As an Indian woman from Texas, I remember how big of a deal it was to get your period, especially amongst the older women. It was an achievement, a sign that you were grown up and ready to take on more responsibilities. Unfortunately, the importance placed on periods by older generations of women meant that there were lots of “old-wives tales” surrounding it that were based in social and scientific inaccuracy. Here are some of the myths that I frequently heard during growing up:
1. Using tampons would ruin my reproductive system
I’m convinced that being conditioned to believe that tampons are dangerous is a universal brown womxn experience at this point. Like all of my friends, I was not allowed to use tampons because my mother was convinced that they would get stuck if the string broke. Her fears were not without merit; she had met a woman who contracted Toxic Shock Syndrome because of a broken tampon and had to have it surgically removed. However, this was before tampons were as well-researched as they are now. In reality, Toxic Shock Syndrome is rare and tampons are generally safe to use!
2. Starting my period meant that I was finally a real woman
When I first got my period, it was a moment of pride for my mother. Her first daughter was finally a “real” woman! Elderly women would gush over me when she would tell them, but I never understood why. Menstruating didn’t make me feel anymore feminine; I was the exact same person. If anything, I wanted to stop menstruating the second that I started. The cramps, nausea, dizziness, mood swings, and acne didn’t seem worth the validation I received for meeting patriarchal standards of femininity. In reality, menstruation has nothing to do with being a woman; transgender men menstruate as well, yet they are not women. Associating menstruation with feminity is an outdated concept that overlooks the sociological and scientific distinctions between sex and gender.
3. I should avoid exercising during my period
In Indian culture, menstruating women are asked to “quarantine” themselves in one room, far away from the rest of the family. My family is more progressive, so I never had to do that. However, I was advised to not exercise during my periods. As a dancer, I realistically cannot miss a week of rehearsal every month, so I always go to rehearsal anyway. Exercising during your period is actually good for your reproductive system. It can reduce period cramps, combat mood swings, and generally decrease PMS symptoms.
4. Everybody experiences PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
While most women experience PMS symptoms, not all of them feel like their insides are being shredded apart because of their period. I was so used to hearing that “cramps are completely normal”, I suffered through extreme cramps for years before seeking out treatment. My cramps were so debilitating, I often couldn’t go to school or work when I was on my period, which is abnormal. Extreme uterine cramping is a symptom of endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and uterine fibroids, yet doctors still write it off as “normal”. Women are much more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men because doctors are known to have an implicit bias against women for having “psychological” pain.
5. There is no way to stop your period other than pregnancy
During our sexual education seminar at school, I remember asking if there was a way for me to stop menstruating or reduce my blood flow. This seminar was taught by a Catholic woman who didn’t believe in birth control, so I was told that other than pregnancy, there is no way to stop menstruation. However, birth control can be used to completely stop periods. In fact, I am doing that right now with a hormonal IUD as a way of controlling my extreme PMS symptoms.
6. Unnaturally stopping your period is unsafe and can affect future fertility
As an IUD-user, I was often advised by people with no medical education that using birth control would make it more difficult for me to get pregnant in the future. However, my doctor confirmed that this is completely false and that my fertility would be back to normal a few weeks after removing my IUD. There is no evidence that using birth control can affect long-term fertility. Pregnancy rates in women who previously used hormonal contraceptives are similar to pregnancy rates in women who have never used hormonal contraceptives. In reality, using birth control can actually have a long-term positive effect on the body by decreasing the risk for certain reproductive cancers.
7. Menstrual blood is the “bad” blood that our bodies need to get rid of
Shaming the female body began at a young age in my community as young girls were often taught that menstrual blood is the toxic blood that our bodies get rid of to maintain hygiene. In reality, menstrual blood is a mixture of regular blood and tissue (endometrium) from the uterus that contains nutrients to sustain a fetus. There is nothing “toxic” about the blood; it is just like the rest of the blood that flows through the human body.
Menstruating is a normal part of the human body, so it should be treated in a manner that reflects that. By spreading false information about menstruation, we are disadvantaging younger generations of people who menstruate. Regardless of religious beliefs, it is imperative that we start spreading accurate information about our bodies as a way to destigmatize them.
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