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 the actual f*ck is going on down there to begin with. And so I give you this Very Important Period Poll, to test your knowledge and maybe (definitely) learn a few things.
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.
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 Diana Hoppe, M.D., an ob-gyn 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, diarrhea, rash), get to the ER, ASAP.
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 Lauren Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology 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, Streicher says.
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 traveling down the fallopian tubes to the uterus, where, if it’s not fertilized by day 28, it breaks apart and leaves the body (along with your built-up uterine lining). Then you’re back at day one.
Not every woman gets blood clots durning 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 quarter 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.
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 pelivic inflammatory disease.
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 odorless 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 Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Mount Kisco Medical Group and author of V Is for Vagina.
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 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.
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