catching methods they use now, how they relieve the pain. We were also interested in their personal rituals around menstruation and how they felt about their cycle in general. I’ll tell you one thing, this involves a substantial amount of marijuana.
Laneia, 36, Executive Editor
First Time: It was summer vacation and I was 12 years old, watching Regis and Kathy Lee at my grandmother’s house. I’d been obsessing over getting my period (and getting my boobs), so it was surreal and exciting. My grandmother told her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Hickerson — an older woman who was really sweet and had never had children — and they were both ecstatic, which was super embarrassing.
Method: Disposable pads if I’m leaving the house or will otherwise be active, and reusable pads (which I buy on Etsy) when I’m at home, which is most of the time. I free bleed when the cramps are unbearable.
Pain Management: My cramps have been getting consistently worse for about 12 years, after I gave birth for a second time (which they say will help alleviate cramps for the rest of your life! FALSE.) — to the point of blacking out, throwing up, and other dramatics. For those one or two days when it’s at its worst, I take prescription strength Naproxen and alternate ice packs and heating pads on my abdomen and hip joints. I’ll also eat some of a Kiva bar so I can just fall asleep. I’m so lucky to have a job that grants me the ability to check out for chunks of time so I can deal with cramps.
Ritual: On the days leading up to bleeding, I try to make some healthy food ahead of time and I plan out the family meal schedule so the kids can cook for themselves for a couple of nights. On the first full day of bleeding, I like to sit on the center of my bed in a dark room and meditate on the strengths of the women in my family and the ways I can honor them in my life. It’s important to me to slow down for at least that one day so I can take stock of myself and listen to anything my body/energy is needing. This day is usually the most painful day, so it’s also when I eat a piece of a marijuana chocolate bar, put ice packs on my abdomen, and watch Netflix and sleep.
Personally: I had a negative mindset about my cycle for most of my life, thanks to advertising and a culture that urged me to see my period as a burden that was holding me back from what I really wanted to be doing (I guess horseback riding and sailing, according to the magazine ads?). I came across a used copy of Her Blood Is Gold a few years ago and it helped change the way I interact with the experience of bleeding. (Just a heads up, that book is a little woo and very ‘goddess woman power.’) Now I look at my period as a chance to slow down and focus on myself. I realized I’m more perceptive and creative during my period and that trying to push through those few days by ignoring it or seeing it as a burden was not only making my severe cramps even worse, it was robbing me of an opportunity to see the important things with a clearer mind. As much pain as my cycle brings me, I think I’ll be genuinely sad when it stops.
Hot Tip: If you’re thinking about trying sea sponges, I can’t recommend Holy Sponge enough. It’s a queer-run small business and they genuinely give a fuck about all the things you give a fuck about. For a look at the culture of menstruation throughout history, read Flow: The Culture of Menstruation, and for a slightly more updated take, New Blood: Third-Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation.
Reneice, 28, Staff Writer
First Time: I got my first period when I was 12 in the middle of a chemistry exam. I went to the nurse and ran into my friend who it turned out had just gotten hers too. We asked for pads, put them on, got grossed out, and both faked sick so we could go home. When I got home I wrote “I got it” on a post-it note and left it on the counter for my mom and Aunt to find. I was not a fan of the new development.
Method: I use a Diva Cup! I have for almost eight years and I highly recommend it. It’s easy, eco friendly, and using it will earn you another lesbian stereotype badge.
Pain Management: Take one ibuprofen a day for the three days leading up to my period. Day of I smoke a bowl, go for a walk, do some yoga, and try not to cry cause my cramps are VERY strong even with all the pain management.
Ritual: I don’t have any rituals, mostly cause the start of my period is so painful and exhausting that I like to forget about the whole thing and move on from it as soon as possible.
Personally: I have a pretty negative view of my cycle. I’ve lost a day every month for 15 years to pain and am not responsive to medications. I basically view my period as an inconvenience and don’t get why it has to be so messy, painful, long, and intrusive.
Hot Tip: Get a menstrual cup!
Rachel, 28, Managing Editor
First Time: I was 12, and found a weird gross brown stain in my underwear. My mom was like “you’re probably getting your period,” and for some reason I was really insistent that I obviously wasn’t; I think I just didn’t want to deal. She was correct and I was not.
Method: For most of my life I used pads; I didn’t swim or play a ton of sports or do anything that pads seriously inconvenienced. My mom used ob tampons and so sometimes I would use those because they were around the house; I don’t think I ever used a tampon with an applicator until college and when I did I thought it was WEIRD. I got my first menstrual cup in college too, and have been pretty loyal to them ever since. For a long time I had a Mirena IUD, and didn’t have a period, and honestly that was cool! Now I have a Paragard because I’m afraid of the Handmaid’s Tale and so I have a period and that’s like, fine.
Pain Management: Usually Advil, very occasionally a heating pad, mostly complaining.
Ritual: I think the only “tradition” I practice around my cycle is complaining to my closest friends about it, and/or panic texting them that I’m afraid I won’t be able to get my menstrual cup out — which I initially was going to say as a joke, but you know what I think it’s actually something I value a lot, and when my friends have done the same I feel very close to them and that’s meaningful to me.
Personally: I have never been someone you might say is “in touch” with “her body” in any way, and especially around menstruation I often feel abnormal about that, because for other people it feels like it’s an experience they really understand in their bodies in a way I don’t relate to. I can never feel or tell when I’m going to get my period; I’m never aware that I’m PMSing; I often don’t even realize I’m cramping until like hours in. Sometimes my period makes it feel like my body is something happening to me from the outside, which is weird and which I don’t like.
Hot Tip: I’ve been using the GladRags menstrual cup — the XoFlo — and I think I like it! The stem part is more comfortable than one on the original Diva Cup, although also the mouth is very wide so it takes a little practice to get it out quickly and consistently.
Riese, 35, Editor-in-Chief
First Time: I was 14, it wasn’t a school day, and it was November of my freshman year in High School. I was the last of every girl I knew to get hers, so I was like FINALLY I’M A GROWN-UP like the girls who wrote in to Seventeen magazine with EMBARRASSING HORROR TALES about bleeding in white pants. But I also was panicked, because that night was Kristyna’s birthday party, and it was a sleepover at a hotel with a pool and my Mom gave me pads which I obviously couldn’t wear in the pool!!! (I didn’t go swimming. Lady stuff, you know.)
Method: I used pads for maybe my first two periods before switching to tampons for life. During our ob campaign I started using ob — their size makes them easier to carry around and conceal — and now I generally stick to non-applicator tampons. I started taking the pill when I was 16, and for a few years there would regularly skip periods altogether. At 23, I went off the pill and it was really hard to adjust to having such intense periods, ‘cause they’re really light on the pill and I’d only had my period for like 15 minutes before I hopped on the pill.
Pain Management: I take handfuls of ibuprofen and Midol on the regular. The first day is pretty challenging, usually I just have to be miserable. I get shooting pains in my legs and feel sore and terrible and I have to wear sweatpants with holes in them so that my outside matches my insides.
Ritual: I don’t do any ‘rituals or traditions’ around my cycle because I hate it and historically have a sort of strained relationship with womanhood in that particular area.
Personally: I hate having my period, it feels messy and gross. I like my body to be contained.
Alaina, 26, Staff Writer
First Time: I was 11, in graphic arts class, making a poster on Photoshop for umbrellas for your shoes. I guess I went to pee? And then I went to the nurse and got a pad. I don’t remember feeling anything, so I guess I felt fine.
Method: I use cups (specifically the Diva Cup) if I use any collection method, but 99% of the time I free bleed, because I am blessed with a schedule that doesn’t really require me to leave the house more than 2 days a week unless I really want to. So I just hang out naked and sit on hard disinfect-able surfaces or lay in bed on my period sheets and eat cake.
Pain Management: I just feel it. I get really bad cramps. I probably throw up from them 4 times a year. But I think it’s just part of what my body is doing, and I’m trying to respect my body more, because I really honestly hate it most of the time, so letting myself feel pain is part of that. Sometimes I smoke though, but I usually smoke indicas which give me body highs that make me feel really in touch with my body, so instead of sedation, it’s like kinda amplified? But not in a bad way, just a cool way.
Ritual: I guess free bleeding is a ritual? I started it because I hated buying tampons when I still wore them. I continue to do it because it’s a way for me to hang out with my bod and breathe and slow down and try not to let myself be overcome with dysphoria. I saw something somewhere that talked about how period blood is some of the only blood that isn’t automatically associated with violence, and I think that’s kinda cool. So I think about that.
Personally: I think my period is cool, but I wish I didn’t have it. I have PCOS or whatever the hell it’s called now, so it’s not consistent, and I forget about it. And so it’s disruptive, it forces me to slow down, it reminds me that I have a body I didn’t really ask for. But I guess it’s kinda like therapy. I don’t really like therapy at all, but the things it forces me to do are really useful.
Hot Tip: If you come to A-Camp, I think Laneia always does a spectacular job at Bloody Hell, and I always learn a lot and enjoy my period a little bit more after hearing her talk about it. So maybe just listen to Laneia talk about her period.
Kayla, 25, Staff Writer
First Time: It was my 12th birthday. Happy birthday to me! I was not happy, and since my parents and I basically never talked about anything ever, I waited as long as possible to tell my mom and when I finally did, I went to great lengths to never utter the actual word “period.” The way I remember it, I rambled for approximately 75 hours before she figured out what I was trying to say.
Method: I’m ride or die for disposable pads. I tried tampons a few times a couple years ago, but they made my cramps worse. My girlfriend keeps trying to get me to try organic.
Pain Management: Prescription-strength ibuprofen all day, baby!
Ritual: On day one or two or sometimes both, I curl up in bed and watch Bravo shows and order in food.
Personally: I mean, I hate being on my period. It doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but I sometimes get flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to it. The one good thing about my cycle is that I only get my period every 6-8 weeks. But I’m also irregular af, so it’s always just like SURPRISE. And I hate surprises.
Hot Tip: Well dang this is making me realize I don’t read enough content on periods. I should change that. Please recommend all the zines to me.
Erin, 31, Staff Writer
First Time: I was 12 and in English class. I’d been sitting with one of my legs tucked up underneath me and so the blood was on my sock – a detail that would have gone unnoticed if the uniform-regulated, mid-calf sock I was wearing wasn’t stark white and I didn’t have on a skirt. I think I pretended that I’d cut my ankle, which was solid of me, and then went home to a very matter of fact conversation with my mom about tampon insertion.
Method: Free bleeding’s fun if you need to get rid of undergarments anyway, otherwise organic tampons are my move.
Pain Management: Look, I’ll say this: if you go to an off-brand dollar store – like, say, a Dollar Mart – they will have a menstrual relief medication that is akin to painkillers. I don’t know why this is and I don’t know how they’re able to get around the FDA, but this is pretty reliable. That plus a heat pack and I’m set!
Ritual: My cycle is hilariously consistent, so my ritual is allowing it to wake me up at 3am and taking a sleepy bath while crying a little bit. (This extra goes out to people who are grossed out by baths, and whom I consider to be monsters.)
Personally: At this point in my life I have a lack of feelings about my period as it thankfully only lasts for like 1.5 days a month and the cramps aren’t nearly as bad as when I was first experiencing them. If someone wanted to take my uterus though that would also not bother me.
Hot Tip: I’m going to co-sign coming to A-Camp for Laneia’s Bloody Hell. In the meantime if you want to look at this menstruation cry calendar I made for you, you can.
Tiara, 31, Staff Writer
First Time: I have very vague memories of this — I was around 10/11 and somehow was aware enough of what periods are to tell my mum mine had come on. Mostly I remember our old bathroom at our first house. I have a feeling it actually showed up earlier while on a trip to Hong Kong but I didn’t know what it was then. My sister sent me a book about puberty and periods and such soon after, which was very sweet of her.
Method: Pads! I couldn’t really get into tampons and menstrual cups just plain hurt.
Pain Management: Honestly? Nothing. Not because I’m some sort of masochist, it’s just that for some reason when I am hurting it never occurs to me to go take a painkiller for it. (Also, Advil/ibuprofen makes me dizzy.) I just wait it out.
Ritual: I don’t really have any particular rituals or traditions, asides from the immediate thought of “ah, at least I am not carrying Jesus 2.0”. Growing up Muslim, I mainly knew it as the time you were exempt from praying or fasting (especially relevant in my early years of high school where 2 of the 5 mandatory prayers were during class hours so we were expected to go to the prayer room or explain that we were “uzur” or “ill”) but it’s not like I do either nowadays.
Personally: My main feelings around my cycle have to do with having Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Depression (PMDD). It’s when your mood significantly crashes or swings before your period because of hormone fluctuations, not just in a “PMS” sense but to the point of suicidality or dysfunction. It’s something I have been dealing with for over a decade and have yet to find useful ways to manage — attempts at birth control either wrecked my mood further or gave me immense physical pain, and I’m already on psych meds so adding another one at random points in the month seems dangerous. It’s not a very well-understood condition; I had a lot of doctors dismiss me as “that’s just normal”, and the doctors who were sympathetic told me there wasn’t really a lot of strong research into the condition so there’s not a lot that can be done to help (especially since birth control is not an option for me). I don’t have any strong feelings either way around the passage of blood or the physicalities of my period, but the PMDD definitely make me wish I was born with no sex hormones at all — it’s very hard to consider life worth living sometimes when you’re near-suicidal once a month and even though you know it’s just your hormones the feeling can’t easily be chased away.
Hot Tip: I don’t have any specific recommendations, but I do recommend that people read up on PMDD, advocate for more research and support, and talk about how it is a very valid and significant mental health condition and shouldn’t be dismissed as “just moody”.
Up next: Endometriosis, bleeding during the 7th grade English final, IUDs, and more.