Let’s talk periods. Whether you call it your period, menstrual cycle, menstruation, your “time of the month,” Aunt Flo is in town, Shark Week, riding the crimson tide, or your dot, this article addresses concerns about rolling during that time of the month, or for men who are concerned about rolling with women on their periods (spoiler: you’re not likely to get menstrual blood on you!).

This article contains frank discussion about periods; juvenile or rude comments will be deleted post-haste! However, if you would like to leave anonymous comments telling a personal story, please do so, but I will need to manually approve them. If you leave an anonymous comment and you’d like your email deleted, please note it and I’ll delete both your note and your email address.

There's blood everywhere in this post

Be warned: There’s blood everywhere in this post

You can click on any of these to jump to the relevant sections, or click on the link below to read the article in its entirety.

  1. Should I go to class when I’m on my period?
  2. What if I’m experiencing cramps?
  3. What about sensitive breasts?
  4. Will jiu jitsu affect my cycle?
  5. What about my mood swings?
  6. What products should I use in class?
  7. What should I wear to class when I’m on my period?
  8. What if I bleed through in class or get blood on my partner?
  9. Info for guys

1. Should I go to class when I’m on my period?

My personal answer is YES! I don’t want it to stop me and I don’t let it.  Ultimately that decision is up to you. Usually there are more specific reasons why someone might not want to go – pain or fear of embarrassment, but I say – go to class.

2. What if I’m experiencing cramps?

Shockingly, jiu jitsu helps with that pain – both cramps and lower back pain. I’d always suffered from both. Before I started doing bjj, had you told me that jiu jitsu would help with the pain I would have thought you were crazy. I used to take pain pills, lay on the couch, eat ice cream, etc. If you’d told me that jiu jitsu would help the pain I’d have thought you were CRAZY! However, even on my most painful days, get me in a gym because as soon as we start exercising, I’m completely pain free without pills.

NCBI posted a paper called Effects of menstrual cycle on sports performance, and according to their research, “It has found that the physical performance was not affected by the menstrual period and the pain decreased during the training and competition.”

3. What about sensitive breasts?

I would love to hear from more women about this – please leave comments if you’ve found a different solution. When I was heavier, I had size G/H bras – and with it, I experienced much more breast pain, partly because they would move more during exercise. I found it helpful to wear two sets of sports bras. Two women I talked to said that they take a Tylenol before class if it gets really bad. Another woman said that overall she found that the exercise itself often reduced the amount of breast pain she normally felt on her period.

4. Will jiu jitsu affect my cycle?

The answer is: possibly.

This could affect pre-menstrual symptoms, including mood swings, cramps, breast pain, etc. It can also affect how many days your cycle lasts. Basically – anything you normally experience every month may change when you start doing jiu jitsu, or any kind of exercise. Before BJJ I knew my body well – how long my cycle lasted, how much pain I would be in, and after jiu jitsu, it changed. I didn’t have the pain warning signal that my period was going to start, which concerned me, and I even posted about it on jiu jitsu forums.

Also, if you work out intensely and have extremely low body fat, your periods may stop, which is called athletic amenorrhoea.

5. What about my mood swings?

Exercise can positively affect emotional distress related to menstruation. This is quoted on another study: “These results are consistent with the belief that women who frequently exercise may be to some extent protected from deterioration of mood before and during menstruation.” And similarly, this article noted “The regular exercisers obtained significantly lower scores on impaired concentration, negative affect, behaviour change and pain.”

I think the key is knowing how you handle your moods, and deal with them in a way that’s appropriate during class. If you get intensely weepy or angry and have a difficult time handling it, then it may not be great for you to go. If I get weepy and am able to excuse myself off the mat and cry in the back – no big deal, but if they’re Suprise!Tears then I might not go. It’s okay to cry, just don’t do it on the mats.

Similarly, I might decide that jiu jitsu is a way to deal with my intense irritation. I could ask to be paired up with the big MMA guys and go extra strong so that I can channel that anger somewhere. Or, if I realize that I’m likely to get angry AT my teammate, I might simply notice my emotions and if I’m feeling angry at them, then just tap early or sit out a round.

6. What products should I use in class?

BunnyJiuJitsu has a great post on this. Wearing a big pad to class is just not feasible. I made the switch a few years ago to the Divacup. Prior to that I used Insteads. I’m a HUGE FAN of the menstrual cups over tampons or pads. First is because I can put it in even if I only THINK my period is about to come. If you insert a tampon the day before you start your period because you’re worried it might start early – yikes. Pulling out a tampon from a non-menstruating body is uncomfortable at BEST, but it can cause microtears in the vaginal walls. If it’s not soaking up menstrual blood it means it’s soaking up what keeps your vagina lubricated. Menstrual cups can be worn literally any day of the year. Second is because I can wear it up to 12 hours  – or roughly about twice as long as you can wear a tampon. Third, they’re safer on the body than tampons are: no TSS, maintains your natural pH balance, and tampons are linked to vaginal ulcerations and vaginal lesions. Fourth, they’re better on the environment: “Women used a median of 13 menstrual products per cycle, or 169 products per year, which corresponds to approximately 771,248,400 products used annually in Canada” as compared to a single, multiple-use cup.

Whether it’s a Divacup, the Keeper, or the Moon Cup, they all basically look the same. Mine felt very uncomfortable until I cut off most of the “flexible rod for withdrawal.” Also note that these are NOT black. They’re usually a transparent color, although my friend’s Keeper was dark brown. Insteads now have reusable ones – that are good through an entire cycle rather than one time use.

When you first start to use menstrual cups, you’re potentially going to have some mishaps, so I’d use in conjunction with a pantyliner or something like that. But regardless of whether you use cups or tampons, change it right before class to help avoid messiness. Also, they can be really messy – like gushing over your fingers/hand. Although it may seem icky, there was a study where tampon-users used a menstrual cup for 3 cycles, and 91% said they would continue using the menstrual cup.

7. What should I wear to class when I’m on my period?

Gi: Worried about wearing white and bleeding through? Okay – wear black that week, assuming your school allows it. Bring an extra pair of gi bottoms just in case.

Shorts: Wear a set of compression shorts. Or two. Or an extra set of panties. That way, if you do have an accident, you’re literally covered.

8. What if I bleed through in class or get blood on my partner?

The Worst Thing In The World happened. You end up bleeding out and HORRORS! your period blood got on your training partner! Well, in the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic!”

This is not a squeamish crowd. They are used to sweat, blood, feet in their faces, and the smell of nasty ass gis. So don’t be too embarrassed. I asked the guys at Jiu Jitsu forums what their reaction would be if a woman got period blood on him, and I was surprised by how awesome their reactions were! Ultimately the guys felt that period blood is better than vomit or feces or boogers, something they’ve seen during class, and that they’d be more concerned about the woman’s embarrassment.

If you’ve bled through your gi pants, excuse yourself from the mats. You can take your gi jacket off to cover yourself on the way out, clean yourself off, and hopefully change into a new set of bottoms and resume class. Otherwise, just change into your street clothes and finish class early.

If you notice your partner has bled through their gi pants, please discreetly tell them as soon as possible. It’s a kindness to let them know right away, and although they will be embarrassed (between 1 Well that sucks and 10 Oh dear God I want to die) they will be much LESS embarrassed if you don’t tell them and they discover it later and then they wonder how many people noticed, when did it happen and DAMN IT if you had known you would have fixed the problem.

This was shared by a woman I met online:

I’ve had the experience of menstrual blood soaking through my white gi trousers without me knowing as I didn’t realise my period had started. This happened at judo. It was brought to my attention by a black belt who was sitting the round out at the time (in fact she interrupted the round to let me know). It was right at the end of the session and although I’d stopped before the end of the round, by the time I’d apologised to my training partner for stopping half-way through, the class ended.

The relevant things to note for your article are probably:
* it would take a LOT of blood to soak all the way through a pair of gi trousers AND THEN get onto something else

* I am pretty sure you’d notice yourself BEFORE there was enough blood to get onto anyone else just from the feeling of your pants (your underwear to Americans) being absolutely soaked through

(my period floods for the first 36-48 hours or so, and although there was quite a bit of blood in my pants (my underwear) and enough had soaked through my trousers to be clearly visible from a few metres away, however none had got onto my partner. I also had the same thought that you’ve had to make you write your article, and so when I took my gi off I actually rubbed the trousers on my hand and also on my gi jacket – no blood was transferred.)

* If your round is interrupted because someone brings bleeding to your attention, you should also give your training partner a reason you’ve suddenly stopped training with them and rushed off the mat, otherwise they may think they did something wrong

9. A few facts for the guys reading

You might wonder how it’s possible that women can’t control their own period stuff. Well, unfortunately, our period clocks are not as regular as the clock on Lost. I can usually estimate my time of the month within 1-2 days courtesy of mymonthlycycle.com, but it’s still a little bit of a guess. This means that a period may start a tad early or late, so it can catch someone off guard. Similarly, although my period takes 5 days, there are times when I’ll get one extra day of menstrual fluid that catches me off guard.

No, not everyone’s periods can be timed down to the minute.

It helps to know a little bit about period blood. It’s not like it’s just a free flowing wound that is going to be dripping blood. To drip, the fabric would have to be overly saturated, and I guarantee that if that happened, the woman would be aware of it. It also tends to be thick, though this can change. It can be thick or thin depending on the day of the cycle. Sometimes it has the consistency of thick snot.

What would happen is that it would first saturate her panties, then saturate the inside of her gi pants, and then show on the outside of the gi pants. If you did happen to get period blood on you, it would be wherever her crotch had touched you – so if she’d been holding your leg in half guard, you might have gotten some on your gi pants. Or if she’d had full mount it might be on your gi top. You’d not likely to get it on your bare skin, and definitely not on your face or in your mouth or anything like that.

Note: it was brought to my attention in the comments that it actually may be easier for menstrual blood to show through the crotch because if your gi/panty fabric is soaked with sweat, it will bleed through more easily.

Final thoughts

I don’t miss jiu jitsu because of my period, and I find that overall bjj has had extremely positive effects on my cycle and my body. I was really shocked at how awesome the guys were at jiu jitsu forums, but I also understand that they tend to be pretty great guys. I think that gym owners and other women can go the extra mile for other women in the gym by keeping some emergency tampons on site – either regular or super absorbancy.

I think that overall it can feel like an uncomfortable topic to cover (seriously – this yahoo answer includes a gal who says she loves Kotex’s noiseless pad wrappers because omg! it’s soooooo embarrassing when they make “all that noise” o_O – it can be mortifying for both men and women if someone bleeds through their gi bottoms, but keep in mind, not everyone will feel grossed out or embarrassed about it. I certainly wouldn’t – hell, it’s a fact of life and it sucks if it happens, but it’s not the end of the world. I mentioned that if I did have an accident that I might be tempted to joke about my “lunar defense” but that I would be concerned about making the guys feel uncomfortable.