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Tweens And Teens: Often Messy, But Nothing To Be Embarrassed

Tweens and teens: Often messy, but nothing to be embarrassed by

On average, people in the United States get their first period at around 12 years old. But that’s just an average. If you were a few years older or younger, that’s normal, too.

The age you are when you first get your period depends on a bunch of factors, like your genetics, body mass index (BMI), the foods you eat, how much exercise you get, and even where you live.

In the first few years, it’s common for your period to be irregular and unpredictable. You might go months without any hint of it and then boom, red Niagara Falls.

“Menarche, the beginning of the menses, is very much reflective of menopause because initially, and at the end, we’re not ovulating,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of OB-GYN and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine.

Our menstrual cycle is governed by our hormones. The physical experience of a period — the bleeding, cramps, emotional swings, tender breasts — all comes down to the amount of hormones our body is releasing at any given time. And two hormones in particular dictate our cycle.

“Estrogen stimulates the growth of the uterine lining, while progesterone regulates that growth,” Minkin says. “When we’re not ovulating, we don’t have the regulatory control of the progesterone. So you can get these willy-nilly periods. They come, they don’t come. Then there can be heavy, intermittent bleeding.”

Katia Najd first got her period a couple of years ago when she was 15. In the beginning she experienced a relatively irregular — though totally normal — cycle.

“My period was very light at the beginning and lasted for about a week and a half,” Najd says. “I also had about two periods a month, which is why I decided to go on the pill to regulate it.”

It’s common to feel shy, confused, and even frustrated about your period at first. Which makes total sense. It’s a brand new, often messy experience that involves a very intimate part of your body.

“I used to be so afraid of leaking in middle school (I hadn’t even started my period, but I was afraid I would start and then leak) that I would go to the bathroom like every half hour just to check,” says Erin Trowbridge. “I was petrified of stuff like that for years.”

Growing up Muslim, Hannah Said wasn’t allow to pray or fast during Ramadan when she was menstruating. She says this made her feel uncomfortable, especially when she was around other religious people. But thanks to support from her father, she didn’t internalize too much of the stigma.

“My dad was the first person to know I had my period and bought me pads,” she says. “So it’s always been something I’m comfortable talking about, especially with men.”

Similarly, Najd cites the support of her family as one of the reasons she doesn’t feel negatively about her period.

“I have two older sisters, so I was used to hearing about it before I ever started,” she says. “It’s something every woman has, so it’s nothing to be embarrassed by.”

The 20s: Getting into a groove
So, periods are all over the place in the beginning. But what about with a little more time?

Your 20s are your fertility heyday. This is the time your body is most prepared to have a baby. For most people this means their cycles will be the most regular. As one gets a little more mature going through the menarche stage, they start ovulating. When you start ovulating, barring anything abnormal going on, you start having more regular monthly cycles.

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