Myths About Periods and Menstruation

Girls sitting in inflatable rings in swimming pool
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We are slowly dragging the conversation about menstruation out of the dark ages.

Where Do Period Myths Come From?

Long before science, religion held the responsibility of explaining our world. Without scientific evidence, religion was left to create explanations for nature. Think about how you would have explained why women bleed every month. Would you have made it a negative or a positive process? Most major religions put a negative spin on menstruation making it a time of impurity in women.

This concept of a menstruating woman as unclean, impure, and in some cases even potentially evil led to cultural practices based on isolating and excluding menstruating women. Thankfully, in most places these strict and punitive views on menstruation have faded away. But, society still attaches a social taboo to menstruation driving the conversation underground. 

The fact that you can search for and easily find information about your period is a relatively new concept. Before now, there was a lot of misinformation passed around about your period. Menstruation just wasn't talked about. Fairly recently, health classes in school tried to fill in the information gap but usually fell short. Typically, whatever information you got was either from girlfriends or maybe your mother. Much of this information is based on the remnants of religious beliefs mixed in with some practical observations by our female ancestors.

 

Let's have a look at some of the common period myths. 

1. You can’t go swimming during your period. FALSE

It is perfectly safe to go swimming during your period.

Likely this myth started in the days before tampons or menstrual cups were popular. It is a hygiene concern to go swimming without feminine protection.

Any body fluid whether its menstrual blood, urine or feces can contaminate a swimming pool.

What about the question of shark attacks when swimming in the ocean with your period? That is definitely an urban legend with no evidence to support it!

2. It’s unhealthy to have sex during your period. FALSE

While some women may feel uncomfortable about having sexual intercourse during menstruation, it’s perfectly OK. Likely this myth comes directly from religious teaching that prohibits sex during menstruation. There is no health risk associated with sex during your period. There is even evidence to suggest that it may help relieve menstrual cramps. It may be a little messy but go ahead and have sex during your period if you want to!

3. Don’t wash your hair when you’re menstruating. FALSE

There is absolutely no reason not to wash your hair, or take a bath or shower during menstruation. In fact, a nice warm bath can do a lot to relieve menstrual cramps and premenstrual tension. 

4. Girls shouldn’t use tampons during their first periods. FALSE

There is no reason not to use tampons during your first period. Just make sure you read the instructions and insert the tampon correctly. A properly inserted tampon doesn’t pinch or cause any type of discomfort. In fact, you won’t feel anything if your tampon is inserted correctly.

5. You can’t get pregnant from sex during your period. FALSE

Although it is unlikely if you have regular periods it is still possible to get pregnant from sex during your period.

You need to ovulate in order to get pregnant and that usually happens after your period finishes. But, if you have an irregular cycle or bleed a little longer than average your fertile window may overlap with your period. Unless you’re using The Pill, an IUD, or another hormonal type of contraception, it is best to assume there are no safe days to have sex without the possibility of getting pregnant.

Remember to always practice safe sex. Contraceptives do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases or STDs.

6. You shouldn’t exercise or do strenuous activities during your period. FALSE

Once treated as a time when women were "sick," menstruating women rested, stayed home, and didn't socialize. This view on menstruation is clearly a left over of more strict religious views and practices.

Menstruation is a normal function.Your period is not a disability.

You can do anything during your period that you can do when you’re not menstruating. In fact, we know that regular exercise helps to decrease painful menstrual cramps. You can always take some anti-inflammatory pain medication if your period cramps are making it hard to exercise.

7. Women who spent a lot of time together have their periods together. FALSE (maybe)

This is actually a bit controversial. Initial research in the 1970’s suggested that body chemicals called pheromones synchronized the cycles of women living together. Further studies failed to support those findings and thought that the synchronization was more of a random event. Researchers are still trying to explain the concept of menstrual synchrony and until there is more evidence it remains a myth.

Updated by Andrea Chisholm, MD

Gosline,A (2007, December) Do Women Who Live Together Menstruate Together? Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-women-who-live-together-menstruate-together/

Bhatiya,A.(2013) Menstruation,Religion and Society.International Journal of Social Science and Humanity,Vol.3(6)pp.523-527 Retrieved from http://www.ijssh.org/papers/296-B00016.pdf

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