July 2007: No, I’m not talking about the tomato and vodka drink. I’m not even talking about virgin blood. What am I talking about then? The menstrual cycle.
Chums. Periods. Whatever you want to call them. (I recommend you lift that dropped jaw and close your mouth. Quickly. As they say in Hindi, “Makkhi ghus jayegi.”) Yup, I’m talking about those horribly wet days of the month that half the world’s population endure for about 30 years of a lifetime. That’s a lot—whether or not you do the maths!
So what can I tell you about ‘the curse’ (the Victorian word for it is so damn apt)!? That they’re no fun and that we’d all rather do without them—barring a few women who feel their periods make them feel ‘feminine’ and ‘sensual’ (freaks!) and those who say they make no difference to everyday life (another unusual category). And that, for between two and 10 days before they hit (yes, that’s the word—wham!), a woman feels the claws of PMS dig deep, very deep (PMS=Pre-Menstrual or Passing-Madness Syndrome). Your back and tummy hurt; you’re crabby and depressed; you bloat up; you get pimples. Add that’s just the physiological bit. There’s also the discomfort of a pad or a tampon; the fear of staining; the slight limitation on physical activity because of it. (Example? No swimming.) Yeah, it’s terrible when you actually think about it.
The ironic thing is, no matter how much of our lives we gain control over—through intellect, morality, art or whatever—such a huge part of us is still controlled by our primeval hormones and reproductive function. It can be rather depressing when you look at it like that—so don’t!
My parents were very open about the chum thing. Very. My mom discussed hers with me since the time I was really young. And I had a doggess, so when she got in heat, I was told the why and the what. So I knew why they’d come, I knew when they’d come. When mine started, at age 11, my parents made a big, big deal about it—I was taken out to dinner and the whole world was told. There was much excitement and cake-cutting. Yet, I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach (that joined the cramps to make quite a classic ache!) as I felt my childhood come to an abrupt halt. And I was damn embarrassed, in spite of how much I had been told and reassured about the fact that they were a normal part of life.
The other extreme is parents who don’t tell their girls what to expect at all. A friend of mine, who is a teacher, describes how this little kid was discovered missing after school. During a massive child hunt, she was found sobbing in the loo, where she had been since her lunch break, because she thought she was sick and was scared to bits about the bleeding.
Different cultures deal with the menstrual cycle in different ways. Much like girl children in Africa are taught to look forward to their ‘Initiation Ceremony’, that just happens to involve female circumcision (no, periods aren’t that bad!), some cultures make a big deal about the first period (excitement beats the anxiety)? My maid in Chennai, Devi took a huge loan from me for the celebration when her daughter hit puberty.
Another sad thing about chums is that they only naturally stop for two reasons—you’re either pregnant (a discovery that causes much anxiety to most of the women I know—who are unmarried and sexually active) or menopausal. Menopause, like puberty, comes with many, many problems of its own. Really, it’s pretty much a lose-lose situation, na? Chums embarrass and hurt you when they make an appearance when you’re 11/12/13/14; trouble you for a couple of days before they make an appearance every month; irritate you even further for the 3/4 days that they visit you in the month; and give you hot flushes and a lot of other things when they finally retreat for ever. Whew!
Are you thinking what I am—why did Eve eat that damn apple?
There is one positive about periods though—it makes for great sex. I know this probably grosses you out no end (the thought of sex during periods grosses a lot of women out, so I’m not surprised you’re utterly scandalised)! Well, here’s why it’s so great: the natural activity that’s occurring down there (that has nothing to do with your skills, honey!) makes your woman wetter and therefore more aroused than she usually is. And yeah, it’s messy, but hey, so are most things in life. And are you really going to let a little mess come in the way of sex for so many, many days (in case you did do the maths up there)?
So, I suggest you follow the ‘Chum Etiquette for the Modern Man’—
1) As you now know how horrible periods really are, at every stage, be nice to and understanding of your woman. I recommend this always, but especially during her time of the month.
2) Get over your clean Barbie-doll prejudice. Start having sex during her periods—trust me, it’s great. You can thank me later.
An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in July 2007.