Periods pretty much suck. Anyone who gets them knows this. The only time anyone is happy to get their period is after a pregnancy scare. Right? There’s a reason it was known as “The Curse” - it causes blood, pain, mood swings, tiredness and massively increased appetite. Fun! Still, a regular period is a sign of good health and fertility, so it’s better to be informed. Read on to discover more about periods.  

Why do women have periods?

The question “why do women have periods?” seems a little outdated now – many transgender men have periods, while transgender women do not experience menstruation. Not all women menstruate, not all those who menstruate are women. 

That being said, it is interesting to know more about periods and why they occur. A period is the point in the menstrual cycle when blood comes out of the vagina. This is caused by the uterus shedding its lining - this will happen every month unless there is a pregnancy or some form of birth control that prevents regular periods.  

How long do periods last?

When you ask “how long do periods last,” do you mean “how long does each period last” or “for how many years of my life will I be forced to endure having periods”? Never fear, for the answer to both questions can be found below.  

A period usually lasts between 3 and 8 days, with the average coming in at 5 days. Most people will experience the heaviest bleeding during the first two days of the period. In general, around 30 to 70 milliliters of blood (5-12 teaspoons) will be shed through the vagina. It makes you wonder how they collated data for these statistics... and how they took “chunks” into account? Yes, some women do not just bleed delicate liquid – the womb lining often sheds blood in clots or lumps that can single-handedly take out a tampon. Periods are not fun! Once each period is over, there is a timespan of about 28 days until the bleeding starts again.  

Most people start their period around 12 years old, though this can be earlier or later. Most begin menstruating by the age of 18. Then you have decades of periods until they finally stop during the menopause, which takes place from late 40s to mid-50s.  

What are the symptoms of periods?

What are the symptoms of periods? Well, sorry, but none of them are great. There’s the bleeding, of course, which is red or looks almost black if it’s really heavy or in clots, tailing off into a milder brown or pink when the bleeding stops at the end of the period.  

The thing is that your period isn’t just about bleeding – it's a bunch of hormonal changes happening to your body when it realizes there isn’t a baby gestating in the womb. This causes all sorts of bonkers things to happen. Speaking from experience, those tampon adverts with girls playing tennis in white shorts are a particularly cruel and demented lie – being on your period is not a little trickle of liquid into a pad. It’s mood swings, pain, greasy skin and hair, swollen ankles, feeling nauseous, and just feeling totally vulnerable and tender in general. These symptoms are common but not universal.  

Is it worth using a period calculator?

There are a number of period calculators available that allow you to track your menstrual cycle. This can be super useful – whether you’re trying to plan a hot date and you don’t want your period to strike unexpectedly, or you’re trying to work out when you’re at your most fertile because you’re trying to conceive, there are several apps available for both Apple and Android smartphone devices.  

Using a period calculator app (or doing it old school by noting your period dates and symptoms in your actual paper diary – it works!) is a good idea. You’ll get to know your body more: simply noting down when you start your period, how long it lasts, when you’re feeling pain or PMS etc. will make you more prepared for the future. You can plan trips or buy in painkillers or foods for cravings when you know your period is coming. Knowledge is power!  

Period calculator apps:

  • Clue 
  • Flo
  • Ovia
  • Eve by Glow
  • MagicGirl (for teens)
  • Period Tracker
  • MyFlo
  • Cycles
  • Glow