OPINION | Myths that cause misconceptions about menstruation

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  • Society needs to break the silence about menstruation
  • There are still many misconceptions and myths about periods all over the world
  • We need to clear these up, so that young menstruators are able to celebrate their transition into adulthood 

Friday 28 May 2021 marks World Menstrual Hygiene Day. So, why does one even need to bother with recognising or creating awareness about all things menstrual and the impact it has on women and society in general? Because, today there are still many misconceptions and myths about periods, as well as unnecessary stigmas.

Part of building a period positive world is acknowledging that we have a collective responsibility to change the way society views periods in the 21st century. We have to ensure that young menstruators are able to celebrate their transition into adulthood without having to hide or manage their period in isolation.

Menstruation is normal and occurs as part of a woman's monthly cycle.

However, incorrect or misleading narratives linked to menstruation and the fact that is often treated as a “dirty secret”, can turn young women's first period into a traumatic experience.

Also, being uninformed about the severity of period pains or the amount of blood flow adds further complications to the situation.

Busting menstrual myths

A myth is a story to explain natural events or to justify religious beliefs and social customs. The more we empower women and society with knowledge about what is fact and what is fiction, the more we can debunk myths associated with periods, allowing women to embrace their womanhood and live without shame.

Menstrual myths are a global issue and not only a challenge faced in African cultures. Ones that I have come across include:

  • You can’t fall pregnant during your period.
  • You should not wash your hair during your period.
  • Walking barefoot on a cold floor may result in more intense period pains.
  • PMS is all in the mind.
  • A tampon can get lost in your vagina or break your hymen.
  • Period sex is disgusting.
  • Eating ice increases period pains.
  • Exercising during your period should be avoided.
  • You shouldn’t have sex during your period.
  • If you wear another menstruator's pants, you’ll get their period pains.
  • Wash your disposable period products so no one can use your blood for witchcraft.
  • Don’t swim in the ocean; your menstrual blood will attract sharks.
  • Don’t touch flowers or food during your period.

None of the above is true! There are many more myths you can read up about

What we need to #BreakTheSilence this Menstrual Hygiene Day also extends to misconceptions about physical behaviour and abilities, like the idea that women are more clumsy during their period.

Not only do menstruation myths and misconceptions create doubts and fears in women socially, but can also affect their work, affecting production and teamwork.

Here are six frequently asked questions about menstruation:

What’s the deal with PMS?

Despite what people may say, PMS is not just "in your head". PMS and the pain that goes along with it are real. The acronym stands for premenstrual syndrome. Due to the hormonal changes, menstruators experience a variety of symptoms such as cramps, irritability and cravings.

I really enjoy exercising, is it bad to exercise during my period?

Not at all. In fact, exercise is very beneficial during menstruation and can help with mood changes and even cramping and heavy flow. Generally speaking, the healthier you are, the fewer menstrual issues you will have.

Should I wash my hair during my period?

There is absolutely no reason not to wash your hair, take a bath, or shower during menstruation. In fact, a nice warm bath can do a lot to relieve menstrual cramps and premenstrual tension.

Will my period sync up with any of my female friends?

It may coincidentally be the same, but there is no scientific basis for this assumption.

Should I be allowed to cook during my period?

You are allowed to do whatever you can. There is no scientific evidence that your period blood is dirty and that it can affect your food or any other living organism.

Should I wash the blood out of my disposable sanitary pad?

No, but it should be disposed of in a hygienic manner, and should not be flushed down the toilet.

Finally, I believe it’s as important to educate boys and men about menstruation as it is to educate women, so that they can be part of the solution and learn to respect women when it’s that time of the month.

*Candice Chirwa, also known as the "Minister of M­enstruation" is a thought leader with an avid interest in gender and youth issues in South Africa. She will be appearing on an expert panel during a virtual event for World Menstrual Hygiene Day.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
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