First blood duels, the art of training and fighting while on your period.

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First blood duels

The art of training and fighting while on your period.

By: Mariana López
Note: The following article has not gone through style edition yet, please be patient as a better version is re-updated as soon as it’s available. I have decided to publish it as it is since it’s a blog of interest.

Let’s be honest, periods are the kind of things that we don’t talk about, we assume everyone knows it all and has it solved, or that there’s not much to do to improve the situation. However not only does people deal differently with their periods, there’s also the fact that some of us are too afraid or unwilling to try new things based on lack of information on ways to improve how we deal with the monthly visits, unaware of the difference it can make in our training and fighting experience, and how it can improve our performance as recreational or competitive fencers.

First of all, it is known that the hormonal process women and trans men experience every month can have an effect on performance, while studies are not strong enough to confirm a major difference, there is some proof showing how the fluctuation of hormones can affect to an extent the performance of certain exercises depending on the time of the month, like strength exercise in some days or a mildly increased chance of injury in others (mostly when estrogen is up).

(https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/how-periods-might-affect-womens-athletic-performance/)

However my main goal with this blog is to talk about dealing with menstruation itself; different people react differently to it, some have mentioned that their period makes them more aggressive or eager to fight, other’s go to the depressive side where they lack motivations, some like me have a mix of strong cramps, hypersensitive skin and a constant sense of discomfort while panicking about “what if an accident happens” which used to hold me back for properly doing almost anything! (something that I was finally able to fix!). For the rest of the blog, I will make a list of the different methods to deal with your period, pros and cons and ideas to treat pain and other PMS symptoms.

Regardless of age, working around and understanding your period can be time-consuming, however, the convenience, and comfort is well worth it!

I will list the methods in the following order:

Methods that deal with the blood, methods that deal with cramps or other “side effects” of the menstruation, and methods that deal with how and when the period happens and or its effects. Each method will be graded from 1(*) to 5 Stars (*****), 1 being the worse 5 being the best (personal opinion).

Sure, you can find like a thousand blogs like this on the internet. But one more won’t hurt, and proof of that is that this topic has been a matter of discussion at Esfinges forum since the day of its creation 6 years ago.

Menstruation Pads * :

The more common and accessible method, yet the most “primitive” of methods to deal with periods: humidity, irritation, the risk of infection and the need for multiple methods to keep pads in place plus the constant risk for accidents are one of the many reasons this is in the low bottom of the list. Incredibly they are also the most used method, being the easiest to access and with the lowest learning curve to use them effectively. Unless you have a very low flow period, I am almost convinced anyone using this method struggles at training every time.

Pros: Easy access, small learning curve, many options for material and shape

To consider: Must be changed every 3 to 4 hours making it an ordeal if you are in a tournament and the staffing-fighting-volunteering-living give you little time to restroom visits.

Cons: Can cause irritation or infections, most likely to move out of place and the plastic materials increase sweatiness. The “perfumes” to cover up smell sometimes make the smell worse (IMO)

Tips and tricks:

  • To reduce the risk of accidents during training you can use a pad more absorbent than what you need, downside: might cause extra bulkiness
  • To reduce the risk of movement & accidents, plus reducing the visibility of the pad and extra smell blocking: use a pair of Lycra/spandex shorts/short style swimsuit bottoms to keep extra compression and keep everything in place. Downside: can get a bit warmer a lot faster.
  • To reduce the visibility of the pads if it matters to you: Ignore the usual lovely leggings and go for a more solid fabric when buying capris. Black always helps to hide any possible stain too. However: remember that periods are natural, all women have used a pad once, it’s normal and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. If an accident happens during class, your classmatesshould deal with it (or learn to deal with it)

Similar options:

Reusable fabric pads **:

Same pros and cons as the menstruation pads with the advantage of them being more ecological and save money in the long run plus reduction of sweat

Cons: you must carry the used and pads with you if you are out for the day, or risk not having a place to wash and dry the pad. This can be annoying especially at camping HEMA events! Not a big deal, but not appealing to everyone.

To consider: Might not be a great idea for people who get grossed out by blood and discharge, as you must rinse the pads first before washing.

Knixwear leak proof undies ***

https://knix.com/collections/leakproof

I was incredibly doubtful of this one, but despite the price I went and bought them and now I am in love and own several pairs!

Pros: Unlike Pads, you can wear Knix up to 12 hours or more depending on the heaviness of your period. It literally feels like regular underwear, in fact, is more comfortable than some underwear. There is a lot (A LOT) less humidity helping avoid PH changes or urinary infections due to the constant rubbing, also there’s no risk for the absorbent area to move out of place preventing from leaking.

It is incredibly thin (and yet it handled my regular to slightly heavy flow perfectly) so no one will notice including your self. I also find the smell to reduce a lot compared to the smell you have with pads, you might get a small cent of metal (because blood) but is fainter than the pads perfumes which can get fairly strong.

It’s ecological and will save money in the long (very long) run, and they very little packing space, unlike reusable pads. 

To Consider:  The best way I recommend to try these out is to use them a day you won’t go out so you are not panicking all day.

Cons: While I believe the price is worth it, the product is on the expensive side, and will entirely get destroyed if you accidentally put them in the dryer (talks the voice of experience) so you have to be extra careful when you wash them.

If you have any discomfort dealing with your own blood, blood smell when you are cleaning them (it’s kind of metallic, I barely notice it) or removing blood clot to improve the Knix efficiency during its use then I do not recommend these for you. 

Personal thoughts: Using these greatly increased my personal confidence in training, both as I wasn’t panicking over the pad nor I had to worry about the pad moving and having an accident in the middle of the class (I understand there’s no shame on people knowing you are on your period or on your pad showing, it personally makes me too self-conscious and I don’t have the energy to deal with people who are not so well mannered about people periods).

Tips and tricks:

  • f you don’t mind dealing with your own discharge but rather not look at it every time you use a restroom for reasons, the black Knix do the trick.
  • For extra comfort during training, use the more absorbing Knix

Tampons****:

Tampons are probably the second most known and used method to work with periods and are very accessible. They are not fully leaking prof If wrongly applied or if the persons flow changes drastically (like my case) but they are exponentially more reliable than pads. 

Pros: Low risk leaking as long as you change them on time, they are proven to help deal with cramps as the tampon works as a cushion to the muscle contractions, releasing some of the pain. Properly used and placed and depending on the level of bleeding they last longer than pads. And my favorite part: no dealing with humidity or bulkiness. Both a pro and con is that you can forget you are wearing them!

To Consider: Must be changed every 6 to 8 hours depending on the heaviness of the period

Cons:  It involves a learning curve to the application and you can only learn to apply them while in your period. To some is hard to know when is the right time to remove the tampon, leading to the risk of leaking OR risk of removing a dry piece of cotton that… Let’s be honest, it can hurt. The thread hanging from the tampon can increase the risk of urinary tract infections.

Super absorbent tampons (most of them out of the market in a lot of countries) can increase the risk of suffering Toxic Shock Syndrome, however, TSS is EXTREMELY  RARE and take far more than just a tampon or a sponge to get it. So even if you find and use them, unless you have preexisting conditions, you’ll be safe. If you worry you can always you’re your Gynecologist!

Tips and tricks:

  • Use a Daily super thin daily pad alongside the tampon during trainings, initial tampon leaks are really small and the daily pad will give you enough protection without bulking or adding much hummidity until you can go change.
  • To ease application especially while learning how to use them you can use a WATER BASE lubricant on the applicator, or be sure to be in your heaviest flow day.
  • There are different sizes of tampons for different flows, the smaller size tends to help a lot when learning how to apply them.

Menstrual Sponge (no score since I haven’t tried it)

Of all the methods this is one I really haven’t been inclined to try. The sponge is a more natural method that works exactly like the tampon. Although it’s application can change slightly. It has basically all the same pros and cons as the tampon besides:

Pros: It’s more ecological and reusable. They are more comfortable to wear as they adapt to the shape of the vagina and they come in various sizes. It reduce the chances of leaking, they help deal with cramp pain. Unlike tampons, they are natural.

Cons: What I found the most problematic is that a lot of sponges are ill-treated and can contain sand, bacteria, fungus and other nasty things that we don’t want in our precious vaginas, so if you feel like trying this method please be sure to research, research, research for a trustworthy brand! Some countries health organizations have lists of approved brands. It also might need a little bit more practice to insert and remove safely and properly.

To Consider: Of all methods, this requires the most comfort level when it comes to manipulation and touch of the vaginal area, requiring a longer learning curve of all methods and patients according to what I’ve read. 

Menstrual Cup******:

This is my personal favorite! And when I am worried about ill placement I simply combine this method with the knixwear or a daily pad! Of all methods, this one has given me full freedom while training and during tournaments, to the point of feeling like I almost have no period.  

Pros: The menstrual cup is the only method alongside the Knix wear that can stay up to 12 hours, In fact depending on flux level it can stay longer if needed, though that’s not recommended it can save you if you are missing a few fights. Unlike the pad or the sponge, the cup “catches” the flow rather than absorb it, this also means no risk of TSS whatsoever.

 If properly placed the cup will be 100% leak free, something no other method can promise. While I’ve heard by a few that cramps can  increase, properly placed the cup should in fact help reduce cramp pain the same way the tampon does (in my case it reduced it even more than the tampon) The cup should not cause any discomfort to the point you can forget you are wearing it.

There is no risk of urinary or other infections since there’s no rubbing of a thread or change of PH, as if instructions are followed for the cleaning process (which is really simple), the cup will be entirely safe and sterile to use.

It is latex free, ecological and reusable making it also cheap, in the long run, they also allow you to really understand your period and flow, helping you pick the best secondary method to use if you don’t want to use the cup all the time.

Cons: There’s a learning curve to apply them and remove them, the second one really takes patience. If you don’t want to fall in panic the first time (It might have happened to me) be sure to have time on your hands while using it for the first time. It is also not great for anyone who’s not comfortable with dealing with their own blood. If you need to change while out of home in a public restroom all you need is bottled water to rinse and reapply, or rinse and apply a clean extra cup, the whole thing can be annoying, although for the time the cup can stay in, it is minimum the amount of times you will have to deal with this.

The major con of the cup however is the fact that you must find the right shape and size to fit you, so if you have luck at first or if it takes you several tries is a matter of luck. How ever, some companies offer sets of test cups for free or low charge.

Tips and tricks:

  • Because the menstrual cup does not messes up with your natural fluids, you can safely practice how to insert and remove it without having to be on your period.
  • There are a lot of videos on YouTube with many different ways to apply the Cup increasing the chances yo find a friendly method for you. 
  • You can use a small daily pad or Knix during the learning curve if you are afraid of misplacements. 
  • Some cups have a small Stem to help place and remove, you can actually partially or totally remove/cut said stem if it causes you discomfort, as once you learn how to apply the cup you won’t really need it, some people like the stem some hate it, is entirely optional! 
  • If the cup changes of color with time (which happens most of the times) a longer boil during the sterilization process at the start of every period will help it bring back to its original transparency, if not, it’s ok, you boiled it, it will be sterile regardless of color.

Birth Control as a way to regulate and help your period and get you out of trouble for seminars and workshops.

 

Let’s be clear, I am just going to point you to some of the benefits and things you can do with birth control, you should not do ANY OF THESE without consulting your gynecologist first. I am NOT a doctor so all I can do is give you the information you might have not considered before.

Birth control pills and patches and other removable hormonal birth control:

TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST, that being said:

Pros: Both the pills and the patches help regulate menstruation, in fact, for people like me who struggle with strong cramps, and heavy and irregular periods, this method was a game changer in my daily life and obviously in my training, as you will know when, how and for how long your period is coming.

Most hormonal methods reduce the overall effects of menstruation such as cramps, acne, irregularity, hypersensitivity, bloating and other effects. Consider that you do not need to be sexually active to use birth control, in fact, many women use them to be able to better manage their periods and the PSM symptoms.

Because birth control causes perfectly regular periods, with your doctor’s advice and supervision, you can time and program the days of application/use to be sure you won’t be on your period during Tournaments or Workshops.

 

Cons:  TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST, that being said: If you use your birth control to change or re program your period you are automatically changing the efficiency of your birth control method for the time it takes to adjust it. So keep this in mind if you are sexually active! And because I need to really stress this out: talk to you doctor first! Hormones are not toys, so you really want to talk that one through, as some people are more sensitive than others.

Some people might feel some extra discomfort during the re-adjustment of their period like slightly stronger cramps

 

To consider:

  • TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST! YOU HEARME?
  • Not all methods work for all people and while some will work ok with the pill, they might have a side effect with the patch, or the NUVA ring, so be aware there’s the change you’ll have to try different methods before you find the one that works for you.
  • Hormonal methods are not appropriate to some people, especially for those who have a history of uterine cancer, so please if you live in a country where you can access them without medical care (lucky you!), still seek for a doctor during this process.

Personal thoughts:

Between these methods (I used the patch before going for the IUD) and the cup, I for the first time in my 10 years of practicing HEMA  stop skipping training or holding back during them. That means that for the first time in 10 years I started having a constant effective training which has radically improved my performance!

Hormonal IUD & Implant*****:

Pros: If like me you don’t plan on having kids any time soon, and you really dream to have nothing between you and training and yet periods are something that holds you back you might want to keep in mind that the IUD and Implant can cause for your period to either totally stop or become very, very small (picture like 1 or 2 days of very low fluid). Depending on the person this can take months to a couple of years to fully stop your period (without damaging your fertility! As soon as you take it off, the blooming time will be fully back in all of its glory…). The IUD and Implant can last from 3 to 7 years!

The implant helps reduce other menstruation-related effects the same way as the other birth control methods.

The Hormonal IUD will reduce or remove cramps completely!

To consider: There are a lot of horror stories out there about the IUD, notice that medicine and science have improved a lot in the past 15 years… there are far more options now to choose from and placement is a lot safer!

Of all the methods the hormonal IUD is the one that delivers the least amount of hormones to your body, this can be a pro and con depending on the person, however, this also means that while the IUD will help with flow and cramps, it won’t help (or not that much) with any other period-related symptom like acne or humor shifts.

Cons: The placement of the IUD is quite awful (again, experience) and I might involve one day to a week of discomfort depending on the person. The first months of adjustment can also be a struggle to some as there can be a lot of irregular spotting (Knix are great for this time!).  Again, not all methods work for everyone and some of them can have side effects or not being eligible for people with some kinds of cancer records or hormonal reactions. But it’s good to know your options! So. TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST! (Well, in this case, you literally have no option)

If you do wrestling, using the Implant might not be the best option for you since half of the places where we do most of grips and throws are where the implant is placed. But the best way to know is by TALKING TO YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.

Tips and tricks:

  • Hot pads, hot baths, Ice packs, ice-cream or hot tea/chocolate are great ways to treat yourself for the cramps from the application.
  • If you are getting the IUD you can ask your doctor for local anesthesia.

Extra tips to deal with the consequences of menstruation:

 

Cramps:

  • Hot baths will calm or even remove your cramps, if you can afford to take a long hot bath before your training, will help you get on the mood to go train, and once you are there exercise will help reduce the pain.
  • Grab an old sock, fill it with rice, or other seeds, put it in the microwave for 15 to 40 seconds and you’ll have an instant hot pad, consider the seeds can heat a lot so be sure to put something extra like a towel if the bag gets too hot, also the bigger the bean bag the longer it will keep heat, you can use this as you drive to class to calm down cramps. You might smell like popcorn after, but who doesn’t like popcorn? (Just please don’t use popcorn seeds tho!)  You can reuse the same bag/sock until the end of times.
  • Against all logic, cold can also help with cramps to some people, instant cold packs can be your option!
  • Controlling cramps can help improve intestinal issues during PMS to an extent, as the constant tension and releasing on the pelvic area can cause disruption on the colon area.


Lower back pain:

  • Doing core and pelvic strength exercises can help a lot! A lot of PMS lower back pain get worsen by poor postural habits or weakness on the pelvic area.
  • To some people, lower back pain is strongly related to cramps, if you tend to “just handle” your cramps you might want to consider changing that.

Humor changes:

  • Hormonal treatments tend to help a lot with these to some people (some can’t take hormones because it makes it worse), but a lot found that something as simple food or a specific substance imbalance (such as some types of metals that are naturally on your blood or vitamins) can make this worse or better… talking to your doctor about options is the way to go! Maybe the main reason you cry every second and then want to stab teddybears is not your PMS but the fact that during PMS you don’t have enough magnesium or iron or something magical like that.

PH balance/odor and others:

 

  • Baby or intimate wipes can help you feel clean, fresh and free of odor, be careful to pick ones without any form of perfume or oil, as you want to keep your PH under control! 
  • The best way to keep yourself free of PH changes and help with odor is to avoid commercial intimate deodorants and literally clean with water. Europeans have this wonderful thing called bidet, it allows you to clean your intimate parts with water without needing to take a shower every time. You can buy bidets that you can install on your WC fairly cheap. If you suffer from PH Changes during your period or strong odor or discomfort over it, something as simple as getting one of these and gently rinsing with ONLY water as needed will help wonders!. It will also help prevent other infections that pads can cause like urinary tract infections.


Pimples or skin sensitivity:

 

  • There is no shame in telling your classmates to fence you lighter for the day, if they don’t listen, talk to your coach! Teammates need to learn how to be understanding!  You can also talk to your coach and do only the drilling part and skip fighting if that’s a thing for you, better some exercise than nothing!. 
  • If you like me suffer from hormonal pimples (I get them in my chin, makes the fencing mask a pain) keeping your gear clean and disinfected helps tons, something as easy as cheap vodka with some water, spray on the fabric of your mask bib gently after every training will help. Hormonal pimples don’t go away with all treatments, but keeping your skin clean will help them go away faster and have a few less or smaller.
  • Personally, as someone with a lot of sensory integration issues like hypersensitivity, having extra sensitive skin during PMS is a torture. Baths have always helped as they block all the multiple sensory information and reduces it to one single sensation. It might not remove the sensitivity… but it will give you a break.
  • You can help any skin irritation taking oatmeal baths, and no, is no Mombo jombo magic, I learned this from a doctor.

While I don’t have percentages, there is a population amongst practitioners with vaginas that fail to classes due to their periods, and that can really take on the way of improvement or just how they are perceived as fencers even if, let’s face it, some people are on the unlucky chart of the PMS that their periods are an entirely acceptable excuse not to leave home.

All of this being said, we still have to remember that menstruation and periods are there to stay for a long time for a lot of us, and no matter if every birth control or method to deal with menstruation works for us or not, we still have to remind us and our peers that menstruation it’s totally normal and it’s most likely not going to change until we reach menopause.

I am no longer afraid to tell my classmates when I am on my period either to ask them to slow down if the pain is really taking its toll, or tell them not to panic and stop fighting me every two minutes because I’m making pain faces at times. Also coming at peace with the fact that accidents happen and there’s nothing to be ashamed of can be all you need to have the boost to get out there and fight like there’s no tomorrow even on that time of the month. Sure, culture makes it so when I started saying opening that I was on my period several of them were a shock at first, confused or really uncomfortable but now they are used to it and see it as normal.

Learning to understand your period not only helps to fence more, it helps life! So go, research, go to your doctor, take advantage of science, and make of shark week fencing week!

 

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