When Men Can Feel Your Period Pain

A British tabloid recently published an interview with a male student who insists he gets sympathy cramps when it's his roommate's time of the month. Is that even possible? We asked a few experts.
April 4, 2016, 9:00pm
Photo by Andrijana Kostova via Stocksy

Is it possible for a guy to spend so much time with a woman that he starts syncing up with her menstrual cycle, getting cramps when she does, crying at Hugh Grant films, and craving the same Ben and Jerry's flavor? According to the Sun, that's exactly what happened to 22-year-old George Fellows. Since meeting his best friend and roommate, Amber-May Ellis, Fellows says he's been getting the same "mysterious pains" every month for two years, around the same time Ellis starts her period. He also notes that he gets "super emotional" during that time of the month.

"I was at uni one day when they suddenly kicked in. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac so I panicked," he told the publication. "Amber made an off-the-cuff comment saying, 'I'm on my period at the moment, now you know how I feel.' I didn't think anything of it at first, but the next month, like clockwork, I got the pains again. After three months, we knew something was up."

While I don't doubt the pair's platonic devotion to each other (the two have matching wingding tattoos—who could argue with that?), Fellows's story certainly does trigger my bullshit alarm. (We reached out to Fellows for comment but he is currently under contract with the Press Association—one of the agencies often behind those shocking tabloid headlines—and is only interested in telling his story for pay.) But nonetheless, I had to wonder: Can men experience menstruation by association?

A Vouchercloud survey of over 2,000 people in the UK suggests that it's possible, or at least men like to think so. When male respondents were asked if they experience "man periods" 26 percent said yes. Most of them, however, reported symptoms like, feeling "more tired than normaI" or having "increased cravings." Only 5 percent reported that they experienced physical pain like cramps. It's also hard to draw any definitive conclusions from a survey conducted by the British equivalent of Groupon that asked respondents to retroactively identify cyclical changes in their behavior and mood; humans just aren't very good at doing that.

So I asked Dr. Tomi-Ann Roberts, a psychologist on the board of Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, if she had heard of the phenomenon; she hadn't. However, she didn't rule it out completely. Based on growing evidence for Couvade syndrome—a psychological condition in which men whose partners are pregnant also experience the symptoms of pregnancy—she said, "the equivalent might be imagined during one's period."

Couvade syndrome is widely reported by men. Symptoms include nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, appetite changes, leg cramps, and backaches. According to Arthur Brennan, who conducted a 2005 study on the phenomenon, between 25 percent to 52 percent of all men with a pregnant partner have experienced it.

One psychoanalytic theory, Brennan writes in the Washington Post, is that Couvade stems "from the man's envy of the woman's procreative ability." This could ostensibly apply to menstruation as well, though I don't know why a man would be jealous of a reoccurring cycle of pain, bloat, moodiness, and general discomfort.

"To really understand this, you have get into what this specifically means to this person and in this relationship," said psychologist Dr. Amy Altenhaus of Fellows's psychic menstruation. She doesn't doubt the possibility of someone having psychosomatic pangs that correlate to another's menstrual cycle, though she says she has not experienced it in her practice.

But if you're looking for cold, hard, scientific facts, there's not much to suggest that sympathetic pain experienced by a close friend or partner of a woman who is menstruating is physiological. There have been some small-scale studies that report men experience drops in testosterone levels when their partner is pregnant, but how a woman's menstruation affects their partner's hormones hasn't been quantified. And recent research suggests that women don't even sync cycles with each other and any synchronicity between two menstruating women in close proximity can be attributed to chance.

So while experiencing a period is, like, the one thing I wish men would steal from women without credit, it doesn't look like they can after all.