Puberty is the period when a person’s body undergoes many changes and grows to become an adult. This process usually takes place between the ages of 8-17 years.
The onset of menstruation is one of the changes that occur in a girl’s body during puberty. A menstrual cycle is usually 28-32 days long where the uterus prepares for pregnancy and develops a uterine lining made up of tissue and blood vessels called the endometrium. When pregnancy does not occur, the lining sheds and a mixture of blood and tissue exits through the vagina, this process is called menstruation or period, as is more commonly known.
Menstruation, especially in India, has been a tabooed subject and historically had many mythological stories and ideas attached to its origin and causes, due to which, many myths have come to be associated with it. Despite proven scientific explanation about why menstruation occurs, these myths continue to persist.
Let us look at some of the most common myths associated with menstruation.
This is one of the most persistent myths in India, which has resulted in menstruating women not being allowed inside religious places or participating in social/religious events, being kept in isolation, not being allowed to use normal utensils or accessing the kitchen.
In fact, menstrual blood is a harmless mix of blood and tissue not used by the body to aid pregnancy that is discharged through the vagina. Notions of impurity attached to menstruation have no real basis in science.
A popular myth about menstruation is that if they touch food items, the food will go bad. Commonly, menstruating women are told not to enter the kitchen and not to “touch the pickle”.
There is no logical or scientific basis for this.
Premenstrual Syndrome or PMS is very real. It is a condition that affects many girls. Its symptoms include - acne, headaches, joint pain, bloating, abdominal cramps, breast tenderness, depression, mood swings and fatigue.
There is no reason one can’t exercise during periods unless you are experiencing severe PMS. It has been observed that continuing basic exercise during periods aids in reducing menstrual cramps and also improves your mood.
Virginity is a social construct that refers to a person who has never had sexual intercourse. Among girls, the concept of virginity is attached to their hymen, the tearing of which can sometimes, cause blood discharge. Many believe that by wearing tampons the hymen can tear and a girl would no longer remain virgin. However, the hymen can tear during several other activities like riding a bicycle, stretching, or horseback riding and has nothing to do with virginity.
Everyone’s body functions differently. Some may get their periods early while some may get it a little later. It is not a race and is nothing to worry about. However, if one doesn’t get their period by the time they turn 16, then it is advised to consult a gynecologist.
There is no scientific basis for this idea. Unless you don’t mind being smelly for days there is no reason for you to not take a shower. On the contrary, a warm bath can help relieve menstrual cramps.
Though it is uncommon, pregnancy can occur if you have unprotected sex during periods. It is always advised to use condoms during sex to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Condoms not only help prevent pregnancy but also protects against transmission of STIs and STDs.
The lack of proper education and guidance about menstruation coupled with widespread taboo and myths can cause distress among young girls.
The most important step we can take to combat menstrual myths is to create awareness and dialogue. It is important to break the cycle of perpetuating myths and the lack of or incomplete knowledge about menstruation in our homes and outside so that young girls are more informed and no longer scared of periods.