The men's guide to menstruation: Every question you have about periods, answered

An expert sheds light on the most common misconceptions surrounding periods. [Photo: Getty]
An expert sheds light on the most common misconceptions surrounding periods. [Photo: Getty]

Periods are a monthly fact of life for women, from puberty up until menopause.

Unsurprisingly – given they don’t have them – men are generally less clued up on the process, and often feel awkward asking certain questions about the process.

The result is a whole lot of confusion around periods. Over a third of men are unable to explain what happens during a woman’s monthly cycle (ie, the shedding of the uterine lining), according to the results of a YouGov survey.

One social media user even admitted to thinking periods stop during the night.

In order to set the record straight, Yahoo UK spoke to Harley Street Clinic’s Fertility Clinic Director, Dr Geetha Venkat, to answer the most pressing queries about the world of menstruation, from the mystery of different-sized tampons to whether women can “hold in” their periods.

How long do periods actually last?

This can vary from woman to woman. For the average woman, it is around five days – but it can be a couple of days longer or shorter.

READ MORE: What to expect from each stage of menopause

How much blood is there?

While we might associate periods with heavy blood loss, it actually isn’t as much as you might think.

Women lose between six and eight teaspoons of blood over the course of a period.

What do periods feel like?

One word: cramps. Period cramps tend to be centred in the stomach, but may also occur in the lower back and thighs. For some women, these cramps can be minimal and not affect their ability to work and enjoy their day but for others it can be very painful.

Other common symptoms include mood swings, skin breakouts, tearfulness, irritability, and breast tenderness.

How many pads or tampons do you use?

While one man recently declared women only need seven tampons per period, the reality is usually many more.

While it can will vary on how heavy a woman’s blood flow is, as a rough guide Dr Venkat recommends women should be changing their tampon every four to eight hours (but never wait more than eight hours, she warns, because of the threat of toxic shock syndrome.

Sanitary towels, or pads as they’re commonly known, may need to be changed more frequently – as regularly as women need to feel comfortable and clean.

READ MORE: Period poverty tackled with free sanitary products for schoolgirls

Is period sex a good idea?

Period sex is a matter of preference. Some couples would rather avoid the extra mess, while others refuse to let it get in the way of their sex life.

For those who enjoy period sex, there might be extra benefits for the woman, Dr Venkat explains.

This is for a number of reasons, including blood acting as a lubricant to help penetration; orgasms helping with period cramps; and because many women experience a higher sex drive during their period.

Why are tampons different sizes?

Tampons come in different sizes – but this is not to suit different vagina widths (unlike condom sizes, which correspond to penis size).

READ MORE: Man heavily criticised for comparing scraped knees to period pain

Instead, it is all to do with different blood flows through the menstrual cycle.

“Super and super plus are generally used for a heavy flow, while a smaller size tampon will work best on lighter days,” says Dr Venkat. “You will often find a useful tampon guide printed on product boxes and over time you will find the right product for you and your body.”

How do tampons work (and can women feel them)?

“Tampons are like compact tubes of cotton wool you insert into your vagina and they absorb blood before it leaves your body,” explains Dr. Venkat. “Your vagina holds the tampon in place, it expands inside you as it soaks up the blood, and can be removed easily with a cotton string.”

Once a tampon is in, the wearer should not be able to feel it inside her body.

“If you can, or it hurts, it might not be in properly,” Dr. Venkat adds.

How many pads or tampons do you use per period?

During their periods, women tend to use either tampons or else sanitary towels – these are strips of padding with a sticky side, and the other side made from absorbent material, that you place inside your underwear to absorb blood.

Can you “hold in” a period?

Yes and no. While women can’t physically “hold in” a period as you might a wee, they can “medically postpone” it with specific period delay medication, which can be prescribed by a GP.

If women are taking the contraceptive pill, they can also use two pill packets back to back to avoid having a breakthrough bleed in the middle – after first checking with their GP.

What other times do periods stop?

Periods naturally stop once women go through the menopause – usually when they’re between 45 and 55 years of age, according to the NHS.

READ MORE: 8 ways to have a happier period

There are a number of other factors which might cause periods to stop.

These include:

  • Being over or underweight

  • Pregnancy

  • Exercising too much

  • Stress

  • Taking the contraceptive pill

  • Suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

What are ‘period pants’?

Women use the term “period pants” to refer to one one of two things. Firstly, knickers they reserve for their periods (likely larger, older, and ones you don’t mind getting ruined). Or else, it might mean specially-designed absorbent knickers which allow them to go without tampons or sanitary towels while bleeding – brands such as ModiBodi and Thinx sell a variety of options.