Menstruate


A young man's quest to understand lady bleeding without actually being able to experience it


Posted 15 Feb 2017    Edited 26 Feb 2017


There's this story about the philosopher Archimedes. He was trying to figure out a way to measure volumes of complex shapes. The Greeks already understood the mathematics of calculating volumes for spheres and cubes and easy stuff like that, but they needed a way to measure volumes of rings and rocks and basically everything that wasn't a regular or straight-edged shape.

Image from Morganslists

They say that one day, Archimedes was settling into a bath and saw the water level in the tub move up. He realized, all in that moment - in a single second - that the volume of water displaced by an object is equal to the object's own volume. He realized in that moment that he had discovered a way to measure the volume of virtually any object.

He freaked out, shouted "Eureka!" twice, and ran through the streets naked. And that's why we say "Eureka" in moments of discovery. Cause he said it.

Innocence

The Bible says that God made the first guy Adam and the first lady Eve and He made them totally innocent and left them in a garden and told them not to eat certain fruit. While they were in the garden, they didn't have to do anything and they didn't really know anything important. Eventually, they did eat the fruit and God made them leave the garden and then real life started.

This isn't a real story, but I think it's true because it's the story of every non-retarded person who lives beyond early childhood; because, for each of us, there was that one thing that we saw or did or learned that pushed our innocence out a window and started our real life.

I was the kind of kid who wanted to know what was behind every door, so this process happened pretty early for me. In kindergarten I remember grappling with the social inequity embodied in Santa Claus. It seemed too screwed up that a magical being with any kind of conscience would give rich kids [like Jessica Haws] expensive gifts [like a computer - in 1996] and poor kids [like me] shit gifts [like I don't even remember what cause it was so close to being nothing]. I remember going up to my mom and being like, "Santa isn't real, is he?" and she was like, "Nope."

And there wasn't any heartbreak about it, or even disappointment. I was just really happy to be in. It was the first time I felt like I took a step toward peer status with someone older than me.

I was pushed further in that direction when I was seven. My grandma brought all this old stuff she'd cleaned out of her closets to my brother and me. It was mostly old toys my dad and his brothers and sister played with in the seventies.

One of the things in the pile was a Happy Sperm Candle.

The freakiest thing ever to find in a pile of kids' toys

The happy sperm candle was a pervy novelty item that was really short-lived in the eighties. I think it was a play on the sperm candles that were made out of whale oil, which was called spermaceti back in the day [people thought the massive oily reserve in a whale's head was semen - it's actually not - but that's what they thought and they used it as oil for lamps and candles - and that's why they called it spermaceti].

I'd never heard of sperm before. So, I went up to my grandpa [who came with my grandma] and I was like, "Hey, Grandpa, what's sperm?"

I remember he kinda looked down and furrowed his brow at me, then he looked away from me and made eye contact with my dad and laughed under his breath. And then he just walked away from me. I figured, "He brought this weird sperm candle to my house; he'll be the expert on what it is."

Nope.

He just laughed at my honest question and walked away. And I was like, "What the hell kinda way to act is that?"

After my grandparents left, my dad was like, "Hey Brennan, remember when you asked Grandpa about the sperm?" and I was like, "Yeah. Why did he just walk away?"

My dad was like, "Well, it has to do with sex. Do you know what sex is?" I was like, "No" and he was like, "Do you wanna know what it is?" and I was like, "Yeah [duh]."

He proceeded to give me a real quick-and-dirty explanation of sex. To the best of my recollection, it went something like:

Well, sperm are little tiny cells made inside a man's body. They're in the testicles. A woman also has little cells inside her body called eggs. When a sperm cell is mixed with an egg cell [that's called fertilization - the sperm fertilizes the egg], it starts the process of growth that makes a baby. That's how women get pregnant and babies are born: they grow from a fertilized egg.

The way a sperm cell gets into a woman's body is by sex. Sex is when a man sticks his penis into a woman's vagina. The sperm leave his testicles through his penis and get in the lady, and the sperm can mix with an egg and fertilize it.

Does that make sense?

It really did make sense.

I felt like my world was rocked by the new information, but there was no ambiguity to be had in the explanation. I got a little more than I bargained for with the sperm question, but my dad ended up answering a lot of questions I hadn't even asked or wondered about yet.

   
From a really interesting article about the history of sex education in Ontario

I was really uncomfortable that evening. Especially when I realized that sex was where everyone came from, including me. I was like, "My mom and dad had sex. That is disgusting."

But I got over that real quick and then I just felt like I did after the Santa thing, but times twenty. I had this secret adult knowledge about how life worked. And I knew that most of the kids my age didn't know it, and I was so proud of that for some reason.

Also, I swear my dad has some kind of supernatural approach to parenting. Not only was his direct answer to my question perfectly timed and delivered, but it also opened up a dialogue between him and me that has lasted even up to now.

After he asked, "Does that make sense?" I just kinda nodded absently and left to be alone and process sex, conceptually. As I was walking away, he was like, "Hey, when you have more questions about it, come ask me. I'll tell you anything."

I cashed in on that like two weeks later. I was like, "So why do guys put their weiners in girls' vaginas?" and he was like, "Well, it feels really good," and he kinda gave me an overview of sexual sensation and orgasm.

A few years later, when I started getting my first erections, I was way freaked out. But, I was so comfortable talking to my dad about that kind of stuff, that I went to him right away to ask him about why it was happening and just kind of vent my fears about it.

When puberty hit I started to ask him more questions. I remember one time being like, "So, when you ejaculate, how much semen comes out?" and he was like, "Eh, about two sacrament cups full."

We're Mormon, and we took the sacrament every week at church out of these little mini cups.

Image from a Segullah essay

And like, when you're Mormon, the sacrament is this super sacred, mega serious rite. Like, when the sacrament is being prepared and prayed over and passed to the congregation, Mormon bishops have really specific protocol they have to follow to make sure that the environment in the chapel is really well controlled and that this super specific overarching feeling is maintained among the members of church. And my dad just used it to describe jizz volume. And he was a bishop.

With that sacrilege or blaspheme or whatever, I really knew that my dad would answer any question I asked him, and he would tell the truth.

As I got older, we had lots of really open conversations about sex. We talked about masturbation. We talked about porn. We talked about homosexuality. And we didn't just have textbook conversations. My dad told me things about his sexual experience that I think most men carefully hide from everybody, especially their families.

And, I suppose everybody has their hang-ups or problems or whatever, but I feel like I have a really healthy and fulfilling and active sexual life because I had a lot of help through it. Like, having this human knowledge base who was always available saved me from fulfilling that curiosity by diving into porn or experimenting with sex before I was mature enough to deal with it and stuff like that.

Maybe that's weird, but I'm glad I had a freakishly unfiltered guy like that in my life.

There was always just this one topic that was mysterious to me, and my dad was no good helping me figure it out.

Lady Bleeding

I found out that blood came out of girls' vaginas almost as soon as I learned that dicks went in them.

Periods were just standard knowledge that came along with the pubic hair and wet dreams conversation. I don't remember having any strong initial reaction to the awareness that women menstruate.

There was always something there, though, that fascinated me like no other sexual topic. More than anything, I think I wanted to understand the experience of having a period, and that's why talking to a male didn't really cut it.

Image from The Independent

I remember talking to my mom about it as a kid [obviously nothing was taboo in our house]. I was talking to her about the symptoms and stuff and don't remember all that she told me, but I remember her being like, "Well, I'm just telling you about how it is for me. Women experience periods way differently from one person to another. Like, I have friends who sometimes forget they're on their period, and I have others who get really sick or can't get out of bed in the mornings."

But I knew there was something I was missing. Like, I had this fascination with the topic, but I felt like I'd hit a wall with my questions.

So periods kinda remained mysterious to me.

Flash Forward

When I was twenty-years-old, I left home to serve a mission for my church. It was like this quasi-monastic kind of experience where I lived with just dudes and I wasn't really allowed to flirt or even spend time with women very much. So my inquiries about menstruation took a two-year hiatus.

When I got back home and moved away for school, I became good friends with a few girls who talked like they were guys. Like, they just had no filter and they were way funny and we were good friends so we had some pretty in-depth chats about periods and sex and their lesbian roommates and stuff like that.

They always made fun of me for having this weird fixation with pregnancy. Because I'm not just a freak obsessed with periods, I'm a freak obsessed with all of it - like anything having to do with lady things. And not just women's bodies or whatever, but like, women's expression and feminism and gender studies and everything, too.

So, talking to them, I kinda started building up this catalog of knowledge about lots of things - especially periods. And it turned out to be exactly like my mom said to me when I was a kid: almost every girl I talked to had a little different take on it. And not just that each one reported different symptoms or whatever, but each one approached the subject differently. Like, some were really uncomfortable talking about it. Others took it really seriously. Some laughed a lot as they talked about it. Most of them said the same thing: 'It's different for everyone.' There were only a couple who were like, "Periods are the worst," without qualifying it like, "Periods are really bad, for me."

There are a few things I learned, actually, from listening to women talk about their periods with each other - first, women won't start talking about menstruation with a man out of nowhere. Even when I would ask girls directly about it, some were not comfortable going there - even sometimes when we were good friends; but, I noticed that in a group of women, if I'm discussing menstruation with one of them, all of them will join in [almost without fail]. It's like talking about Star Wars in a group of geek boys. No one nerd is going to be satisfied just agreeing to the remarks of the other members. Everybody has to chime in with her two cents.

Photo of a beauty parlor in Zambia by Lynn Johnson for National Geographic

The other thing I noticed is that even girls who say that they have light, easy periods will change gears when they talk about it with other girls. Listening to a group a women talk about their menses is like listening to libertarians shit on public education. They get intense. Like, have you ever listened to two people trying to prove to each other that they hate some other person? Like, their voices get all nasty and they start really digging to the bottom of the barrel? One or both of them will start with some story about the worst interaction they had with the person, then every subsequent conversation or experience will feed on that; like, they'll get to point where they'll say, "... And then she just looked at me, and I was like, 'Are you seriously just going to look at me like that?'..."

Listening to girls talk about their periods is kinda like that. It's like they're proving to each other that they hate it.

Anyway, during this time I learned a lot but I still felt like there was some question I wasn't asking right, or else that there was some secret knowledge being withheld from me.

Flash Back

During the time I was serving as a missionary, I kept a pretty tight schedule. I'd wake up early and be out meeting people all day, and I'd get home late and just have time to eat something and go to bed. One night, though, the guy I was working with and I got home a little earlier than normal.

We lived in an apartment with two other guys. I always showered at night to save hot water and time in the morning for the other three guys.

For some reason, when I realized I had extra time to shower I was like, "Hey, if you want, you've got enough time to completely shave your pubic hair. You shaved your legs that one time in high school, but never your junk. You should try it..."

I listened to that little voice in my head and shaved myself clean. We're talking crotch, scrote, insides of my thighs, everything.

I got out of the shower and was like, "Hey guys, guess what? I just shaved all my pubic hair!"

The guy I worked with wrestled in college, so he seemed pretty used to weird men's grooming stuff and didn't have much of a reaction. He was just like, "That sounds like a bad idea."

The other two guys were Italians and they freaked out. They thought it was gay for a guy to shave his pubes. The funniest thing was that one of them was like, "I can understand if you shave your armpits before you go to the beach. I do that..."

I thought the armpit shaving was a little more effeminate than the crotch shaving, but I guess that's one way we Americans set ourselves apart from those pasta-loving Mediterraneans.

Anyway, the two days after the shave were like hell. My crotch itched so, so, so bad. The wrestler guy was like, "I told you it was a bad idea."

I was like, "I swear I'm never shaving my pubes again."

Flash Forward Again

I broke that vow my first semester back in college. My roommate and I were talking about keeping a clean bathroom and he was like, "That's why I shave my pubes. It just makes your bathroom so much cleaner." And I was like, "Ugh. No way. I shaved my pubes once and it was horrible," and I told him the whole shaving story.

Tom Selleck

He was like, "Well, yeah... That's how it is the first time, but then your skin gets used to it or whatever and it's fine."

And that was enough to convince me to try it again.

And it was totally fine.

Literally it was not even kind of itchy. Which was kinda weird because it had been so long since I last shaved. But, I guess it really is just that first time. It might have been that I was wearing very different underwear than the kind I wore as a missionary.

I should mention here that because I'm Mormon and I'm pretty deep into the system, I wear this special kind of underwear called a garment. In the early church it was a weird long-john style thing made out of canvas-looking material but it's been updated a few times in church history and now it's just kinda like plain, totally white underwear with little symbolic markings that you wouldn't probably notice unless you were looking for them.

Anyway, I had these straight cotton ones on the mission that were kinda baggy, but once I got home I got rid of those and started wearing these compression short style ones that I thought were way more comfortable. And that probably contributed to the shaving being not as itchy.

Once I started weiner shaving again, I never really stopped.

Fast Forward More

My second semester of college back from the mission I met Susie.



We started dating pretty soon after we met. I went with her to visit her parents for a weekend after we'd been dating about two months. They live four and a half hours from where we were both going to school at the time and in the first thirty minutes of the drive I was like, "Hey, can I ask you about something that's kind of personal?" and she was like, "Yeah."

I was like, "Well, I'm sort of way interested in menstruation. I know that's weird, but I really like learning about it and if you could just help me understand it better, I would really appreciate it."

And she was way cool with it.

I was first like, "So, we've been dating for a couple months, and I haven't noticed when you've been on your period or anything like that. So, like, do you just not have very bad symptoms or something?"

She was like, "No, I have symptoms. They're not super severe or anything, but there's definitely some discomfort for part of it."

So I'm like, "Well, when have you been on your period since we started dating? cause I haven't noticed."

She just kinda gave me a weird look and laughed. Then she was like, "Well, like... right now..."

I was all, "Holy crap! Seriously?! ... I wouldn't have guessed..."

And that was the start of the conversation.

Our relationship became more intimate and we continued to talk about it every once in a while. Especially when she would start her cycle. She'd be like, "Ugh, I don't feel very good today," and I'd be like, "You on the rag?" and she'd be like, "Yeah."

And one time she had a really bad day. And her roommates did some really disgusting stuff [alla clog a toilet hella bad and she was the only one willing to plunge it] and school sucked and she got bad news from her family back home. She was telling me all this and then was like, "And on top of that, my period started today..."

And I didn't really say anything other than, "That sucks." But after she was like, "I'm really glad I can talk with you about all this. Including the period. I think there are a lot of girls who just never talk about it with guys even if they're married and stuff."

I hadn't really thought about it before that, but it was really nice for me too that she was so upfront about it. Cause - and she really wasn't ever very different when she was menstruating - but, sometimes we'd be hanging out, and I'd suggest we go do something and she was like, "I don't really feel like going out tonight. I'm just having pretty bad cramps," or whatever. And then it was nice because I didn't have to wonder or worry if I was doing something wrong or if something bad happened or anything; there was a better understanding.

Because she was so open about it and because we talked a lot and spent tons of time together, I really did learn a lot about periods [at least, from her perspective].

One night I was like, "So, like can you tell when your period is coming up?" She was like, "Well, some girls are more regular than others. Like, some will have a cycle that lasts exactly twenty-eight days and others will be shorter or longer, and some will totally miss a cycle and then start up like normal again."

I asked, "No, like, can you feel it before it happens? Like, can you feel it coming?"

I felt like I was starting toward the right question - the question that would get me the answer I was searching for that would end my need to understand more.

She was like, "Well, I usually get a pretty bad headache the day before I start bleeding, and then I know it's coming."

Still not quite there.

I was like, "Can you feel it as it's happening? Like, can you feel it the moment when you bleed?"

She said, "Well, yeah. I pretty much can, at least."

I felt like I was so close to understanding what I needed to understand about periods; but I wasn't quite there. I gave up my line of inquiry and sorta felt unsettled and anxious. I knew the answer was there, I still wasn't quite sure about the question, though.

Finally

Susie was with her folks during a break from school and I was still at school and she called me on the phone. We talked for a while and the subject of periods came up again. I was like, "Hey sorry, I've got some more questions," and she just laughed [it actually got to a point once where she would just ask me every once in a while: "So, any menstruation questions for me today?"].

During the call I ask, "So, you like know when it's about to start, right?" And she's all, "Yeah." Then I go, "Well, so when do you put a tampon in? Like, before it starts?"

I know I'm red-hot-close to the answer.

She goes, "Well, you never know like exactly when it's going to start."

I'm like, "Then how do you know when to put in a tampon or put on a rag or whatever?" And she's like, "Well, you wait til you start bleeding."

I'm going crazy.

"So you have to bleed first?! And then you start putting in a tampon or whatever?!"

"Yeah," she says.

I go, "So, you have to, like, get blood on you or whatever before you start doing stuff to block it off?" and she goes, "I mean, sometimes you get lucky and the first spurt of blood comes out of you when you're on the toilet to pee or poop, but, yeah, you mostly notice it in your underwear first."

I am dying.

Like, I feel anxious af. I'm like, "Oh my gosh, Suse... That's so gross..."

And she's like, "Well, it's not that big a deal. If you clean it within a couple hours, it washes out really easy with a little hydrogen peroxide."

Eureka!!!

My anxiety was released and my curiosity to understand more about periods was totally gone in that second.

I realized that my obsession over menstruation stemmed from an obscure worry I had about period blood ruining your underwear. The question I should have asked for years was, "How do you deal with getting blood in your drawers?" Because that was fundamentally all I really wanted to know all those years.

Another Small Fast Forward

Literally two days after my phone conversation with Susie I shaved my pubes in the shower as per usual. When I got out of the shower, I walked with a towel around my waist to my room, took off the towel and threw it on the bed. I put on my garment. I got dressed. I returned to the bathroom and brushed my teeth.

When I went back to my room, the towel I'd used was still laying on the bed, so I picked it up to hang it back in the bathroom. As I walked with it toward the bathroom I noticed that part of the towel had dark splotches on it.

It was a pretty new towel so I was like, "What the fuff?"

I looked closer and saw that the red splotches were blood.

When I got to the bathroom, I stared at my face in the mirror and looked to see if I had a bloody nose or a bloody lip.

Nope.

Then I was like, "Oh crap. What about where I shaved?"

I hooked my thumb in the front of my garment bottoms and jeans and stretched it open. In a flash of horror I saw that my white garment was splotched in even more blood than the towel had. I was like, "No! No!" starting to freak out, thinking I'd have to throw the garment bottom away.

A flash of relief quickly followed as I heard Susie's voice in my mind: "It's not that big a deal... It washes out really easy with a little hydrogen peroxide."

I stripped off my jeans and garment bottom, grabbed some peroxide from the bathroom cabinet and sprayed it on the garment over the sink. The blood disappeared like magic.

Sucks

To you who suffer with it, I'm sorry about this whole period thing. It must suck to deal with that bloody mess month after month.

I'm not arrogant enough to say, "I've studied so much about it to know how you feel," or anything like that; but I do think that I appreciate the hassle. The clean-up alone seems like the biggest inconvenience ever. But on top of that, there's the cramping, the headaches, the joint pain, the hormonal flux...

To quote Levar Burton, "You don't have to take my word for it," because I got a lady to write about it. It's like a letter from her to her period. Here you are:

Dear Period,

Hey. It’s me again. I just wanted to make sure everything is going okay down there. I kinda feel like WWIII is being waged inside my uterus once more. Are you winning? Or is this just more of a cry for help because we aren’t pregnant this month? I’m sorry. That must be rough.

I want you to know that I and our good friend H202 have NOT forgotten about you. The white underwear intended to raise its flag of surrender, but it isn’t white anymore, so, yeah. I sent in some Midol about 20 minutes ago, so I’m guessing that’ll help you calm down soon. These fits can be quite ferocious.

Anyway, thanks again for reminding me that I’m a woman. See you in about 28 days.

Love, me.

It sucks.



Thank God I'm a country boy.