Menstruation, period, days
1. Why do I get my period?
For most girls, periods (also called menstruation) start between the ages of 11 and 15. They get their periods during puberty because their bodies are changing and producing sex hormones. This leads to the so-called menstrual cycle, which lasts about a month and begins on the first day of bleeding.
At the onset of puberty, girls have about 400,000 tiny immature eggs in their ovaries. In the first 14 days after the start of the bleeding, hormones allow at least one egg cell to mature in the ovary. During this time, the uterus prepares for a possible pregnancy. The top layer of the uterine lining thickens, allowing a fertilized egg to implant itself.
Approximately in the middle of the cycle (two weeks before the period) the so-called ovulation takes place, an egg cell jumps out of its egg sac (follicle). The follicle turns into the corpus luteum. The egg is transported from the ovary into the fallopian tube, where it is fertile for around 12 to 24 hours[i]. The corpus luteum produces hormones that prepare the lining of the uterus for a possible implantation of a fertilized egg cell. If fertilization and implantation do not take place, the corpus luteum regresses. The egg cell dies in the fallopian tube. Hormone levels drop and the top layer of the uterus lining peels off. This causes bleeding about two weeks after ovulation. Then a new cycle begins. However, if the egg cell in the fallopian tube is fertilized by a sperm cell, it migrates further into the uterus and can nest in the mucous membrane there. Caution: sperm can survive up to seven days in the uterus, so the time span in which you can get pregnant is longer than the 12 to 24 hours mentioned above!
You can learn more about it here.
[i] BzgA (Hg): Ein kleines Wunder: Die Fortpflanzung, Fruchtbarkeit bei Frau und Mann, 2018, Auflage 4.8.07.18, S.6.
2. How many days does the period usually last?
The period is part of the menstrual cycle. The period itself usually lasts three to seven days. The menstrual cycle, on the other hand, covers the time from the first day of the period to the first day of the next period. A normal cycle lasts between 25 and 35 days.
In young girls, the menstrual cycle is often irregular. The body has to adapt to the changes. The duration, intensity and frequency of periods can vary greatly, especially during the first few years.
3. Is it normal to miss a period?
For girls going through puberty, periods are often irregular and can sometimes be absent, see question 2.
However, if your menstrual cycle has been quite regular for a long time and suddenly changes, it can be due to various reasons, such as stress, a change of location or weight loss. So you don’t have to worry. However, if the irregularity persists for several months, you should definitely have it checked out by a doctor.
If you think you might be pregnant, you should take a pregnancy test or see a gynecologist.
4. Can you use a tampon while still a virgin?
From a biological point of view, it is possible for all girls and women to use a tampon during menstruation. It doesn’t matter whether the girls have had sex or not. You don’t have to worry about your “virginity” either. The stretchy tissue at the edge of the vagina (vaginal corona) allows you to insert a tampon without causing injury, see question 17. Tampons come in different sizes. Try out which size tampon you are comfortable with. You can also simply use pads or other products.
5. Why don't boys menstruate?
Boys cannot have periods because periods require certain hormones, a uterus, fallopian tubes and egg cells. Boys don’t have any of that. Because of this they can also not bear children.
6. Why do women get mucus (discharge)?
The vagina is lined with a mucous membrane. All mucous membranes in the body need to be moist to stay healthy and protect them against infection, including those in the mouth and nose.
It is normal for women to have vaginal discharge, which means that some secretion (or mucus) comes out of the vagina. Normal discharge is whitish or yellowish and relatively odorless. How much discharge a woman has and what it looks like varies and also depends on the menstrual cycle. The discharge cleans the vagina and prevents infection. Lactic acid bacteria create an acidic environment and thus prevent harmful bacteria and fungi from multiplying. Therefore, you should not wash your vagina with soaps, vaginal lotions, or anything similar. They destroy the beneficial bacteria and make your vagina more susceptible to disease. Girls can also have a discharge before their first period because hormones cause changes in the body and signalize the first menstruation.
Also, when women are aroused and want to have sex, glands at the entrance to the vagina produce a liquid that acts like a lubricant. It helps that sexual intercourse does not hurt.
7. Why does menstrual blood have different colours?
The colour of blood changes during menstruation, for example it can be dark red, brownish or light red. On the one hand, this depends on the strength of the bleeding: on the days when the bleeding is heavier, the blood looks more light or dark red. At the beginning and end of menstruation, when it is weaker, the blood has more time to react with the oxygen and acidic environment of the vagina (see question 6) and is more brownish. Blood, mucous membrane particles and fluid from the vagina are also mixed in the menstrual blood in different compositions. The colour change is therefore completely normal.
8. Why do we have painful periods?
Not all girls are in pain. For some girls or women, their period comes without them noticing it before. Others feel a tugging in their lower abdomen just before their period or have a headache. Sometimes the breasts hurt too. During the period, some girls or women experience cramps or pain in their lower abdomen or lower back. This pain is caused by certain hormones. They ensure that the uterus contracts and can shed the mucous membrane during the period. Sometimes they also cause nausea and diarrhea. If you are in severe pain, you should see a gynecologist. This is also important to rule out that there are other physical causes behind the pain.
9. What can I do if I have problems with my period (e.g. stomach pain or headache)?
You can do anything that relaxes your body. It can be different for every girl. Exercise and sport often help to make your symptoms more bearable and your body to relax. Maybe just resting will help your body. You can, for example, put a hot water bottle on your stomach or drink some tea. Herbal teas such as chamomile, lemon balm or peppermint are useful. Some people find it helpful to change their posture, such as drawing one knee to their chest while lying down or sitting. You can also massage yourself.
If you often have very severe pain, you should speak to a doctor.
10. Can I have sex during my period?
Yes, if you feel like having sex during your period, the bleeding is no reason not to. Since bleeding is a natural bodily process, there is no need to feel unclean or ashamed. However, as you may also, under certain circumstances, become pregnant during your period, you should consider using contraception (see also question 11).
11. Can you get pregnant during your period?
Yes, it is possible for a girl or a woman to become pregnant through unprotected sex with a boy or man, despite menstruation. To be on the safe side, if you don’t want to get pregnant, you should use contraception for the entire menstrual cycle, including during your period.
That’s because most girls and women can’t tell exactly what day after their last menstrual cycle their next ovulation will occur. The maturation of the ovum can vary for each girl and from month to month. Sperm can survive in the uterus and fallopian tubes for up to seven days. So fertilization and thus pregnancy can occur if you have sexual intercourse during your period and your next ovulation is in less than seven days. You can find out more about this in question 1.
34. What can I do if I don't want a child?
If you want to prevent pregnancy, it is best to take precautions before having sexual intercourse. There are many different contraceptives, the best known ones being the condom and the pill. Condoms are easily available, and also protect against sexually transmitted infections. You can find out more about condoms in question 36. To buy the pill or most other contraceptives, you need a prescription from a gynaecologist, see question 35. You can also go to a gynaecologist’s practice or a counselling centre to find out which is the best method for you. If you want, it is also possible to bring your partner or another person with you. In Germany, the statutory health insurance covers the costs of prescription contraceptives up to the age of 22.
After unprotected sexual intercourse, you can prevent pregnancy with the “morning-after pill”. The morning-after pill works best if taken within the first twelve hours after unprotected sex. It is available without a prescription in pharmacies. You can get it free of charge up to the age of 22 if you show a prescription from your doctor at the pharmacy. However, the morning-after pill is not a substitute for regular contraception and is only intended for emergencies. You can find more information here.
In the case of an unplanned pregnancy, abortion is possible in Germany without penalty within the first twelve weeks after fertilisation, see question 39.
35. How do you get the pill as a young girl?
A gynaecologist must write you a prescription for the pill and other hormonal contraceptives. With this prescription, you can get the pill at the pharmacy. For girls who are 14 or older, gynaecologists can usually prescribe the pill without parental consent. The pill is free of charge until the age of 22.
36. What is a condom?
A condom is a very thin sheath made of latex, or more rarely, plastic. It is slipped over the stiff penis like a second skin. There is a small bulge at the tip of the condom. It catches the semen to prevent it from getting into the partner’s body. When used correctly, the condom protects against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It is important to roll the condom over the penis before the first contact between the penis and the vagina or anus. You can find out more about condoms and how to use them correctly here.
Condoms can be bought in supermarkets, drugstores or online.
37. Should the man or the woman take care of the condom?
Men and women can both take care of the condom. After all, a possible pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection can also affect them both.
38. How is it possible for a woman to become pregnant despite taking the pill?
Generally speaking, if you use the pill correctly, it is a very reliable contraceptive. But no contraceptive method is 100% effective. For example, the effectiveness of the pill is impaired if you forget to take it for more than twelve hours or if you experience diarrhea or vomiting within three hours of taking the pill [i]. It may also interact with other medication. Seek advice at a doctor’s office or pharmacy if you are taking or want to take other medication.
[i] BzgA (Hg): Sichergehn, Verhütung für sie und ihn, 2017, Auflage: 22.214.171.124, S.28.
Pregnancy and Birth
51. How is a child created and where do children come from?
A child is created through the fusion of a woman’s egg cell with a man’s sperm cell. For this to happen, sperm cells have to pass through the vagina to the egg cell. This happens when a woman and a man have sexual intercourse without contraception and the man ejaculates in the woman’s vagina. In this case, 50 to 500 million sperm cells can flow towards the fallopian tubes. This can also take place if there is semen from a previous ejaculation on the penis or fingers and sperm cells enter the vagina and from there reach the fallopian tubes.
If the mature egg cell fuses with a sperm cell, this fertilised egg cell moves to the uterus in the coming days and slowly grows there (see also question 1). In biological terms, this growth is caused by the fertilised egg cell dividing into more and more cells. In the beginning, this ball of cells is called an embryo. The embryo is nourished through the umbilical cord of the pregnant woman. After about nine and a half months, the development of the unborn child is complete and it can come into the world.
52. Is it painful to be pregnant?
Some people experience only very little discomfort during pregnancy, others more.
In general, the body changes a lot during pregnancy. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like nausea, fatigue, water retention in the legs and feet, back and breast pain. A lot of women feel tightness or tension in their breasts. Sometimes, the movements of the child can also be uncomfortable.
It is important for the woman to go to regular check ups with a doctor throughout the pregnancy so she and her unborn child can receive optimal care and support. You can learn more about this here.
53. Can you have sex when you are pregnant?
If you feel like it and there are no other complications, you can have sex without worrying. It will not harm the baby. If you do need to be careful for specific medical reasons, your gynaecologist will discuss this with you.
54. What do I have to consider when I am pregnant and have to take medication?
Some medication can have negative effects on the course of the pregnancy and the development of the baby before birth. If you are pregnant or want to get pregnant, you should only take medication if you have discussed this with your doctor.
55. Why do women have milk in their breasts for their babies to drink?
During pregnancy, different hormones make sure that the breasts change so that they are able to produce milk. During pregnancy, the breasts first produce a colostrum (for the first few days), which is very rich in nutrients and antibodies for the newborn. When the newborn sucks on the breast, hormones are released which stimulate further milk production with the stimulus of sucking. Breast milk has everything a baby needs to grow up healthy.
56. Why is giving birth painful?
Most babies are born through the mother’s vagina. Until birth, the cervix (which is located at the bottom of the uterus and forming the transition to the vagina, see figure 1) is firmly closed. Before birth, certain hormones make the cervix softer and labour begins. This means that the abdomen becomes hard and the muscles of the uterus contract at regular intervals. The contractions cause the cervix to open. At the same time, the baby is pushed down and, with the pressure of its head, it causes the cervix to open. It has to open about ten centimetres so the baby can fit through. There are a lot of nerves in the surrounding tissue, which is why pain is felt during birth.
There are a few ways to relieve the pain, for example certain breathing techniques, different birthing positions, a bath to relax or painkillers.
In Germany, a midwife and possibly a doctor assist the woman giving birth. [i]
[i] Ursachen von Geburtsschmerz, abgerufen am 28.11.2022 von
vgl. Smith, R.: Das Timing der Geburt, Spektrum der Wissenschaft 6, 1999, S.46.