Men And Menstruation
I’ve been a birth doula since 2016, and in my practice I’ve witnessed varying degrees of involvement with birth partners throughout the pregnancy, labor, and delivery process. My goal with the non-laboring parent is not only to honor their comfort levels in being involved, but also to provide education, coaching, and opportunities for them to support their partner in each stage of labor. I aim to make them the hero of the day, not me. This is their birth experience, too.
During this unique time of bringing a baby into their family, I see partners tuning in to the birthing person’s health. They care about their partner’s well-being and want to support them effectively, so they quickly absorb information and play catch-up to learn basic physiology of women, the menstrual cycle, and the childbirth process. In many instances, a childbirth education course during pregnancy is the first time male partners are learning some of these facts about women’s bodies; it’s all new and overwhelming. When men make themselves familiar with the topics of birth and menstruation, the insight brings a level of confidence and calm that is invaluable in the most tense moments of these experiences. Birth is like anything else in life that matters deeply to us: We must educate ourselves and prepare accordingly.
From my experience working with birth clients and teaching women about their cycles, it seems that the menstrual cycle is often not openly discussed with men and boys. However, I have noticed that the millennial generation of parents are talking about it more openly with their children. Our culture has maturation programs for grade school boys and girls, but that setting is limited in many ways.
My conclusion is that educating and involving the men and boys in the conversation around menstruation will lead to healthy family relationships and stronger communities.
Men operate on a day-to-day basis, and women operate on a 28-day cycle. Because women are cyclical beings, operating on a different timeline, it can feel that they are wild, random, unpredictable, and irrational. But the simple truth is, they’re cyclical. Women are not difficult to map…if you understand the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the heart of a woman’s being, and drives the monthly hormonal shifts that are constantly in motion. A woman’s hormonal cycle impacts her mood, libido, cravings, brain function, communication, and more. A woman’s hormones never maintain a static level at any point. They constantly ebb and flow, so women are quite literally a different person each day of their cycle, and need different things.
This may seem a lot to keep track of, but stick with me. I’ll show you a simple map of the menstrual cycle that is predictable and easy to follow. In my experience, learning this information improves intimacy and sexual pleasure within a partnership and minimizes conflict.
The menstrual cycle follows the basic pattern of expansion and contraction. A woman’s hormones are constantly changing throughout her cycle: Estrogen builds in preparation for ovulation, progesterone then takes the stage to stabilize the uterine lining, and if there is no fertilized egg, progesterone drops to trigger the menstrual bleed.
A woman’s energy follows a similar cyclical pattern, dictated by the ever-changing hormone levels. This can be explained with the metaphor of the seasons of the year.
The inner seasons a woman cycles through monthly provide a framework that gives structure and provides flexibility for her cycle. Every woman’s cycle is unique, but they all follow the same blueprint. The basic structure of the menstrual cycle and predictable hormonal patterns serve as a guide for you to relate to your partner and her cyclical rhythm.
Let’s explore the four seasons of the menstrual cycle, as well as what you need to know, and how to support a woman through each phase.
The Seasons of the Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle has four phases, which follow the seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
A woman’s changing hormones impact just about every system in her body, including her brain, her immune system, her nervous system, and her reproductive system. For example, her brain changes about 25 percent throughout her monthly cycle, which affects her moods and preferences, so she is literally wired for different kinds of activities during each phase.
Here is an outline of what’s happening hormonally each season, and how to support a woman during each phase.
Follicular Phase (7-10 Days): Inner Spring
This is the phase that directly follows a woman’s menstruation (a.k.a. bleed time). Estrogen is on the rise, and so is her energy. Her metabolism slows down, so fresh, vibrant, lighter foods are best—plenty of salads, veggies, lean proteins, sprouted beans, and seeds.
During the follicular phase, she will most likely feel fresh and ready for new things. This is the ideal time for a woman to dream big, brainstorm, initiate, prepare, plan, research, be curious, set her intention, chart her strategy, clarify her vision, and fill her planner up with what she wants to accomplish in the coming weeks. Creativity is her strength during this phase. She also has rising energy, so this is a good time for her to tackle her most challenging tasks.
How You Can Support Her
Keep a Foods for Your Cycle chart handy for food ideas if you are on dinner duty. (I use one from Alicia Vitti’s book WomanCode, but you can also find them online.) Knowing what phase of her cycle she is in will tell you exactly how to nourish her body with the nutrients to best support her hormone balance and mood stability.
Plan a date/outing to a new place, visit a museum, or hike a new trail. Women are primed for new experiences during the follicular phase, and experiencing it together will bring you closer together.
Ask her big-picture questions about projects she wants to accomplish, how you can support her, and what she envisions for herself and your family for the next month or so.
Sexually, she’ll most likely be up for something new, so try a new position, move, game, toy, etc. Plan something in advance to surprise her. Be aware that this is a dry time for her, so use extra lube and foreplay to get her primed for activity.
Ovulatory Phase (4–6 Days): Inner Summer
Estrogen, as well as testosterone, peaks during this phase and makes a woman magnetic and on top of her game. Biologically, a woman looks for a mate because she is ovulating, so it makes sense that she would be her most attractive, appealing self.
During this phase, filling up with fresh raw veggies and fruit will best support a woman’s body. Because estrogen peaks, the fiber in her food will support estrogen metabolism to avoid PMS symptoms post-ovulation.
Women usually have the most energy during this phase; their specific strengths are communication and collaboration. This is the ideal time for a woman to socialize, talk about projects she’s working on, pitch ideas, be seen, collaborate with others, go on dates, have important conversations, go to lunch with girlfriends, host a party, and connect with others.
How You Can Support Her
This is a great time to plan social events with friends, host or attend a party together, go out with other people, and spend time bonding and socializing.
Talk about your long-term goals—as individuals, as a couple, and for your family. Where do you want to be five, 10, and 20 years from now?
Sexually, she will most likely be her most orgasmic, so enjoy and follow her lead as she tells you exactly how to pleasure her.
Luteal Phase (10-14 Days): Inner Fall
Progesterone is high; this is the hormone that maintains a woman’s uterine lining in the event a fertilized egg is implanting in her uterus. Her metabolism increases during this phase, so her body needs more calories. Nutrient-dense foods and foods with B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and high fiber will help her to curb cravings and stabilize her blood sugar and moods during this phase.
This is the “get it done” phase. A woman’s strength during this phase is bringing things to completion. This is the ideal time for her to finish projects, attend to administrative tasks at home or at the office, check things off her list, accomplish her goals (which she set up during her follicular phase), attend to your home, perform detail-oriented tasks, do her deep work, deep cleaning, and celebrate that she is a productive powerhouse.
During the first week of a woman’s luteal phase, estrogen and testosterone are still high. During the second week of this phase, estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone begin to decline. This leads to the rise of PMS symptoms and fragile moods if hormones are imbalanced.
Estrogen acts as a “social lubricant,” making it easier for a woman to let things roll off her back when estrogen levels are high. As estrogen declines, it is easier to see what’s not working, and it can irritate her. It may seem like a woman explodes over miniscule things during this phase, and rationally, that’s fair. However, these outbursts are a representation of longer-term feelings a woman has held in, and the luteal phase has simply brought them up so she can evaluate them and make changes in her life. This process is part of the larger purpose of the menstrual cycle, so a woman can make course-corrections for her life in a productive way. She may or may not be aware of this and use it to her advantage, so you may simply be the recipient of her own frustrations, especially if her hormones are not balanced. If so, be patient, compassionate, and curious.
But here’s the thing: When a woman nourishes and attends to her body during the phases leading up to this week and is supported in doing so, PMS symptoms diminish and disappear. This is good news for you and the rest of the household, because we all know, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
How You Can Support Her
Use this phase as a monthly check-in with your relationship. Talk about what’s working and what’s not, and then make a plan to work on improving one thing at a time.
Complete domestic tasks, like cleaning, budgeting, and organizing, together to enhance your bonding experience.
Sexually, the first week of this phase is similar to the ovulatory phase, but as hormones decline in the second week, so will her sex drive. Slow down and enjoy lots of foreplay with extra lubricant.
If her PMS symptoms are extreme, suggest she reach out to me at email@example.com and read WomanCode by Alisa Vitti and Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer.
Menstrual Phase (4-7 Days): Inner Winter
This is the phase that a woman’s uterus sheds its lining and a woman bleeds. A woman’s hormones and energy levels are at their lowest point during this phase, which makes it the ideal time for her to rest and reflect. During this phase, she ought to focus on eating protein and healthy fats to stabilize her energy levels and mood while her brain adjusts to the decline in hormones. Proteins and healthy fats can also set a woman up for a healthy ovulation the following month, because the amino acids contribute to hormone synthesis, and the fats increase egg and embryo quality.
A woman’s strengths during this phase are evaluation and intuition. This is the ideal time for a woman to rest, relax, and reflect on the last month. How did things go? Is she still happy working at her job or business? It’s the time for her to reflect on, celebrate, and evaluate each area of her life.
The two sides of a woman’s brain are the most open during this phase, so she is the most connected spiritually to listen to her intuition and receive inspiration to guide her life and her family. This is her time to come home to herself, claim her space, and direct what’s next for her.
Rest and reflection are a vital part of the creative process, so it’s important for her to not skip this step! This is the phase of her cycle when she literally refuels so that she can drive the next leg of her journey. She risks her health and happiness for the next month if she skimps on taking care of herself during her menstrual time, because she will run out of gas.
How You Can Support Her
Pick up additional domestic responsibilities to provide her some quiet time alone.
Sexually, follow her lead. Some women enjoy period sex while others do not. However, period sex has been shown to reduce cramping, stress, and menstrual discomfort. Go slow and use extra lubricant. This is a dry phase, contrary to what you might think.
In summary, women are cyclical and therefore predictable. The menstrual cycle follows the seasons of spring, summer, winter, and fall. And your growing understanding will give you the confidence to support the women you care most about in your life.
I want to acknowledge that what I have described above for each of the four seasons is a blueprint for the menstrual cycle, but the most important map to follow is your partner’s own experience of her cycle. It trumps anything I have shared above.