The myth of the 28 day cycle


A guest blog post by Saranga about the myths of the 28 day menstrual cycle.

Recently The F Word published a blog post about PMS . It’s a good article, well worth reading, but one particular statement prompted me to think about menstrual cycles:

“The majority of women of childbearing age have menstrual cycles of approximately 28 days”

This notion of a 28 day cycle is something I have had a lot of difficulty with recently. Women who use hormonal based contraceptives may well have a 28 day cycle, but those who aren’t can find their cycles varying between 20 days and 35 days (or more or less), for one period, or 12, or 24, or 36, or their whole lives. This variation in cycle doesn’t mean you are pregnant, or have an illness, sometimes it’s just how it works.

I mention this because recently I was over a week late and finally came on at day 35. Between days 28 and 35 I was terrified I was pregnant and ended up going to the local walk in clinic for a pregnancy test. When the result showed as negative I promptly burst into tears from the stress of it all. The nurse informed me that the worry about being pregnant could have caused me to be late (and looked utterly perplexed as to why I was crying, but she was nice about it, so that’s ok).

Now, I knew that stress can cause delay to periods, but I wasn’t aware that worry about the period itself could cause you to be late. I had assumed that stress in this case meant stress caused by the death of someone, or the loss of your job, not something as minor* as worrying about being pregnant.

I also wasn’t aware that cycles could vary so much. I thought if they did vary like this it meant you had polycystic ovaries, or a hormonal problem, or were infertile, or were miscarrying every month**, or something. None of that applied to me, I am healthy and well, so why hadn’t my period arrived? Ok, I have never been what you’d call bang on regular, but I had always thought I was only ever a day or two out. I only discovered I was so late this year because I have been keeping a menstrual diary, trying to work out when my cycle is. I’m 31, I started my periods when I was 14. You’d have thought I’d have settled down by now right?

Apparently not. Apparently, according to responses to a hastily contrived question on my blog and on twitter, many women have wildly irregular cycles, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s normal.

My question to you all is: Why the hell don’t we get told this in school? Why isn’t it included in sex ed? Why is our national cultural notion of menstrual cycles that of a 28 day one? When you look on the NHS Direct website (or whatever it has morphed into these days) it doesn’t make it explicit that a varying menstrual cycle is actually fairly normal.

I couldn’t ask my friends about their cycles – most of them are on hormonal contraceptives, so I asked the internet. I felt so relieved when I received the answers. And now I want to broadcast this to everyone with a womb! You’re ok! You’re not weird! And a late period doesn’t always mean that you are pregnant, so don’t panic.

So please folk, can we stop talking about 28 day cycles as if they are the norm. As if wombs and uteruses and all our other bits comply to the same set of rules and (pun intended) cycles. At the very least I’d like to ask people to distinguish between those on hormonal based contraceptives and those who are not. It’d be doing us all a favour.

*minor.. hah….fear of pregnancy isn’t a minor thing, but it’s often treated as such, hence my use of this specific descriptor.

**to anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, this probably seems like a really flippant comment, and for that I apologise. However I mention it as a possible cause of late ‘periods’ because I know next to nothing about miscarriage, which is another subject that is woefully lacking in our sex education. I mean, shouldn’t we get taught about this stuff?

Saranga is a A 31 year old bisexual feminist reading many many comics. She runs New readers…start here! reviewing comics for people new to comics and also Pai where she talks about comics, feminism, BSL, comics, feminism and yet more comics. Her favourite hero is Supergirl. Also on twitter as @sarangacomics.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia used under the Creative Commons License.

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