Knowledge bombs: Periods

Image via
Most* women have at least one period in their life. Women know a lot about the experience of periods but this knowledge often has little influence on the health care systems that 'support' them. We live in a world where what those in medicine and science—who I will refer to as ‘Medicine’ for the rest of this post—claim to know about periods is deemed more important by society (and is more influential).  

While many are working towards health care being more reflective of women’s experiences and needs, it will be some time before this contributes to meaningful change in the health care experienced by women (and men). For better or for worse it can be handy to know about Medicine’s perception of periods, particularly if you are seeking health care for related symptoms or concerns. Unfortunately I can’t capture all of what Medicine claims to know in one post so instead I've selected some interesting tidbits that I have recently come across.

Before we get started…

Here are some diagrams of what Medicine thinks the majority of women’s reproductive organs look like:

Front view. Image via

Side view (front is on the left and back is on the right). Image via

The Melbourne Royal Women’s Hospital have a good description of what a period is (in the Medical sense) on their website hereNow for some knowledge** bombs!

M Your eggs take a cool little trip to your uterus

Your ovary and your fallopian tube are not completely connected (as you can see in the first picture above). When an egg of yours is chilling out in your ovary it is in a bubble (called a ‘follicle’). This bubble releases chemicals that your fallopian tube responds to by coming closer and surrounding the bubble. The bubble than opens and the egg is released (with some fluid to help carry it).  The end of your fallopian tubewhich has come closer to surround the bubblehas little finger-like things at the end that then pick up your egg so it can make its way down to your uterus.

M Your egg is not passively waiting for an athletic sperm to 'penetrate' it

You may have heard Medicine describe the fertilisation process as many athletic sperm swimming fast towards the egg with the strongest dashing forward to penetrate it. Research indicates that this is not correct. Instead, it would seem that your egg is active in attracting sperm to it and that sperm are not as ‘athletic’ as was previously thought; the two have to work together for fertilisation to occur. For more information about the original incorrect ‘observation’ and the reasons it has persisted for so long, I highly recommending reading this article.

M The 28 day cycle is a myth

Women vary in the length of their menstrual cycle not only from one woman to the next but also from one cycle to the next (for the individual woman). There is no ‘right’ length of time for all women. (This myth may have been further spread by the Pill being based on an artificial 28 day cycle; most have 21 active tablets and 7 non-active.)

I look forward to a time when women and their lived experiences of their bodies are enabled to make a larger contribution to their health care. In the mean time I hope that this post was interesting and/or useful to some of you.

Kate xx

P.S. Checkout The Guardian’s webpage where people share their stories about periods; there are some great reads!

*While the majority of women experience at least one period in their life not all do for various reasons such as a medical condition (e.g. Turner's syndrome), being born into a male body, or having impaired reproductive organs.

**By ‘knowledge’ I mean the knowledge of Medicine. I find it interesting to think about how knowledge is created and who decides what is considered ‘knowledge’. I wonder what this post would have looked like if I had have used the collective knowledge of women rather than Medicine?