Our in-house MythBuster at E&M tackles the topic of period.
Disclaimer: I’m no period expert. But I do get my period once a month, and I’m tired of the word itself being a taboo. So let’s talk about period, and start by debunking some common myths – some more established than others, some still being debated, and some that will seem obvious to some of you and crazy to others.
Myth #1: Losing blood keeps women down
As ludicrous as it sounds, this belief was prevalent for a long time. Because they lose blood every month, womxn must be weaker than men… right?
Interestingly, this partly explains the fear of witches in the Middle Ages (this and the fear of independent knowledgeable womxn, but that’s another topic). Witches were usually menopausal womxn, who therefore no longer had their period. So if you believed that losing blood kept womxn weak, you necessarily also believed that when they no longer do, they are likely to become superwomxn, or at least as strong as men. Menopausal womxn who also happened to be single and therefore had no men in their lives to contain their strength and insatiable sexual desire naturally inspired much fear. And that is indeed scary.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century in France, doctors actually used to drain blood from pregnant womxn every month to make sure they did not become too strong while they didn’t have their period – or that their ‘surplus’ of blood did not risk poisoning the future newborn.
So, we have come a long way. But we’re still quite far from the end of the myth debunking road.
Myth #2: Your period is supposed to hurt
Isn’t it? I mean, it’s a package deal and that’s why I always have a bunch of painkillers along with tampons in my bag.
Well maybe it’s not. While menstrual and premenstrual pain are common among many womxn and indeed natural, severe pain should not be. And it may sometimes be the symptom of a medical condition, such as endometriosis. But that’s only the most extreme possible explanation. There may be many different approaches to deal with the pain, such as changing eating habits to prevent inflammation or drink certain herbal teas. The point is, it’s not ok nor is it ‘normal’ to have to pop painkillers every couple of hours to survive period days. Sadly, many womxn do not talk about it – not to their doctor and not to the womxn around them – because they’re told from a very young age that your period is supposed to hurt and that’s how it is.
This ‘culture of silence’ furthers this idea that my period is supposed to hurt, and if all other womxn deal with is, so can I. It is also hindering further research into possible treatments: as John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, puts it: “Men don’t get it and it hasn’t been given the centrality it should have,” meaning it is also often accompanied with indifference from doctors, whether men or womxn, who are simply embedded in this culture of silence.
Bottom line: periods are not meant to hurt as much as a heart attack, if they do you should consult with a doctor, and beg your scientists friends to spark interest and research into the matter. Like E&M‘s Francesca Monticelli already started doing in her article on gender bias in healthcare. Also, slow down a little bit if you need to – it’s ok to take a day off (don’t tell your boss I said that).
Myth #3: Skipping a period with the pill is bad
I’m not saying it’s good, I’m not a doctor and there is a lot I don’t really understand. However, all the doctors I know (which is indeed not a very broad sample) say that there is nothing bad about it.
Let’s rewind a little bit. The pill was invented and marketed to mimic the natural cycle so it would sell more easily, not for sanitary reasons. With the strong influence of the Catholic Church, and little research on the effects of not losing blood monthly, the pill was created with a break (as a week-long pause from taking tablets or with placebo tablets replacing the actual ones for a week) for marketing purposes. Indeed, it was revolutionary enough that it was better to not also remove your period while we were at it. And this apparently reassured the Church a little bit (not very much though).
Today, many womxn skip this break when taking the pill to avoid their period, whether consistently or occasionally. Some pills also exist without any break at all, and doctors do prescribe them. So is it bad or not?
While the issue is complex, and the pill itself comes with many issues and health risks, it is safe to say that we do not need a regular monthly bleeding: It doesn’t make womxn weaker as people believed in the Middle Ages, and it is also not a key to womxn’s health as a lot of people still believe today.
To quote Dr Sarah Hardman, a member of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in the UK: ‘We are all different: there isn’t any one method of contraception that is the ‘best’ method for every woman, so it’s really important that womxn have choice… We don’t need a regular monthly bleeding to be healthy, and lots of womxn welcome the option of avoiding bleeding… But it isn’t suitable for everyone’
So as always, it is best to consult your doctor – just keep in mind everyone has different needs and different reactions so listen to your body and welcome the variety rather than accepting given dogmas.
Myth #4: You can’t have sex on your period
Alright, this is not really a myth. But… a lot of people think it is gross, to say things as they are.
Gross, messy and embarrassing. While it may be all of these things, it doesn’t have to be.
There are actually some very good reasons for having a lot of sex while on your period, and they are worth reiterating here, black on white:
- Many womxn have a much higher libido on their period than at different times of the month,
- Blood acts as a natural and warm lubricant.
At the end of the day, it should only be down to personal preferences (obviously). And the taboo needs to go, because a lot of womxn – and their sexual partners – may be missing out on a lot.