Menstrual myths debunked: Period charity launches appeal to help get men more in the know about the flow

Stock images of woman with pad, tampons, and a forlorn-looking woman sitting on the edge of the bed
Photo credit: Photo illustration - Newshub; Images - Getty Images

It's no secret that men are often mystified by the complexities of women's bodies: for example, a flatmate of mine was shocked to discover that women give birth and urinate from separate organs. He was 25.  

If men in their mid-20s can't grasp the concept of three separate 'downstairs' functions, it's unsurprising that the menstrual cycle remains a bloody mystery to many heterosexual, cisgender men: despite their significant others experiencing said cycle for about a week of every month.

In a bid to level up our uterine understanding, Aotearoa's largest period charity, The Period Place, is hosting a national appeal at Countdown until September 24 to continue breaking down societal stigmas around menstruation - particularly among our penis-having counterparts.

High angle view of woman holding sanitary napkin or menstruation pad before wearing it. - stock photo
Photo credit: Getty Images

It will see a donation of 5 cents from the sale of every period product from U By Kotex, Libra, Carefree, Stayfree, Tampax, Oi Organic, Tom Organic, Bonds, Vagisil, Femfresh, Evamay, and Essentials go to The Period Place, with the same suppliers also dipping in by donating a single period product (eg: a tampon, pad, cup, or liner) for every pack sold.  

The Period Place founder Danika Revell is calling on Aotearoa's legion of "bloody legends" to be loud and proud about their cycle to continue normalising this, yes, very normal bodily function.   

"Kiwis young and old are still not having the conversations about periods that they need to and in turn, some people aren't accessing what they need. Men can do a whole lot more to understand and support the people with periods around them," she said in a statement.  

Back to basics: What is a period?  

First things first, let's go over some definitions. In a nutshell, menstruation - or 'the period' - is the monthly shedding of the lining of the uterus.

Menstrual blood - which is partly blood and partly tissue - flows from the uterus through the cervix and out of the body through the vagina. The cycle describes the sequence of events that occur in the body as it prepares for the possibility of pregnancy each month: the menses phase, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Menstruation itself, or the menses phase, only lasts for about five days to a week of the whole cycle: there's much more to it than that.  

During the follicular phase, a rise in hormones causes the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a pregnancy. In addition, another hormone causes follicles in your ovaries to grow, with one of the developing follicles forming into a fully mature egg.  

Then comes ovulation, where hormones prompt the ovary to release its egg. During the luteal phase, the egg leaves the ovary and begins to travel through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If the egg becomes fertilised by sperm and attaches itself to your uterine wall (implantation), you become pregnant. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, hormone levels drop, and the thick lining of the uterus breaks down and sheds.   

The cycle begins on the day the person begins to menstruate or gets their period - that's day one - and lasts until the first day of your next period, then repeats. Every person's cycle is slightly different, but the process is the same. A cycle typically lasts between 23 and 25 days, although for some people longer or shorter cycles may also be normal.   

Countdown and The Period Place outside hygiene aisle in Countdown supermarket
Countdown and The Period Place have teamed up for a nationwide appeal to help encourage more open discourse around periods. Photo credit: Supplied

Myths debunked

To help men get in the know of the flow, Revell has flushed a series of old wives' tales down the toilet, debunking common untruths to avoid any further confusion. For those readers who still think swimming on your period will attract sharks, this is for you.  

All menstrual cycles are 28 days long: False  

In general, a healthy menstrual cycle can last between 23 and 35 days.  

PMS is fake: False   

PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is real, documented, researched, and can be scary and overwhelming for the person who has it.  

Every woman gets PMS symptoms: False  

Time to ditch the eyerolls and assumptions that periods are the reason for emotional outbursts.

You can't have sex on your period: False  

You can have sex at any time of the month, including if you are menstruating. There are products out there to help keep things clean, but whether or not you want to grab a cup, chuck a towel down or hop in the shower is very much up to you.  

Devell also shared her top tips to make that time of the month that little bit easier for your menstruating friend, family member, flatmate, or partner. Menstruation can be difficult: the changes in hormones can cause mood swings, fatigue, irritability, and depression, and many people experience pain, whether it be cramps, aching, or sore, tender breasts.   

What can men do when someone they're close with is having their period?  

  • Eliminate period stigma at home by putting period products next to the toilet. It'll mean they are available for household members and guests to use when needed.  
  • Talk about periods! If the person you're talking with is comfortable sharing with you, ask about their symptoms and what helps them during their period.  
  • Know what products your partner needs and pick them up during your weekly shop. It'll reduce the number of times they're caught out without the necessary provisions (think tampons, pads, wipes, liners... there can be a lot going on!) - and it will score you some brownie points too.  
  • Be comfortable with words like 'period', 'menstruation', 'flow', 'vagina', and 'uterus'. Leave terms like 'the rag', 'Shark Week', or anything derogatory like, 'You're so PMS right now' in the past, where they belong.  
  • Go out of your way to do something a little extra for someone if they're suffering difficult symptoms on their period. You could make a cup of tea, pick up more of the household chores, or perform an act of kindness.  
  • Educate yourself on periods and PMS and how your partner might experience everyday life during their period. Support them, be kind, and show your understanding.  

The campaign is running in all Countdown supermarkets across the country until September 24. Countdown will also top up The Period Place with a one-off $20,000 cash donation.