Swara Patel of India's, Period Society, absolutely blew us away with the last one.
"Shark week", "chums", "aunt", or "those days - a couple of the innumerable code words for menstruation. "Dirty blood", "Negativity" or "polluting" - some words which still reflect people’s perception of menstrual blood today. At The Period Society we work consistently to eliminate period poverty and conduct educational sessions in India. However, our biggest hurdle is often something that is entrenched in the social, cultural, and religious fabric of communities in India and beyond - the menstrual taboo.
What are some period myths?
I have grown up in a family of physicians, yet when I first came home from a wedding to find my underwear stained with blood, all my mother did was hand me a sanitary napkin. All I was told was that I had, ‘my period’. Meanwhile, my head is going into a spiral, I didn’t know what it was! Was I bleeding to death? Would I faint because of the blood loss? Could I run around and play with my friends during my period? I had a lot of questions but there were barely any answers, only a hush hush that descended on every mention of the word ‘period’.
Instead of learning what periods are, a natural and healthy functioning experience for people who menstruate, from this silence, I was made aware of the pervasive nature of the menstrual taboo by myths. These myths, to name a few, are that your period blood is your dirty blood, that menstruating people can cause food to rot by touching it, and that exercise can increase the blood loss. It took me years to see through these myths but the remainder of these articles will break them with rationale and scientific answers to explain to you what your period actually is.
Myth #1 Period Blood is dirty blood
During innumerable menstrual hygiene sessions that we conducted in low income and underserved communities in India and to our own families, we have often come across the notion that period blood is dirty blood or the body shedding negativity, or a curse from God to women for their sins. This is so far from being true, menstruation actually occurs when the lining of the uterus i.e. the endometrium is shed by uterine contractions when the egg released by either of the ovaries isn’t fertilized. The composition of the blood is the same as that of blood in other parts of the body and the menstrual flow comprises this blood and uterine tissue.
As long as you use safe and fresh period products appropriately, you will be fine and there is no basis in biology for you to consider your body impure when you menstruate.
Myth #2 You shouldn’t work out during periods
Most people completely avoid working out on their period. It seems illogical to continue exercising when you have raging cramps, bad bloating and headaches, right? Some even fear period leakage or excess odours due to exercise. Working out on your period is actually one of the best things to do to alleviate cramps or reduce bloating. Exercising can increase the oxygen supply to the body muscles which can reduce cramps. Furthermore, the extra “boost” of endorphins from exercise can help improve your sleep quality and boost your metabolism. Don't hold back from any poses either; any inverted poses have no effect on your period intensity or length. Even if you’re anemic and have a particularly heavy period, you’re not at any greater risk of passing out than others. While anemia does cause feelings of fatigue, exercising can actually ensure red blood cells are delivered more efficiently to the muscle tissue which can help with anemic symptoms. Just make sure you’re well hydrated and fuelled before starting.
P.S. You can check out Jennifer’s article on How your Menstrual Cycle Impacts your Workouts, she gives some tips and busts this myth even further!
Myth #3 You can’t get pregnant while you’re on your period
Many people believe that menstruators are not fertile on their periods, often leading to unprotected sex. Unfortunately there are many unexpected pregnancies due to this misconception. While you are unable to conceive on your period, sperm can generally survive in the your reproductive tract for up to 5 days after sex. So, depending on the length of your cycle and when you have sex, you could possibly become pregnant from period sex. If you have sex on one of the last few days of your period, the sperm can survive in your reproductive tract until your period is over, thereby getting you pregnant. You can easily protect yourself by simply using regular contraceptive barriers, such as condoms, to prevent pregnancy and also prevent STIs.
Myth #4 You can pass out from blood loss
It’s a surprisingly common misconception that women lose inordinate amounts of blood during their periods. On the contrary, women lose approximately 2-3 tablespoons of blood during their periods. This amount can vary on a case by case basis, but usually isn’t even nearly enough to stop you from carrying out your regular routine.
Myth #5 Using tampons can be painful, they can get lost inside you and lead to adverse complications
Globally, people stray away from tampons for fear that inserting them may be painful and cause discomfort throughout the day. Simple biology means the tampon can never get “lost” inside you. The cervix (the end of the vagina) has a small opening that only allows blood or semen through. A tampon cannot fit through it. As for your virginity, yes a tampon could possibly stretch your hymen. But, riding a bicycle or horseback riding could also stretch it. There’s a multitude of different activities that could tear a hymen, so don’t worry that you’ll be “losing your virginity” to a tampon. Inserting a tampon shouldn’t be painful. If done right, you shouldn’t even feel the tampon inside you. If you feel uncomfortable wearing one, you might be inserting it straight up instead of at a slight angle.
P.S. If you have mastered the tampon, you should try using a menstrual cup! They are much more environmentally friendly and can be worn much longer than a tampon.
Myth #6 Your cycle has to be 28 days long
Even though most textbooks state the ideal duration of a period as 28 days, people who’ve just started getting their periods can experience a lot of fluctuations in this time period till their cycle stabilizes. Moreover, cycles can last for different durations such as 22 days to 35 days.
Myth #7 You can spoil pickles or any vegetables if you touch them while you’re menstruating
Blood has always been considered as a fascinating liquid during the course of history, and people have often viewed it as a cause and cure of many diseases. However, menstruating women cannot spoil fruits, vegetables, pickles or curdle mayonnaise by simply touching them and there’s no recorded instance of this occurring!
If you are curious to learn more about the work The Period Society does, make sure to check out their website : https://www.theperiodsociety.org
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