Dealing with uncomfy stuff when you have to be in public most of the day:
Now that I can predict pretty accurately when I will be getting my monthly (writing this essay has led me to realize that I wanna use all the corny old-school euphemisms for period WAY MORE OFTEN in my life), I’ve been taking two Aleves the night before to get ahead of the extreme uterine thrashing I am about to deal with, then I just keep ’em coming every eight hours throughout. I’ve discovered that naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve) works better for my cramps than ibuprofen (the stuff in Advil), but you might be different—take whatever works best for you.
Also, during my period, I try to put my coffee addiction on hold for a day or two and drink caffeine-free tea instead. Caffeine makes my cramps worse, and I find tea soothing (and green tea helps with my bloatiness).
Things you can do in the privacy of your own home:
I asked for a hot water bottle for Christmas a few years ago, and it is the best gift I ever got. Fill it with almost-boiling water and then lay it down on your lower belly. Stretch out and breathe deep. It feels awesome. It’s time to bring back the hot water bottle, you guys—it will be your best friend!
Until you get one, though, if you have bad cramps you can try lying down in the tub and running a hot shower, positioning the showerhead so the water is hitting your abdomen. This sounds weird to type out here as a recommendation for some reason, but it really works, I swear! Bonus points for candlelight and calm, even breathing.
This next suggestion is even weirder, and just as anecdotal as everything else I’m telling you in this article, but here goes: As an adult I noticed that my cramps were worse when I had a tampon in. I mentioned this to a few ladies whose opinions I trust, and they suggested I switch to unbleached tampons. I did, and I swear, my cramps are significantly less intense now. Could this be for real?! I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone’s ever done any tests regarding this wild theory. But since it takes all kinds of chemical-y stuff to bleach cotton, it seems like a good idea to go with the unbleached anyway. The fewer chemicals I am sticking into my vagina the better, right? (You can find unbleached tampons at any old drugstore—they are usually all the way on the top shelf or shoved down at the bottom. Not in prime eye-level shelf space—that’s where the Man keeps the bigwig shit.)
I know that there are a lot of you out there who will tell me that there is an even better way to keep chemicals out of my vagina, and that is to use the aforementioned Diva Cup or a sea sponge, but I just haven’t been able to go there. I can’t see myself having to empty and reinsert a small cup during an afternoon bathroom break in a 10-stall public ladies’ room in the Condé Nast building. I try to keep my cervix out of my daily work life. (But if these options seem interesting to you, I recommend looking into them. I know many women who swear by the Diva Cup, our own Krista among them!)
Orgasms are super helpful:
You know how I told you that cramps are your uterus contracting to push out unneeded stuff? Well, a contraction is a muscle tensing up. And you know what helps relieve muscular tension? Orgasms. Orgasms are just a pretty good way to be NOT TENSE all around. Actually, maybe the best way. Again, this isn’t scientific fact, but I can vouch.
Obviously, the easiest way to have an orgasm anytime you want/need is to masturbate. (It might take you a while to learn how to give yourself an orgasm, but put in those hours: It’s worth it.) I’m not sure if you know this, but there’s also another way to have an orgasm, and that is by having sex. NOW I KNOW that a lot of people are not so eager to have sex during their ladies’ time. Maybe you feel physically tired (legit) or not your sexiest (all in your head). But sex on your period is the same as sex at any other time of the month—or possibly better, because you have extra lubrication. It’s not all that messy, either—just lay a towel down on the bed/shag rug/chaise lounge/kitchen table/wherever you get down to business, and go for it. Period sex is no big thing.
The first time I had sex on my period, I was with my first boyfriend, and I was really nervous (mainly because we were having sex at a friend’s mom’s house while she was out of town, and I was like OMG what if I get blood all over this couch?). But my boyfriend wasn’t squeamish about it at all, and since he wasn’t weirded out I didn’t let it weird me out. I think that any guy who is too grossed out by period blood to go anywhere near it is a loser, and I stand by that. And you know what? Some dudes will surprise you. I met a girl recently who told me she’s never been more turned on than when a guy pulled her tampon out by grabbing the string with his teeth. Not my thing, but hey! If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it’s that WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT!
OK then! These are all the things I wish someone had told me before I got my first period, and in the couple of years that followed. Most of all, I wish I had FOUND SOMEONE TO TALK TO! I had so many questions and fears about the whole business, and I think I would have been so much less self-conscious, and so much HAPPIER, if I had only had access to some friendly advice. So, talk to your friends! Talk to your cool older cousin or aunt or sister or your best friend’s cool mom or your OWN cool mom. Leave your questions—and your good advice—in the comments, because I certainly haven’t been able to cover all the bases here.
And finally, if all else fails, there is always Larry David: