Understanding The Menstrual CycleMarch 17, 2011 No Comments
It’s a sad fact that many women don’t understand their menstrual cycle.
When is their period due? When do they ovulate? When can they have sex and not get pregnant? When have they been at risk and needed emergency contraception?
I hear women asking these questions all the time, and they are often grown adults who have been having periods for decades. I’ve decided that it’s high time you were enlightened, so read on.
And any man with a wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, or daughter should know this information as well, so show this article to the men in your life.
1. When is your period due?
Most women have approximately the same number of days in each cycle. It’s called a monthly cycle because it’s approximately once a month, but it can be from 20 to 40 days (or longer) depending on the woman. Day 1 is the day your period starts. The last day is the day before your period comes. In order to know when your period is due you need to keep track of when your last few cycles started and count the number of days between them. It’s not exact, but after doing this for a while you should get a pretty good idea. Some women have irregular periods, but if they can learn the signs of ovulation they can also predict when their period might come.
2. When do you ovulate?
Women ovulate approximately two weeks before their period starts. So once you learn how long your cycle is you can predict when you might ovulate the next month. There are other methods of calculating when you ovulate that include taking your temperature and examining cervical mucus. There is the most cervical mucus during ovulation and it is kind of clear, slippery, stretches between the fingers, and has been described as “like raw egg white.” If you can learn to identify ovulation you will know that your period is coming in about two weeks.
3. When are you fertile?
The egg lives for approximately 1 day. Sperm lives for 5-7 days. If you can learn how to identify when you are ovulating you can determine when you are fertile or infertile. If you don’t want to become pregnant you need to avoid sex for the days before and a couple after ovulation, so maybe about 12 days a month. You can read more about what’s called the Fertility Awareness Method here.
4. Can you get pregnant if you have sex during your period?
Absolutely, depending on the length of your cycle of course. Let’s look at an example. Say your cycle is 24 days. You will ovulate at approximately day 10 and if you have sex on day 3 of your period the sperm has the potential to live until day 10 when you’re probably ovulating. If you don’t keep track of your cycle then it’s best to take emergency contraception if you have had unprotected sex (or another contraception mishap) and don’t want to get pregnant. This needs to be taken as soon as possible to be most effective, but most pills can be taken within 72 hours/3 days, some are available up to 120 hours/5 days, and the IUD can be used for emergency contraception up to 120 hours/5 days later. But the sooner the better. Find it here.
5. Is it safe to have sex during the “week off” if you’re on birth control?
Of course! The whole point of birth control of the hormonal variety (pills, patches, rings) is that they stop you from ovulating. You have to take them correctly of course, so if you have missed more than one pill it might be a different story (read here for help), but if you take them on time you shouldn’t get pregnant because you shouldn’t be ovulating.
6. How do I keep all of this straight?
On a calendar mark when your period starts, how long it lasts, and when you think you might be ovulating. This way you can predict when your periods might come and when you ovulate and when you’re fertile and everything else you might want to plan around your cycle (holidays? dates? weddings?). It’s not a perfect science but if you make a little effort you can have a whole lot better understanding of your body and that’s always a good idea.
If you have any other questions you can email me about them or go to a family planning clinic or your doctor.
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