What goes on *ahem* down below is often shrouded in mystery. Luckily for women and men who have countless questions about periods, sex and vaginas, two sex educators have penned a book that hopes to debunk the myths surrounding lady parts.
The Wonder Down Under explains everything you ever wanted to know about the vagina but didn’t dare ask.
Medical students and sex educators, Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl, draw on their medical expertise to bring vagina enlightenment to the world. Their no-nonsense approach, written with great humour, makes this a must-read for women (and men!) of all ages.
Say goodbye to the myths and misconceptions surrounding female anatomy, this empowering book aims to inspire women to make informed choices about their sexual health. Here, they’ve given GLAMOUR UK an extract. Enjoy!
There’s a lot of talk about how periods determine what you can and can’t do. But what do periods actually mean to you and your everyday life? Are there some things you should avoid? Is your yoga instructor right, for example, to advise you against doing headstands while your bleeding is at its worst?
We asked a yoga instructor why you shouldn’t do headstands during your period. “It’s not good for the blood to run back into your belly,” he said. In a way he’s right. It’s apparently not unusual for small amounts of menstrual blood to run up through the Fallopian tubes and out into your abdomen when you have your period. Many stressed surgeons have experienced this, finding blood in the bellies of menstruating women they’re operating on without detecting any bleeding wound. It isn’t dangerous for menstrual blood to find its way into the belly, though. Your body quickly tidies it all up.
Many people also believe that certain activities such as standing on your
head can cause you to bleed more, but that isn’t true either. As we have said, periods are simply the expulsion of the endometrium. You lose no more or less endometrial growth by standing on your head, having sex or running around the place. Over the course of one period, the only thing that bleeds out is the existing endometrial wall. However, the thickness of the wall, and therefore also the amount that must come out, may vary a bit from time to time.
Unless certain activities bother you because they cause you pain, you can do exactly what you want when you have your period. You can stand on your head, run a marathon, go swimming or have sex – it’s up to you. Some women even find that physical activity relieves menstrual pains.
But is it really true that we don’t bleed more as a result of having sex? When we were writing this chapter at a café in Oslo it occurred to us that we’d both heard stories from female friends about dramatic and traumatic bleeding that literally caught them with their pants down. There in the arms of a new male acquaintance they experienced their heaviest ever menstrual bleeding.
In one case, the girl was woken up, lying in a pool of blood, by a terrified lover who didn’t know whether she was dead or alive. Hello! Helloooo!? Should I call 999? The incident happened at his house – and the sheets, they had been white. In another case, the unexpected bleeding started in the very midst of the act, resulting in a scene reminiscent of a slaughterhouse or a 1972 slasher movie. What in heaven’s name had happened? We had to look into this.
It turns out there is no conclusive explanation for what causes these monster bleeds, but there are several theories that may make sense if you know a bit more about how the body works.
The first is what we call the cramps theory. As we know, muscle contractions in the uterus are what push out the period blood, but cramps can also be caused by other things too. Sometimes uterine cramps aren’t bad at all. What we’re talking about here is the orgasm, the sexual climax in which the entire sexual apparatus, including the uterus, contracts in fabulous waves. It’s possible that an orgasm may kick-start a period that’s imminent.
The second is the hormone theory. When we have sex, the body releases a hormone called oxytocin, often referred to as the pleasure hormone. Oxytocin plays an important role in various processes in the body. Among others, it’s involved in triggering childbirth. Oxytocin stimulates contractions, so it’s pretty serious stuff. As if the orgasm alone wasn’t enough, oxytocin can also cause the uterus to contract, thereby pushing out blood.
A third possible explanation is that a bit of menstrual blood may accumulate inside the vagina and only come out when the ‘floodgates’ open during sex. As you may recall, the vagina contains many folds in which blood can gather. What’s more, when you’re relaxed, the vagina isn’t an open tube, but a tightly compressed one, whose anterior and posterior walls are squeezed together.
One charming myth that has been doing the rounds since the early 1970s is that women’s periods synchronise when they live for a long time under the same roof. Our bodies supposedly have a telepathic power that causes us to bond through cramps and chocolate cravings. It was a Harvard psychologist who believed she had proved this after studying the menstrual cycles of women living in the same dorm at college in the USA. Evolutionary researchers pounced on it, taking the view that there was a benefit to women menstruating and ovulating at the same time: men wouldn’t be tempted to hop from one woman to another but would form stable couple relationships instead.As many as 80 per cent of all women apparently believe in the myth of synchronised periods.
But no matter how cute it sounds, more recent research shows that we’ve been had. Studies of lesbian couples, Chinese women living in dorms and West African women placed in ‘menstrual huts’ showed no synchronicity.
Although we may seem to be menstruating in sync, this is because there’s considerable variation in cycle length from one woman to the next. If you and your best friend menstruate at the same time, it’s most likely just a matter of chance and not, sadly, a sign that you have a special bond.
[i]THE WONDER DOWN UNDER: A User’s Guide to the Vagina by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Stokken Dahl is available now (Yellow Kite, £14.99)[/I]