It’s been referred to by many names; Aunt Flo, on the Rag, the Curse, my Dot, mostly with dread and with the hope it ends soon. The fundamental reality is that periods, or menstruation, have been around since the beginning of time and it’s probably only in recent years we have a better handle on what they’re all about.
Menstruation is a tricky subject. Because it’s still seen by many as taboo – something icky you shouldn’t discuss in polite company – many girls and women are unsure or worried about asking for advice. Well, it’s time we got this out in the open, where it belongs, so, let’s bust some menstruation myths!
Myth #1: You’re supposed to get your period by (insert age here).
There is no “normal” time– just the time that is right for your body. When a girl gets her period depends on hormones, genes and body fat. The majority of girls get their periods around 14 years of age, but others get theirs as young as 9 or as old as 15 (everybody’s body is different). If your period hasn’t come by 15, it’s probably a good idea to contact your gynecologist to be on the safe side.
Myth # 2: Your period lasts exactly 3-7 days, always.
You may think that a woman’s menstrual cycle “should” be 28- 31 days and periods “should” last 3-7 days each month. That might be the case for some women, but others can either have cycles and periods that might not be regular or even monthly. It’s very common for teenage girls to have irregular periods for a couple of years.
Myth # 3: PMS is all in your head
Many women experience pre-menstrual syndrome, which is caused by fluctuations in their hormonal cycles. Women’s hormonal systems are very sensitive and can react to higher levels of cortisol, which we release due to stress, fatigue or inadequate diet (which covers pretty much most women). PMS usually begins right after ovulation and can include acne, weight gain, headaches, joint pain, mood swings, depression, irritability, anxiety, breast tenderness and food cravings. Some ways to manage PMS are mediation, mindfulness, exercise, increasing intake of dark chocolate and decreasing sugar and flour– and purchasing a punching bag!
Myth # 4: You shouldn’t exercise during you period
Exercise during periods is actually a positive behavior, especially if you are experiencing cramps. Physical exercise releases endorphins, which can help to stabilize some of the symptoms before and during your period. That being said, those women who experience very heavy periods and cramping might find exercise uncomfortable during their periods.
Myth # 5: Hot water increases/decreases menstrual flow
As a rule menstrual flow, in or out of water, is controlled by your hormones, so you can’t make it lighter or heavier. What is true is that a warm bath or a hot water bottle can help with cramps.
Myth # 6: You can’t get pregnant on your period
Getting pregnant while menstruating is uncommon, nonetheless it can occur. Your hormonal system is very sensitive and unpredictable, and ovulation can occur during one’s period, especially if it’s been a stressful month, you’re traveling or your periods are irregular in general. Even if you’re not ovulating when you have sex, sperm can live in your vagina for up to five days, so if an egg is released during that time, it can be fertilized. If you’re sexually active and not wanting to get pregnant, it’s important to use some form of contraceptive every time.
Myth # 7: No one actually gets Toxic Shock Syndrome anymore
Unfortunately this is not true, especially recently. We’ve seen several new cases, which means that being informed when it comes to tampon use is very important. This syndrome is usually caused by wearing high absorbent tampons (do your own research on dioxin) longer than 3-4 hours and the presence of a specific form of staph infection located in the vagina. Besides tampons, it can also occur when using menstrual cups or diaphragms. If during your period you experience any flu-like symptoms and a sunburn-type rash, it’s best to contact a medical professional. Though there is a disagreement about whether or not to use tampons during the night, it’s probably healthier to wear a sanitary pad during the night.
Myth # 8: You shouldn’t wear a tampon until you’re older
Most gynecologists say that by 12 years of age your body is mature enough to wear a tampon. (Girls who participate in sports such as swimming, gymnastics or dance and start their period earlier than age 12, should have their parents contact a gynecologist for guidance.) One of the questions I often get asked is whether or not using a tampon before a girl has had intercourse would be a problem. When a tampon is inserted, the gap in the hymen will stretch to accommodate it. So using a tampon will not affect a girl’s virginity in any way. A young girl can start using tampons any time she feels comfortable and ready to. Loss of virginity occurs when a woman engages in sexual intercourse– not when inserting a tampon.
Myth # 9: It’s gross to have sex while on your period
You still need to use protection during your period to prevent pregnancy, but as long as both partners are comfortable with sex during menstruation there is nothing “gross” or medically wrong with it. As a matter of fact, due to the increase of blood flow it can actually increase arousal– and orgasms have been known to help ease cramps (maybe even better than Advil).
Myth # 10: Swimming in the ocean on your period will attract sharks
This is one of my favorite myths. Are you kidding? There is no scientific evidence that when you are on your period a shark will smell the blood and attack you. (NONE!) So, go ahead and swim scuba, snorkel and dive in and have fun.
Knowing how women feel about their bodies and periods was the main reason I wrote our “Puber-Tea” course. The concept was that mothers and daughters (ages 8-10) would take the course together and openly discuss puberty and periods in a fun, intimate environment where we lay to rest the taboos and concerns around puberty-related topics, including periods. Hopefully, these busted myths will help some of you feel better about periods, and maybe you’ll share this article with someone who could benefit from having the myths busted for them, too!