Doctors, health teachers, and makers of the pill have always defined a "normal" woman's menstrual cycle as 28 days long. But don't set your watches just yet — our cycle isn't as punctual as they might lead you to believe. In fact, the average woman's cycle can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days.
Most of the cause for variation is attributed to the first half of the cycle, the follicular phase, when the body prepares for ovulation. Virtually every woman gets her period within 14 days of ovulating, but depending on your cycle's length, the day of ovulation could be day 12 or day 20. Fertility is at its highest in the days leading up to and just after ovulation, so couples who are trying for a baby mark their sexual schedules for their best chance of becoming pregnant. The myth of the "magical" day 14 has some merit, but the window of opportunity may be a bit harder to pin down. The fact that you're more fertile during this time in your cycle has real implications for your sex life — whether you're trying to conceive or trying not to!
Here are some other common misconceptions about the menstrual cycle:
You can’t get pregnant on your period. It is rare to get impregnated on your period, but not entirely impossible. If you don’t want a baby, use a condom or another form of birth control to be extra careful.
PMS bloating is inevitable. It’s true that PMS and bloating can go hand-in-hand, but the truth is that there are many simple ways to cut down on bloat during this time. Avoid carbonation such as soda and limit your intake of salty foods like pretzels. Drink plenty of water — the best way to beat water weight is to actually drink water and stay hydrated.
You shouldn’t have sex on your period. Not so! While there are many taboos surrounding intercourse during menstruation, the truth is that it is completely normal. In fact, it can even be beneficial — orgasms can help to ease painful cramps. If you are worried about spotting, just lay a towel down on your bed, or try having sex in the shower to keep cleanup to a minimum. It is also perfectly safe to have oral sex on your period, although many people do prefer to enjoy this activity once menstruation has ceased.
Along with managing PMS symptoms, you also write down your cycle length in a notebook. Changes to your menstrual cycle can be a red flag when there's a problem — but it's important to keep in mind that a certain amount of variation from month to month is normal. Tracking your period in a calendar or datebook will help you better understand the particulars of your unique cycle.