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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.
The 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 there are many myths that 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, there are other countries with customs that 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 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 woman who is menstruating
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 cuts 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.
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