25:98 QX

20:34 XD

47:79 GX

dear brothers: let’s talk about periods

May 1, 2022

25 min read

Before I get into the actual blog post, I’d like to preface it with the following:

  1. I am writing this article to educate not to patronize. I’m not in any way speaking from a pedestal, and I am only sharing whatever modest knowledge I was able to get my hands on through reading, talking with others, and personal experience (read: mistakes that I've made).

  2. No matter how much research I've done, I'll never be able to capture all the different and diverse experiences that ladies go through, nor will I ever be able to capture these experiences in their full essence.

  3. I don't affiliate myself with any philosophies, movements, or ideologies (I am Muslim though). I try to the best of my abilities to learn from as many perspectives as possible and formulate my own thoughts, which, like all opinions, will be flawed. Thus, this article will likely face criticisms from feminists and antifeminists alike, and I welcome both.

  4. As with any of my writings, I am always grateful for people who correct me factually, challenge me intellectually, or share any thoughts they have with me. So I implore you to do that.

  5. All of the sources I used to write this article are cited below.

Alright let’s jump into it!

Introduction

Sex and sexuality are complicated. This is partly due to cultural and religious taboos; partly due to meager sex education, whether it be in schools, homes, or religious institutions.

One of the most controversial and least talked about topics when it comes to sex education is 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁

Throughout the past few years, I've been having discussions about periods with many women in my life. Their experiences (which sadly have mostly been negative) have inspired me to write this piece. By doing so, I’d like to shed light on things I wish I’d learned earlier as a dude to spare them some of the gratuitous suffering.

Just like most things pertaining to the woman’s body, societies and cultures have managed to stigmatize everything that has to do with periods. This has rendered it almost impossible for women to publicly talk about periods without a middle-aged dude shouting “GROSS” or people shaming women for a completely normal bodily process.

But guess what! You wouldn't be here if it weren’t for periods! So let’s talk about that.

Throughout this article, I’d like to take us on a journey where we open our minds and hearts to a topic that has been tabooed for millennia and is causing half of the world’s population an inconvenience at best and straight-up suffering at worst.

My goal by the end of this blog post is for the reader to have a basic understanding of periods and hopefully unlearn any misconceptions that aren't scientifically- or religiously-based and purely exist in cultural taboos. By learning together about this, my ultimate goal is for us to have more compassion and empathy towards all the wonderful women in our lives.

Why am I writing about this as a dude?

Isn't it a little strange for a guy like me to write about this? After all, I never have nor will I ever experience any of this.

And that is precisely why I'm writing this article. Most of the articles on periods out there are written by women for women, which makes it difficult for some men to find the topic relevant to them. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Men’s attitudes and behaviors around periods affect everyone and they should be included in these discussions both to learn and educate.

And as men, we have a huge role to play in tearing down these toxic cultural stigmas. If women keep talking in a vacuum without any reception from men, nothing will change.

This is the article I wish I’d read earlier in my life to be a part of destigmatizing this issue and to prevent causing any added stress to ladies while on their periods.

Important glossary of terms about periods

Before we jump into the core of the article, it's important to learn about a few terms so we all are on the same page when I reference them throughout the article. Again, pretty much none of us has had proper sex education, so you shouldn't feel bad if you’ve never heard of any of these terms before.

Here are some of the most commonly used terms when talking about periods (source):

  • Cramps: throbbing or cramping pain (hence the name) in the lower abdomen brought on by a period. They can be mildly uncomfortable or so severe they make one vomit.

  • Feminine hygiene products: the euphemistic term for products used by women in and around their vagina. For periods these include sanitary napkins, pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and the like.

  • Menopause: the time in life after a woman has not had a period for at least one year. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51, although the range is quite large. Women who have their ovaries surgically removed instantly go into menopause.

  • Menses: another word for menstruation. Sometimes the term "menses" describes the blood rather than the entire process.

  • Menstrual cup: this small, flexible device made from latex or rubber is inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual blood.

  • Perimenopause: the years leading up to menopause when hormones begin to fluctuate. Women often experience symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats during perimenopause.

  • Period panties: this modern invention is underwear that can be worn during menstruation instead of or along with other menstrual products. The panties are designed to absorb blood and are washable after wearing.

  • Period poverty: lacking finances to buy tampons, sanitary pads, menstrual cups, or other products to contain menstrual blood. Period poverty exists in developed as well as in underdeveloped countries.

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): the most severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In addition to physical pain and mood changes, people with PMDD may also suffer extreme emotional symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, or anger.

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): a common condition that appears up to 10 days before your period and continues into the first few days of bleeding. Symptoms can be physical (headache, fatigue, bloating) or emotional (anxiety, irritability, insomnia) and can be relatively mild or fairly severe.

  • PMSing: a colloquial term used to describe a woman experiencing PMS

  • Spotting: light vaginal bleeding between periods. Spotting can be natural or caused by a disease. Wearing a light sanitary pad is usually sufficient to catch the small amount of blood involved.

  • Tampon: a menstrual product made of rayon or cotton (or a combination) that is inserted into the vagina. Tampons expand and catch blood before it has a chance to leave the body. They may come with an applicator or you may use your fingers to insert them. Tugging on the string at the end of the tampon removes it.

Throughout this article, I'll be using both the terms periods and menstruation interchangeably.

What are periods?

According to Medical News Today, “Menstruation is when the lining of the uterus sheds, breaking down into blood. This blood then leaves the body through the vagina. It is also known as a period.”

So having a period is a more colloquial term for a woman menstruating. It is called a period because of its cyclical and recurring nature.

The Menstrual Cycle

This is the most “science-y” part of the entire blog post. Although most of us have already studied this in high school bio, I'll explain it in layman’s terms and spare any unnecessary scientific details.

For my nerds reading this article, you can find a detailed explanation of the menstrual cycle here. If you enjoy watching videos more than reading, here’s a short video by Ted-Ed on the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual Phase (avg. 3-7 days)

  • The menstrual phase is the first stage of the menstrual cycle. This is when a woman gets her period.

  • It happens when an egg from the previous cycle doesn't get fertilized causing the shedding of the uterine lining.

  • When this happens, a woman releases a combination of blood, mucus, and tissue from her uterus through the vagina.

  • This phase lasts 3 to 7 days on average. Some women experience longer periods.

Follicular Phase (avg. 16 days)

  • The follicular phase starts on the first day of a period (so there is some overlap with the menstrual phase) and ends when a woman ovulates.

  • A hormone stimulates the ovary to produce around five to 20 follicles, each of which houses an immature egg.

  • Typically, only one follicle will mature into an egg, while the others die.

  • The growth of the follicles stimulates the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a possible pregnancy.

Ovulation Phase (24 hours)

  • Ovulation is when the ovary releases a mature egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to be fertilized by sperm.

  • This is the only time during the menstrual cycle when a woman can get pregnant.

  • The lifespan of an egg is only 24 hours, so unless it gets fertilized by a sperm, it will die.

  • Sperm cells can live for up to five days, which is why pregnancy can occur if a woman has sexual intercourse as many as five days prior to ovulation.

Luteal Phase (avg. 14 days)

  • After the follicle releases its egg, it changes into the corpus luteum.

  • The corpus luteum causes a rise in some hormones, which keep the uterine lining thick and ready for a fertilized egg to implant.

  • If pregnancy occurs, a hormone is released which helps keep the uterine lining thick.

  • If on the other hand, pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum will shrink.

  • This will cause a decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which leads to the onset of a period.

  • During this phase, if a woman doesn't get pregnant, she may experience PMS symptoms.

What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)? Is it the same as menstruating?

According to healthywomen.org, “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a wide range of recurrent symptoms that occur from several days to two weeks before your period. PMS affects up to 75 percent of women in their childbearing years, although only 20 percent to 40 percent have difficulties as a result.”

As described above, PMS happens to some women during the Luteal Phase of the menstrual cycle.

It is not the same as menstruating.

What do women experience throughout their menstrual cycle?

Throughout the menstrual cycle, women experience a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms vary widely from one woman to another and can be affected by external factors as well (e.g. birth control).

It's also important to note that women can experience any of these symptoms for reasons that have nothing to do with their cycle. So it can get really annoying when people project that the reason they are not feeling well, feeling moody, or feeling anxious is due to being on their periods.

During Menstruation (The Period)

Emotional and Behavioral

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability

Physical

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Bloating

  • Headaches

  • Tiredness

  • Lower back pain

  • Nausea

When PMSing

Emotional and Behavioral

  • Tension or anxiety

  • Depression

  • Crying

  • Mood swings

  • Inability to sleep

  • Not wanting to be around people

  • Feeling overwhelmed or out of control

  • Angry outbursts

  • Forgetting things

  • Mental clouding

Physical

  • Bloating

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Hunger

  • Headaches

  • Muscle aches

  • Joint pain

  • Swollen hands and feet

  • Pimples

  • Weight gain

  • Constipation or diarrhea

When experiencing PMDD

PMDD is the most severe form of PMS and its symptoms could interfere with a woman’s day-to-day activities including work, school, social life, and relationships. It affects up to 5% of women of childbearing age.

Now I have so many questions: why does it have to come down to her almost fainting (due to severe blood loss or otherwise) to feel okay about grabbing food outside during Ramadan days? Why can't we just let her take care of her body during a very vulnerable and weak state? In fact, why don't we provide her with the support needed during such a state? Why does she have to teach (or teach normal hours) when she’s experiencing severe pain and dizziness? Why is it that we all know that 100% of all menstruating women will get their periods at some point during Ramadan and still act like it's a shocking event? Why does she have to come up with excuses to do something that God himself gave her the green light to do?!

The more one reflects on these questions, the more one realizes the absurdity of the entire stigma!

How come I never notice any of this?

Gives you an idea of the pressures of societal and cultural stigma! On top of these excruciating pains and experiences, women have to go to great lengths to hide their symptoms because of how much stigma surrounds this issue. Many women would rather hide their pains than experience a guy being awkward about it at best or face undesirable consequences at work at worst. So if one isn't actively going out of their way to empathize or learn more about women’s experiences, sadly they do go unnoticed.

It’s important to note, however, that I'm not advocating for women to go around shouting “I'm on my period;” it's a very personal matter to many and based on my conversations with women, that's not really what they want. They just want to go about their days and take care of their bodies and needs without people reacting unreasonably.

What I'm getting at here is that our society makes it very difficult for menstruating women to just be; women have to actively hide what they’re going through, which often adds much uncalled-for stress.

And that is totally not okay.

What NOT to say to a woman on her period or PMSing

  • “Gross!” You’d be surprised how many people say that.

  • “How are you wearing white?”

  • “Are you on your period or something?”

  • “You look so tired.”

  • “Does it hurt?”

  • “Are you still bleeding?”

  • “What's wrong with you?”

  • “Are you sure you can eat all of that?”

  • “Well, this explains the past few days!”

  • “You're being too sensitive”

  • “Cramps don't hurt that bad?” I want you to take a moment to remember the last time you cramped while playing any sport and tell me what that felt like. Also, have you experienced period cramps before?

  • “It's only for a few days; that's not so bad” Just, please don't.

While many of these statements are straight-up distasteful, others may be said out of genuine care or an effort to be empathetic. If that were the case, try not to beat yourself up for it but also try to be mindful of what you say during an already stressful and painful time for the woman you're speaking with.

A general rule of thumb is if you have never and will never be in someone else’s shoes, try not to comment on how they are handling a certain situation unless they ask for your input (and trust me, in this case, they won't).

Instead here are a few things you can DO to be supportive.

How could we be supportive of our beloved women during their periods?

It's important to make it clear that none of these points assume any inherent fragility or weakness in women. If anything, the amount of physical and psychological pain they have to endure each month is mind-blowing to me. With that said, many of the symptoms of periods, PMS, or PMDD do warrant extra support from loved ones.

Most of the following points came straight out of or were confirmed by women in my life.

Educate yourself and others more about periods

The first step you can ever take to improve any situation is to educate yourself more about it. The good news is that by reading this article, you have already taken your first steps.

But it doesn't stop there.

This article is a decent starting point but you should take some time to educate yourself further about this. Again, as we’ve established, sex education is quite lacking and you’d be surprised how elementary our understanding of this issue is. So spending some time learning more about it and raising awareness will go miles.

I recently came across a Tweet by Adam Grant, which I cannot agree more with and think is quite relevant here.

Understand the needs of women closest to you when on their periods

This is an important one, so pay some extra attention here

As we have established, women experience periods differently from one another. Some like to relax on their worst day; others like to straight-up exercise. Don't try to predict or assume what works and don't get frustrated when your assumptions or expectations don't match her needs.

The simplest way to go about this is to ask three simple questions:

  1. How does [x] experience her period or PMS/PMDD? (This question is for you to figure out. You don't really need to verbalize it, and it can be easy to pick up on the physical or emotional pains that women in your life go through.)

  2. What do you do to feel better/ease period pains?

  3. How can I best support you?

Notice how none of these questions assume anything or project your own assumptions of how the other person experiences her period. Their sole purpose is understanding.

These questions will not only show your loved ones how much compassion you have towards them—which will mean the world to them—it will also give them the space to ask for and receive the very needed support throughout this period.

If you want to go the extra mile, keep checking in and communicating further. It doesn't hurt to ask every once in a while whether what you're doing is in line with their current needs, even if that was something that they had expressed before.

This all might seem like a lot of work, but if you think about it, it all takes a few minutes and will make so much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that some women might not be comfortable or want to share whatever they’re going through. If you get a sense that this is the case, try giving them the space they need.

Advocate for Systemic Changes

While this topic can be controversial and is a point of debate amongst many activists, I wholeheartedly support the decision of entitling women to time off every single month to take care of themselves when period pains become unbearable as we saw in the case of my teacher friend.


It warms my heart when I see—especially in capitalistic Western societies—companies actually caring enough about their female workforce to institute policies that humanize them.

Not only do changes like these directly improve women’s wellbeing, but they also help with raising awareness of women’s health and help with destigmatizing periods.

With policies like these, women can comfortably discuss taking about periods in the workspace, and managers—especially male ones—will be encouraged to learn more about periods in order to better support their female employees.

Win-Win.

The long-term consequences of implementing policies like these are way beyond the scope of this blog post, but the essence of what they are trying to do is what I'm applauding here.

Misconceptions about Islam and Menstruation

Since most of my audience comes from Muslim cultures, I’d like to end this article by dispelling some of the most prevalent misconceptions about Islam and menstruation, which as always are primarily patriarchal in nature and have little to no religious grounds.

I'm not a Muslim scholar, so I will refrain from sharing my own opinions here. Instead, I'll be sharing the opinions of a Muslim scholar that I personally have found to be reasonable regarding this topic in particular—Dr. Yasir Qadhi. The reason I find him reasonable is that he provides evidence from multiple Hadiths and viewpoints and cites his sources. He then synthesizes everything and lets viewers come up with a conclusion that they are comfortable with.

With all that said, I understand that there is no way we all will align with one scholar, so I highly encourage you to do your own research and stick to whatever evidence-based conclusions you feel comfortable with.

Why are women not allowed to pray or fast during menstruation?

On average, women lose 30-50mL of blood during menstruation. That is about 3 tablespoons of blood. In other words, a LOT of blood. That together with all the aforementioned symptoms takes a severe physical and emotional toll on women.

It is considered mercy from Allah that women are completely exempt from partaking in Islamic worship that may add to their distress. It is not because they are spiritually inferior like many people interpret this ruling to be. In fact, although women do not have to make up for their prayers, they still get spiritually rewarded for those prayers just as if they performed them.

Allah makes it crystal clear that men and women are spiritually equal in his eyes.

Okay so why not make it optional then?

First of all, it’s not up to us to make rulings up to our desires. But for the sake of this discussion suppose praying and fasting were indeed optional, what do you think the consequences of this will be?

Exactly! More shaming; more pressure.

There is no way you can expect two billion people to agree on how they practice their faith when major issues like this are left to our own desires. As we have mentioned multiple times, women experience periods vastly differently from one another. So if this ruling was left for us to decide, many women who don't experience as much difficulty during menstruation might pressure others (either explicitly or implicitly) to pray and fast “just like they do.”

You can imagine how toxic this can get in less educated and more ignorant societies. So it's actually mercy from Allah that there is a clear and unanimous ruling on performing certain worships for every single menstruating woman.

Why does Islam prohibit sex during menstruation?

In Surah Al-Baqara verse 222, the Holy Quran says:وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًۭى فَٱعْتَزِلُوا۟ ٱلنِّسَآءَ فِى ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ ٢٢٢

They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ about menstruation. Say, “Beware of its harm! So keep away, and do not have intercourse with your wives during their monthly cycles until they are purified. When they purify themselves, then you may approach them in the manner specified by Allah. Surely Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”— Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

This is one of the often misunderstood verses in the Quran primarily because of how the translation of the ayah makes it seem like women are to be avoided because they are impure.

This is not really the case. The consensus of Muslim scholars is very clear that women are not impure, but they are in a state of ritual impurity, and there’s a huge difference here.

In Islam, the discharge of certain bodily fluids (e.g. semen in the case of males or menses in the case of females) puts them in a state of ritual impurity. This means that unless they perform a ritual purification (similar to bathing) called Ghusl, Muslims cannot really perform any acts of worship, such as touching the Quran and praying.

It is also reported in the Sahih that `A'ishah (RA) said, "While having the menses, I used to eat from a piece of meat and give it to the Prophet who would eat from the same place I ate from. I used to have sips of a drink and would then give the cup to the Prophet who would place his mouth where I placed my mouth."

This is another clear-cut proof that women aren't impure when they are menstruating.

Now the reason the Quran says “beware of its harm” is because during menstruation it is physically harmful for women to have penetrative sex.

According to Dr. Muhiy al-Deen al-`Alabi “It is essential to refrain from having intercourse with a menstruating woman because doing so leads to an increase in the flow of menstrual blood because the veins of the uterus are congested and prone to rupture and get damaged easily. Also, the wall of the vagina is susceptible to injury, so the likelihood of inflammation is increased, which leads to inflammation in the uterus and the man’s penis, because of the irritation that occurs during intercourse.”

So does this mean that couples cannot engage in any sexual activity while a woman is on her period?

Nope, this is also another major misconception!

Married Muslim couples are actually allowed to engage in every permissible sexual activity except for vaginal intercourse due to the aforementioned harms.

According to a Saheeh Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said: "Do everything else apart from sexual intercourse (with your wives)". [Reported by Muslim.]

وَعَنْ أَنَسٍ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- { أَنَّ اَلْيَهُودَ كَانُوا إِذَا حَاضَتْ اَلْمَرْأَةُ لَمْ يُؤَاكِلُوهَا, فَقَالَ اَلنَّبِيُّ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏- "اِصْنَعُوا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا اَلنِّكَاحَ" } رَوَاهُ مُسْلِم ٌ 1

This video by Dr. Yasir Qadhi provides a good summary and explanation of all of this (22:37–28:42)


Are women not allowed to touch or recite the Quran during menstruation?

This topic in particular has been a subject of much debate and disagreement, so I want to share a video by Dr. Yasir Qadhi where he discusses what major schools of thought have agreed on and what the differences in opinions are.


Feel free to watch it and arrive at a conclusion that makes you most comfortable.

Basic etiquettes for treating menstruating Muslim women

Etiquettes around Ramadan and Fasting

During Ramadan, please don't make life awkward for women in your household or strangers.

If any woman in your household is on her period during Ramadan, just make light of it and make it comfortable for her to eat and drink as she normally would if she weren’t fasting because guess what? SHE ISN'T FASTING! She doesn't have to sneak around and grab a quick bite before someone “catches her redhanded.” Better yet, prepare food for her and take care of her needs during those days. After all, they cook delicious meals for you all Ramadan long, so it's really the least you can do.

If you spot a Muslim woman (e.g. a hijabi or someone you know is a practicing Muslim) eating or drinking during the day in public, don't stare at her in utter disbelief. First, it's absolutely none of your business how others practice their faith. Second, 100% of all menstruating women will have a few days during every single Ramadan when they’ll have to break their fast (unless they get irregular periods but that's beside the point). So please just mind your own business and don't intensify the stress they're already experiencing while on their period because you are being inconsiderate.

Etiquettes around Praying

In public gatherings—such as family and friends gatherings—don't ask women whether they’d like to join the jama’a (group) prayer. They clearly know it's happening and will get up and pray if they can. Whether or not anyone prays is none of your business, to begin with, and putting someone on the spot is not أمر بالمعروف (enjoining the good).

General Etiquettes

  1. If you're a husband, don't treat your wife like she’s “impure” while on her period. She’s not. If you think she is, watch the above video by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi.

  2. If you're a father, don't make it weird for your daughter to talk about periods with you and be a source of comfort for her.

  3. If you're a brother, try to be extra gentle with your sister when you notice she’s on her period.

  4. Avoid any action that might be considered period shaming as it causes women so much suffering.


The world is already making it hard for our dear women to navigate this every single month, so I guess the least we could do is to make life easier for them when they're in the comfort of their own homes.

Conclusion

To this day, I still am learning more about periods and women’s experiences with them and I still make many of the mistakes I mentioned above. I try to be as mindful as I possibly can, but sometimes I unintentionally say something that I should not have said or act in a way that I shouldn't have acted. What is important here is to identify those moments, learn from them, and make sure we are more mindful moving forward.

Dismantling deeply ingrained societal and cultural stigmas like this takes a lot of time and effort. So let’s make sure we educate ourselves and pass on our learnings. That’s the only way things will get better.

If you have learned anything from this article, I would appreciate it if you share it with others whom you think will also benefit from it. Let’s keep the cycle of learning going!

Sources

dear brothers: let’s talk about periods

May 1, 2022

25 min read

Before I get into the actual blog post, I’d like to preface it with the following:

  1. I am writing this article to educate not to patronize. I’m not in any way speaking from a pedestal, and I am only sharing whatever modest knowledge I was able to get my hands on through reading, talking with others, and personal experience (read: mistakes that I've made).

  2. No matter how much research I've done, I'll never be able to capture all the different and diverse experiences that ladies go through, nor will I ever be able to capture these experiences in their full essence.

  3. I don't affiliate myself with any philosophies, movements, or ideologies (I am Muslim though). I try to the best of my abilities to learn from as many perspectives as possible and formulate my own thoughts, which, like all opinions, will be flawed. Thus, this article will likely face criticisms from feminists and antifeminists alike, and I welcome both.

  4. As with any of my writings, I am always grateful for people who correct me factually, challenge me intellectually, or share any thoughts they have with me. So I implore you to do that.

  5. All of the sources I used to write this article are cited below.

Alright let’s jump into it!

Introduction

Sex and sexuality are complicated. This is partly due to cultural and religious taboos; partly due to meager sex education, whether it be in schools, homes, or religious institutions.

One of the most controversial and least talked about topics when it comes to sex education is 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁

Throughout the past few years, I've been having discussions about periods with many women in my life. Their experiences (which sadly have mostly been negative) have inspired me to write this piece. By doing so, I’d like to shed light on things I wish I’d learned earlier as a dude to spare them some of the gratuitous suffering.

Just like most things pertaining to the woman’s body, societies and cultures have managed to stigmatize everything that has to do with periods. This has rendered it almost impossible for women to publicly talk about periods without a middle-aged dude shouting “GROSS” or people shaming women for a completely normal bodily process.

But guess what! You wouldn't be here if it weren’t for periods! So let’s talk about that.

Throughout this article, I’d like to take us on a journey where we open our minds and hearts to a topic that has been tabooed for millennia and is causing half of the world’s population an inconvenience at best and straight-up suffering at worst.

My goal by the end of this blog post is for the reader to have a basic understanding of periods and hopefully unlearn any misconceptions that aren't scientifically- or religiously-based and purely exist in cultural taboos. By learning together about this, my ultimate goal is for us to have more compassion and empathy towards all the wonderful women in our lives.

Why am I writing about this as a dude?

Isn't it a little strange for a guy like me to write about this? After all, I never have nor will I ever experience any of this.

And that is precisely why I'm writing this article. Most of the articles on periods out there are written by women for women, which makes it difficult for some men to find the topic relevant to them. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Men’s attitudes and behaviors around periods affect everyone and they should be included in these discussions both to learn and educate.

And as men, we have a huge role to play in tearing down these toxic cultural stigmas. If women keep talking in a vacuum without any reception from men, nothing will change.

This is the article I wish I’d read earlier in my life to be a part of destigmatizing this issue and to prevent causing any added stress to ladies while on their periods.

Important glossary of terms about periods

Before we jump into the core of the article, it's important to learn about a few terms so we all are on the same page when I reference them throughout the article. Again, pretty much none of us has had proper sex education, so you shouldn't feel bad if you’ve never heard of any of these terms before.

Here are some of the most commonly used terms when talking about periods (source):

  • Cramps: throbbing or cramping pain (hence the name) in the lower abdomen brought on by a period. They can be mildly uncomfortable or so severe they make one vomit.

  • Feminine hygiene products: the euphemistic term for products used by women in and around their vagina. For periods these include sanitary napkins, pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and the like.

  • Menopause: the time in life after a woman has not had a period for at least one year. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51, although the range is quite large. Women who have their ovaries surgically removed instantly go into menopause.

  • Menses: another word for menstruation. Sometimes the term "menses" describes the blood rather than the entire process.

  • Menstrual cup: this small, flexible device made from latex or rubber is inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual blood.

  • Perimenopause: the years leading up to menopause when hormones begin to fluctuate. Women often experience symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats during perimenopause.

  • Period panties: this modern invention is underwear that can be worn during menstruation instead of or along with other menstrual products. The panties are designed to absorb blood and are washable after wearing.

  • Period poverty: lacking finances to buy tampons, sanitary pads, menstrual cups, or other products to contain menstrual blood. Period poverty exists in developed as well as in underdeveloped countries.

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): the most severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In addition to physical pain and mood changes, people with PMDD may also suffer extreme emotional symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, or anger.

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): a common condition that appears up to 10 days before your period and continues into the first few days of bleeding. Symptoms can be physical (headache, fatigue, bloating) or emotional (anxiety, irritability, insomnia) and can be relatively mild or fairly severe.

  • PMSing: a colloquial term used to describe a woman experiencing PMS

  • Spotting: light vaginal bleeding between periods. Spotting can be natural or caused by a disease. Wearing a light sanitary pad is usually sufficient to catch the small amount of blood involved.

  • Tampon: a menstrual product made of rayon or cotton (or a combination) that is inserted into the vagina. Tampons expand and catch blood before it has a chance to leave the body. They may come with an applicator or you may use your fingers to insert them. Tugging on the string at the end of the tampon removes it.

Throughout this article, I'll be using both the terms periods and menstruation interchangeably.

What are periods?

According to Medical News Today, “Menstruation is when the lining of the uterus sheds, breaking down into blood. This blood then leaves the body through the vagina. It is also known as a period.”

So having a period is a more colloquial term for a woman menstruating. It is called a period because of its cyclical and recurring nature.

The Menstrual Cycle

This is the most “science-y” part of the entire blog post. Although most of us have already studied this in high school bio, I'll explain it in layman’s terms and spare any unnecessary scientific details.

For my nerds reading this article, you can find a detailed explanation of the menstrual cycle here. If you enjoy watching videos more than reading, here’s a short video by Ted-Ed on the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual Phase (avg. 3-7 days)

  • The menstrual phase is the first stage of the menstrual cycle. This is when a woman gets her period.

  • It happens when an egg from the previous cycle doesn't get fertilized causing the shedding of the uterine lining.

  • When this happens, a woman releases a combination of blood, mucus, and tissue from her uterus through the vagina.

  • This phase lasts 3 to 7 days on average. Some women experience longer periods.

Follicular Phase (avg. 16 days)

  • The follicular phase starts on the first day of a period (so there is some overlap with the menstrual phase) and ends when a woman ovulates.

  • A hormone stimulates the ovary to produce around five to 20 follicles, each of which houses an immature egg.

  • Typically, only one follicle will mature into an egg, while the others die.

  • The growth of the follicles stimulates the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a possible pregnancy.

Ovulation Phase (24 hours)

  • Ovulation is when the ovary releases a mature egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to be fertilized by sperm.

  • This is the only time during the menstrual cycle when a woman can get pregnant.

  • The lifespan of an egg is only 24 hours, so unless it gets fertilized by a sperm, it will die.

  • Sperm cells can live for up to five days, which is why pregnancy can occur if a woman has sexual intercourse as many as five days prior to ovulation.

Luteal Phase (avg. 14 days)

  • After the follicle releases its egg, it changes into the corpus luteum.

  • The corpus luteum causes a rise in some hormones, which keep the uterine lining thick and ready for a fertilized egg to implant.

  • If pregnancy occurs, a hormone is released which helps keep the uterine lining thick.

  • If on the other hand, pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum will shrink.

  • This will cause a decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which leads to the onset of a period.

  • During this phase, if a woman doesn't get pregnant, she may experience PMS symptoms.

What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)? Is it the same as menstruating?

According to healthywomen.org, “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a wide range of recurrent symptoms that occur from several days to two weeks before your period. PMS affects up to 75 percent of women in their childbearing years, although only 20 percent to 40 percent have difficulties as a result.”

As described above, PMS happens to some women during the Luteal Phase of the menstrual cycle.

It is not the same as menstruating.

What do women experience throughout their menstrual cycle?

Throughout the menstrual cycle, women experience a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms vary widely from one woman to another and can be affected by external factors as well (e.g. birth control).

It's also important to note that women can experience any of these symptoms for reasons that have nothing to do with their cycle. So it can get really annoying when people project that the reason they are not feeling well, feeling moody, or feeling anxious is due to being on their periods.

During Menstruation (The Period)

Emotional and Behavioral

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability

Physical

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Bloating

  • Headaches

  • Tiredness

  • Lower back pain

  • Nausea

When PMSing

Emotional and Behavioral

  • Tension or anxiety

  • Depression

  • Crying

  • Mood swings

  • Inability to sleep

  • Not wanting to be around people

  • Feeling overwhelmed or out of control

  • Angry outbursts

  • Forgetting things

  • Mental clouding

Physical

  • Bloating

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Hunger

  • Headaches

  • Muscle aches

  • Joint pain

  • Swollen hands and feet

  • Pimples

  • Weight gain

  • Constipation or diarrhea

When experiencing PMDD

PMDD is the most severe form of PMS and its symptoms could interfere with a woman’s day-to-day activities including work, school, social life, and relationships. It affects up to 5% of women of childbearing age.

Now I have so many questions: why does it have to come down to her almost fainting (due to severe blood loss or otherwise) to feel okay about grabbing food outside during Ramadan days? Why can't we just let her take care of her body during a very vulnerable and weak state? In fact, why don't we provide her with the support needed during such a state? Why does she have to teach (or teach normal hours) when she’s experiencing severe pain and dizziness? Why is it that we all know that 100% of all menstruating women will get their periods at some point during Ramadan and still act like it's a shocking event? Why does she have to come up with excuses to do something that God himself gave her the green light to do?!

The more one reflects on these questions, the more one realizes the absurdity of the entire stigma!

How come I never notice any of this?

Gives you an idea of the pressures of societal and cultural stigma! On top of these excruciating pains and experiences, women have to go to great lengths to hide their symptoms because of how much stigma surrounds this issue. Many women would rather hide their pains than experience a guy being awkward about it at best or face undesirable consequences at work at worst. So if one isn't actively going out of their way to empathize or learn more about women’s experiences, sadly they do go unnoticed.

It’s important to note, however, that I'm not advocating for women to go around shouting “I'm on my period;” it's a very personal matter to many and based on my conversations with women, that's not really what they want. They just want to go about their days and take care of their bodies and needs without people reacting unreasonably.

What I'm getting at here is that our society makes it very difficult for menstruating women to just be; women have to actively hide what they’re going through, which often adds much uncalled-for stress.

And that is totally not okay.

What NOT to say to a woman on her period or PMSing

  • “Gross!” You’d be surprised how many people say that.

  • “How are you wearing white?”

  • “Are you on your period or something?”

  • “You look so tired.”

  • “Does it hurt?”

  • “Are you still bleeding?”

  • “What's wrong with you?”

  • “Are you sure you can eat all of that?”

  • “Well, this explains the past few days!”

  • “You're being too sensitive”

  • “Cramps don't hurt that bad?” I want you to take a moment to remember the last time you cramped while playing any sport and tell me what that felt like. Also, have you experienced period cramps before?

  • “It's only for a few days; that's not so bad” Just, please don't.

While many of these statements are straight-up distasteful, others may be said out of genuine care or an effort to be empathetic. If that were the case, try not to beat yourself up for it but also try to be mindful of what you say during an already stressful and painful time for the woman you're speaking with.

A general rule of thumb is if you have never and will never be in someone else’s shoes, try not to comment on how they are handling a certain situation unless they ask for your input (and trust me, in this case, they won't).

Instead here are a few things you can DO to be supportive.

How could we be supportive of our beloved women during their periods?

It's important to make it clear that none of these points assume any inherent fragility or weakness in women. If anything, the amount of physical and psychological pain they have to endure each month is mind-blowing to me. With that said, many of the symptoms of periods, PMS, or PMDD do warrant extra support from loved ones.

Most of the following points came straight out of or were confirmed by women in my life.

Educate yourself and others more about periods

The first step you can ever take to improve any situation is to educate yourself more about it. The good news is that by reading this article, you have already taken your first steps.

But it doesn't stop there.

This article is a decent starting point but you should take some time to educate yourself further about this. Again, as we’ve established, sex education is quite lacking and you’d be surprised how elementary our understanding of this issue is. So spending some time learning more about it and raising awareness will go miles.

I recently came across a Tweet by Adam Grant, which I cannot agree more with and think is quite relevant here.

Understand the needs of women closest to you when on their periods

This is an important one, so pay some extra attention here

As we have established, women experience periods differently from one another. Some like to relax on their worst day; others like to straight-up exercise. Don't try to predict or assume what works and don't get frustrated when your assumptions or expectations don't match her needs.

The simplest way to go about this is to ask three simple questions:

  1. How does [x] experience her period or PMS/PMDD? (This question is for you to figure out. You don't really need to verbalize it, and it can be easy to pick up on the physical or emotional pains that women in your life go through.)

  2. What do you do to feel better/ease period pains?

  3. How can I best support you?

Notice how none of these questions assume anything or project your own assumptions of how the other person experiences her period. Their sole purpose is understanding.

These questions will not only show your loved ones how much compassion you have towards them—which will mean the world to them—it will also give them the space to ask for and receive the very needed support throughout this period.

If you want to go the extra mile, keep checking in and communicating further. It doesn't hurt to ask every once in a while whether what you're doing is in line with their current needs, even if that was something that they had expressed before.

This all might seem like a lot of work, but if you think about it, it all takes a few minutes and will make so much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that some women might not be comfortable or want to share whatever they’re going through. If you get a sense that this is the case, try giving them the space they need.

Advocate for Systemic Changes

While this topic can be controversial and is a point of debate amongst many activists, I wholeheartedly support the decision of entitling women to time off every single month to take care of themselves when period pains become unbearable as we saw in the case of my teacher friend.


It warms my heart when I see—especially in capitalistic Western societies—companies actually caring enough about their female workforce to institute policies that humanize them.

Not only do changes like these directly improve women’s wellbeing, but they also help with raising awareness of women’s health and help with destigmatizing periods.

With policies like these, women can comfortably discuss taking about periods in the workspace, and managers—especially male ones—will be encouraged to learn more about periods in order to better support their female employees.

Win-Win.

The long-term consequences of implementing policies like these are way beyond the scope of this blog post, but the essence of what they are trying to do is what I'm applauding here.

Misconceptions about Islam and Menstruation

Since most of my audience comes from Muslim cultures, I’d like to end this article by dispelling some of the most prevalent misconceptions about Islam and menstruation, which as always are primarily patriarchal in nature and have little to no religious grounds.

I'm not a Muslim scholar, so I will refrain from sharing my own opinions here. Instead, I'll be sharing the opinions of a Muslim scholar that I personally have found to be reasonable regarding this topic in particular—Dr. Yasir Qadhi. The reason I find him reasonable is that he provides evidence from multiple Hadiths and viewpoints and cites his sources. He then synthesizes everything and lets viewers come up with a conclusion that they are comfortable with.

With all that said, I understand that there is no way we all will align with one scholar, so I highly encourage you to do your own research and stick to whatever evidence-based conclusions you feel comfortable with.

Why are women not allowed to pray or fast during menstruation?

On average, women lose 30-50mL of blood during menstruation. That is about 3 tablespoons of blood. In other words, a LOT of blood. That together with all the aforementioned symptoms takes a severe physical and emotional toll on women.

It is considered mercy from Allah that women are completely exempt from partaking in Islamic worship that may add to their distress. It is not because they are spiritually inferior like many people interpret this ruling to be. In fact, although women do not have to make up for their prayers, they still get spiritually rewarded for those prayers just as if they performed them.

Allah makes it crystal clear that men and women are spiritually equal in his eyes.

Okay so why not make it optional then?

First of all, it’s not up to us to make rulings up to our desires. But for the sake of this discussion suppose praying and fasting were indeed optional, what do you think the consequences of this will be?

Exactly! More shaming; more pressure.

There is no way you can expect two billion people to agree on how they practice their faith when major issues like this are left to our own desires. As we have mentioned multiple times, women experience periods vastly differently from one another. So if this ruling was left for us to decide, many women who don't experience as much difficulty during menstruation might pressure others (either explicitly or implicitly) to pray and fast “just like they do.”

You can imagine how toxic this can get in less educated and more ignorant societies. So it's actually mercy from Allah that there is a clear and unanimous ruling on performing certain worships for every single menstruating woman.

Why does Islam prohibit sex during menstruation?

In Surah Al-Baqara verse 222, the Holy Quran says:وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًۭى فَٱعْتَزِلُوا۟ ٱلنِّسَآءَ فِى ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ ٢٢٢

They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ about menstruation. Say, “Beware of its harm! So keep away, and do not have intercourse with your wives during their monthly cycles until they are purified. When they purify themselves, then you may approach them in the manner specified by Allah. Surely Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”— Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

This is one of the often misunderstood verses in the Quran primarily because of how the translation of the ayah makes it seem like women are to be avoided because they are impure.

This is not really the case. The consensus of Muslim scholars is very clear that women are not impure, but they are in a state of ritual impurity, and there’s a huge difference here.

In Islam, the discharge of certain bodily fluids (e.g. semen in the case of males or menses in the case of females) puts them in a state of ritual impurity. This means that unless they perform a ritual purification (similar to bathing) called Ghusl, Muslims cannot really perform any acts of worship, such as touching the Quran and praying.

It is also reported in the Sahih that `A'ishah (RA) said, "While having the menses, I used to eat from a piece of meat and give it to the Prophet who would eat from the same place I ate from. I used to have sips of a drink and would then give the cup to the Prophet who would place his mouth where I placed my mouth."

This is another clear-cut proof that women aren't impure when they are menstruating.

Now the reason the Quran says “beware of its harm” is because during menstruation it is physically harmful for women to have penetrative sex.

According to Dr. Muhiy al-Deen al-`Alabi “It is essential to refrain from having intercourse with a menstruating woman because doing so leads to an increase in the flow of menstrual blood because the veins of the uterus are congested and prone to rupture and get damaged easily. Also, the wall of the vagina is susceptible to injury, so the likelihood of inflammation is increased, which leads to inflammation in the uterus and the man’s penis, because of the irritation that occurs during intercourse.”

So does this mean that couples cannot engage in any sexual activity while a woman is on her period?

Nope, this is also another major misconception!

Married Muslim couples are actually allowed to engage in every permissible sexual activity except for vaginal intercourse due to the aforementioned harms.

According to a Saheeh Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said: "Do everything else apart from sexual intercourse (with your wives)". [Reported by Muslim.]

وَعَنْ أَنَسٍ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- { أَنَّ اَلْيَهُودَ كَانُوا إِذَا حَاضَتْ اَلْمَرْأَةُ لَمْ يُؤَاكِلُوهَا, فَقَالَ اَلنَّبِيُّ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏- "اِصْنَعُوا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا اَلنِّكَاحَ" } رَوَاهُ مُسْلِم ٌ 1

This video by Dr. Yasir Qadhi provides a good summary and explanation of all of this (22:37–28:42)


Are women not allowed to touch or recite the Quran during menstruation?

This topic in particular has been a subject of much debate and disagreement, so I want to share a video by Dr. Yasir Qadhi where he discusses what major schools of thought have agreed on and what the differences in opinions are.


Feel free to watch it and arrive at a conclusion that makes you most comfortable.

Basic etiquettes for treating menstruating Muslim women

Etiquettes around Ramadan and Fasting

During Ramadan, please don't make life awkward for women in your household or strangers.

If any woman in your household is on her period during Ramadan, just make light of it and make it comfortable for her to eat and drink as she normally would if she weren’t fasting because guess what? SHE ISN'T FASTING! She doesn't have to sneak around and grab a quick bite before someone “catches her redhanded.” Better yet, prepare food for her and take care of her needs during those days. After all, they cook delicious meals for you all Ramadan long, so it's really the least you can do.

If you spot a Muslim woman (e.g. a hijabi or someone you know is a practicing Muslim) eating or drinking during the day in public, don't stare at her in utter disbelief. First, it's absolutely none of your business how others practice their faith. Second, 100% of all menstruating women will have a few days during every single Ramadan when they’ll have to break their fast (unless they get irregular periods but that's beside the point). So please just mind your own business and don't intensify the stress they're already experiencing while on their period because you are being inconsiderate.

Etiquettes around Praying

In public gatherings—such as family and friends gatherings—don't ask women whether they’d like to join the jama’a (group) prayer. They clearly know it's happening and will get up and pray if they can. Whether or not anyone prays is none of your business, to begin with, and putting someone on the spot is not أمر بالمعروف (enjoining the good).

General Etiquettes

  1. If you're a husband, don't treat your wife like she’s “impure” while on her period. She’s not. If you think she is, watch the above video by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi.

  2. If you're a father, don't make it weird for your daughter to talk about periods with you and be a source of comfort for her.

  3. If you're a brother, try to be extra gentle with your sister when you notice she’s on her period.

  4. Avoid any action that might be considered period shaming as it causes women so much suffering.


The world is already making it hard for our dear women to navigate this every single month, so I guess the least we could do is to make life easier for them when they're in the comfort of their own homes.

Conclusion

To this day, I still am learning more about periods and women’s experiences with them and I still make many of the mistakes I mentioned above. I try to be as mindful as I possibly can, but sometimes I unintentionally say something that I should not have said or act in a way that I shouldn't have acted. What is important here is to identify those moments, learn from them, and make sure we are more mindful moving forward.

Dismantling deeply ingrained societal and cultural stigmas like this takes a lot of time and effort. So let’s make sure we educate ourselves and pass on our learnings. That’s the only way things will get better.

If you have learned anything from this article, I would appreciate it if you share it with others whom you think will also benefit from it. Let’s keep the cycle of learning going!

Sources

dear brothers: let’s talk about periods

May 1, 2022

25 min read

Before I get into the actual blog post, I’d like to preface it with the following:

  1. I am writing this article to educate not to patronize. I’m not in any way speaking from a pedestal, and I am only sharing whatever modest knowledge I was able to get my hands on through reading, talking with others, and personal experience (read: mistakes that I've made).

  2. No matter how much research I've done, I'll never be able to capture all the different and diverse experiences that ladies go through, nor will I ever be able to capture these experiences in their full essence.

  3. I don't affiliate myself with any philosophies, movements, or ideologies (I am Muslim though). I try to the best of my abilities to learn from as many perspectives as possible and formulate my own thoughts, which, like all opinions, will be flawed. Thus, this article will likely face criticisms from feminists and antifeminists alike, and I welcome both.

  4. As with any of my writings, I am always grateful for people who correct me factually, challenge me intellectually, or share any thoughts they have with me. So I implore you to do that.

  5. All of the sources I used to write this article are cited below.

Alright let’s jump into it!

Introduction

Sex and sexuality are complicated. This is partly due to cultural and religious taboos; partly due to meager sex education, whether it be in schools, homes, or religious institutions.

One of the most controversial and least talked about topics when it comes to sex education is 🥁🥁🥁🥁🥁

Throughout the past few years, I've been having discussions about periods with many women in my life. Their experiences (which sadly have mostly been negative) have inspired me to write this piece. By doing so, I’d like to shed light on things I wish I’d learned earlier as a dude to spare them some of the gratuitous suffering.

Just like most things pertaining to the woman’s body, societies and cultures have managed to stigmatize everything that has to do with periods. This has rendered it almost impossible for women to publicly talk about periods without a middle-aged dude shouting “GROSS” or people shaming women for a completely normal bodily process.

But guess what! You wouldn't be here if it weren’t for periods! So let’s talk about that.

Throughout this article, I’d like to take us on a journey where we open our minds and hearts to a topic that has been tabooed for millennia and is causing half of the world’s population an inconvenience at best and straight-up suffering at worst.

My goal by the end of this blog post is for the reader to have a basic understanding of periods and hopefully unlearn any misconceptions that aren't scientifically- or religiously-based and purely exist in cultural taboos. By learning together about this, my ultimate goal is for us to have more compassion and empathy towards all the wonderful women in our lives.

Why am I writing about this as a dude?

Isn't it a little strange for a guy like me to write about this? After all, I never have nor will I ever experience any of this.

And that is precisely why I'm writing this article. Most of the articles on periods out there are written by women for women, which makes it difficult for some men to find the topic relevant to them. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Men’s attitudes and behaviors around periods affect everyone and they should be included in these discussions both to learn and educate.

And as men, we have a huge role to play in tearing down these toxic cultural stigmas. If women keep talking in a vacuum without any reception from men, nothing will change.

This is the article I wish I’d read earlier in my life to be a part of destigmatizing this issue and to prevent causing any added stress to ladies while on their periods.

Important glossary of terms about periods

Before we jump into the core of the article, it's important to learn about a few terms so we all are on the same page when I reference them throughout the article. Again, pretty much none of us has had proper sex education, so you shouldn't feel bad if you’ve never heard of any of these terms before.

Here are some of the most commonly used terms when talking about periods (source):

  • Cramps: throbbing or cramping pain (hence the name) in the lower abdomen brought on by a period. They can be mildly uncomfortable or so severe they make one vomit.

  • Feminine hygiene products: the euphemistic term for products used by women in and around their vagina. For periods these include sanitary napkins, pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and the like.

  • Menopause: the time in life after a woman has not had a period for at least one year. The average age of menopause in the United States is 51, although the range is quite large. Women who have their ovaries surgically removed instantly go into menopause.

  • Menses: another word for menstruation. Sometimes the term "menses" describes the blood rather than the entire process.

  • Menstrual cup: this small, flexible device made from latex or rubber is inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual blood.

  • Perimenopause: the years leading up to menopause when hormones begin to fluctuate. Women often experience symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats during perimenopause.

  • Period panties: this modern invention is underwear that can be worn during menstruation instead of or along with other menstrual products. The panties are designed to absorb blood and are washable after wearing.

  • Period poverty: lacking finances to buy tampons, sanitary pads, menstrual cups, or other products to contain menstrual blood. Period poverty exists in developed as well as in underdeveloped countries.

  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): the most severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In addition to physical pain and mood changes, people with PMDD may also suffer extreme emotional symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, or anger.

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): a common condition that appears up to 10 days before your period and continues into the first few days of bleeding. Symptoms can be physical (headache, fatigue, bloating) or emotional (anxiety, irritability, insomnia) and can be relatively mild or fairly severe.

  • PMSing: a colloquial term used to describe a woman experiencing PMS

  • Spotting: light vaginal bleeding between periods. Spotting can be natural or caused by a disease. Wearing a light sanitary pad is usually sufficient to catch the small amount of blood involved.

  • Tampon: a menstrual product made of rayon or cotton (or a combination) that is inserted into the vagina. Tampons expand and catch blood before it has a chance to leave the body. They may come with an applicator or you may use your fingers to insert them. Tugging on the string at the end of the tampon removes it.

Throughout this article, I'll be using both the terms periods and menstruation interchangeably.

What are periods?

According to Medical News Today, “Menstruation is when the lining of the uterus sheds, breaking down into blood. This blood then leaves the body through the vagina. It is also known as a period.”

So having a period is a more colloquial term for a woman menstruating. It is called a period because of its cyclical and recurring nature.

The Menstrual Cycle

This is the most “science-y” part of the entire blog post. Although most of us have already studied this in high school bio, I'll explain it in layman’s terms and spare any unnecessary scientific details.

For my nerds reading this article, you can find a detailed explanation of the menstrual cycle here. If you enjoy watching videos more than reading, here’s a short video by Ted-Ed on the menstrual cycle.

Menstrual Phase (avg. 3-7 days)

  • The menstrual phase is the first stage of the menstrual cycle. This is when a woman gets her period.

  • It happens when an egg from the previous cycle doesn't get fertilized causing the shedding of the uterine lining.

  • When this happens, a woman releases a combination of blood, mucus, and tissue from her uterus through the vagina.

  • This phase lasts 3 to 7 days on average. Some women experience longer periods.

Follicular Phase (avg. 16 days)

  • The follicular phase starts on the first day of a period (so there is some overlap with the menstrual phase) and ends when a woman ovulates.

  • A hormone stimulates the ovary to produce around five to 20 follicles, each of which houses an immature egg.

  • Typically, only one follicle will mature into an egg, while the others die.

  • The growth of the follicles stimulates the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a possible pregnancy.

Ovulation Phase (24 hours)

  • Ovulation is when the ovary releases a mature egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to be fertilized by sperm.

  • This is the only time during the menstrual cycle when a woman can get pregnant.

  • The lifespan of an egg is only 24 hours, so unless it gets fertilized by a sperm, it will die.

  • Sperm cells can live for up to five days, which is why pregnancy can occur if a woman has sexual intercourse as many as five days prior to ovulation.

Luteal Phase (avg. 14 days)

  • After the follicle releases its egg, it changes into the corpus luteum.

  • The corpus luteum causes a rise in some hormones, which keep the uterine lining thick and ready for a fertilized egg to implant.

  • If pregnancy occurs, a hormone is released which helps keep the uterine lining thick.

  • If on the other hand, pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum will shrink.

  • This will cause a decrease in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which leads to the onset of a period.

  • During this phase, if a woman doesn't get pregnant, she may experience PMS symptoms.

What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)? Is it the same as menstruating?

According to healthywomen.org, “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) describes a wide range of recurrent symptoms that occur from several days to two weeks before your period. PMS affects up to 75 percent of women in their childbearing years, although only 20 percent to 40 percent have difficulties as a result.”

As described above, PMS happens to some women during the Luteal Phase of the menstrual cycle.

It is not the same as menstruating.

What do women experience throughout their menstrual cycle?

Throughout the menstrual cycle, women experience a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. These symptoms vary widely from one woman to another and can be affected by external factors as well (e.g. birth control).

It's also important to note that women can experience any of these symptoms for reasons that have nothing to do with their cycle. So it can get really annoying when people project that the reason they are not feeling well, feeling moody, or feeling anxious is due to being on their periods.

During Menstruation (The Period)

Emotional and Behavioral

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability

Physical

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Bloating

  • Headaches

  • Tiredness

  • Lower back pain

  • Nausea

When PMSing

Emotional and Behavioral

  • Tension or anxiety

  • Depression

  • Crying

  • Mood swings

  • Inability to sleep

  • Not wanting to be around people

  • Feeling overwhelmed or out of control

  • Angry outbursts

  • Forgetting things

  • Mental clouding

Physical

  • Bloating

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Hunger

  • Headaches

  • Muscle aches

  • Joint pain

  • Swollen hands and feet

  • Pimples

  • Weight gain

  • Constipation or diarrhea

When experiencing PMDD

PMDD is the most severe form of PMS and its symptoms could interfere with a woman’s day-to-day activities including work, school, social life, and relationships. It affects up to 5% of women of childbearing age.

Now I have so many questions: why does it have to come down to her almost fainting (due to severe blood loss or otherwise) to feel okay about grabbing food outside during Ramadan days? Why can't we just let her take care of her body during a very vulnerable and weak state? In fact, why don't we provide her with the support needed during such a state? Why does she have to teach (or teach normal hours) when she’s experiencing severe pain and dizziness? Why is it that we all know that 100% of all menstruating women will get their periods at some point during Ramadan and still act like it's a shocking event? Why does she have to come up with excuses to do something that God himself gave her the green light to do?!

The more one reflects on these questions, the more one realizes the absurdity of the entire stigma!

How come I never notice any of this?

Gives you an idea of the pressures of societal and cultural stigma! On top of these excruciating pains and experiences, women have to go to great lengths to hide their symptoms because of how much stigma surrounds this issue. Many women would rather hide their pains than experience a guy being awkward about it at best or face undesirable consequences at work at worst. So if one isn't actively going out of their way to empathize or learn more about women’s experiences, sadly they do go unnoticed.

It’s important to note, however, that I'm not advocating for women to go around shouting “I'm on my period;” it's a very personal matter to many and based on my conversations with women, that's not really what they want. They just want to go about their days and take care of their bodies and needs without people reacting unreasonably.

What I'm getting at here is that our society makes it very difficult for menstruating women to just be; women have to actively hide what they’re going through, which often adds much uncalled-for stress.

And that is totally not okay.

What NOT to say to a woman on her period or PMSing

  • “Gross!” You’d be surprised how many people say that.

  • “How are you wearing white?”

  • “Are you on your period or something?”

  • “You look so tired.”

  • “Does it hurt?”

  • “Are you still bleeding?”

  • “What's wrong with you?”

  • “Are you sure you can eat all of that?”

  • “Well, this explains the past few days!”

  • “You're being too sensitive”

  • “Cramps don't hurt that bad?” I want you to take a moment to remember the last time you cramped while playing any sport and tell me what that felt like. Also, have you experienced period cramps before?

  • “It's only for a few days; that's not so bad” Just, please don't.

While many of these statements are straight-up distasteful, others may be said out of genuine care or an effort to be empathetic. If that were the case, try not to beat yourself up for it but also try to be mindful of what you say during an already stressful and painful time for the woman you're speaking with.

A general rule of thumb is if you have never and will never be in someone else’s shoes, try not to comment on how they are handling a certain situation unless they ask for your input (and trust me, in this case, they won't).

Instead here are a few things you can DO to be supportive.

How could we be supportive of our beloved women during their periods?

It's important to make it clear that none of these points assume any inherent fragility or weakness in women. If anything, the amount of physical and psychological pain they have to endure each month is mind-blowing to me. With that said, many of the symptoms of periods, PMS, or PMDD do warrant extra support from loved ones.

Most of the following points came straight out of or were confirmed by women in my life.

Educate yourself and others more about periods

The first step you can ever take to improve any situation is to educate yourself more about it. The good news is that by reading this article, you have already taken your first steps.

But it doesn't stop there.

This article is a decent starting point but you should take some time to educate yourself further about this. Again, as we’ve established, sex education is quite lacking and you’d be surprised how elementary our understanding of this issue is. So spending some time learning more about it and raising awareness will go miles.

I recently came across a Tweet by Adam Grant, which I cannot agree more with and think is quite relevant here.

Understand the needs of women closest to you when on their periods

This is an important one, so pay some extra attention here

As we have established, women experience periods differently from one another. Some like to relax on their worst day; others like to straight-up exercise. Don't try to predict or assume what works and don't get frustrated when your assumptions or expectations don't match her needs.

The simplest way to go about this is to ask three simple questions:

  1. How does [x] experience her period or PMS/PMDD? (This question is for you to figure out. You don't really need to verbalize it, and it can be easy to pick up on the physical or emotional pains that women in your life go through.)

  2. What do you do to feel better/ease period pains?

  3. How can I best support you?

Notice how none of these questions assume anything or project your own assumptions of how the other person experiences her period. Their sole purpose is understanding.

These questions will not only show your loved ones how much compassion you have towards them—which will mean the world to them—it will also give them the space to ask for and receive the very needed support throughout this period.

If you want to go the extra mile, keep checking in and communicating further. It doesn't hurt to ask every once in a while whether what you're doing is in line with their current needs, even if that was something that they had expressed before.

This all might seem like a lot of work, but if you think about it, it all takes a few minutes and will make so much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that some women might not be comfortable or want to share whatever they’re going through. If you get a sense that this is the case, try giving them the space they need.

Advocate for Systemic Changes

While this topic can be controversial and is a point of debate amongst many activists, I wholeheartedly support the decision of entitling women to time off every single month to take care of themselves when period pains become unbearable as we saw in the case of my teacher friend.


It warms my heart when I see—especially in capitalistic Western societies—companies actually caring enough about their female workforce to institute policies that humanize them.

Not only do changes like these directly improve women’s wellbeing, but they also help with raising awareness of women’s health and help with destigmatizing periods.

With policies like these, women can comfortably discuss taking about periods in the workspace, and managers—especially male ones—will be encouraged to learn more about periods in order to better support their female employees.

Win-Win.

The long-term consequences of implementing policies like these are way beyond the scope of this blog post, but the essence of what they are trying to do is what I'm applauding here.

Misconceptions about Islam and Menstruation

Since most of my audience comes from Muslim cultures, I’d like to end this article by dispelling some of the most prevalent misconceptions about Islam and menstruation, which as always are primarily patriarchal in nature and have little to no religious grounds.

I'm not a Muslim scholar, so I will refrain from sharing my own opinions here. Instead, I'll be sharing the opinions of a Muslim scholar that I personally have found to be reasonable regarding this topic in particular—Dr. Yasir Qadhi. The reason I find him reasonable is that he provides evidence from multiple Hadiths and viewpoints and cites his sources. He then synthesizes everything and lets viewers come up with a conclusion that they are comfortable with.

With all that said, I understand that there is no way we all will align with one scholar, so I highly encourage you to do your own research and stick to whatever evidence-based conclusions you feel comfortable with.

Why are women not allowed to pray or fast during menstruation?

On average, women lose 30-50mL of blood during menstruation. That is about 3 tablespoons of blood. In other words, a LOT of blood. That together with all the aforementioned symptoms takes a severe physical and emotional toll on women.

It is considered mercy from Allah that women are completely exempt from partaking in Islamic worship that may add to their distress. It is not because they are spiritually inferior like many people interpret this ruling to be. In fact, although women do not have to make up for their prayers, they still get spiritually rewarded for those prayers just as if they performed them.

Allah makes it crystal clear that men and women are spiritually equal in his eyes.

Okay so why not make it optional then?

First of all, it’s not up to us to make rulings up to our desires. But for the sake of this discussion suppose praying and fasting were indeed optional, what do you think the consequences of this will be?

Exactly! More shaming; more pressure.

There is no way you can expect two billion people to agree on how they practice their faith when major issues like this are left to our own desires. As we have mentioned multiple times, women experience periods vastly differently from one another. So if this ruling was left for us to decide, many women who don't experience as much difficulty during menstruation might pressure others (either explicitly or implicitly) to pray and fast “just like they do.”

You can imagine how toxic this can get in less educated and more ignorant societies. So it's actually mercy from Allah that there is a clear and unanimous ruling on performing certain worships for every single menstruating woman.

Why does Islam prohibit sex during menstruation?

In Surah Al-Baqara verse 222, the Holy Quran says:وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًۭى فَٱعْتَزِلُوا۟ ٱلنِّسَآءَ فِى ٱلْمَحِيضِ ۖ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ ۖ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ ٱللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلتَّوَّٰبِينَ وَيُحِبُّ ٱلْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ ٢٢٢

They ask you ˹O Prophet˺ about menstruation. Say, “Beware of its harm! So keep away, and do not have intercourse with your wives during their monthly cycles until they are purified. When they purify themselves, then you may approach them in the manner specified by Allah. Surely Allah loves those who always turn to Him in repentance and those who purify themselves.”— Dr. Mustafa Khattab, the Clear Quran

This is one of the often misunderstood verses in the Quran primarily because of how the translation of the ayah makes it seem like women are to be avoided because they are impure.

This is not really the case. The consensus of Muslim scholars is very clear that women are not impure, but they are in a state of ritual impurity, and there’s a huge difference here.

In Islam, the discharge of certain bodily fluids (e.g. semen in the case of males or menses in the case of females) puts them in a state of ritual impurity. This means that unless they perform a ritual purification (similar to bathing) called Ghusl, Muslims cannot really perform any acts of worship, such as touching the Quran and praying.

It is also reported in the Sahih that `A'ishah (RA) said, "While having the menses, I used to eat from a piece of meat and give it to the Prophet who would eat from the same place I ate from. I used to have sips of a drink and would then give the cup to the Prophet who would place his mouth where I placed my mouth."

This is another clear-cut proof that women aren't impure when they are menstruating.

Now the reason the Quran says “beware of its harm” is because during menstruation it is physically harmful for women to have penetrative sex.

According to Dr. Muhiy al-Deen al-`Alabi “It is essential to refrain from having intercourse with a menstruating woman because doing so leads to an increase in the flow of menstrual blood because the veins of the uterus are congested and prone to rupture and get damaged easily. Also, the wall of the vagina is susceptible to injury, so the likelihood of inflammation is increased, which leads to inflammation in the uterus and the man’s penis, because of the irritation that occurs during intercourse.”

So does this mean that couples cannot engage in any sexual activity while a woman is on her period?

Nope, this is also another major misconception!

Married Muslim couples are actually allowed to engage in every permissible sexual activity except for vaginal intercourse due to the aforementioned harms.

According to a Saheeh Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said: "Do everything else apart from sexual intercourse (with your wives)". [Reported by Muslim.]

وَعَنْ أَنَسٍ ‏- رضى الله عنه ‏- { أَنَّ اَلْيَهُودَ كَانُوا إِذَا حَاضَتْ اَلْمَرْأَةُ لَمْ يُؤَاكِلُوهَا, فَقَالَ اَلنَّبِيُّ ‏- صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏- "اِصْنَعُوا كُلَّ شَيْءٍ إِلَّا اَلنِّكَاحَ" } رَوَاهُ مُسْلِم ٌ 1

This video by Dr. Yasir Qadhi provides a good summary and explanation of all of this (22:37–28:42)


Are women not allowed to touch or recite the Quran during menstruation?

This topic in particular has been a subject of much debate and disagreement, so I want to share a video by Dr. Yasir Qadhi where he discusses what major schools of thought have agreed on and what the differences in opinions are.


Feel free to watch it and arrive at a conclusion that makes you most comfortable.

Basic etiquettes for treating menstruating Muslim women

Etiquettes around Ramadan and Fasting

During Ramadan, please don't make life awkward for women in your household or strangers.

If any woman in your household is on her period during Ramadan, just make light of it and make it comfortable for her to eat and drink as she normally would if she weren’t fasting because guess what? SHE ISN'T FASTING! She doesn't have to sneak around and grab a quick bite before someone “catches her redhanded.” Better yet, prepare food for her and take care of her needs during those days. After all, they cook delicious meals for you all Ramadan long, so it's really the least you can do.

If you spot a Muslim woman (e.g. a hijabi or someone you know is a practicing Muslim) eating or drinking during the day in public, don't stare at her in utter disbelief. First, it's absolutely none of your business how others practice their faith. Second, 100% of all menstruating women will have a few days during every single Ramadan when they’ll have to break their fast (unless they get irregular periods but that's beside the point). So please just mind your own business and don't intensify the stress they're already experiencing while on their period because you are being inconsiderate.

Etiquettes around Praying

In public gatherings—such as family and friends gatherings—don't ask women whether they’d like to join the jama’a (group) prayer. They clearly know it's happening and will get up and pray if they can. Whether or not anyone prays is none of your business, to begin with, and putting someone on the spot is not أمر بالمعروف (enjoining the good).

General Etiquettes

  1. If you're a husband, don't treat your wife like she’s “impure” while on her period. She’s not. If you think she is, watch the above video by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi.

  2. If you're a father, don't make it weird for your daughter to talk about periods with you and be a source of comfort for her.

  3. If you're a brother, try to be extra gentle with your sister when you notice she’s on her period.

  4. Avoid any action that might be considered period shaming as it causes women so much suffering.


The world is already making it hard for our dear women to navigate this every single month, so I guess the least we could do is to make life easier for them when they're in the comfort of their own homes.

Conclusion

To this day, I still am learning more about periods and women’s experiences with them and I still make many of the mistakes I mentioned above. I try to be as mindful as I possibly can, but sometimes I unintentionally say something that I should not have said or act in a way that I shouldn't have acted. What is important here is to identify those moments, learn from them, and make sure we are more mindful moving forward.

Dismantling deeply ingrained societal and cultural stigmas like this takes a lot of time and effort. So let’s make sure we educate ourselves and pass on our learnings. That’s the only way things will get better.

If you have learned anything from this article, I would appreciate it if you share it with others whom you think will also benefit from it. Let’s keep the cycle of learning going!

Sources

Don't miss my new content!

I promise I won't spam you :)

Don't miss my new content!

I promise I won't spam you :)

Don't miss my new content!

I promise I won't spam you :)

© 2024 — Omar El-Etr

© 2024 — Omar El-Etr

© 2024 — Omar El-Etr

Home

1

Home

1