Menstruation Taboos: What’s True and What’s False?

Menstruation has been the object and means of segregation towards women throughout history. Despite being a natural process, disgust and shame are always present when talking about it. In the 21st century, menstruation taboos still exist, even in developed societies.

Menstruation taboosThe taboo begins with the shame of even mentioning it: many of us use euphemisms to refer to it in public conversation, or we feel embarrassed when others see us with a pad, tampon or menstrual cup in our bag.

And many myths have passed from generation to generation. Grandmothers have told us that the meringue of cakes won’t rise or that we shouldn’t cut our hair during our periods. On the other hand, other countries with customs even isolate and limit the basic rights of women.

The UN and UNICEF have launched a campaign to break the menstrual taboo, which is a vehicle for discrimination against women and girls around the world. So, let’s clear up any doubts about some of these myths and taboos surrounding our crimson waves.

Taboos about menstruation throughout the world

1. Goodbye to the kitchen: a distorted sense of taste
In some countries like Japan, women who are on their periods are not allowed to carry out cooking tasks, because, according to them, menstruation modifies their sense of taste, rendering women inefficient.

The kitchen is a topic often touched upon by false beliefs surrounding our periods. In some places, it’s believed that menstruation damages crops, causes vegetables to rot, and hardens meat from livestock.

In places like Nepal, this is the reason for isolation (known as Chhaupadi), a tradition where menstruating women are taken to other isolated cabins in order to prevent harm to the crops. Fortunately, this tradition has been banned, although there are still communities that practice it.

On the other hand, touching the water while menstruating is forbidden for women in some societies. It should be noted that some of these customs are a result of a woman’s own convictions due to their cultural traditions.

2. Showering on your period causes infertility
In some places like Afghanistan, there is a belief that bathing during menstruation will cause women to lose the ability to conceive children and with this, lose their honor and dignity. In addition to this, the availability of items such as pads and tampons (and let’s not even mention menstrual cups) is scarce, which increases the lack of cleanliness for women during menstruation.

We aren’t here to judge, but when it comes to health issues, it becomes important to raise a hand. Menstrual hygiene is extremely important in preventing infections or serious diseases such as Toxic Shock Syndrome that threaten women’s lives.

3. If you don’t talk about periods, they don’t exist.
While some are embarrassed talking about their period or carry some shame commenting about them in public, periods remain a mystery during the lives of women in some cultures. In India, the lack of information and education on menstruation is a fact. Many girls get scared when they see that they bleed for the first time, believing it to be some deadly disease or curse that has fallen on them.

These menstruation taboos also happen frequently in countries like Malawi, where UNICEF is carrying out an educational campaign to combat stigma, so that more and more girls and mothers obtain information about this natural process, the hygiene that must be kept, and everything about the menstrual cycle.

4. You shouldn’t touch a menstruating woman
Taboos also have deep religious origins. Religion has shaped morality in general, and with it, myths and prejudices about how things should be. For some religions, the arrival of menstruation marks a period of impurity and filth.

The woman, now impure, should not have contact with her husband or others because if she did, she would cause them to commit serious faults that would lead to misfortune and isolation from the community.

Even ancient encyclopedias report that touching menstrual blood “sours the wine”, dries up the seeds, makes the steel of the swords dull, and turns crops sterile.

Fortunately, we can verify that nothing related to this menstruation taboo actually happens.

5. Ignoring menstrual pain
On the other hand, in developed countries, access to information and globalization have allowed menstrual education to permeate through all levels of society. Some countries’ labor systems have allowed for menstrual days, in which the pains and symptoms that come with menstruation are recognized and allow women who wish to rest for a couple of days.

However, there is still a certain taboo. Endometriosis is basically ignored in countries like Spain, in which studies reveal that a high percentage of women suffer from this condition but are unaware that it exists. Therefore, it’s not a recurring topic of conversation and these pains end up being “normal period symptoms.”

In many cases, this prevents early diagnosis and allows the endometriosis to worsen until the need for surgical intervention.

Some common myths about periods

1. Drinking lemon juice cuts off menstruation
False. Some girls have been told that eating citrus fruits cut off their menstruation, but this is just a myth.

Even if you thought about using this because of your weekend vacation on the beach, it’s completely ineffective because citric acid from fruits doesn’t influence your uterus. What you may end up with is indigestion because acids are very strong for the stomach.

2. You can’t bathe on the beach or in the pool
False. Of course, you can enter the water during your period and this will neither shorten your period nor cause damage to your intimate area.

With cold water, the blood vessels constrict, causing your menstruation to be contained while you’re in the water. To avoid staining your swimsuit, the menstrual cup is your best ally for days at the beach or the pool.

3. Menstruation has to last 28 days.

False. The normal duration of the menstrual cycle has been determined to range between 22 and 35 days for the period’s arrival.

4. You can’t get pregnant if you have intercourse on your period.
Also false. Although it’s rather unlikely, sperm can live inside the vagina for up to five days. If your menstrual cycle is shorter, the ovulation period is closer to the end of menstruation and therefore a sperm could fertilize the newly arrived ovum.

What should we do to contribute to menstrual education?

Our work is important. Menstruation taboos are part of a culture molded around morality, but you can contribute your small part to modify it. Educate yourself and begin to break the stigma already imposed. Don’t echo myths, and contribute to society by clarifying girls’ doubts and educating generations.

This 2019, Period. End of sentence won the Oscar for best documentary after reporting the lives of women who manufacture textiles for menstruation. This documentary contributes to the education of feminine hygiene and the situation of girls around the world regarding the period.

This is the best way to bridge the gender gap since false beliefs feed off of ignorance. Menstruation is a natural process of ours. It is part of the cycle to create life, and we should not feel ashamed when talking about it.

It contributes to the empowerment of women and denies the false belief that menstruation makes us weaker, impure, or less capable. All of these are myths.

You may also be interested in: How to Practice Free Bleeding and Not Lose Your Clothes While Trying

Uses of Menstruation: What Does Menstrual Blood Contain?

Menstruation is a natural process that happens every month in all women of childbearing age since the beginning of history as we know it. Despite all this, it’s one of the least treated objects of study. It may sound like a basic science question: What does my menstrual blood contain? The truth is that there’s still much research to be done in order to answer this question concretely.

This could have multifactorial roots: the percentage of female scientists is much lower than the number of men in science; the taboo of menstruation and the consequent disgust that many people might have, could be some of the reasons for this small inquiry concerning the process.

We’ve always been taught that menstrual blood is to be discarded and not touched, much less thought about making something more out of it.

However, since the rise of women’s empowerment and the demands of gender equality, new practices (and even beauty rituals) have emerged that involve the menstrual flow.

And some investigations have been able to find some components of menstrual blood, as well as a treasure to embraces: stem cells.

So what components does menstrual blood have?

What does menstrual blood contain?First, of course, there are dead cells that come from the endometrium. When we menstruate, the layer that lines the inside of the uterus “peels” and discards cells you no longer need.

In addition, menstruation contains water, proteins, lipids and some types of hormones such as progesterone which is one of the main female hormones.

Residues of pollutants that come from intimate hygiene products, such as parabens and benzophenone, have also been observed during menstruation. These are present in pads, tampons, vaginal douches, and certain foods and cosmetic products.

In fact, you can check the latter by looking at the labels on many of your cosmetic products. Parabens have their purpose: they protect the body from adversely reacting to UV rays and are also used as preservatives. However, they have been shown to have adverse effects on health.

Lastly, and even more importantly, an important type of stem cell was found in menstrual blood, similar to those found in the bone marrow and umbilical cords.

If you want to know a little more, read our article on Stem cells of menstrual blood and its many benefits.

Using the menstrual cup has not only benefited a huge number of users who have left pads and tampons behind, but it has also encouraged the study and self-knowledge of menstruation.

The cup allows us to know ourselves better by tracking our menstrual flow and color, which are very good indicators of our health.

Menstruation for fertilizing plants: a practical and spiritual ritual

menstruation fertilizerMany of the fertilizers manufactured in the market to fertilize the soil and nourish the plants contain chemical elements such as calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron, etc.

These same elements make up human blood, and therefore, menstrual blood. For this reason, many women use what they collect with their menstrual cup to nourish their plants.

Also, menstruation has a more spiritual sense for many. A ritual inspired by ancestral traditions known as “sow the moon”, considers using and returning menstrual blood to the earth is a symbol of fertility.

It’s a ritual of gratitude, self-healing, and forgiveness, in which women not only fertilize the plants with their menstrual blood but use it to paint their bodies.

Part of the reasons is to demarcate taboos surrounding menstruation, use their properties, and give back to Mother Earth through fertilization. It is a centuries-old tradition, practiced by Native Americans and nowadays by women seeking female empowerment and self-knowledge.

Freezing menstrual stem cells

freezing stem cellsEver since scientific studies showed the presence of stem cells in the endometrial lining, many practices have emerged aimed at the cure of coronary, neurological, dermatological, liver, and other certain diseases.

Cryocell claims that menstrual blood has been considered to be a residual waste of our time. However, recent research shows that menstrual flow contains self-renewing stem cells that can easily be harvested using menstrual cups, processed and cryopreserved (stored frozen at very low temperatures) for possible therapies that may arise in the future. These menstrual stem cells are unique because they have many properties and characteristics similar to those of bone marrow and embryonic stem cells, which multiply rapidly and can differentiate into other types of stem cells, such as nerve, heart, bone, fat, cartilage. and possibly others, showing great future promise in the clinical use of regenerative medical therapies.

For this reason, you can currently find many laboratories that help freeze the stem cells from menstrual blood. A fundamental part of the elaboration of this cryogenic technique is the collection of blood with the help of the menstrual cup.

These cells could help cure diseases such as cancer, severe skin burns, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Facial and hair masks: are they recommended?

Some women use their menstrual blood to nourish their hair and skin. They claim that it’s highly effective and brings shine and strength to your hair, leaving it much silkier. According to them, facial masks “provide healing and regenerative properties” that prevent wrinkles.

However, although we’ve talked about the fact that our menstrual blood has various beneficial chemical components, care must be taken in employment and body use.

Furthermore, to take advantage of the benefits of stem cells, it’s not enough to smear the blood on our face or hair. It takes a series of chemical processes and laboratory centrifugation to obtain them.

Remember that menstrual blood could be contaminated: if you use pads, tampons and douching, it may contain harmful chemical agents. Even vaginal infections such as candidiasis could affect your skin and cause damage.

It’s always important to be sure that the beauty techniques and methods we use, no matter how spiritual or ideological they may be, are proven safe and effective.

As it’s a field of study still poorly addressed, let’s not risk safety for what has not yet been approved.

Finally, one study claims that external contaminants in cosmetic products could be related to the causes of endometriosis.

The Key to the Menstrual Cycle and How to Calculate Yours

From approximately more or less 12 years of age, we begin our menstrual cycle. Menstruation marks the beginning of those years of looking out for when it will arrive, why it hasn’t come yet, and the typical “Did I stain myself?”

This is how our stage of fertile life begins.

This cyclical natural process not only involves the period; throughout the month, our intelligent body prepares the conditions for fertilization. After all, that’s what it’s all about.

It’s important to know how our menstrual cycle works to know if we’re healthy and figure out what many are interested in: planning or avoiding pregnancy.

How does it work and what are the phases of the menstrual cycle?

The menstrual cycle is a series of events that happen every month inside women’s reproductive organs. Hormones are secreted and new structures are formed; your body does everything to make itself good fertile material.

The beginning and duration of each phase of the cycle vary from one woman to another. Here we propose some approximations in regular menstrual periods.

  • Day 1 to 7: Day 1 of the cycle begins with the first day of menstruation. In this phase, the endometrium that had been prepared to receive the fertilized ovum is detached and expelled. This stage can last between three and seven days.
  • Day 1 to 14: Similarly, the first day of menstruation begins the follicular phase, which lasts until the 14th day of the cycle, approximately. In this phase, estrogen starts being secreted, follicles form in the ovaries where the ovules are found, and the endometrium develops to receive the ovule.
    These are the best days to undertake new projects, start a training routine, and make decisions. Your hormones are on your side.
  • Around day 14: in the ovulatory phase, the follicles of the ovaries burst and detach the ovum, which goes down the fallopian tubes into the uterus. At this stage, the now mature ovum waits to be fertilized. This usually occurs in the middle of the menstrual cycle, between 13 and 16 days before the next period. If the egg is not fertilized 24 hours after its descent, it grows old and becomes infertile. Some women have ovulatory bleeding or spotting.
  • From day 17 to 28: the luteal phase occurs when a structure is formed on the ovaries known as the corpus luteum, responsible for the production of progesterone. This hormone causes the endometrium to thicken and supply more blood to nourish the embryo. This occurs even without pregnancy. Additionally, it’s responsible for creating cervical mucus that prevents new sperm from passing through. This phase subsequently gives way to the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.

How do I calculate my menstrual cycle?

As we mentioned earlier, the menstrual cycle varies depending on the conditions of each woman. There are basic criteria that determine if your cycle is normal and by which you can guide yourself, but the days which complete each phase may change a bit.

There are certain methods you can perform to calculate your cycle, whether you want to get pregnant or use natural contraception such as the rhythm method.

First of all, write down the day that your period stops and then write down the day of the beginning of the next cycle (period).

By doing it this way for two consecutive times, you’ll have an idea of the duration of your menstrual cycle.

It should be noted that although the cycle is said to last exactly 28 days, it can vary between 22 and 35 days.

If you determine that your cycle lasts, for example, 28 days, day 14 (halfway), is the day you should be ovulating.

However, it does not mean that your only fertile day is that one: as the sperm has the ability to live inside the uterus for more than 72 hours, the days of risk of pregnancy are equivalent to three days before your day of ovulation and even a couple of days later.

Do I show symptoms when I ovulate?

Yes! There are physical signs that indicate you are ovulating. When your vaginal discharge is abundant, transparent, and sticky, resembling egg whites, you are fertile.

When it gets drier, it means that ovulation is over.

On the other hand, from day 17 of the cycle until approximately the tenth day of the next one, the chances of getting pregnant are slim.

Can I get pregnant during my period?

Yes, but it depends. Technically, in a regular or long menstrual cycle, the days when you ovulate are farther from the end of the cycle. But for those women who have a short cycle, say 22 days, the risk of getting pregnant is greater.

This is because, as we mentioned, sperm have the ability to live for days in the womb, and in such a short cycle, half of the cycle (i.e. the fertile phase) is closer to the days of your period.

Getting pregnant during these days is unlikely in normal cycles, but it’s not impossible for fertilization to happen. You should always wear protection.

How do I know if my cycle is normal?

  1. Your period lasts between 3 and 7 days.
  2. Periods happen each month. The normal thing is that it occurs between 22 and 35 days since the last period.
  3. Menstruation can be regular, presenting the same amount of flow, being punctual and having the same duration each month; or, it can be irregular, sometimes painful and sometimes not, lasting more or fewer days, etc. All of this is normal.
  4. Usually, the first periods tend to last longer and be more irregular, but as age progresses, they reach greater uniformity.
  5. The color of your menstrual flow can also give you clues about the health of your intimate area.

Knowing your menstrual cycle can help show you when you’re fertile, whether you’re healthy, and even why you feel more motivated on some days than on others.

Related: Read our article about Abundant flow and blood clots

A Basic Guide to Birth Control Pills: Myths and Realities

One of the most popular contraceptives for women around the world is birth control pills. A revolutionary, effective method for preventing pregnancies, it gave women the power to make decisions regarding their sexuality since the 60s.

But beyond preventing pregnancy, the birth control pill is a hormonal method with many other uses. It is prescribed by gynecologists to treat hormonal disorders, menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), and other abnormalities in the endocrine system.

Here, we will show you how the “pill” works, what effects it has on your body, how to stop taking it, and the most common myths about this oral contraceptive.

How do birth control pills work and what are they made of?

birth control pillsBirth control pills are a method that involves synthetic hormones (artificially manufactured), which simulate estrogen and progesterone function. These natural female hormones are responsible for your menstrual cycle.

Normally, estrogen rises during the first days of the menstrual cycle to produce the ovule that seeks fertilization during the days following your period. Then, a rise in progesterone creates the ideal environment to nourish the embryo; when fertilization does not occur, these hormones decrease to give way to menstruation.

The function of birth control pills is to block the formation of the ovule, increase the thickness of the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from passing through, and make the uterine lining so thin that implantation cannot exist.

These pills are taken over a period of 21 consecutive days and 7 days off. At the end of this seventh day, menstruation subsides and another 21-day cycle should begin. Some brands that combine contraceptives contain 28 pills to be taken consecutively.

The effectiveness of the pill in preventing pregnancies lies in taking it every day without fail. When the steps are not followed exactly, its efficiency declines and there is a risk of pregnancy.

Best known components

  • Ethinyl estradiol
  • Cyproterone
  • Drospirenone
  • Norethindrone
  • Norgestimate
  • Levonorgestrel

If I’m already taking the birth control pill, how can I stop taking it?

decidingThere are several reasons why you might want to stop taking the birth control pill. What if I forget to take several pills? Or if I want to get pregnant, when will I be fertile again?

There are factors that you should consider before leaving the pill. It won’t hurt you to stop using any hormonal methods, but if you can, check for any other symptoms.

  1. The most advisable thing to do is to stop using this contraceptive method once the pack has been finished. This way, you finish the complete cycle to which the pills are assigned and start the next one without taking any. By the way, it’s natural that when beginning the treatment, you have spotting or intermenstrual bleeding.
  2. If you forget to take one or more pills, you lost the pack, or you notice any secondary effects that require stop in the middle of the cycle, the next step is to wait for your period. Even if you’re on your 14th day of the cycle, for example, and stop the pills, you may get your period in the next two days. Don’t be alarmed. It’s completely natural and is called withdrawal bleeding. However, this could alter your cycle for at least a few months, and while normal, it’s still advisable that you try to never to forget a pill.
  3. You leave the pill and start to become fertile. The hormones have no retroactive effects on your body, which means that by forgetting or leaving them completely, you can get pregnant if you don’t use another method of protection. Later, we’ll clarify this point by discussing myths about oral contraceptive methods.
  4. It is likely that if you previously suffered from Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), you will again have these symptoms that include belly pain, cramping, mood swings, acne, and fluid retention.
  5. If you previously had hormonal disorders, dysmenorrhea, or did not have a period, all these issues will likely come back to your life. There are natural remedies that will help you relieve menstrual pains.

Myths and truths about birth control pills

birth control pills

  1. I WILL GAIN WEIGHT BY TAKING THE PILL.

Negative.

This is one of the most popular myths. It is neither verified nor is there conclusive evidence that contraceptive pills affect your weight on a large scale. The variations can be tiny and are related to the retention of liquids. But could it lower your weight? Also, no– although we should clarify that the increase in muscle mass is smaller in women who take contraceptive tablets than those who don’t.

2. It can only be taken by adult women or those with an active sexual life.

False.

Hormonal methods, as we stated earlier, have many other uses. It is sometimes prescribed by gynecologists and endocrinologists to treat hormonal disorders even for women at an early age. It is also recommended in cases of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, secondary dysmenorrhea, etc.

3. You need to wait “so many” months to get pregnant.

Again, negative.

You could get pregnant even if you skip pills during treatment.

Besides, it’s a myth that by years of taking oral contraceptives decreases your fertility. As we’ve stated earlier, the pill has no cumulative or retroactive effect on your body. If you’re having difficulty getting pregnant, you can rule out this option, and we recommend you consult a fertility doctor.

4. It’s one of the most effective methods.

True, true, true.

The contraceptive pill is one of the most effective pregnancy prevention methods that exist, as long as they are taken properly.

It’s important to note that it is NOT a protective mechanism against sexually transmitted diseases.

5. Over time, they increase the probability of cancer.

False. Studies reveal that the people who have taken oral contraceptive methods are less prone to suffer from ovarian cancer. There is no evidence to prove they are carcinogenic.

6. If I forget to take one, I can just take two the next time.

False. What you can do is that if you happen to forget one of the tablets, you can take it before 36 hours from the previous one without a problem. Nevertheless, taking a double dose will not increase the contraceptive effect.

Additionally, if this happens on several occasions, it’s recommended to use a complementary contraceptive method since the pill would lose its effectiveness.

Conclusion

You should not prescribe yourself any birth control pill. Your doctor will know what is best for your body and how it works.

Some side effects do arise from the use of oral contraceptives, so it’s important that if you suffer from cardiac, circulatory problems, or even if you are over 35 years of age, see a doctor before taking any of these hormonal methods.