The Menstrual Cycle Explained
This week on The Slut Show Ellen Moore is joined by menstrual cycle expert, applied psychologist, tantra teacher & pleasure activist: Shayna Mazure (she / her). They talk about the chronicles of being a cyclical being, discussing how the menstrual cycle impacts those who menstruate. From science about hormones to Shayna’s polyamorous marriage, from squirting to Instagram censorship and from the world of tantra to orgies and the inner seasons of the menstrual cycle. This week’s Slutty Science explains: the menstrual cycle.
Cramping, bloating, tiredness, nausea, moods wings, headaches, breast tenderness, acne, diarrhea, back-pain and anxiety, all possible symptoms of the menstrual cycle. But, how are those symptoms caused? When do they occur? And most importantly, how exactly does the menstrual cycle actually work?
The menstrual cycle simplified
The menstrual cycle can be defined as a series of naturally occurring hormonal changes, which cause behavioral fluctuations in the uterus, ovaries and the person owning them. It is this cyclical pattern of physical and psychological changes, which makes pregnancy possible and impacts all things from your basal body temperature to the position of your uterus, from the consistency of your cervical mucus to your libido and from your skin and energy levels to your overall emotional well-being.
Although the length of the menstrual cycle can vary for a myriad of reasons, the average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. Day 1 of the menstrual cycle is marked by the start of your menstruation. During menstruation the uterine lining is shed, along with blood, as a result of rapidly decreasing progesterone levels. Menstruation generally lasts between three to seven days. Once the menstrual bleeding has stopped, the uterine lining begins to thicken again, to prepare for a possible pregnancy.
The first day of your cycle also marks the start of your inner winter. This season announces itself with a basal body temperature decrease of anywhere between 0,3 to 0,5 degrees Celsius. This typically occurs on the last day of your previous cycle or on the first day of your new cycle.
During winter your cervix opens slightly, to allow menstrual blood to flow out. Your cervix is the most firm during this part of the menstrual cycle and is positioned low.
Cervical mucus refers to the goo that comes out of your vagina. Both the quantity and consistency of cervical mucus change throughout different parts of the menstrual cycle. During winter your cervical mucus is a combination of blood and the uterine lining, which is being shed.
Menstruating requires energy, thus it comes as no surprise that low-energy levels are common during this part of the cycle. It is common to be more tired, to need more rest and me-time and to be more sensitive, both emotionally and physically.
The start of winter also marks the start of the follicular phase. This phase lasts for approximately 13 to 14 days and ends in ovulation. During the follicular phase the pituitary gland in the brain releases follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) which ‘stimulate the production of follicles on the surface of an ovary.’
A follicle is kind of like ‘a fluid-filled sac in the ovary that contains an egg that has not yet matured.’ During the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, one ovarian follicle develops into a mature egg. While the follicle matures, it produces the hormone estrogen. The closer the egg is to maturity, the more estrogen it produces.
The stop of your menstrual blood flow, marks the start of your inner spring.
During this season your basal body temperature generally remains stable, yet may decrease slightly. Day to day temperature differences are common, so if you track your basal body temperature this may result in fluctuations on your graphic.
Right after menstruating, it is common to notice no - or very little - cervical mucus. As hormone levels increase during your inner spring, however, the quantity of cervical mucus will increase too. At first, the consistency may be relatively dry or even granular, but this will slowly become more creamy.
During spring the position of your cervix will begin to rise and the structure will soften.
Estrogen levels peak ‘in the day or two prior to ovulation.’ This leads to more energy and increased sexdrive. Emotionally this season is often defined by increased self-confidence and curiosity towards the world around you.
It is this peak in estrogen levels which ‘stimulate[s] the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which in turn stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete luteinizing hormone (LH).’ It is the spike in both follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH) which leads to ovulation.
The ovulatory phase: Summer
Ovulation refers to the moment when an egg has matured and is released from the fallopian tubes and begins traveling to the uterus. From the moment the egg is released it can be fertilized by sperm cells. Ovulation takes place during the ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle. This phase occurs during your inner summer.
Prior to ovulation your basal body temperature decreases. After ovulation occurs, however, your progesterone levels will peak. This hormonal peak causes your basal body temperature to rise anywhere between 0,3 to 0,5 degrees Celsius.
It is the previously described spike in estrogen that occurs during ovulation and provokes the increase of both follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH), which also softens the cervix. Although the cervix feels the softest during this phase of the menstrual cycle, it is also positioned the highest. This can make it hard - or for some even impossible - to feel it when entering the vagina with a finger.
Additionally, these hormonal changes signal the cervix to open up, allowing sperm cells to pass through the cervix into the uterus. However, it is only when a fertile egg is present in the fallopian tubes or the uterus, an individual can get pregnant.
During one’s inner summer, the cervical mucus changes from creamy and lotion-like, to a clear, wet and slippery consistency, similar to egg-white.
It is the spike in luteinizing hormone (LH) which ‘also causes a brief surge in testosterone, which increases sex drive, right at the most fertile time of the cycle.’ Furthermore, these hormonal changes are thought to generate both high levels of energy and self-confidence.
The luteal phase: Fall
After the ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle, the luteal phase begins. This phase starts with a decrease in the level of both follicle stimulating hormones (FSH), estrogen and luteinizing hormones (LH). Followed by an increase in progesterone levels. It is the drop in both estrogen and progesterone levels, which comes thereafter, which ‘signal[s] the uterus to prepare to shed its lining’ for the menstrual cycle to repeat itself, starting off with menstruation. On average, menstruation occurs 12 to 14 days after ovulation.
The start of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle also marks the start of your inner fall. During this season your basal body temperature remains similar to the temperature peak which occurred during ovulation. It is only on the very last day of your inner fall or the first day of your inner winter, your temperature drops again.
During your inner fall, the cervix will start to move back down and cervical mucus will thicken and become more white. As you approach the end of your cycle, the quantity of cervical mucus will keep decreasing.
It is the decrease of estrogen levels and increase of progesterone levels, which cause your energy levels to decrease, alongside your libido. These hormonal changes increase the chances of PMS symptoms, thus it is no wonder the inner fall of the menstrual cycle is often referred to as the highway to hell.
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Lots of love,
The slut show is about way more than sex. It is about breaking taboos, asking questions and fucking the patriarchy, by having real, raw, uncensored and heartfelt conversations about topics that matter. In a safe space we aim to make room for the voices of marginalized folks, creating a place to listen to the pain, sorrow, hopes and dreams of those who came before us. Found in & by intersectional feminism, we believe that everybody should have the same opportunities and get treated equally - regardless of the color of their skin, the size of their body, the gender they identify with or the people they choose to love. Let it be known that the feminism we know today rests upon the foundation black, indigenous, people of color & the queer community built for us. May the battles they fought and the struggles they overcame keep the raging fire in our hearts alive, to make sure that they - nor their legacy - will ever be forgotten.
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