Ever had times when you felt bloated, moody, and just plain awful and all you wanted to do was hide away at home under the duvet with a quart of chocolate ice cream? Of course you have––you’re a woman, aintcha?!
The female cycle sends you on a rollercoaster of different phases month by month. Sometimes you may wonder, "What’s all this for?" The answer is plain and simple: these monthly phases are your body’s way of preparing for the possibility of getting pregnant. Like it or not!
The female cycle is as individual as you are. For most women a full cycle lasts 28 days, but cycle lengths of 25-35 days are also within the perfectly normal range. During this time your body switches from one phase to the next, powered by hormonal swings. Generally speaking, there are four phases in the female cycle: Menstruation, the Post-menstrual phase, Ovulation, and finally the Pre-menstrual phase. However, the duration of each phase can be highly individual and may even change as you get older. So it’s no wonder that some phases may seem endless to you, or that the transition between phases seems to blur.
Menstruation: the bloody days
It all starts with your first menstruation. You probably got your first period between the age of 8 and 17. However, the timing of the first bleeding is not fixed at a certain age and can occur individually for everyone. This new development may have been pretty frightening for you, but it’s actually a reason to celebrate––a sign that you’re growing from a girl into a woman. Your body has likely already shown the first signs of this earlier, because immediately before your first menstruation your body begins to change. Your breasts slowly start to develop, and hair grows in your pubic and underarm areas. This is mainly due to rising levels of estrogen, the female sex hormone, and of another sex hormone called progesterone. It’s partly due to these hormones that a woman can have a baby––and this takes us back to the menstrual cycle. When a girl menstruates for the first time, she is physically ready to have a baby. From now on, when she has sexual intercourse it’s possible for one of her eggs to be fertilized and to implant itself.
If this doesn’t happen, bleeding occurs––the period. The uterus rejects parts of the uterine wall which had previously thickened to protect a possible embryo. It doesn’t need them any more, so these parts are now washed out with the menstrual blood. That means when your period happens, your uterus simply cleans itself. It's actually quite positive when you think of it in that way, isn’t it?
Yeah, we know, we know––if only it weren't for those stupid cramps. They’re caused by contractions in the uterus and a drop in estrogen. But a little sport or a hot-water bottle can help ease the pain. But if you continue to suffer from very heavy cramps, talk to your gynecologist and make sure that everything is fine. But don’t worry, your doctor will certainly be able to help you. Usually the pain subsides after some time and your body slowly moves towards the next phase. And this phase will be better - believe it!
Post-menstrual phase: time for estrogen and egg maturing
In the first days after your period, you already start to feel better. This is where the Proliferative and Follicular phase begins. Stimulating hormones cause your ovaries to form an “ovarian follicle,” a little sac containing one egg. At the same time, your uterine lining regenerates and the walls of your uterus become thicker again as your estrogen level rises.
But that pumping estrogen does a whole lot more in your body. The estrogen makes you and your skin glow. And a boost in testosterone means that you feel especially strong right now. So go for it, girl––now’s a great time to tackle a fitness workout! When your estrogen level is at its peak, you probably feel sexier than ever before. Your body is glowing, you're radiant outside and in, and you look fabulous. Now it's time to show off your beauty to the whole world! Pretty great, this female cycle thing, isn't it? And here’s another fact to make you stop and think: during this time orgasms can be especially intense and frequent. But hold on just a minute! Caution is required here, because this is the time when you are at your most fertile and so right in the middle of this phase, the ovulation phase will start.
Ovulation: a fertility explosion
In a process called ovulation, hormones stimulate the ovary to release a mature egg. During ovulation, the mature egg travels down the fallopian tube from the ovary into the uterus. At any time during this journey, the egg can be fertilized by sperm and could be implanted in the uterus. An egg can only be fertilized within the first 12 hours of its release, however, sperm can survive in the female body for about 5 days and their life span is pretty unpredictable. Therefore, it is hard to pin down the fertile days exactly. So if you want to shelve family planning for a while, you should pay extra-special attention to what happens during sex at this time. Never forget: not only during this time you should pay special attention to contraception. Because no matter what you usually hear and no matter if your especially fertile days occur during a certain period - you can get pregnant at any time, really at any time of your cycle. These and other unbelievable facts about the period can also be found in our FAQs. So if you don’t want to have a baby yet, you must think of contraception. With the right contraceptive method nothing will stand in the way of an exciting night. Not sure yet which contraceptive method you prefer? Take a look at our method overview and we’ll help you to decide.
Pre-menstrual phase: nest or go
In this phase, the uterine lining gets itself ready for an egg to implant. If implantation does not occur, the uterine lining stops being supplied with sufficient blood.
Suddenly your hormones switch again. Your emotions become more intense, and you might feel tired and weak (symptoms can differ individually) - now the time of the dreaded premenstrual syndrome (PMS) gradually begins. That radiance in your complexion fades, mainly due to decreasing estrogen levels. Your skin now produces more oil, which causes skin impurities and makes your skin more sensitive. This is the time to hit the healthy food, which is now especially good for your body––even if all your cravings are screaming “candy!” and you can’t even think about vegetables. As if that wasn’t enough, increased progesterone also makes you feel bloated and puts you off sex right now––and that's fine. But don't let PMS get the upper hand! With exercise and a healthy diet, you can boost your serotonin levels and help to counteract chest pain, headaches, and fatigue. Use this time to recharge your batteries––you’ll need them at full power for the next step:
If the egg is not fertilized during ovulation, the follicle simply dissolves in the body. Both estrogen and progesterone levels plunge, marking the beginning of the menstrual phase, and your body gets ready to start the whole cycle all over again. But don't stress yourself! The female cycle is something completely normal and holds so much wonderful potential for you. Who can claim that hormones potentially can improve the complexion of your skin and make it possible to get pregnant, huh? Just women! So ride that female cycle, girl – it pays off!