Menstruation, better known as a period, is a right of passage, a physical sign that a young girl is maturing into a woman.  Starting some time from the age of 12 onwards, a girl will get her first period.  This means her menstrual cycle has begun.  A fun, hormonal rollercoaster that she will have to learn to manage every month. In layman terms, a period is a monthly bleed from the vagina. These bleeds normally continue until the woman is in her late 40s / early 50s when she reaches a new transitional stage, called menopause.  Every woman’s body is different and the period will differ from woman to woman in terms of length and flow.  Periods can last from 2 – 7 days, and vary from very light to painfully heavy.

As an English learner, you won’t find vocabulary about menstruation in many ESL resource books or mentioned in ESL courses.  Menstruation is considered a personal and private matter, but half of the world’s population are women and each woman experiences approximately 450 periods in their lifetime, so I think it’s really important that we all know how to talk about periods in English.  This goes for the men too, as every man will have some women in their life; mother, sister, friend, girlfriend, wife, or daughter.  Although a man doesn’t directly experience the period, he will be affected by it in one way or another.



So here is some essential vocabulary that you will need to discuss the topic of periods.

Firstly, menstruation, or as we often refer to it, a period, comes at the end of each menstrual cycle. The following terms are mostly slang, these are the terms we commonly use when talking about periods;

  • That time of the month (most polite slang term) “Please forgive my daughter’s irritability, it’s that time of the month.”
  • Visit from Aunt Flo “I am getting a bit worried, I’m waiting for a visit from Aunt Flo but she is very late.”

  • Got the decorators/painters in “Babe, can you still go swimming if you’ve got the decorators in?”

  • On the rag “I hope I am not on the rag over the weekend.”

  • On the blob “Just leave me alone, I am on the blob and feeling miserable.”

  • Riding the cotton pony “I find that dancing really helps to ease my cramps and backache when I am riding the cotton pony.”

In many cases, I hear women simply using the phrasal verb ‘come on’ to indicate the start of their period.  For example, I might say to my best friend

“I came on this morning, which explains why I had cramps last night.”

“I hope I come on today, I’m already 4 days late.”

If you participate in online forums about woman’s health, such as a fertility forum if you are trying to get pregnant for example, then you will see the use of the phrase ‘visit from Aunt Flo’ being used a lot, often abbreviated to AF.

In the UK, in more formal settings it’s best to use the terms, period, that time of the month, or women’s things if you need to bring up the subject of your menstruation.  For example, if you need to be excused from class but perhaps your teacher normally doesn’t allow toilet breaks during a lesson, but you need to go and change your sanitary pad, then you might quietly say to the teacher:

“Please can I be excused sir/miss, women’s things!” 

They will understand instantly and should let you go.

Next we shall look at vocabulary for the types of products used when on your period.

  • Sanitary towel, also known as Sanitary pad – This is an absorbent pad that is placed inside a woman’s knickers to absorb the menstrual flow (the blood) and protect her clothes.
  • Tampon – A mass of absorbent material, formed into the shape of a large bullet, with a string attached to the bottom.  The tampon is designed to be inserted into the vagina during mensuration to absorb the menstrual flow before it leaves the body. You may have to ask a friend “Do you have a spare tampon I can use?”  Tampax is such a well-known brand that many people use the word Tampax as the noun for the item instead of simply a brand.  
  • Menstrual cup –  A silicone cup, shaped like a tulip which is inserted into the vagina to collect the menstrual flow.  This is considered to be the most environmentally friendly product as it can be reused time and time again.  One of the most well-known brands in the UK is the Mooncup

In the following video I will cover the above vocabulary as well as talk about the phrases we use to talk about the types of periods, and the symptoms a woman may experience during or before her period. 


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