With half the population being female, one would think the other half would have a pretty good idea of the basic physiological process females go through every month of their lives from their early teens until middle age.
However, many women feel misunderstood by the men in their lives when it comes to that “time of the month.” "The whole monthly cycle is a mystery to men so to a lot of them, it can be strange and hard to understand," said Dr. Jenna Madsen, OBGYN at Timpanogos Women's Center. Not only that, many men seem to just think the bleeding is gross and PMS is either a) fake or “not that bad” or b) an excuse or c) annoying. Here are some facts about menstrual cycles that can help men appreciate their wives a bit better.
A woman’s body prepares for a possible pregnancy every month for roughly 30-40 years. That means an egg is released every month from the ovaries and the lining of the uterus is built up to nourish that egg if and when it is fertilized and becomes an embryo. When that fertilization and implantation does not occur, the lining is flushed out of the uterus through the vagina, and the process starts anew. So a woman’s period is not strictly blood; it’s mixed with the tissue of the uterine lining.
To put this monthly cycle in perspective, a woman will have about 450 periods in her lifetime, while the average family today has only about two children. That’s a lot of physiological preparation for an event that may only happen twice for many women.
Many men and women tend to focus on the bleeding part of the cycle and not think as much about the middle of the cycle, which is ovulation. A standard cycle is 28 days long (keep in mind the cycle varies from woman to woman), and ovulation generally occurs around 14 days after the start of the last period. The release of the egg becomes particularly important for those who are concerned about fertility. As Men’s Health notes, eggs are viable for about two days after they are released, and men’s sperm for about three days. That means that pregnancy can occur within about a five-day window, from before ovulation until after.
Don’t joke about it (seasoned husbands have learned this through experience). Premenstrual syndrome is real, and it affects most women. It’s a term for a range of symptoms that occur about the week before a woman’s period begins, and, according to Women’s Health, “the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom. Others (about 3 to 8 percent) have a more severe form of PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD),” which “can be disabling” and require interventions like medications and/or counseling.
The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals found these numbers in a study of a thousand women: “84 percent report feeling bloated; 84 percent report feeling moody; 81 percent report having cramps; 80 percent report feeling irritable; 78 percent report feeling fatigued, and 67 percent report feelings of anger.”
The uterus is a big muscle. In childbirth, the uterus contracts with painful force for hours on end to move a baby from inside the womb to the arms of its parents. The pain of labor and birth is well-known. Monthly, however, the uterus contracts enough to expel the blood and lining that must be shed during that cycle. The cramping can be a dull ache that lasts for a day or more; it may radiate to the back or even to the thighs, and the discomfort and pain can be enough for some women that they have to miss out on some work, social events or other obligations.
Dr. Madsen recommends paying attention to the severeness of cramps. "If it's debilitating for many days, come see a doctor."
Menstruation is a normal and natural part of women’s health. Every woman is a bit different, too, including in how long a cycle lasts, how long bleeding may last, when ovulation occurs and when and how menopause takes place. But sometimes a change may occur that signals a problem. Women who know their bodies should notice when something about their cycles is “off.”
Husbands, encourage your wives to act on their concerns and visit a doctor, including if any of these things happen, according to womenshealth.gov: “(their) period suddenly stops for more than 90 days; (their) periods become very irregular after having had regular, monthly cycles; (their) period occurs more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days; (they) are bleeding for more than 7 days; (they) are bleeding more heavily than usual or using more than 1 pad or tampon every 1-2 hours; (they) bleed between periods; (they) have severe pain during (their) period, or suddenly get a fever and feel sick after using tampons.”