Menstrual Cycling: The History of the Menstrual Cycle and How to Combat it Comfortably on the Bike

Link to original image: http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/08/19/the-national-push-to-close-the-cycling-gender-gap/
Link to original image

The older I get, the less afraid and bothered I am by my menstrual cycle. Sure, sometimes it is accompanied by a lot of pain, but I’ve learned to manage and live my life normally despite this. I no longer think of it as something that will hinder me or my way of life, and do whatever I can to make it seem and feel non-existent, or at least non-cumbersome. In the last couple years, I’ve never heard myself say: “I’m going on vacation, but, oh no, it’s the time of my period” or, “sorry, can’t go swimming at Sauvie Island with you, it’s my monthly menses again”. That being said, for a lot of people, cycling during the menstrual cycle seems scary and uncomfortable for a multitude of reasons.

Throughout history, people on their periods have been both revered and demonized in various ways. The Cherokee tribe, for example, believed menstrual blood had the power to destroy enemies and viewed it as a symbol of strength. In certain parts of Africa, menstrual blood would be used only for the most powerful spells–whether to wreak havoc or heal. In traditional Christianity, menstruation has been viewed as unholy and unclean–so much so, that menstruating women were not supposed to be in church or participate in holy communion. The belief was so extensive that people would refuse to even be touched by a menstruating person, under the belief that they would be susceptible to possession by a demon. No matter the culture, religion, or country, there is always myth or misconception regarding menstruation…and no one wants to step up and talk about it.

Even in modern culture, there is fear and fallacy surrounding the menstrual cycle. From Donald Trump saying that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her whatever”, simply because she spoke out against misogyny, to husbands ignoring the concerns of their wives simply because of their hormonal cycles, to the United States government taxing menstrual hygiene products because tampons and pads are marked as a “luxury item”–the list of sexist remarks and views goes on. Ultimately, the period is not viewed as a normal part of a person’s life and is seen as something supernatural, scary, and most often: gross.

So, how does a modern person handle biking during the time that they shed the lining of their uterus? How does that ‘time of the month’ affect cycling?

Here’s the truth: it doesn’t, and if it has for you, I have multiple ways to make it more comfortable and breezy. I’ll help you learn to go with the flow.

People have always had interesting ways to catch menstrual blood. From the dawn of time people have found ways to prevent blood from getting all over themselves and living their lives normally. In Ancient Egypt, they made tampons out of papyrus. In Ancient Greece, they made them out of small pieces of wood wrapped in lint. In modern times, we use stiff cotton with a string on the end. I have found, though, that tampons are both dangerous and annoying when it comes to menstrual cycling. Pads, as well, are not good for such an activity; they create both unwanted pressure points and the discomfort of sitting in blood all day.

What I recommend, alternatively, is a menstrual cup. I personally use the Diva Cup; however, there are many different options out there right now. Unlike tampons, there is little to no risk of toxic shock syndrome, the silicon will not get soaked in urine like the cotton does, and you can wear it, well, basically until it’s full. The box says that the max is 12 hours and then it should be cleaned out. However, it lasts a lot longer and is more comfortable that tampons (Edit: It should be noted that certain forms of internal birth control can be dangerous with silicon cups, i.e. IUD’s and birth control rings. You should research before using if you have these forms of birth control. I have a copper IUD, as does my sister, and we both use the Diva Cup with no trouble; however, it differs for everyone).

Going on a century ride? Cool, you won’t need to bring a handful of tampons with you. Going on a long bicycle tour in the countryside? Awesome, you’ll just have to bring a menstrual cup and some unscented soap. A silicon menstrual cup is so much easier to use and cheaper than our little cotton friends have been in the past. Plus, users are unlikely to experience an overflow–honestly, you can tell when it’s getting full.

The only thing is that with a menstrual cup you have to be a lot more up close and personal with your menstrual blood on a regular basis. You have to fold it in funky ways and, if you don’t put it in correctly, you have to start all over. It’s not as straight forward as those fancy tampon applicators a lot of us use. It also suctions to your cervix, which is very strange feeling if you’ve never experienced it. That being said, it is worth adapting to, especially if you are a bike commuter, enjoy bike touring, or if you’re sick of spending “x” amount of money on ‘feminine hygiene products’ every month.

Have bad cramps or headaches during PMS? Cycling can actually help with both. Being active helps most people with cramps. Overall, cycling on your period is not as scary or cumbersome as it might sound.

Another way to handle menstrual cycling is by wearing an incognito chamois pad(option I, option II, option III) with either the cup or tampons, especially if you’re going on a long ride. Most chamois pads are thick enough that, if you bleed onto them, it still won’t get onto your pants or shorts. Additionally, the material that most chamois pads are made of is pretty resistant–meaning, if you bleed onto your chamois it will literally wash right out (unlike those cotton pants or panties you might be wearing). All you have to do is rinse with water and soap and it’s all gone…Voila! Good as new. This system is not only more convenient and easy, it’s much better for the environment and for your budget than the single-use alternatives.

Did you know that the former UCI(Union Cycliste Internationale) president Hein Verbruggen advocated for banning people on their periods from participating in sanctioned races? To which many responded: “What are you going to do? A panty check?” Sexism runs deep, my friends. Do not let your menstrual cycle or anyone that is afraid of it dictate your activities or your way of life.

Now get out and ride no matter what time of the month it is.

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