2. Your friends are there to help, but take things at your own pace.
When I was growing up, tampons were not an option in my house. My mom came of age in the ’60s in a strict household, and I am willing to bet that she has never used a tamp in her life. So no li’l cotton bullets in our bathrooms, anywhere. And where did that leave me, a young girl in contemporary society who was terrified of (a) talking to her mother about her period and (b) getting blood all over everything everywhere? Basically in a diaper. As in, extra-long Kotex Super maxipads, which were what my mom had around. They were like nine feet long and as thick as the September issue. Just terrible. But I didn’t know anything else! I couldn’t go to the drugstore to pick up an alternative, because I was a CHILD in the suburbs, where there wasn’t anywhere close enough to walk to; and anyway no one had ever taught me how to use a tampon. (OK, there was one afternoon when our lady gym teacher showed the girls in our class a tampon and demonstrated how the plunger thing worked, but, like, if your anatomy isn’t that familiar to you, like it might not be at the age of 11, you might be excused for being a little mystified about where the tampon goes and how exactly it gets in there.) So I had to use what my mom had on hand…until two years later, when I went to sleepaway camp.
When you live in a small cabin with a bunch of other girls for seven weeks, you end up sharing everything. It’s very freeing and liberating and also kind of gross (in a good way). Most of my camp friends went to private high schools in Manhattan and were therefore verrrrry sophisticated (I was a public school kid from Jersey). When Julie and Melissa learned that the reason I was skipping group swim and waterskiing was that I had my period (You know what’s worse than a giant Kotex? A giant WATERLOGGED Kotex), they were aghast.
They marched me into the bathroom, sent me into a stall with one of Julie’s Tampax, and stood outside the door. TIME TO LEARN.
“OK, take your shorts and underwear off,” one of them ordered (I was too nervous to really take note of who was saying what). “Now face the toilet, and put your foot up on the lid.”
“Wait, what? Why?!”
“I don’t know, it makes it easier. Just do it.”
“Put it inside you, but only as far as where your fingers are holding it.”
“Now PUSH the end in.”
“What do you mean, you can’t? Push HARD!”
“I CAN’T! OWWWWWW! WHAT? THIS FUCKING HURTS! You guys. IS THIS WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN? THIS HURTSSSSS. Aaaaah shit.”
This went on for a while, and monthly for the rest of the summer, to no avail. I could never push that damn thing into my vagina. (And believe me, I TRIED.) My theory is that my corona, the part formerly known as the hymen, was the kind that totally blocks the entryway to the vagina, because when I had intercourse for the first time when I was 16 it hurt like a bitch and I bled a lot—and afterward tampons were no problem. (Side note: I know this is about periodz and not about maidenheads [the grossest but also maybe funnest way to talk about virginity], but since I’m giving out advice, here’s my two cents on this: As with everything I’m talking about here, everyone’s first experience with penetrative sex yields different results. You might not bleed at all, or you might bleed enough to cause a good-size stain. But that’s what dark sheets are for, right?)
3. Ways to deal, what to use, how to keep track, and why sex on your period is more than OK.
If men got their periods, the first day of each cycle would be a paid vacation day–I believe this with my whole heart. The first real day of my period is agony. My contact lenses are uncomfortable, my head throbs, I feel bloated, I get one bad zit in the SAME EXACT SPOT ON MY CHIN EVERY TIME and my cramps make me wanna lie fetal on the floor of my office.
I hate the fact that this is not something you can openly discuss in mixed work company (because sexism), so if I am really feeling shitty and I look like hell, when my boss is like, “Dude, are you hung over or something?” I can’t say, “Gah, my cramps are terrible,” which is SO LEGIT; instead I have to say something like “I have a terrible headache.” Ugh. Such is life.
Track what’s happening with your bod:
For years, until I went on the pill (which I am not on anymore, and the pros and cons of this form of birth control are a whole other essay unto themselves), I didn’t really monitor my menstrual cycle, so I never quite knew when my period would arrive—which led to one or two bleed-throughs. There are two things I wish someone had told me back then—they would have saved me a lot of confusion, some stress, and a little bit of embarrassment:
1. Pay attention to your body. This sounds corny-slash-commonsense, but it took me a while to realize that my body has ways of letting me know I’m about to get my period. That annoying zit I spoke of earlier? I can feel it trying to make an appearance about two days before FlowTime—the same day that my contacts start to feel a little drier and I start to feel like a bottomless pit, snackwise.
2. Period-tracking apps on smartphones are kind of a godsend. They will give you a daily countdown to your next period, so you can’t be surprised—as long as your cycle is regular. I say this last thing because lots of people don’t have regular, predictable cycles. In fact, most periods don’t come the exact same number of days apart every single month, and the period itself doesn’t always last the same amount of time. This is all especially true during your first two or three years of menstruating, so don’t stress out if your period doesn’t come around like clockwork—just make sure you’ve always got a couple of tampons (or whatever you use) on you at all times JIC.
(Obligatory caveats: If you stop having periods altogether, if your irregular period comes with other changes like sudden facial-hair growth or unexplained weight gain, or if your periods are irregular for three years or more, see a doctor. And if you’re having P-in-V intercourse and you miss a period—even if you’re using birth control—get a pregnancy test ASAP.)