Female Sexuality Facts

Facts, Theories, And Information on Female Sexuality: Menstruation

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From puberty to menopause a woman who is not pregnant will shed the lining of the uterus, the endometrium, every 28 to 30 days, although she may begin as early as every 2I days or as late as every 35 days. This process, called menstruation or the period, usually lasts three to six days, but can be more or less.

From the beginning of menstruation at puberty (the menarche) until menstruation stops in middle age (the menopause), the endometrium, the lining of the womb, prepares itself each month to receive a fertilized egg.

The lining will provide the fertilized egg with a nesting place as soon as the it comes in contact with the uterine wall.

If the egg has not been fertilized by a sperm the lining is not needed, so it separates from the uterus and passes through the cervix and out of the vagina as the menstrual flow.

As the lining comes away from the womb wall the tops of the tiny blood vessels that are connected to the lining come away too. That is why the menstrual flow has blood in it. As soon as the menstrual flow begins, a new lining starts developing to replace the one that has just left the body, in readiness for a fertilized egg in the next cycle.

If no egg is fertilized by a sperm during the next cycle, the same separation of the endometrium occurs, and menstruation takes place again. If a sperm does fertilize an egg, and if the egg does begin its growth in the uterine wall, the endometrium remains in place and the woman will not menstruate again until after the birth of the baby.

Girls who have not been told about menstruation in advance can be thoroughly frightened by the appearance of tissue and blood. It is very important that girls should know the nature and meaning of menstruation, that it is a completely normal experience, and that it signals the beginning of their childbearing years and a new stage in their life cycle.

Menstruation is controlled by an interplay of the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, the ovaries, and several hormones. The exact time menstruation begins cannot be predetermined; it may be as early as nine or ten years of age, or it may not be until 15 or 16.

It is no better to begin menstruation earlier or later, and menstruation does not mean a girl is more grown up than her friends if she has her period and they do not.

The body decides when is the best time. The average age at which girls begin to menstruate (menarche) is falling slightly in most developed countries - the reason is thought to be better nutrition and increased body weight. The body also decides when a woman stops menstruating, usually between 45 and 55 years of age.

Sex in later life is best if a woman does not allow the menopause to overcome her desire for sex and continues to use whatever aids she needs to enjoy sex - such as artificial water based lubricants for intercourse. The process of stopping menstruating is a gradual one, and involves a number of physical changes apart from ceasing ovulation.

Q: "Just how much blood do I lose when I have my period? It seems like an awful lot."

A: "The amount of blood lost during menstruation varies from woman to woman. It is difficult to add up the actual amount because it leaves the body mixed with tissue from the uterus, but it appears that women normally pass between one and three ounces of blood. It may be a bit more if you are using an IUD. The passing of this amount of blood is not in the least harmful if you are healthy and your diet is adequate."

Q: "Can a virgin use a tampon?"

A: "Yes. A tampon can fit inside the vagina even if the woman has not had sexual intercourse. Even with the hymen present, the natural opening that permits the menstrual flow to leave the body usually allows for easy insertion of a tampon.

Some women find that using tampons during menstruation leads them to a fuller understanding of their bodies and can help them overcome inhibitions they may have about touching their genitals. That can be a bonus."

Q. "Is there any risk in using tampons"

A: "There may be. Small numbers of women who regularly use tampons have developed symptoms of a dangerous disease known as Toxic Shock Syndrome. The disease is apparently caused by bacteria in the vagina. The answer is to change tampons regularly."

Q. "Is it safe to have sexual intercourse during menstruation?"

A: "Yes. You can have intercourse during menstruation without any fear of discomfort or illness. There is no medical evidence to indicate that intercourse during menstruation will lead to any emotional or physical problems for either partner."

Q. "My friend says he has sexual intercourse when his wife menstruates and he never has to use any birth control. Is he right?"

A: "Although the chances of pregnancy are very slim, your friend may be taking a risk. The release of an egg from the ovary is very unlikely to occur during menstruation, but it is still possible.

If it happened his wife could get pregnant. It may be that in taking advantage of this relatively safe period your friend is indicating a dissatisfaction with the method of birth control that he and his wife use. This needs to be explored by both of them until they find and agree on a better birth control method."

Q: "Should I wash more during my period?"

A: "No. Menstruation does not cause any special odor, so daily washing with mild soap and water is quite sufficient. Undergarments may become stained with a drop of blood from time to time, but you'll be washing them anyway."

Q: "I heard about a drug that helps prevent menstrual pain. Is one available and how can I get it?"

A: "You are probably referring to a drug called mefenamic acid. It prevents the uterus from contracting and so relieves some women's discomfort during menstruation. It is available under a couple of different brand names and you should discuss with your doctor whether it might be suitable for you.

Several other drugs are available, including aspirin, which have a similar effect - again, discuss their suitability for you with your doctor if you feel you need something to relieve your menstrual pain."

Q: "My breasts get tender and hurt a bit just before my period. Is this normal?"

A: "Yes, quite normal. It happens because at that time in your cycle your body contains an increased amount of the hormone progesterone, and that causes some congestion of the blood vessels in your breasts."

Q: "I'm 13 and my period is very irregular. Does this mean I have a problem?"

A: "No. During the first couple of years of puberty it is common for menstruation to be irregular. Sometimes your period may last a week or two, or it may occur every two or three weeks and then not begin again for a month or more.

Although this irregularity is a nuisance, it is the body's way of getting its normal cycles in order, so you will have a more regular cycle throughout your childbearing and adult years until menopause. Some physicians will prescribe a short-term low-dose hormone tablet to help make you more regular.

Q: "I just started getting my period, and I always know when I'm about to get it because that is when I break out with pimples. Just what's going on?"

A: "This happens to many women. Just prior to your menstrual flow, the natural shifting of hormone levels causes your skin glands (sebaceous glands) to overproduce secretions, and sometimes your pores become clogged with dirt and bacteria causing pimples or acne.

Keeping your skin clean, especially around the time of menstruation, may be of some help. Usually, after puberty, when your body has adjusted to the presence of increased amounts of female hormone, the acne decreases."

Q: "I just lost a lot of weight and my friend said my period will be affected. Is that true?"

A: "If your weight changes by ten percent or more in a short period of time, your cycle may well be affected. An unusual amount of tension or stress can also temporarily affect your period. The use of some drugs - especially tranquilizers or antidepressants - will also change your usual menstrual pattern, as can travel or a change of diet."

How does menstruation make women feel?

These are some typical responses: " I feel messy." "I feel generally uncomfortable." "I feel ugly and bloated." "I get all pimply." All negative. It isn't often that you hear a woman say "Oh, it's fine. I feel healthy and normal," or "It makes me feel feminine." A lot of women suffer some real physical discomfort during their periods, but more suffer psychological issues, though few would go for counseling.

But alternative therapies can help a woman feel better, for example, aromatherapy massage, Reiki and Indian Head Massage. A great many girls grow up with the idea that menstruation is a mystery. Their parents don't tell them what it means, they don't show them that it is a natural part of growing.

After a girl has her first period she is likely to be warned "Now you must watch out for men," or "Be sure to keep your legs closed." The mystery that she is just beginning to come to terms with is thus reinforced with negatives and prohibitions. No wonder that many women carry this negative confusion about menstruation right through their lives and probably pass it on to their own daughters.

If a great many women can't feel easy about menstruation it is scarcely surprising that men can't either. Hence the widespread idea that when women menstruate they are "unclean" and therefore inferior.

A major step toward full equality between women and men will be the banishing of the idea that women are inferior because they menstruate. Beginning menstruation signals the start of a new and very important stage in a girl's life; it is a sign of coming of age, and should be celebrated as such.

If family and friends can show positive happiness that the girl has reached a significant stage in her growth, the negative confusion that so many people suffer under will be done away with. This is the kind of legacy that, passed from generation to generation, will help women to understand themselves fully and will help men to understand women better.

People respond to menstruation in all sorts of different ways. Even within a couple, the two partners may respond completely differently. Some couples find menstruation to be a terrible interference with their sex life and can't wait for it to end.

Others, mistakenly, believe that there is no risk of fertilization while the woman is menstruating and so they take advantage of her period to have unprotected intercourse.

Because they have been taught that menstruation is something dirty and secret, many women feel a need to apologize for their "problem" and hide it. This means no sex of any kind during the woman's period, which some people enjoy because it provides them with a good reason to avoid sexual contact without awkward explanations.

On the positive side, some couples have come to terms with menstruation and do not regard it as a matter of shame and secrecy.

They find that sexual intercourse during menstruation, using any number and variety of their most enjoyable and best sex positions, is particularly intimate and shows real understanding and support between them. If menstruation means nothing in a relationship, all well and good.

If it has a positive side, so much the better. The negative effect it has on some relationships is quite unnecessary. It's entirely up to you whether or not you have intercourse during a woman's period and doesn't matter one way or the other.

Some women feel crampy, bloated or just not right physically or emotionally when they're menstruating, and some men feel put off by menstruation

Other couples have intercourse or other sexual activities as usual, if they want it, and deal with any slight messiness with little trouble.

It is interesting to note that women who believe in rather orthodox religious systems like Catholicism and Judaism are more likely to have menstrual difficulties such as irregularity and discomfort than women who believe in religions where menstruation, intercourse and chastity are not tied together in deeply meaningful ways.

It is clear that the way a woman is socialized can have an effect on common bodily functions.

Dysmenorrhea is the name for cramps and other discomfort that women experience during menstruation. The symptoms experienced before menstruation - some weight gain, headache, and so on - is properly known as molimina, but dysmenorrhea is often used to describe both.

There is no single cause for dysmenorrhea, but water retention, hormonal imbalance and other chemical reasons are suggested as possible factors.

Menstrual pains can also be related to medical problems such as an infection, tumor or endometriosis, so discuss your symptoms with your doctor. The discomfort and pain of dysmenorrhea may be helped by birth control pills, eating less salt, taking extra vitamins C and B complex, exercise, sauna or steam baths or having an orgasm.

Any woman who wishes to take steps to reduce menstrual discomfort should discuss what is best for her with her doctor.

Menstruation continued.