Fact is, most of us have experienced pretty poor sex ed at school (or none at all). Frustratingly, this appears to be the case, wherever you are in the world.  Remember the awkward lessons where your biology teacher tried to explain how to put a condom on a banana? Fact is also that, the more you know about your own body and its cycles, the better decisions you can make about birth control & what’s right for you.

Here’s a few ways to get to know your own cycle…

Use an app!

Why? Because it’s 2018 and technology is there to help us! I can recommend something like Clue App (who have also a fantastically refreshing series of articles on Medium that can help you on your corporal voyage of discovery).

What? Track your symptoms using the handy app (things like cramps, headaches, spotting, when your period starts and ends, how your sex drive is etc are all part of the puzzle).  Based on these symptoms (you can simply enter them via the app whenever they appear), most apps will tell you when you’re likely to be ovulating, when to expect your next period and other cycle ‘milestones’.

What should I look out for? There are tonnes of these apps out there – the key thing to worry about (also because it’s 2018), is that your data is safe & secure (because, hey, it’s pretty personal stuff here). Do read the small print. Another thing to check out is that the app isn’t paid for by a pharma company who may be using the app as a way to influence your birth control choices.

It’s also technology, so it can go wrong… however, it’s really awesome to start learning about your body and your cycle. We suggest talking to your friends, Mum, gynocologist about what’s happening to your body too – information is King (or Queen, surely!).

Enrol in adult sex & body ed classes

Do these exist?

Why? Well, because, sadly, our schools and society did not necessarily provide this information to us.

What? Classes for adults that teach all sorts of facts, ranging from how to tell you’re ovulating, to focusing on how to articulate your emotions (because that’s definitely part of it!), and how to have consensual sex.

What should I look out for? Just double check that you’re ok with the objectives and mission of the organisation providing such classes. For example, it could be that where you are, a local religious group may organise such classes – in such cases, you should of course double check that your own personal beliefs align with those of the organisation.

Keep a paper cycle diary

Why? Because it’s 2018 doesn’t mean we can’t go analogue.

What? Get your hands on a paper calendar and make a note of all the feelings and changes you go through during the month. You could take a colour for each category (e.g. PMS, spotting, period, cramps, headaches etc) that you’d like to track. It might even be good if your partner can see this too – maybe he’ll get you chocolate on your PMS days!

What should I look out for? Prying eyes in some cases – but we advocate open conversation (yes, the more men know about this, the better conversations we can all have about it). Otherwise, what can go wrong with this method – people even say colouring in is therapeutic, so get filling those calendar squares with your symptoms, ladies!

Talk to your crew

Why? Because we’re all going through something incredibly similar & the more we can break those taboos about blood, cramps, periods, moodswings, contraception, sex, gender, sexual orientation, the better for all! The ignorant will be educated, the suffering will be soothed.

What? Try it. Try to have that conversation you think is going to be scary. Think of the courage of those who’ve come out to their conservative parents, think of those who’ve asked their pharmacy for emergency contraception after a threesome, think of those who’ve asked about contraception for their first sexual experience at 40. Everyone has gone before you & everyone is different – the more we celebrate that, the better conversations we can have with our partners, the better support we can offer to our friends.

What should I look out for? As with any good conversation, timing is not always perfect. If it’s a big deal for you, try to be calm (breathing does help!). Talk to your most supportive friends & relatives first…

We have other ‘crucial conversation’ tips in these articles [links/related content].

Google it

Why? Because the Internet. Information has never been so available as right now.

What? Got a question? Not sure when you should expect your first period after coming off hormonal birth control? Not sure if your cramps are normal? Not sure what to do since you missed a pill? These are all normal concerns and things that happen to all women – there is a lot of information available on the internet.

What should I look out for? Have you ever gone to google and typed in your flu symptoms? Invariably, it comes back with some nasty sub-tropical strain of a disease you’ve never heard of that invariably leads to imminent death. Dr Google isn’t your regular doctor & information you find on the internet is not tailored to you. It therefore needs to be taken with a huge pinch of salt. Check your sources – it can be a good first port of call for info, but then you should always, always check any concerns you have with a medical professional.