how to talk to your partner about periods - we're here to help
7th July 2021
You should talk about periods with your partner.
That's a bold statement right off the bat, I know, but an important one nonetheless. Periods and menstrual cycles, in general, should be something we feel comfortable talking about with all the important people in our lives, and, hell, even strangers, because they’re a bloody (sorry) huge part of our lives. And if you’re sleeping with and/or sharing a life with someone, the topic becomes not only an important part of your life as an individual, but your life as a couple. Or throuple. Or [insert anarchical relationship structure here].
Unfortunately for people like us here at ohne (by which I mean people who regularly overshare about our periods in our daily morning meetings and spend perhaps an unhealthy amount of time thinking about menstrual cycles - yours, ours, the general concept of them), in general, talking about periods is not exactly a widely accepted topic of conversation. Maybe your partner doesn’t experience periods and it’s never crossed their mind to discuss it with you or you’ve assumed they’d be grossed out by it. Maybe they do also experience periods, but you’re both still riding the wild rollercoaster that is internalised shame/embarrassment and have no idea how to talk about your bodies and their functions in ways that don’t make you squirm. Whatever your situation, talking with your partner about something that is acting upon your physical and mental state every single day should be nothing to be scared of.
I know. You’re thinking that’s easy for her to say, she works at a bloody period company! True. She has no idea how my partner will react to this! Also true. She doesn’t know how awkward I feel! Actually, I do. I’ve been there, babe. I think we all have - whether it’s periods or pubes or puberty or penises or porn (stopping now) - we’ve all experienced shame over things our bodies/brains do (or don’t do, as the case may be) that are perfectly freaking normal. The reason we feel so lost in the embarrassment and confusion of it all is simply that we’re never taught the language to talk about them. How can you not grow up with super weird ideas about your body when you’ve never heard the word ‘vagina’ said outside of the one page in your biology textbook your teacher wouldn’t read aloud?
Consider this an introduction into talking about periods with someone close to you. The rest - working to overcome your self-consciousness, how you decide to carry these tips beyond the first few conversations- is entirely up to you.
Why you should talk to your partner about your periods
Okay, we’ve touched on the very ohne-themed motivations for wanting to show taboos the door and free people who menstruate from shame, but lets talk you, specifically. There are actual benefits to talking to your partner about your menstrual cycle - and maybe even some joy or humour in it, too!
Firstly, it’s a HUGE part of your life. Your menstrual cycle affects everything from your moods to your appetite at various stages of your cycle, to days you’re more likely to be horny as hell vs days you’re likely to snarl at them like a caged animal if they so much as touch your knee. If you’re one of the many of us who are cursed with horrendous cramps, there might even be several days a month in which you’re curled up on the sofa in agony - and I am of the opinion that someone who cares about you kind of has a right to know why! Besides, you have a right to feel comfortable talking about something that affects you so intensely.
Sex. Sex is a huge part of many couple’s lives, whether you’re having it all the time or very rarely, or haven’t become sexually active yet but know you want to get ~intimate~ with this human in the future. And any good sex life relies on clear, honest, trusting communication about all of it - the things you like, the things you don’t, when you want it, when you don’t.
Whether or not period sex is something you want to have or not, if you’re sexually active at least semi-regularly, avoiding the entire topic of periods is going to be tricky. Unless we’re still in the pre-1950s and we’re all still supposed to be using ‘I have a headache’ as a code for ‘I’m on my period’, then explaining why you’re not feeling it/comfortable with it today is going to come up. If you do want to have period sex, then you actually have a responsibility to talk to them about it - they also have a right to consent to exactly the kind of sexual activity on the table, and while we might make jokes about boys being icked out by period blood, no one actually owes you period sex if it’s not their thing. If you’re into the idea, you’re gonna need to chat about it.
How do I talk to my partner about my period?
Talking to your partner about your period for the first time will probably feel awkward - it shouldn’t, of course, and that’s why we’re all here, but accepting that awkwardness is the first step to overcoming it. Don’t wait for a time when it feels 100% right, don’t take your anxiety as a sign it’s a really big deal or it’s going to be really embarrassing. Your anxiety doesn’t always have your back, sorry to break it to you.
The conversation about periods starts with the conversations you have with yourself. What do you want to get out of the conversation? No, like literally why do you want to talk about this with this person? I outlined a bunch of benefits of talking about your periods above, but they might not be the core reason you sought this article out.
Do you want to broach the subject of period sex? Do you want them to be a part of your cycle-tracking journey? Do you want to talk to them about their immature attitude to periods, ask them to fetch period products for you, or wish they’d educate themselves more about what you go through? Do you simply just find it weird that the two of you don’t talk about something that happens to at least one of you on the regular? All valid, all not-embarrassing - but having at least a short-term objective in mind could help you focus the conversation and make it easier for the other person to understand why you’re bringing this up now.
Starting the conversation
When you’ve literally never mentioned it before, mentioning your menstrual cycle might feel unnatural or forced. My advice here is to just start dropping info about yourself. Start with talking about your cramps - maybe you’ll find it easier to say ‘I have really bad cramps’ than you will to say a sentence with the word ‘period’ in it - that’s totally fine, you’ll get there. Build up to more 'taboo' topics by asking them to remind you to buy tampons or asking them to pick some up from the store for you. None of these comments require further inquiry, and you’ll pretty easily be able to gauge their reaction on the squeamish-o-meter.
If you want to branch out into talking about your cycle beyond the bleeding itself - because, as I said, we’re literally never not going through some hormonal crap - you could start by broaching the subject of PMS. Most people already know what that is, or at least have a super patriarchal idea of what that is, so you won’t have to do a lot of educational heavy lifting like you might if you want to start talking about follicle-stimulating hormone and how your oestrogen is peaking. Make a comment about how your worst PMS symptom (e.g. tender boobs, bloating, mood swings) is really kicking your ass this month. If you’ve been especially irritable, try explaining that you know you’re being a bit snappy but you’re suffering from really bad PMS and you hope they understand. Whatever feels right and true to you, use it. They’re someone you care about, after all, telling them about yourself shouldn’t be hard.
If your partner also menstruates, you can ask them about their periods. Do they get cramps? How long is their cycle? Do they suffer from [insert-symptom-here] as bad as you do? You have the advantage (hopefully) of likely not having to educate or explain as much about the logistics of a menstrual cycle to a fellow menstruator, but be mindful that just because you’re ready to step off the internalised-shame rollercoaster, doesn’t mean they are. It might take some gentle coaxing, normalising talking about your own period, and sharing your fave fem space articles (cheeky plug) with them to get them to where you’re at. And that’s okay too.
Should my partner be involved in my cycle tracking journey?
Do you want them to be involved in your cycle tracking? The benefits of having your partner help you with cycle tracking or having a deeper awareness of your cycle and it's patterns range from educational, to fun for purely conversational purposes, to having more practical implications if you're, for example, planning to embark on a fertility awareness method journey (for those not in the know, that’s a type of ‘birth control’ or family planning that relies on in-depth knowledge of the menstrual cycle and fertility). The benefits of having your partner involved will depend on your goals, but one of the main benefits, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea at all is having an objective (okay, maybe not-so objective) party to help you log your symptoms. Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I know it can be super hard to evaluate your own moods or irritability for example, and there’s a long history of women and people of other marginalised genders downplaying their pain. If your partner is keeping an eye out for these things, there’s even a chance they could spot the signs of a gynaecological pain-related condition (such as endometriosis) before you do, provided they know what they're looking for.
Menstrual cycle tracking app, Clue (obligatory ‘other apps are also available’ caveat) even has a feature where you can sync up your cycle data with someone else’s phone - they’ll be able to see your cycle length, projected fertile window, and predicted period dates, but your stored data points remain private to you. This is a relatively low-effort way for your partner to be aware of your cycle, but for it to be of any use beyond knowing when you're actually bleeding, they'll probably want to do a bit of research into the menstrual cycle. No point them knowing you're in your luteal phase if they don't know what that means!
Maybe you’re really interested in learning how to eat to the seasons of your cycle. Is your partner interested in helping you explore this? If you both get periods, this may take more logistical work as you may not necessarily be at the same point in your cycle as your partner is in theirs. If they don’t get periods (or simply don’t care about tailoring their diet to their cycle) they can help you plan, shop for, and cook meals that support your hormones. Especially if you're co-habiting, making lifestyle changes like this that don't include your partner could be pretty difficult.
Talking about periods will be good for your relationship
Do you have a few really bad days a month that you want more support with? Do you need your partner to understand that you won’t be emotionally available for two days before your period, to take the kids on a day out while you curl up in bed with cramps, or even just to know when would an amazing time to turn up with chocolates and an old rom-com? Clueing your loved ones in on your period is also cluing them in on how to show up for and support you. It’s likely educating them on things that, let’s face it, they should have learnt in school but probably didn’t, and what those things mean for you, specifically, in practice.
It’s important and commendable to be taking the steps to free yourself of some of the bullshit you’ve been conditioned to believe about your body, periods, and even emotions. Sure, it won’t always be easy. Sometimes you’ll feel like half the world is way ahead of you and posting pictures of their own discharge on Instagram and the other half is still pearl-clutching and looking mortified at the mere sight of a tampon, with you stuck somewhere in the middle. But you know what? You’ve got this far into reading about how to overcome a portion of that shame, so in my opinion, you’re exactly where you should be. Learning, unlearning, and learning some more.
Image credit cottonbro from Pexels
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