Menstrual synchrony is no stranger to anyone who has a period. In fact, at least one survey found 80 percent of people who get periods believe that women who spend time together will usually sync up.
In the 1970s, biology student Martha McClintock began a study with 135 women in a college dorm to test this theory. This was probably one of the first times science said the word period or vagina other than by accident or in a sneeze and the results were conclusive; women who spent more time together (and less time with men) were seen to sync up. So for 20 or so glorious years menstrual synchrony (or the McClintock Effect) was considered actual science, and vaginas and wombs around the world were given a pat on the back for being so clever.
But sadly since the 1990s various studies set about to disprove menstrual syncing. Perhaps male scientists found the idea of sentient wombs working in cahoots too scary to be science. For them I imagine it was witchcraft. So after several studies that debunked any evidence of syncing and that found holes in Mcclintock’s original study, menstrual synchrony was eventually cast back into the dusty vault of urban mythology; alongside the female g-spot, equal pay and global warming I guess.
But science doesn't speak for my uterus, nor the uteruses of lots of other people, and regardless of its origin, syncing is still a particularly prominent phenomenon in the daily lives of queer/trans couples. Syncing up, along with a set of cats and a big bag of feelings is a uniquely queer relationship experience and is pretty widely accepted if not encouraged. Syncing up means more sex and a greater chance of shared emotional swaddling—and who wouldn't want that?
However, the Jekyll and Hyde of hormonal possibilities mean that bleeding together can also go very wrong (unless attempting unrequited cuddles with an ice woman once a month is something you’re into). For my girlfriend and I syncing has never worked but I’ve heard rumours that it can be a wonderful thing. If steak and a blow job day is a heterosexual recipe for success, is menstrual synchrony our fast track to a happy home?
I spoke with five couples to find out more about mutual menstruation from those who do, those who don’t, and those who can’t—all in effort to answer the eternal question: do couples who bleed together, stay together?
*Some names have been changed
Hannah and Syirr
VICE: Hey Hannah and Syirr, how long have you been together?
Hannah: Just under six months but we’ve only had like a week’s worth of nights apart.
In six months? That is so very gay, well done.
Hannah: I know, I’ve moved in.
Syirr: She was looking for a house and I was like yeah crash here and then she crashed forever.
And what’s that like?
Hannah: We have contrasting schedules but conforming uteruses.
Oh great, let’s talk about periods. When did you sync?
Hannah: Second month? I remember because we were both like ‘let’s get loads of food immediately.’
What happens when you sync?
Hannah: It’s great, you’re both seething and falling out over a spoon, so it can be quite fun.
Syirr: We both just become very needy.
Hannah: I get needy but also emotionally vacant sometimes so it can be very confusing. Because I don't want to talk to anyone but am also like LOVE ME. Which can be quite hard to deal with I can imagine.
Syirr: Somehow it works though, somehow we compliment each other.
Hannah: It’s always quite nice because at least you’re doing it together and no ones doing it alone.
It sounds like syncing really works for you?
Hannah: Yeah, it works for us because we’re very similar—we’re both middle children we’ve got the same interests. I think we think quite alike so when you’re feeling like shit and you’re both feeling that way it’s nice because you can be in it together.
Syirr: You know what the other usually wants.
Hannah: It would be really shit if we were like two weeks apart or something because one person would be feeling awful while the other is doing everything and then it would happen again! I think that would be really stressful, thank god we have synced.
Can you recognize the warning signs in each other?
Syirr: We get really hungry and really thirsty.
Hannah: I use a menstrual cup so as soon as I reach for that string bag everyone knows what’s going on. Syirr’s laughing a lot by the way. She can’t hack it.
Let’s talk about the science then, scientists say it doesn't exist—do you agree?
Hannah: Liars! Aren’t there other mammals that have synced?
They’ve actually found evidence of menstrual syncing in rats and monkeys.
Hannah: Oh shit, imagine tonnes of hormonal rats, thats me and you baby.
So if science is wrong, do you have any theories why it happens?
Syirr: Empathy I think, if you know someone’s about to go through shit you’re like let’s do this together, let’s go.
Whether its science or witchcraft, do you think it adds a closeness you can’t get in a heterosexual relationship?
Hannah: I don’t know what these heteros get up to but it’s probably a bit different. If you’re a man and a woman he has to tune into that state and try and understand what she needs but with us it’s a bit easier because we both know how it feels so we can instantly make it better. I would say it was equal but in a hetero relationship you probably have to try a bit harder to get there.
So do couples who bleed together stay together?
Syirr: Fuck yeah.
Hannah: An emphatic yes, it’s a helpful factor—being literally in sync in every aspect.
Sapna* and Cassandra*
VICE: How long have you been together?
Sapna: Six years.
Cassandra: We’ve lived together for almost five and a half years and married in June 2017.
You moved in after six months?
Cassandra: Yes, I moved from DC to California to be with her in California.
So you must have synced up?
Sapna: NO! Almost every lesbian couple we know has synced. People are shocked to hear that we don’t.
Cassandra: It makes me crazy that we haven't had it happen! We sometimes sync with other women if we travel with them, but not with each other.
Sapna: We’ve never synced. We are both very regular (every 30 days)—and I go first, and then Cassandra goes immediately after me.
Weird! Do you feel like bad lesbians because you can’t sync?
Cassandra: Ahaha, I don’t really because I know so many things go into syncing. But it does annoy me.
Is it something you would want to happen?
Sapna: Yes! It’s pretty annoying to not sync. It extends the period of time that our sex lives are slightly different than when we’re not on our period.
Cassandra: It's almost two weeks each month that affects our sex life. It's very annoying.
So if you’re not synced can you tell when each one is on their period?
Sapna: Yes, but mostly because we’re very open with it. We’ll tell each other as soon as it starts/ends, since it affects the other person’s sex life too. I’m a weak monster on my period. Everything hurts and I’m pretty whiny about it. Cassandra is generally pretty normal.
Cassandra: Yeah, we talk about everything. But also because she becomes a miserable person during the first two days. It's impossible to miss that!
Science still says syncing is not a thing—do you agree?
Sapna: Not at all. I’m sure one day science will figure out why and how syncing happens. I know way too many people who have synced for it all to be a coincidence.
Cassandra: It's totally a thing and I'm sure someday science will be like, "hey, sorry women for calling you hysterical before, you were totally right!" and maybe they can tell us weirdos how to sync if we aren't.
Do you think the potential for sharing a period adds unique closeness?
Sapna: Yes, it would be great to be able to commiserate together!
Cassandra: I do, and I think, like with a lot of other things in same-sex relationships, even if you don't sync, there is a lot of powerful closeness that comes with simply understanding what it's like to be a woman.
Grace* and Elle*
VICE: Hello ladies, so how long have you been together?
Grace: We’ve been together for two years. In the first three months of our relationship we stayed over at one of our places probably six days a week. Then lived together in the same room in an apartment for about a year.
Thats a lot of days a week—so you must have synced?
Grace: Definitely when we were living together. We also lived with three other females and I honestly think our whole house was synced up at times.
How does your PMS work together?
Elle: Grace gets stressed out and cries for 15 minutes and then realizes she is on her period. Gets awful cramps, definitely has a higher sex drive.
Grace: Elle’s period makes her more self conscious and leads to her having an easier emotional breakout in moments of stress. So if we are both on our periods and have an emotional moment we are able to comfort the other and relate.
Grace: Yeah, it works for us, in terms of comfort and also sexually, it is just more convenient if those times line up.
Do you know why you have synced or have any theories?
Grace: I think it’s closeness, pheromones/biology whatever. I feel like our bodies know each other.
Your bodies are buddies.
You know in one experiment they had women smell the sweaty pads from other women’s armpits to prove syncing was a thing, do you think that would work on you?
Grace: Science did that? That’s disgusting.
But science still says syncing is not a thing—what do you think?
Grace: And neither are there enough women in science.
Elle: Maybe they need to spend a month in our bedroom.
Alex and Siónad
VICE: How long have you two been together?
Siónad: Seven months.
Alex: And you’re here all the time. I don't think we’ve had more than three days a part as a couple in a row. So a lot.
Siónad: A fair bit yeah.
And Alex are you still having periods?
Alex: Yes I do. I’m a transguy but I’ve only discovered and explored that in the last few years—so I am pre-everything, but having gender counselling.
What’s it like sharing a period with Siónad as a trans guy?
Alex: I think I am very lucky that I don’t experience bottom dysphoria greatly. I don't feel less trans or less of a guy when I bleed, and I think I'm very lucky in that. But I think I would love to invest in some Thinx style period underwear—I would love the boxers and to feel like on my period days I'm just wearing normal boxers like any other guy and don’t have to think about it.
So syncing with Siónad doesn't worsen your dysphoria at all?
Alex: Not at all, I quite like that I tend to sync with my partners. If anything, and this is maybe a bit TMI, I possibly feel a bit more trans when I'm bleeding. Is that weird? I think maybe I've just totally disconnected it as a gendered thing in my head. So for me the bleeding doesn’t make you femme or male, because it’s related to sex more than gender and I think I've separated it from gender expression in my mind. But I've mentioned having cramps or mood swings to my friends who have then said "It’s so weird to think of you having a period.” But for me it’s not something I really think about.
So at the moment you're happy being trans and sharing a period with your girlfriend?
Alex: Yeah absolutely. Like, Naddy is a very femme woman who has periods and needs cookies. I'm a transguy, and I get periods and I need hugs and hot showers. And I'm very very aware for most transguys periods are a living hell. But for me it's something that just happens, and it can happen when I'm in my binder or presenting masculine. It doesn't take away from my gender expression.
And if you stop periods would you miss sharing a period with your partner?
Alex: You know, I don’t know! I think it’s a unique experience.
Siónad, would you miss it if Alex stopped their periods?
Siónad: No, I’d be glad for Alex to be skipping the cramps and the inconvenient underwear! Also if I'm the only one menstruating I get more sympathy cookies.
Do you have any theories why syncing it happens?
Siónad: Let’s hear about the she-wolves, then.
Alex: So, what it is: In like your house of girls.
Siónad: *people who menstruate.
Alex: Wow, trust the trans guy to fuck that up. I think in a group of * people who menstruate, it’s hormones or biology—I think it’s got to go back to some base level, animalistic thing—whoever’s got the strongest ovaries, or hormones, they’re the she-wolf and everyone follows her. They’re the alpha ovary.
Siónad: There’s no such thing.
Alex: It’s my theory.
Siónad: The whole concept of alpha/beta wolves is completely scientifically unsound.
Alex: I think you sync to the strongest ovaries and pheromones. People tend to sync to me because I’m a hormonal mess.
Siónad: I have noticed a trend in the past when I did date people I tend to sync to them.
Alex: Yes, you sync to people like me, hormonal messes or the alpha ovary.
Siónad: Will you stop.
Alex: I’m going to get a tattoo of it.
Siónad: No, you’re not, I will leave you.
Alex: Right on the top of my crotch.
Laine and Anne
VICE: Laine and Anne, hello. So how long have you been together?
Anne: Together about a year.
Laine: You know off and on. We have a rule that we can only stay over every other night during the week. But that goes out the window on weekends.
Anne: We break it a lot.
Had you heard of period syncing before?
Anne: I’ve heard of it before and at high school I thought I was synced with my friend.
Laine: I remember my aunt used to say when you put a bunch of clocks in the same room, or if you put a bunch of women in the room they all sync up. She kind of opened my eyes to how universal it could be, but I don't really believe any of it. I don't remember ever syncing.
You’ve never synced?
Anne: We’ve rarely synced. Because of my IUD any PMS is all the time or any time, it’s really random. I don't really get much of a period and we’ve never synced because my periods aren’t real, they’re random.
Laine: Yeah, and my period hasn’t really been very consistent, surprisingly. One time we had our period at the same time and I was excited.
Anne: It’s definitely fun, the idea of it is really fun.
Do you think its a lesbian stereotype that we all sync?
Anne: I think its a woman stereotype. I associate it with women and the stigma around periods.
Laine: I wish we had experienced this syncing.
Anne: Yeah, me too.
If you’re not synced up, between you you must be bleeding all the time—what’s that like?
Laine: I’ve definitely bled a lot on Anne’s bed.
Anne: And I’ve bled on Laine’s bed.
Laine: And there have been times actually where we don't know who's bled.
It sounds like you’re pretty open about it?
Laine: My bed is covered in blood right now so it would be hard to not be open, so it’s nice.
Period sex—yay or nay?
Laine: Yay! We still have sex when one is on their period, and we still have sex when we’re both on our periods.
Anne: And we also have sex when we’re not on our periods.
Laine: Right yeah, it’s not just a fetish or something.
So if you could sync, do you think you would?
Anne: I don’t believe it’s something that happens.
Laine: I’m more open that it happens but I have no idea if we would. Maybe it’s because we’re not really meant to be together.
Anne: Maybe a positive of syncing is that it tells you you’re meant to be with that person.
Laine: Yeah, how do straight couples figure that out? I have no idea.
Anne: Well, now we know this isn't going to last.
I’ve heard one theory that people sync to the more dominant partner—do you think that’s true?
Laine: Oooh who’s the alpha?
Anne: Thats a great question. I think we have a horizontal relationship; there’s no alpha. Maybe that’s why we’ve never synced.
Laine: Thats a good theory. I think we’re each alpha in different ways.
Anne: There’s a wolf on my shirt—maybe that makes me the alpha.
Laine: I don’t think that has anything to do with what we’re talking about.
So you’ve rarely synced with anyone-—why do you think that is?
Anne: Do you think the fact that you’ve never synced with anyone means that you’ve never been close to anyone in your life?
Laine: I do agree that I’ve never been close to anyone in my life, but I also think that no one has ever been close to anyone.
Anne: We probably haven't synced because we lack closeness but again, syncing is not real.
So you agree with science then—syncing isn't real?
Anne: 100 percent.
Laine: I don't know, I like to keep my opinions open... you said you thought you were synced with your friend so that’s evidence right there?
Anne: I don’t know. I just think I'm really into debunking period myths.
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.