The Female Facts of Life

I am a female cyclist. As a female cyclist, I do have to deal with one of the inevitable facts of being a woman approximately every twenty-eight days. However, considering how this fact of life affects transportation cyclists who lack the Y chromosome had never occurred to me until my editor sent me a link to an article titled, “Riding the Crimson Tide: Bicycling When You Have Your Period.” (Thanks for thinking of me, Ted).

I read the article. I agreed with a few of the points made, including the assertion that menstruation is “hardly a singular, universal experience” for all women, and that it is important for every person to listen to his or her body. This advice is applicable not just for women once a month, but for anyone dealing with minor or serious health issues when riding.

Women on Bicycles

However, I did not agree with the overall theme of the post that might lead readers to believe that riding during that special time of month is unmanageable, embarrassing, dangerous or the most uncomfortable task ever.

Rather, dealing with the relatively small inconvenience of menstruating once a month is a reality that more than 50% of the population encounters (or has or will at some point in her life), and acting as if those days are just like every other day of the month is, for me, the best medicine.

Experts agree! One of the most common, drug-free recommendations for dealing with menstrual cramps is to “get regular exercise. This improves blood flow, produces pain-fighting endorphins, and may reduce pain.” As a lifelong athlete, I have always found that a good workout, whether it is a bike ride or other cardiovascular exercise, makes me feel much better physically, restores some of that energy that may be lagging the first day or two of my cycle, and does wonders to clear my head.

TampaxThe other point of concern, how to contain the wonderful by-product of this “purifying and ‘rebooting,’” is also one that I feel is quite manageable in these modern times. I don’t write for a strictly “green” blog (although encouraging people to ride bikes is certainly “green-ish,” right?), so I can publicly say (although I can’t believe that I’m publicly saying) that tampons are a very viable solution to this containment issue. I’m sure that someone will respond and let me know that I’m exposing my body to toxins on a monthly basis and that I’m wasteful, but is swearing off tampons and not riding a bike more green and healthy than the alternative? Sorry, but I’ll take my chances with a cardboard applicator rather than stay at home in fear of a red saddle or a chafing reusable cup situation.

In short, I do not think that our monthly cycle is a large factor in why more women are not transportation cyclists (or cyclists in general). In the Netherlands, 55% of all cyclists are women, and I suspect that Dutch women get a monthly visit from Aunt Flo just as American women do. I am not opposed to women discussing how they deal with this issue and how it relates to their cycling experience, but if we are going to have a public conversation about why more women don’t ride in the United States, let’s talk about safety, utility and other issues that prevent women from choosing a bicycle for transportation purposes- issues that we can actually change.

And to all of the men who made it to the end of this post, congratulations.

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10 thoughts on “The Female Facts of Life”

  1. BluesCat says:

    I remember a bumper sticker I saw once:

    I’m out of estrogen and I have a gun.

    Stacey, I don’t think I’m gonna pass a fellow rider of the female persuasion EVER again!

    (Yeah, I made it to the end of the article. Sweating bullets but I made it!)

  2. T says:

    Generally great post; my monthly cycle has no affect on whether or not I cycle and can’t say it causes me any problems. Which brings me to my one complaint: why describe reusable cups as ‘chafing’? With cycling, as with every other part of life I have found a cup to be more comfortable than a tampon. As you say everyone’s different. 🙂

  3. Criss says:

    Great post. I’m a male nurse, so your post didn’t bother me in the least, and I found it quite informative. I’m glad someone is willing to share for those who might be too shy to talk about a function of life.

  4. Beth says:

    I ride with Aunt Flo monthly and haven’t found any problems, other than the two or three days before “she” comes, I’m exhausted and not putting out maximum power. It has been challenging while bike racing on day two, when the tampon needs to be changed and I don’t want to take the time to change.

  5. Stacey Moses says:

    Thanks for the comments- this isn’t a topic that I normally discuss with the general public, so I’m glad that at least a few brave readers shared their thoughts as well. Ted shared a photo of his undergarments in a recent post, so we’re all getting a little personal here at Commute by Bike this week.

    T- my chafing cup comment was referring to a statement in the original post. I personally have never even heard of the Diva Cup or the Keeper, but to each her own.

  6. Rachel says:

    I agree with T. Reusable cups do not chafe most women. In face, this us the first time I’ve heard that description. Disposable cups may be another story (never tried them). If a reusable cup is chafing, I’m inclined to say something’s wrong with it or it’s being worn incorrectly.

    My reusable cup is way more comfortable than a tampon because it does not dry up my vagina. Also, there’s 0 chafe factor because it’s completely internal. Tampons have that annoying little string.

    The other benefit of a cup, more of interest to tourists or others riding for hours on end, is that they don’t have to be changed as often, so you don’t have to find a bathroom all the time, nor do you have to carry supplies.

    Cups may sound gross, but honestly, ANY menstrual solution is gross. I think cups are less gross because nothing gets on a string and since there’s no air exposure, there’s no odor.

    It’s definitely something I think every woman should try out, and especially cyclists. Only about 1% of the women I’ve seen try them decide it’s not for them.

    Anyhow, chafing from a reusable cup is definitely not a common experience.

  7. Diva on 2 wheels says:

    I use a Diva Cup and have no problems riding while on “the rag” (or the cup, as it would be). It’s way more comfortable that riding with a pad, and actually even moreso than a tampon.

    In this case, “green” also means cheap, and lots of people who do utilitarian-riding can appreciate that they don’t have to buy pads or tampons once they try the cup.

    Plus, less money spent on feminine products means more money to spend on bike stuff 🙂

  8. Allison says:

    In my experience, the only people less empathetic about severe dysmenorrhea than men are women who don’t experience dysmenorrhea.

    I’ve dealt with it since I was 15 and at this point, I have mostly been able to control it and I don’t allow it to keep me down – but if you never had any problem running or cycling on a period, then you probably have easier periods – diarrhea, severe pelvic pain, headaches, anemia, bloating.

    Any item that works by insertion (tampon, diva cup, etc) makes my cramps worse and my body just expels them anyway.

    My point: menstruation is no big deal to the vast majority of women. For those of us dealt a crappy DNA hand (thanks, Mom!) good management is the difference between menstrual seclusion and living our normal lives. Sounded to me like Elly has an experience closer to mine and yours is closer to the vast majority.

    I agree on one point: a red saddle?? I am incredibly skeptical that that’s happened to *anyone* – I bleed pretty darned heavy and I’ve never had it go all the way through my clothes before I noticed, stopped, and cleaned myself up. Big ole red spot on your ass as you stand, signalling your sexual maturity? Now, that I can believe has happened 🙂

  9. Karen says:

    Chiming in late. There are few things I won’t discuss so here’s my two cents. Never tried the cup but I’ve heard of it. I’m for whatever is easiest for the individual. I’ve exercised through my period for as long as I’ve had one, and since I’m 48 it’s been quite a while. Exercise became more problematic when I entered my late 30’s. It’s important to remember that your periods are going to change as you get older and they won’t necessarily become lighter and less frequent before you enter menopause. I was diagnosed w/ polycycstic ovarian syndrome (really common, not life threatening but a literal headache) at 44 and started taking metphormin and the pill to treat the underlying problem. Gone were the migrains, unbearable cramps, heavy flo, acne, and periods every 2- 3 wks. If periods are getting in the way of exercise, work and daily living in general see your doctor. I was always opposed to taking hormones in the belief that there was nothing amiss with mine – until blood work determined that there was.

  10. Ronny says:

    Women must want to have cycling habit because it is a great exercise for them.
    my last post was Toronto Airport Taxi

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