Menstruation, chums, periods.
It goes by several names, but most of us have the same negative attitude towards it.
Despite it being an essential part of the human cycle of birth and death, we have somehow found a way to use it to degrade women.
Especially in India, it’s tied strongly to religion and restricts women in several ways. It’s become a cause of shame for most women, and we as a society shy away from talking about facts related to menstruation and instead keep propagating the myths surrounding it, which makes it impossible for so many women to break the barriers caused by it.
So let’s try to bust some of the most common myths about menstruation from a global as well as cultural viewpoint.
Myths about menstruation
Myth 1- Period blood is dirty blood/ a menstruating female is impure.
In my opinion, this is one of the most common myths about periods. Period blood is not dirty blood in reality. Menstruation is not a mechanism through which the body is trying to flush out toxins. It is a process to just eliminate the blood and tissues that built up inside the uterus in preparation for the baby. It’s when the female egg doesn’t fertilize that the body has to throw out the “waste” because it doesn’t require the extra layers of the endometrium (the inner wall of the uterus) which was actually built in preparation to receive and support the baby. But the misconception is that the blood being eliminated is impure blood and this logic has been used in India especially to restrict females from several activities and places, such as visiting the temple or entering the kitchen while menstruating.
Myth 2- Period cramps are like any other pain.
A huge NO to this myth. The pain caused by period cramps is not like regular pain. Several women experience intense pain during their periods which hinders with their normal functioning. It becomes extremely difficult to perform even menial tasks. In medical terms, this condition is termed dysmenorrhea. This sort of pain makes it very hard to focus on things, makes a person anxious and sometimes incapable to even get out of bed. For some females the pain is so unbearable that it causes nausea and vomiting. Before dismissing off period cramps and making any judgments about it, one needs to understand that every person experiences different pain levels and also has different pain tolerance levels. Period pain is very real and in extreme conditions can be debilitating.
Myth 3- Periods are shameful.
This myth probably arises from a lack of understanding and knowledge about menstruation. There’s nothing to hide and be shameful about one’s periods. Still young girls are often taught to be secretive when they are on their period. From hiding pads/tampons to complete embarrassment on experiencing a leak, there’s so much shame around periods. In some cultures, the onset of menstruation is celebrated as it is a sign of transformation of a young girl into a woman, marked by the capacity to reproduce. But the celebration doesn’t last very long as soon the restrictions are imposed and secrecy has to be maintained. Periods is a natural process that the female body undergoes and everyone is aware of it, if not, they should be made aware. Educating people about menstruation and destigmatizing it is the only way that the shame associated with it can vanish.
Myth 4- Stay clear from a PMSing/ menstruating female.
This myth really surprises me. Some people treat PMSing females as a ticking time bomb, just waiting to burst out with anger. PMS isn’t only about being irritable and cranky. Some females do experience severe mood swings but that is only because of the bodily change in hormones along with the discomfort of cramps, bloating, headaches and nausea. There are others who do not experience such symptoms. I’m not denying that some females get moody around the time of their periods, but it’s a natural phenomenon. Instead of avoiding females who are PMSing/ menstruating, one should provide emotional and physical support to help relieve the person of their symptoms rather than succumbing to the stigma around it. It is not okay to dismiss the experience by terming it as mood swings, neither is it something to be vary of.
Myth 5- Exercising during periods is unhealthy.
Any type of heavy physical activity is usually avoided during periods only because of the fact that it can be extremely painful at times, and the person is even unable to get through normal daily activities. Exercising or any kind of physical activity during periods does not cause damage to the uterus. In fact to maintain a healthy cycle regular exercise is a must. Some form of physical activity during one’s periods can actually help reduce cramps and improve mood. It is completely safe to exercise during one’s periods. In my opinion in comes down to one’s personal choice depending upon the severity of symptoms experienced and one’s physical capacity.
Myth 6- Taking hot showers increases flow and washing your hair during periods decreases flow.
Hot showers are recommended not for increasing period flow but to relieve the pain causes by cramps and help with the other symptoms as well because a hot shower can be quite relaxing. In India, females are discouraged from washing their hair during their period as it will reverse the blood flow thereby decreasing the downward flow of period blood. This is not true because the period blood is different from the blood pumped by the heart and flowing through our body. So washing your hair doesn’t necessarily have an impact of the period flow.
Such taboos and myths around menstruation can have adverse and negative impact on the overall physical, mental and social well being of females. There’s a general lack of proper health care and sanitary facilities available to a lot of females especially if they are from a low socio economic background. Most of them don’t have access to proper toilets or water facilities which can help them maintain hygiene when on their period. Also, they usually use old cloth to aid in absorption of the blood, which is often reused as they are unable to access proper sanitary pads which usually don’t come very cheap. The stigma and lack of education about menstruation, along with this lack of facilities causes many girls to drop out of schools when they start menstruating.
We as a society should take measures to fight the stigma and myths around menstruation. A lot of females suffer immensely in terms of physical health, mental well being and social opportunities because of the misconceptions around menstruation.