Periods. Millions of people all over the world get them, but the topic of reproductive health and bodily fluids has always been taboo. How many of us grew up too shy to even say the word ‘menstruation’ like it was a slur? And how many of us have had to exchange period advice in hushed tones behind locker rooms? With all this stigma, it’s no surprise that there are countless myths and old wives tales’ surrounding period health — even today.
We get it, talking about blood can feel a little uncomfortable, but remember: periods. are. normal. Like we always say at Halia, it’s time we transform periods from this secretive aspect of feminine hygiene, to a normal and celebrated part of self-care.
Now, let’s talk about some of the most common misconceptions about menstrual health, and the truths behind each one.
Myth #1: You can’t get pregnant while on your period.
You’re certainly less likely to get pregnant if you have sex while on your period, but it’s not impossible. Let’s back-track to fourth grade biology for a second. Your menstrual cycle occurs because your body is priming itself for pregnancy. During your period, it discharges blood (an unfertilized egg) and sheds tissue from the lining of your uterus. Sperm can still live in your body for up to 5 days, including throughout your period. So yes, you can get pregnant from sex during and after your period. If you want to avoid a bun in the oven, proper protection is key.
Myth #2: Period pain isn’t real.
If you’ve never had a period, it’s easy to dismiss period pain as an exaggeration. Some women are lucky enough to breeze through their cycles like they’re the leading lady in a sanitary pad commercial. You know, prancing in a field of roses wearing a pristine white dress. However, periods can be downright debilitating for others who even have to take time off work and school to rest. In medical terms, this pain and discomfort is called dysmenorrhea, and it’s estimated that 80% of women experience some form of it in their lifetime. Think sharp pains, perpetual poking throughout your thighs and backs, and cramping. The intensity of these symptoms can vary from one period to the next, but you get the picture.
Myth #3: Period blood is dirty.
Period blood isn’t your body’s way of flushing out toxins, but treat it like any other bodily fluid. Wash your hands after coming into contact with it, and manage it with the same care and caution. Menstrual blood is a bit different from the blood that runs through your veins, and the mucus and other secretions present in period blood allow it to pass smoothly from your body.
Myth #4: PMS is all in your head.
Have you ever found yourself getting excessively emotional over Gilmore Girls while on your period? Or feeling like it’s the end of the world because someone ate that last slice of cake you were saving? You’re not alone. And no, it’s not ‘just in your head’ either! Studies show that one in four women experience PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. Typically occurring a week or two before a period, PMS is characterized by bloating, headaches, and — yup, you guessed it — moodiness. This time of month can feel like a hormonal roller coaster ride, as your estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically. While you may not be able to control your hormones, there are ways you can manage them, such as: getting enough rest and sleep, avoiding stress, and eating healthy. If the symptoms get too much, talk to your doctor so you can figure out some lifestyle changes you can do or medications to take.
Myth #5: It’s best to avoid activities while on your period.
As mentioned, periods can be extra challenging, but it’s not just a license to curl up in a ball and binge on chips all day. If you aren’t suffering from dysmenorrhea, injury, or other illnesses, then there’s no reason you have to take a rain check on that Vinyasa class simply because you’re bleeding. In fact, exercise can relieve period symptoms like cramps, headaches, and back pain. Moreover, a bit of movement could give you that jolt of energy and endorphins you need. Just remember to listen to your body, stay hydrated, and take breaks when required. Some examples of workouts you can do while on your period are light jogging, yoga, strength training, and pilates. Stick to workouts that make you feel good!
Myth #6: All periods should last only one week each month.
The average cycle lasts 28 days, but it can also range anywhere from 21 to 35 days. When your hormone levels drop as a response to not getting pregnant, it prompts your uterus to shed its lining. With that, your actual period (or the days when you bleed) occurs, which typically lasts three to seven days. But what if you don’t get your period regularly, or it doesn’t come for more than 90 days? Well, you don’t have to sound the alarm just yet, as it could be affected by factors such as age, stress, low body fat, and lifestyle. Do consult your doctor, especially if your period lasts longer than the average or feels unusually heavy. That way, you can figure out if you have an underlying health condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), polyps, or other bleeding disorders.
Myth #7: You can’t swim while on your period.
You’ve probably heard the urban legend that you shouldn’t swim while on your period, lest you attract sharks in the ocean. No one wants to end up in a real-life scene of Jaws, but there’s absolutely no scientific evidence that women on their period are more likely to be bitten by sharks. On the other hand, another popular myth is that swimming while on your period puts you at risk of infection or contaminating the water. Again, it’s a baseless misconception, and period blood does not contain the same bacteria as urine or poop to pollute the pool. But if you just want to avoid making a mess and skip the discomfort of wearing a pad under your bikini, opt for a tampon or a menstrual cup. And just like you would on dry land, remember to change your tampon or cup often and thoroughly clean up before and after getting in the water.
Myth #8: There's one best way to deal with your menstrual cycle.
Whether you enjoy the accessibility of pads, the cost-effectiveness of menstrual cups, or the flexibility of tampons, there’s a myriad of ways to deal with your period. Some advertisements or even your own friends might make you think otherwise, but there’s really no one best way to manage your period. In reality, each tool and method has their own pros and cons. It all depends on your preferences, lifestyle, and activities. For starters, our Halia pads are perfect for those with sensitive skin or simply want something that’s more comfortable and environment-friendly. Meanwhile, light bleeders might prefer period underwear or liners, and those with active lifestyles may opt for menstrual cups. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to do your research and decide which option suits you best.
Myth #9: Only women can get periods.
We’re all for appreciating periods as a celebration of womanhood. But remember that not all females who get their period identify as women. Non-binary folks and transgender men also bleed, so it’s important to open up the narrative to them too. In the same way, not all women get periods. Having a chronic health condition, going through chemotherapy or treatment, an eating disorder, and several other factors can cause one’s cycle to be irregular or non-existent. A lack of ability to bleed or have children doesn’t make anyone less of a woman.
Myth #10: Periods are shameful.
Let’s face it, humanity has a long track record of embarrassment and revulsion over women and periods. And despite all the period-positive advertisements and initiatives on menstrual education, we’ve still got a long way to go. Until every girl, woman, and trans man around the world can freely access period care without shame, then periods will continue to be a humanitarian crisis that keeps people out of schools and even jobs. Nobody should have to fight for such a basic part of healthcare, and nobody should have to hide a pad up their sleeve. Let’s all do our part in ending the stigma.