The 5 Biggest Myths About Menstruation

3753385882_2a564e7dfb_oWhichever way you look at it, menstruation is still a taboo—and that taboo is affecting women’s lives. Many women have to hide their pads and tampons (should someone—shock, horror!—realize that they are on their period) and some girls are unable to attend school, practice their religion or prepare food for 20 percent of their adult lives.

What we need is more education about menstruation, more open talk to break the silence and debunk the taboos that are hindering so many girls and women from getting on with their lives and thriving.

Here are some of the most prevalent and harmful period-related myths and urban legends:

1. Premenstrual Syndrome is not real.

This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is claimed that PMS is made up, or psychological, an excuse women come up with to allow themselves to blow up now and then. On the other hand, when science seems to indicate that PMS is real, it is used to dismiss women, a confirmation that we are little hormonal beasts and therefore can’t be trusted to take rational decisions or be in positions of responsibility. Which brings us to …

2. Women cannot be leaders.

Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency of the United States is being questioned because, with female hormones and all, women shouldn’t be allowed to start a war. Others disagree and think she’s the perfect age … because she’s menopausal. Nice.  There is no scientific proof whatsoever showing that women are not capable of leading. In fact, many think precisely the opposite.

3. Tampons and menstrual cups could affect your virginity.

This myth is based in the belief that virginity and an “intact hymen” are linked. However, according to Planned Parenthood: “The hymen is a thin, fleshy tissue that stretches across part of the opening of the vagina” and a virgin is “someone that has never had sex.” Apparently, the hymen is pretty stretchy so it is possible to be a virgin whose hymen was affected by, say, horse riding, and be someone who has had sex but whose hymen has not been broken. Some think that you cannot  “pop your cherry” at all and the membrane just stretches.

4. It is a sin for a woman to visit a place of worship while she is on her period.

Hinduism and Buddhism, among other religions, believe that women are unclean and impure during their periods, so they are banned from entering temples, community spaces and other public buildings. This is downright discrimination. Menstruation is a normal and healthy function of every woman’s reproductive life, but women are effectively being banned from taking part in everyday and social life because of their bodies.

5. Women should not handle or cook certain foods during their periods.

In some southern European countries, it is believed that if a woman tries to make mayonnaise during her period, it will curdle. In India, women are advised against making pickle, in case it rots. In Japan, some people claim women cannot be sushi chefs because, when they menstruate, their hands are too warm to handle raw fish and sushi rice. Once again, this myth implies that women and girls are unclean during their monthly cycle. And once again, this is completely untrue.

Want to do some more myth-busting? Check out the Stop #Menstruphobia campaign and join us on May 28 for Menstrual Hygiene Day. Let’s start the conversation about menstruation.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jen licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

DSC_0062Amaia Arranz is COO for Ruby Cup East Africa. Ruby Cup is a social enterprise that distributes menstrual cups worldwide and fights menstrual taboos through education. Follow Amaia on Twitter @amaia_15.

 

 

Comments

  1. Jena Recer says:

    Great article! I’m wondering if you have a pattern or a place to order the crocheted uterus and tampon in the pic you posted with the article. I have a friend who is a public health nurse and she would love one of these!

  2. Good news for Canadians. After 11 or more years of campaigning, as of July 1, 2015 the federal tax on feminine hygiene products will finally be removed. Finally the dicks have acknowledged that these are necessities and not luxuries. BTW no tax is paid on such “essential” items as Viagra, cocktail cherries and wedding cakes. Note that Canada has its federal election in October – coincidence? http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tampon-tax-will-end-july-1-1.3091533

  3. Such a great article ! BRAVO !
    http://www.thecup.org. was in Kibera /Nairobi today , for the Menstrual Hygiene day. Dignity for all girls.
    Merci a Nancy , pour nous avoir informé sur ce que le gouvernement estime être des ”items essentiels ” …Cela en dit long sur l’ouverture d’esprit de certains…..
    Sabrina ,
    Mandataire officielle au Canada, Thecup.org

  4. Brenda Hill says:

    Concerning #’s 4 & 5 – often the idea that women are impure during their periods is a misinterpretation of cultural realities due to ethnocentrism, if not out right racism combined with sexism. According to traditional Native American/ Indigenous understanding of many, may tribes, menstruation is a time of individual purification/ceremony. Women are powerful at that time. Staying away from food, other ceremonies etc. is to ensure her ceremony is not interfered with, and her power doesn’t interfere with others. Before colonization , women would stay away from camp, but be feed & taken care of by other women. Not a thing about it was/is discriminating. If anything it validates the power of women. Your interpretation / “implications” of certain prohibitions are based on your cultural perspective, not what many of us know as the reality of women’s power and sacredness.

    • Also, in smaller groups, women tend to end up on similar cycles which means men and children do the work normally done by women or do without. That work would thus be more recognized and appreciated than in groups where women do not withdraw from daily life. As well, because of the restricted activities, it often becomes a rest break from the normal amount of labor expected in those cultures.

  5. Todd Bradley says:

    What is the point you’re trying to make with #4? That religious taboos about menstruation are a myth? No, that can’t be. The taboos are very real. Are you saying the taboos are dumb? Well, this isn’t “5 Dumbest Things about Religion”. It’s supposed to be “5 Biggest Myths About Menstruation.”

  6. Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for your comment! I had not heard about the Native American understanding, it’s very interesting.

    I’ve read some articles and studies claiming that certain traditions that honoured the monthly cycle were, over time, turned into customs that attached shame to menstruation. For instance: taking to time off from chores VS not being allowed to cook, or being told that plants will wither and die to the touch of a menstruating woman; taking time away to rest and reflect VS not being allowed to enter temples etc.

    This blog post makes some interesting points http://myperiodblog.com/2010/11/19/menstruation-and-religion/

  7. Stephanie says:

    So how do you propose to deal with the fact that many holy traditions don’t allow menstruating women to attend services? You wanna re rewrite the Bible?

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