Talking to your son about periods can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important for both boys and girls alike to know what menstruation is, how it happens, when it will happen and why. If you’re a dad or mom of a boy who has started puberty already, here are some tips on talking with him about periods.
In this day and age, when gender norms have been the subject of much discussion and controversy, focusing efforts on the physiology of the human body can be extra important. Menstruation has always been thought of as an inherently female function, but as society moves forward to a more neutral understanding of gender, it is becoming more acceptable to discuss the subject as a process that may happen to anyone with the applicable sexual organs.
All this is to say that what we may have learned in our fifth grade health class is no longer enough, and it’s time we start teaching our children more about sexual reproductive health – especially periods.
Why Should I Talk to My Son About Periods?
There are many reasons you should speak to your son about periods. First and foremost is that knowledge is power. Understanding how bodies work will mean he is better prepared to take responsible steps to keep himself and his potential female partner safe if and when it is time for them to have sex.
Periods are a big part of the reproductive cycle, and both partners should know how it works. Whether or not they are ready to become parents, having a basic understanding of the mechanics is going to be necessary, and having an in depth knowledge is even better.
Even more than this, considering how the world is changing, there is every likelihood that your son may come into contact with others his age who are in the LGBTQ+ community, and part of being an ally is being comfortable with those from that community. Whether it is being accepting of seeing two members of the same sex kissing or helping out a trans female to male with period-related issues, teaching them early will make it a lot easier for them to be a good friend and decent person.
Finally, even at the most basic of levels, if your son plans on being around women in his life, whether it is his mother, sister, wife or daughter, he will more than likely be exposed to periods. He will need to know how to help and support the women he loves.
What is a Period?
A period is when the body releases blood from the uterus through the vagina. It is the culmination of a monthly cycle whereby the body prepares for the possibility of pregnancy and accepts that this will not be happening.
What Should I Talk About?
So now that you’ve made up your mind that you need to discuss periods with your boy child, you need to figure out exactly what to talk about and how to do it. Here are some of the most common questions asked and their answers.
When Do Girls Get Their Periods?
Girls usually get their periods anywhere from ages of 8 to 18. The average age is around 12 or 13. Getting a period for the first time is called “menarche” and is generally when girls are seen to have officially hit puberty.
When girls get their period varies because menstruation is a natural part of life. It is normal for menstruation to start later in life, and it is also a natural part of menstruation to not get your period at all. Typically, menstruation will occur every single month from puberty until menopause, when menstruation stops permanently.
What Causes Periods?
Periods are caused by hormones in the body. Hormones are like tiny messengers that send signals throughout the system, letting the body know what to do. Specifically, female sex organs called ovaries release hormones called estrogen and progesterone which cause the lining of the uterus (womb) to build up or thicken. This thickening is in preparation for a fertilized egg to attach itself and start developing into a fetus.
If no fertilized egg attaches, the lining breaks down and is released through the vagina in the form of a period. The process begins again, and each cycle takes between 24 and 38 days, or around a month.
How Often Do Periods Happen?
For the first while after a period begins, they can be somewhat unpredictable. Many girls will not find a regular schedule until they have been menstruating for 2-3 years. After this time, however, periods should settle into a more predictable pattern somewhere in the region of every four weeks, or once a month.
If they do not settle or change patterns after settling down, a visit to the gynecologist may be in order.
How Long Do Periods Last?
The general consensus is that periods will last between three to five days for most women. However, some women will have periods that last a full week. Every woman is different, and there are many factors that go into how the body determines its cycle length.
How Much Do Girls Bleed on Their Periods?
Menstrual blood can come out as a mixture of clots and pieces or just clots or just pieces (this is why pads are recommended). Discharge from the vagina may be red, pink, brownish or clear. This is normal variation in menstruation blood flow – your body needs some time to settle into the pattern that works best for you! It’s not helpful to compare yourself with other people because periods are different from person to person.
Can a Girl Get Pregnant As Soon as She Gets Her Period?
Yes, absolutely. Once a girl has had her first period, it is safe to assume that she can get pregnant. In fact, a girl can get pregnant before she’s ever even had a period! A period happens after an egg has already been released and unfertilized. If sexual intercourse occurs during a first ovulation, it is entirely possible for her to become pregnant without ever having had her first menstruation.
What is PMS?
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) is a set of emotional and physical symptoms that occur before or during a period. These symptoms can include feeling moody, sad or anxious as well as bloating, cramping and acne. Most of the time, these symptoms will go away after the first few days of a period.
There is also something called Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is a more serious and severe version of PMS. It causes more severe emotional and psychological issues in the week or two before a period starts. This disorder may require medication or treatment to help with symptoms.
What Do Periods Feel Like?
Periods can be felt differently by different women. For some, it can be a minor inconvenience, while for others it can be a very painful and emotional experience.
During menstruation, hormone-like lipids called prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract and shed its lining. This can be very painful, especially if you have higher than average levels of prostaglandins in your bod. The resulting cramping sensation is more extreme for some than others. Most women will feel occasional discomfort as their uterus contracts, however certain conditions can make it much worse, such as:
- uterine fibroids
- sexually transmitted infections
- cervical stenosis
Period cramps are usually felt as muscle cramps in your stomach with pain that sometimes radiates to the thighs and back. For some, it is felt as a sharp spasm. For others, cramps are a steady dull ache. The symptoms and intensity of pain can also vary from one period to the next.
What Are the Different Types of Period Products, and How Do They Work?
There are several factors that go into choosing which period product a woman prefers, such as what activities she will be doing, the product cost, convenience of use and the product’s impact on the environment. The main options are outlined below.
These are cotton pads that stick to underwear to soak up blood. They are thrown away after each use. They come in a variety of shapes and absorbancies (the amount of blood they can absorb) and are very easy to carry. Pads should never be flushed down a toilet; instead they should be disposed of in the garbage.
These are cloth pads that you can wash and reuse. Usually made of absorbent material like cotton or bamboo, they often have a snap button on the wings to secure around underwear. After the pad has been used, it is recommended it be rinsed, soaked overnight and then washed.
These are pieces of cotton with a string at one end. They are placed inside the vagina to soak up blood, then pulled out using the string. They need to be changed every 4-6 hours, or more often if necessary. They come in a variety of sizes depending on how heavy the flow is.
These soft, medical-grade silicone or rubber cups are placed into the vagina to catch the blood flow. It only needs to be emptied every 8 – 12 hours, rinsed and put back in. They usually come in two sizes – one for women who have never given birth and one for women who have.
These look and feel like regular underwear, but are designed to be very absorbent. They can be used instead of pads or tampons during a light flow, or as a back-up when there’s a heavy flow.
The main takeaway for a young man when it comes to period products is to understand that every woman will use what she is comfortable with, and some can be messier than others. While dealing with period blood is not exactly a fun experience, it is a totally natural one, and there is no reason to be grossed out as long as everyone is being sanitary.
How Can Boys Help With Periods?
Traditionally, young men have been conditioned to stay as far away from periods as possible, relegating the subject to women only. Hopefully once they understand exactly what a period is and what it entails for a woman, they’ll be more willing to help out.
Try to help your son understand that periods are not a taboo subject. Help them to be comfortable discussing it without showing disgust or disdain. Expose them to period products early and regularly so they know what they are, how they look, and how they work. Remind them to be considerate of friends and family members who are menstruating, both emotionally and physically.
Some easy ways a young man can help out with periods are:
- Getting a heating pad or hot water bottle
- Offering pain medication as appropriate
- Making a snack or meal to be helpful
- Offering a coat or shirt if there is an accident
- Being willing to pick up period products from the store or at home
What If I’m Uncomfortable Talking About Periods?
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about periods, try to ensure that there are other ways to give out this information. Try watching a video or reading a book together to make it easier for both of you. Alternatively, you can ask your doctor, nurse or a trusted family member to talk to your child.