Although I’m very pleased with my vagina, I do wish someone had told me, when I was young, just how much of my life I’d spend worrying about all the stuff that happened to drip out of it. Not that I resent the dripping exactly, it’s just I never anticipated there’d be so much of it. And that thanks to irregular periods and other vaginal surprises, it’s entirely unpredictable.
All the things that drip from my vagina
I’m not just talking about period blood, though that’s the primary thing I want to discuss. And by the way, thanks schoolteachers for not taking a couple of minutes in sex education to explain to the class that period blood often has chunks in. Just that one piece of information could have spared me a lot of awkwardness with my squeamish first boyfriend, who looked at me in horror after a quick bout of period sex left him with a hefty portion of uteral lining on his bellend. More importantly I could have been spared the genuine gutpunch of terror I felt the first time a huge chunk fell out and I wondered if I might just be dying.
Alongside period blood there’s other stuff which broadly comes under the umbrella term ‘discharge.’ It can vary in colour from ‘magnolia’ to ‘hazlenut truffle’ via every other option on the Dulux colour chart, occasionally taking fun detours into shades of ‘holy fuck is that actually green?’ Whatever colour it is, it bleaches the crotch of your knickers, so if you’re a goth like I am and wear mostly black/red/purple ones, you either have to re-purchase your lingerie collection every six months (which I don’t), spend extortionate amounts of money on panty liners (nope), or just hang your knickers at the centre of the washing line with towels and hoodies and jeans on the outside, to cunningly concealing the state of them from the neighbours (yep).
Once you’ve recovered from the shock of vaginal discharge, there’s also that substance for which I have no name other than ones which sound like they were designed by a committee of 12 year old schoolboys. ‘Fanny batter’, ‘quim’ or ‘sex juice’ were the most common ones I grew up with. Whatever the liquid is that oozes out of me when a gentleman pinches my nipples, or I have a sordid fantasy about Troy and Abed from Community. It seemed like just as I started to get used to this substance as a sexual side-effect (mastering the art of placing a lover’s fingers on the gusset of my knickers to show him how wet I was, or placing my damp panties inside his mouth while I rode him), suddenly my body decided to occasionally stop producing it, and I had to knuckle down and learn about lube.
All this confusion! All this unpredictability! And that’s before I even list out the substances that aren’t produced by my vagina itself – jizz, lube, bathwater – over which I need to maintain constant vigilance. If I drop my vaginal guard for just a few minutes, I forget that something went in there. Then ten minutes later I’ll feel whatever it was gush straight down my internal waterslide and land with a splashdown in the gusset of my nicest pants.
In summary: no one ever told me that having a vagina would mean maintaining a mental encyclopaedia of all the different fluids that would drip out of it – when they appeared, what they looked like, how they smelt, and whether they had changed significantly since last time they oozed from my nethers and thus might indicate potential imminent death.
My vagina is leaking stuff. Is this the start of an infection? Or is it just a Thursday?
Unpredictable, irregular periods
This is supposed to be a post about periods – for Sub Bee’s fab new meme Menstruation Matters, in which she’s encouraging people to share their experiences and opinions of their periods to help normalise discussion of menstruation and show a diversity of experience. But it didn’t seem right that I talk about my periods without first mentioning the unpredictability of vaginal drippage in general. Because that’s the context in which I started my own: teen, awkward, possessing a basic sex education, and already terrified by the sheer range of juice that my vagina was capable of producing. Then my period arrived.
I was told, without qualification, that periods happened every 28 days. At school we were given paper charts on which we could track ours if we wanted to (inside a pack of other period stuff that included a few of the largest sanitary towels I have ever seen – seriously, you could have used them as travel pillows on a long-haul flight), and we were told that marking off the start of your period on a calendar was one of those Vital Adult Tasks that we’d be expected to do. Keeping on top of your dates was important if you wanted to know whether you were pregnant.
Unfortunately for me, I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). I didn’t know that at the time, I discovered it later in life when hair started growing on my nipples and neck and I went to a doctor to ask what I’d done to deserve it. But aside from hair growth, one of the other symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods. Not ‘irregular’ like ‘maybe a couple of days late or early each month’, but ‘irregular’ like ‘booked a holiday, have you? HA! That period you’ve been worrying about for the last four months will arrive the second your flight takes off, and will last until the moment you lug your sunburned arse back through arrivals at London Heathrow!’
What I’m saying is, my periods are exactly as unpredictable as all the other stuff that falls out of my fanny. I have irregular periods whenever I am not taking hormonal contraceptives. And the discovery that my periods would fail to provide me with the stable, predictable monthly routine that I had been promised in sex ed was a bit of a blow. While it was nice to not have as many periods as I’d been led to expect, I couldn’t really appreciate that joy because I was too busy worrying about when the next one might deign to show up. Like if you told you were getting let off this year’s tax return: it’d be great news, until you learned that instead of having to do it at the normal time, sometime next year an auditor would turn up at your door and demand all your receipts, even if you were in the middle of a birthday sex party.
Contraceptives and irregular periods
When I first discovered “The Pill” (Microgynon 30 for you hormonal contraceptive fans), I was overjoyed by the predictability it injected into my life. My annoying, irregular periods were replaced by regular, controllable ones. Not only did I know – to within a day or two – when my period would knock on my door, I could even decide whether or not to let it in!
I ignored all the advice about not taking multiple packets back to back, and instead just chained packet after packet together, effectively banishing most periods from my life and only acquiescing to have one every six months or so. This seemed like the best course of action for 18-year-old me, because now that I could look at the dates, I established that most of my periods were due to fall on days when I stood a more-than-20% chance of getting fingered. I don’t know what the advice is on doing this these days: talk to your doctor, because I am not one.
Irregular vs regular periods: what is ‘normal’?
The main point of me telling you all this – apart from the sheer cathartic joy of getting it off my chest – is that when it comes to periods we’re often told that this is ‘normal’ or that is ‘to be expected’, when individual experience is anything but. Now that I’ve got a copper IUD instead of hormonal contraceptives, the most ‘normal’ thing about my vagina is that it ‘normally’ does stuff I don’t expect: cycling through various shades of discharge, dripping jizz and bathwater into my gusset, and occasionally teasing me with rust-brown dribbles that might turn out to be menstrual blood, or might instead just be today’s new way of my vagina reminding me it exists.
On my journey through irregular periods, via contraceptively-controlled periods, and finally reaching the stage I’m at now (which I’m just going to call “PERIODS: SHRUG EMOJI”), the most useful phrase I’ve learned is ‘normal for me.’
When doctors ask ‘when was your last period?’ and I respond with a shrug, I’m able to head off their worries by explaining ‘this is normal for me.’ On the depressingly rare occasions when boyfriends have paid attention and enquired as to why I haven’t bled for three months, ‘normal for me’ has calmed their nerves. And when something has gone wrong, and I’m worried about pregnancy or infection or a dodgy side-effect of some pill or other, my constant vigilance over my body has given me the confidence to walk into a doctor’s surgery and explain that this thing – this change – is significant. It’s not normal for me.
We often focus on what is ‘normal’ – especially when it comes to sex and our bodies, where so many of us are desperately seeking reassurance that we aren’t broken or wrong. But having had ‘abnormal’ irregular periods for most of my adult life, I find immense comfort and value in understanding what’s ‘normal for me.’
Vaginal admin – whether discharge, menstruation, or random helpings of bathwater – is a pain to keep on top of, but it’s taught me what my version of normal looks like. My ‘normal’ is a scatty, unpredictable mess: like me.
Click the link to read more people talking about menstruation… And especially check out this post – ‘What is normal?‘ by The Other Livvy who is an actual doctor.