The monthly cycle governing a female's fertility, usually from 21-35 days, and often following the lunar tide. During the bleeding phase of the cycle (3-5 d.) the lining of the uterus is sloughed off. Approx. 2 wks later, ovulation occurs and the period of a female's greatest fertility (3-5 d). Usually beginning at age 13 and ending around age 50, but this varies greatly.

The time when a girl first starts having periods (menstrual cycles) is called menarche. This commonly happens at around 11 +/- one or two years but has been known to happen as early as 8 and as late as 17.

The point at which a woman stops having periods naturally as her ovaries stop releasing eggs is known as menopause. This typically occurs somewhere between 40 and 60 years of age.

What every man should know about a woman's menstrual cycle.

In the years I've spent so far in college, one of the beneficial things I have been able to experience is developing closer relationships with members of the opposite sex as well as living within close proximity of them. This, for me, has meant getting to know guys. ..

and also discovering that most of them are quite ignorant when it comes to the subject of a woman's menstrual cycle. For whatever reason, the junior high school health class and the portion often referred to as "sex ed" seems to have failed to convey even the most basic facts. This may be related to a more general problem in middle school education, but that's another issue. When it comes to the truth about a woman's menstrual cycle, guys who have sisters and girlfriends are sometimes slightly more knowledgeable in this subject. But this is important stuff that everyone ought to be aware of because at some point in your life it is likely to affect in you in some way.

1. the BASIC basic

The root of the words menstruation, menstrual, menopause, etc. is mensis - Latin for month.
see Webster 1913's dictionary entry of menstruation here

At birth, females have all the eggs their bodies will ever use and more, perhaps as many as 450,000. Males produce sperm throughout their lives, but females have what they started out with. The eggs are stored in a woman's ovaries, in sacs called follicles. As a girl approaches puberty, her body produces hormones that cause the eggs to mature. This is where it all begins. etc. etc...

Actually, there are a lot of things that one could learn about menstruation. One could find out about the intricate details of the female reproductive system and the biological functions involved in the process. But I'm going to concentrate on the the most important and practical stuff to know.

a brief anecdote :
This is a true story, an exchange which happened between a couple friends of mine, who will remain nameless.

Girl receives phone call from Guy at 7:30 in the evening. Guy says to girl, "Hey, a bunch of us are going swimming, you wanna go?" Girl: "I can't go, I'm on my period. Guy: "Oh. Alright. Bye." Guy hangs up the phone. End of first conversation. A half an hour later, Girl receives a second phone call. Guy: "Hey, we're supposed to meet at the pool at 8:00, I'll come pick you up, okay?" Girl: "HELLO! I already told you ...___________. Guy responds, "What? Aren't you DONE yet?" ...
What happened later that week was Girl decided to find out what guys know about the menstrual cycle. She decides to ask to see what guys know. Girl asks a guy (different guy from Original Guy) how long he thinks it lasts. His reply? "I dunno.. 15 minutes?"

Grossly uninformed.

A woman's entire menstrual cycle is the process of ovulation, which lasts an average of 28-30 days. This is why menstruation happens about every month (though it may not be so regular for each individual). Average time menstruating for most girls is probably around 4-7 days.

2. the PMS thing

Most guys have probably heard of PMS. PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. It refers to the changes that a woman's body undergoes in the few days (although it can be up to two weeks prior) before her period begins and lasts through the duration. Hormonal levels and neurochemical changes in the brain can result in a combination of the following: breaking out (skin trouble), bloating (a generally unpleasant feeling), abdominal cramping, headache, migraine, fatigue, constipation, painful joints, backache, cravings for certain foods, heart palpitations and weight gain.

You will probably hear the most complaints about cramps, since it tends to be the most severe symptom in bad cases. For me, cramps mean wanting to curl up in the fetal position and lie on the floor. The intensity and actual experience of cramping varies greatly from person to person. Some girls don't really get cramps and others of my friends are rendered unable to function at all for a day or so. However, like most PMS symptoms, YMMV from one female to another. Emotional and behavioral changes may include anxiety, depression, irritability, panic attacks, tension, lack of coordination, decreased work or social performance and altered libido. Advil or Midol can help relieve some of symptoms and most women do not experience all of them. Thank goodness.

A side note about PMS, it is a GOOD thing to be sympathetic to women and try to understand what she may be going through at that time of the month. I should say, however, that attributing any and all mood swings or emotional highs/lows to PMS is definitely a BAD thing to do. If a woman says something you don't agree with, or you accuse her of being irrational and blame her behavior on PMS or it being that time of the month, you will be inviting all kinds of wrath upon yourself.

3. feminine products

There are various options available to women in order to handle the main physical aspect of menstruation -- bleeding. The two most commonly used are the pad and the tampon. Both come in differing sizes, so that women can select one that fits their needs in terms of flow (light to heavy). Pads function sort of like a diaper (a much smaller one) for catching the fluids. They can, however, be bulky and a hassle to move around or play sports in. For this reason, many prefer tampons. Tampons sit in the vaginal cavity and if inserted properly, cannot be felt at all. Otherwise, there may be discomfort. Their function is to absorb menstrual flow before it comes out.

Nevertheless, with both pads and tampons, accidents do happen, products may not do their duty and things may leak. And blood stains. Thus, it is good to keep some hydrogen peroxide around (it helps get out the stains) and leather seats in your car are a bonus! Additionally, if a need should ever arise and you are willing to help a girl out by buying said feminine products for her, it is likely that you will be praised for your valour and confidence in your manhood.

4. a final note

Being considerate and sensitive to underlying things which may be going on within a woman's psyche is a skill worthwhile to learn. It is not required that you constantly discourse with females about everything mentioned above. They will probably find it strange if you do. But feel free to ask any genuine questions you may have, most women will probably answer to the best of their abilities and view the fact that you have thought about woman issues at all as being a good thing. Anyway, good luck!

The nodes above give a detailed classic view of how the menstrual cycle works. Something to add to this, however, would be how the hormones released during the menstrual cycle are the driving force within itself.

Hormonal Control of the Menstrual Cycle:

Overall, the menstrual cycle as controlled by hormones is as follows. The hypothalamus controls the secretion of hormones by certain cells throughout the body. Specifically during the menstrual cycle, the hypothalamus produces "messenger hormones," or neurohormones, which trigger the secretion of luteneizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, each of which are important chemicals controlling the feedback loop that is the menstrual cycle.

The menstrual cycle has 2 phases, the follicular phase and luteal phase. During the follicular phase, estrogen is released by follicles in the ovaries, which in turn stimulates the secretion of LH from the anterior pituitary. This will happen until the follicle fully matures and ovulation happens. At this point, the luteal phase occurs, in which LH causes the corpus luteum to release progesterone and estrogen. The levels of these two hormones will then reach a point at which the hypothalamus and pituitary gland will turn off, lowering the amounts of LH and FSH present.

Estrogen and progesterone secretion are caused by a rise in follicle stimulating and luteneizing hormone. The rise in FSH and LH are caused by the decrease in estrogen and progesterone. This coincides with the menstrual cycle, in which at ovulation, FSH and LH are at a high and estrogen and progesterone are at a low. The turning being ovulation, is the point at which FSH and LH decrease and estrogen and progesterone increase.

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