Historically, wild fallacies about the menstrual cycle have been circulated all over the world. In the 1800s, they included beliefs that menstruating women controlled the weather, that they could cure and cause the plague, and that wearing a burnt toad could help lessen a heavy flow. Although these specific misconceptions have been mostly dissolved over time, a few scraps have been passed down through centuries and have developed various harmful myths.
Menstruation is simply the monthly shedding of the lining of a person’s uterus. Every month, a menstruator’s body prepares for pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, there is a discharge of blood and tissue through the vagina. In spite of the fact that this is completely natural, it carries various myths and taboos in many countries including India. Since it is not openly discussed and is often shrouded in secrecy in many societies, it evokes several misconceptions from both the biological and the social aspects.
Upon conducting a survey among 50 menstruators ranging between the ages of 14-18, we gained an insight into how commonly heard certain myths were and how severely they were enforced in our surroundings.
The first common biological misconception is that only or all women menstruate. Our survey concluded that 80.4% of people had heard of this misconception. The truth is that not all women get their period and this could be a result of several factors, including physical or structural differences in the female reproductive organs, defects in the womb or uterus at birth, or genetic disorders such as Turner syndrome. Additionally, not every menstruator is a woman. Transgender men and nonbinary people may also get their periods. Menstruation does not define a person’s gender.
Another frequently heard myth is that menstruators who spend a lot of time together can have synchronised periods. Although 71.7% of our surveyors had heard of this myth, there is no science to support this claim and no plausible mechanism has been discussed to support this theory. Since there is no confirmed chemical or hormonal reason for periods to match up, it simply comes down to a mathematical explanation. For example, over time, a person who has a 25-day cycle and a person who has a 33-day cycle will eventually see their periods coincide and diverge again. This is bound to happen multiple times and is more noticeable especially when you live with the other person. While things like birth control pills, extreme stress, or eating disorders can impact your cycle, synchronisation with the menstruators around you is just a coincidence.
The impossibility of a menstruator getting pregnant while on their period is also a widely circulated myth that 60.5% of our surveyors had heard of. Although the odds of conception during menstruation are lower, they are not zero. A person is most likely to get pregnant in the middle of their menstrual cycle — during ovulation. Especially for menstruators with a shorter cycle, the time between their periods and ovulation is not very long. Having sex on the last day or two of someone’s period means that they could ovulate in the next few days. This leaves a window open for the sperm to fertilise the egg because sperm can live inside a menstruator for up to 72 hours.
Culturally, in many parts of India, menstruation is still considered to be dirty and impure. This long-standing myth prohibits people from participating in normal, everyday life until they have been “purified”. The main restriction is not being allowed to enter the kitchen, which is especially enforced in rural areas. It is believed that menstruators are unhygienic and unclean, therefore, the food they touch is prone to contamination. However, there is no logical explanation that indicates menstruation could be a reason for food spoilage. Menstruation is a natural process that occurs in billions of bodies, therefore there is no reason to insist that it makes people impure. This was the most commonly heard myth among our surveyors, where 93.5% of people were aware of it.
Even in the educated and privileged society that we come from, our surveyors provided a range of responses regarding the extent to which they thought these myths were enforced in our environment — from barely enforced to strongly. As for the biological misconceptions, most people had heard of them and some were even aware of the fact that they were wrong, however, they were not well informed of the reasoning behind it.
Myths surrounding menstruation have several harmful implications since they contribute to the long-standing lack of awareness about puberty and reproductive health among the youth. Additionally, they create behavioural restrictions for menstruators while also perpetuating sex-based discrimination in their social and cultural lives. Most period myths are based on superstition and make it considerably harder for people to talk about it, creating uncomfortable, confused, or even shameful atmospheres. It is crucial for these myths to be debunked so that menstrual health and hygiene can be promoted in the right way.
Article by Parnika and Sia from the REDefine Team
Featured Artwork by Prathna Anand
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