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Menstruation is a normal hormonal mechanism of the body, which is periodically experienced by women in the form of a vaginal bleed. This occurs due to the failure of implantation following an ovulatory cycle and is indicative that the woman is not pregnant but is fertile.

Despite this known science behind menstruation, there are several myths and notions, especially in the Indian society making it much of a taboo. Due to this, women are often unable to talk about their menstruation-related problems openly and as a result, their health suffers.

It is imperative that these myths be busted so that women of the reproductive age are able to discuss their issues and seek medical help accordingly.

This article will introduce you to these myths and reinstate the facts so that you understand how menstrual cycle actually works. So, let’s get started.

  1. Myth 1: Periods are a monthly deal
  2. Myth 2: Women menstruate for 4 days a month and begin around the age of 13
  3. Myth 3: Menstrual blood smells bad
  4. Myth 4: Period blood is impure and menstruating women are unclean and dirty
  5. Myth 5: The play of evil spirits, shame and embarrassment surrounding periods
  6. Myth 6: The touch of menstruating women can spoil food
  7. Myth 7: Eating sour food must be avoided during periods
  8. Myth 8: It is not okay to take a bath during your menstrual cycle
  9. Myth 9: Women must not exercise during periods
  10. Myth 10: Women can’t swim during periods
  11. Myth 11: You can’t have sex, be pregnant or get STDs during periods
  12. Myth 12: Mood swings around periods
  13. Myth 13: Periods are expensive
  14. Myth 14: Talking about periods to your young ones will scare them off
  15. Myth 15: Beginning of periods implies that a woman is ready to bear babies

Myth: It is believed that it is normal to have periods after exactly a month for all women.

Fact: Periods usually occur once a month but the normal cycle of each woman varies. While 28 days is just the average, a woman’s menstrual cycle can range anywhere between 21 to 40 days. So, there is not a defined normal. However, if your menstrual cycles are highly variable or infrequent, you must talk to your doctor as this could be a sign of hormonal disorders.

(Read more: Irregular period causes)

Myth: It is a common guessed notion that women must menstruate for exactly 4 days each month, with the first cycle starting at the age of 13 years at the beginning of teenage.

Fact: The duration of menstruation is different among women. Although it is possible that a majority of women menstruate for 3 to 5 days, menstrual cycle can last anywhere between 2 to 8 days and that is completely normal.

Girls can begin menstruating anytime between the age of 11 to 14 years. Some may even begin as early as 9 years or not get one until later years of teenage. Unless the beginning of menstruation isn’t too early in the childhood years or not experienced after teenage, it is not a grave matter of concern.

Myth: Another common assumption is that menstrual blood has a smell and a woman smells foul during her periods, which is why they tend to restrict themselves.

Fact: If you maintain proper hygiene down there, there is no reason for you to be smelling bad even during menstruation.

(Read more: Vaginal odour causes)

Myth: It is often believed in the Indian society that the menstrual blood is unclean and impure, possibly due to the evacuating source. Due to this, women are often forbidden from temples and are even restricted from performing their daily chores. In older times, young menstruating girls were secluded from the house and were made to stay separate from other members. It was believed that they could resume their daily chores and practices only after they were purified off the cycle. The origin of this myth date backs to the mythological era where women took a part of the guilt of killing a Brahmana by Indra.

Fact: Menstruation occurs following the shedding of the endometrial layer because pregnancy has not occurred. It is the lining of the inner layer of the uterus that is shed, the same lining that would have been used to provide nourishment to the foetus, had pregnancy occurred. So, period blood is anything but impure and women must not be discriminated against due to this natural process.

Myth: Shame and embarrassment about periods have been a known problem. Young girls are often period shamed and are encouraged to not talk about their menstrual cycle, keeping periods a hidden topic, especially from men. While that is widely prevalent all over the nation, some cultures even believe that the play of some evil spirits and entities is responsible for the menstrual cycle, which is why women bury used menstrual clothes and belongings at the end of each cycle.

Fact: The only mechanism which is responsible for the occurrence of menstruation is the ovulatory cycle, which is due to the influence of female hormones. Since periods are indicative of women’s sexual and general health, it is important that women are not shamed about periods and are encouraged to talk openly.

Myth: Menstruating women are often refrained from touching several food items like pickles and preserved foods, because it is believed that the food will rot or get spoil if touched by them. It is said that menstruating women emit certain smells or rays, which can spoil foods.

Fact: There has been no scientific evidence to support the notion that food can be spoiled by merely a touch and there have been no reported incidence of the same.

Myth: A lot of young girls are advised to make dietary changes during periods and remove sour and starchy foods from their diet like curd, potatoes, rice and pickles. It is assumed that the intake of these foods will affect menstrual flow.

Fact: No specific literature pertaining to food restriction during menstruation has been known. However, it is always advisable to eat healthier during your periods in order to provide your body with the desired amount of nutrition. Studies have suggested that the intake of high salty or high sugary food items along with unhealthy snacks and an increased intake of caffeine is associated with menstrual pain. So, it is recommended to talk to your doctor about any specific foods that you must avoid during menstruation.

(Read more: Coffee side effects)

Myth: Women often skip bath during the initial days of a menstrual cycle when the flow of blood is excessive. This is because it is believed that the water would be polluted, being a cause of environmental pollution. Women are also advised to not wash their heads as it is believed to negatively affect their health.

Fact: It is important to take a shower during periods to ensure appropriate hygiene. Head washing must also be done whenever required irrespective of menstruation. One practice that must be refrained from during menstruation is vaginal douching or vigorous washing with the help of soap, water or cleansers. This is because douching or aggressive washing can lead to an increased risk of vaginal infections, especially around periods. It is only recommended to wash the external genitalia in order to maintain good vaginal health.

Myth: This is probably the most widespread myth about menstruation. A lot of young women restrict their physical activities during menstrual cycles due to the belief that it can cause dysmenorrhoea and heavy menstrual flow. An increased frequency of absences from workplace and gyms is also noted.

Fact: Quite the opposite of this myth is true when it comes to exercising during periods. Physical activity is associated with a reduction in pain during periods and a more comfortable menstrual cycle. Thus, women must be encouraged to be physically active during periods and the same goes for work, school and play. Periods aren’t meant to hold you back.

Myth: Swimming is one form of physical activity that is completely disregarded during periods because of limited knowledge of menstrual hygiene practices.

Fact: Women can perform any type of physical activity during their menstrual cycle, which includes swimming. With the help of tampons or menstrual cup that are designed to absorb menstrual flow, it is easier to perform water sports like swimming.

Myth: Most couples refrain from sex during the days of menstruation and when they do, they often misbelief that it is okay to have sex without condoms because one cannot get pregnant or even acquire STDs while they are on their periods.

Fact: Couples can safely have sex during periods provided that they make the use of condoms. This is because it is possible to get pregnant and even have STDs while you are pregnant, making it essential to use protection. Women with a shorter menstrual cycle have a greater chance of pregnancy. If, however, sex is uncomfortable or painful some time, it is better to avoid.

(Read more: Can you get pregnant during, before or after your periods)

Myth: Women have too many mood swings around menstrual cycles.

Fact: Most women experience some or the other symptoms before the beginning of their menstrual cycles in the form of mood swings, headache, irritability or anxiety due to the change in hormones. These are termed under the premenstrual syndrome, which affects 5 to 8% of menstruating women. While there are different school of thoughts to whether or not PMS is an actual condition, researchers and doctors have identified this problem and it even has available treatments. So, if you face extreme problems, you must share your concerns with your doctor.

Myth: Sanitary pads are considered to be a luxury and many rural girls and women feel they cannot afford napkins, which is why their menstrual hygiene suffers.

Fact: Sanitary napkins are actually available at very reasonable prices and are even available for free for women from low socioeconomic status as a Government initiative. Get in touch with your local authorities to know more about the same and offer to help those in need. Other than pads, menstrual cups are a cheaper alternative since they are entirely reusable. The use of menstrual hygiene products must be chosen over cotton napkins or cloth in order to prevent any infections.

Myth: Period talk is looked down upon in India where most women believe that talking about menstruation will scare young girls. Some even believe that the knowledge of menstruation will cause earlier menarche (beginning of the menstrual cycle) in girls.

Fact: Period talk is very important to ensure the awareness and preparedness of young girls. Not talking about them has a greater chance of scaring them due to an expected bleed. Knowledge can only help them handle the situation in a better manner. Also, talks have no influence on menarche, only hormones do. So, that shouldn’t be a worry.

Myth: Once a girl begins menstruating, it is believed that she is now an adult and is eligible to marry and bear kids.

Fact: Menstruation just marks the beginning of puberty and is not an indicator of adulthood. A menstruating girl is yet not physically, mentally and emotionally ready to get married or have babies. The legal and acceptable marriageable age for women is 18 years. So, that must be kept in mind.

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References

  1. Garg S1, Anand T. Menstruation related myths in India: strategies for combating it.. 2015 Apr-Jun;4(2):184-6. PMID: 25949964
  2. Reed BG, Carr BR. The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. 2018 Aug 5. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000
  3. Nastaran Najafi, Hamidreza Khalkhali, Fatemeh Moghaddam Tabrizi and Rasoul Zarrin. Major dietary patterns in relation to menstrual pain: a nested case control study. 2018; 18: 69. PMID: 29783972
  4. Severy LJ, Thapa S, Askew I, Glor J. Menstrual experiences and beliefs: a multicountry study of relationships with fertility and fertility regulating methods.. 1993;20(2):1-20. PMID: 8372476
  5. Kimberly Ann Yonkers,P M Shaughn O’Brien, Elias Eriksson. Premenstrual syndrome. 2008 Apr 5; 371(9619): 1200–1210. PMID: 18395582
  6. Suneela Garg and Tanu Anand. Menstruation related myths in India: strategies for combating it.. 2015 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 184–186. PMID: 25949964
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