There is a serious lack of education around menstruation. Think about it — did you get a period talk in health class? Most likely not.
What you did hear was probably about abstinence from sex, and reproduction, because women must remain virgins but also be baby-making machines, right?
Some of my clients didn’t know how their period actually worked until their 30s! If that’s you, don’t feel bad. American education is a patriarchal system, so naturally, anything that isn’t of importance to all sexes isn’t considered necessary to teach.
Keeping this information shrouded in mystery perpetuates the stigma around periods — that they’re dirty, gross, something to be afraid of, something to feel shame about (let’s stop that right now!!!).
We’ve been gaslit about a natural process that literally populates Earth, and as a result, we barely talk about it and don’t know how what’s arguably the most important human function in the world actually works.
Eliminating period stigma
For those of us assigned female at birth (AFAB), we have to get our period knowledge through homeschooling — that is, asking friends, if we’re brave enough to and googling the hell out of everything else.
Or if you’re my age and Google wasn’t a thing when you first started, you quietly wandered around Barnes & Noble with shifty eyes looking through the gURL.com book about puberty.
Since we’re relying on word-of-mouth to understand our bodies, myths get passed down from one friend to the next, from one generation to another — Telephone game style.
Some of these myths are downright ridiculous. Laughable, even, if they didn’t contribute to the shame many of us have felt in our lives.
You’ve probably heard the warnings of bears being able to smell your menstrual blood while you’re camping. Watch out!
How about in Italy? Dough won’t rise if you try to make it on your period, everything you cook will suck, and every flower you touch will die. Damn!
Myths about periods
My friends, while I love that the internet has made education so much more accessible, there is a lot of misinformation out there in the period realm beyond these silly superstitions. Let’s dispel some myths, shall we?
Myth #1 Periods define womanhood.
Let’s get this one right out of the way. We’ve all heard that menarche (your first period) means you ~become a woman~ but not all women menstruate, and not all people who menstruate are women. This is non-negotiable.
This is why I try to use more neutral language like “menstruators” or “people with uteruses” (exceptions are typically when I’m sharing language from research findings or making a point about the patriarchy).
Getting gender-diverse language right when talking about physiology is difficult to do when science views and studies it in the binary, and it’s something I’m actively working on. If you notice where I’ve missed an opportunity to be more inclusive, please let me know.
Myth #2: You only need to care about fertility if you want kids.
As someone who doesn’t want kids, I definitely thought this.
But fertility means so much more than the ability to get pregnant.
Ovulation, while not the only thing that indicates fertility, is a sign of good health
When you’re chronically stressed (physically or mentally), your body prioritizes sending out stress hormones to help you cope, and in order to put all your energy towards dealing with stress, it puts reproductive hormones on the back burner.
Our inner technology is pretty smart. So if this part of your cycle isn’t happening, it’s a sign that there’s a hormonal imbalance or another underlying issue. Our cycles pretty much tell us how the last few weeks/months have been in our lives, a report card of sorts.
Ovulation is important for other aspects of our health too because the estrogen and progesterone that increase during our cycle offer benefits outside of reproduction. A healthy balance of these hormones is important for the strength of your bones, breast health, heart health, and more.
(Note: If you are on hormonal birth control, you do not ovulate. I am supportive of any choice you make for your body but know that you may not experience the benefits of ovulation, especially if you began the pill before your body fully matured.)
Myth #3: You can get pregnant at any time during your cycle.
You are not fertile every single day! There is a maximum of six days in your cycle that you’re able to get pregnant. After ovulation, the egg only survives for up to 24 hours, and sperm can only survive up to five days in the body (and only around ovulation when you are producing cervical fluid — that’s what holds on to the sperm and keeps it alive).
I know, it’s probably the first time you’re hearing this. You learned that if you have sex, you will get pregnant and die. It’s actually not as easy as you were taught, and this fear is just another way for society to control women’s bodies.
For more reading about this, check out the books Taking Charge of Your Fertility or The Fifth Vital Sign. These books discuss the Fertility Awareness Method which can help you get very intimate with your cycle so you know which days you’re ovulating and producing cervical fluid, and thus when you can get pregnant.
Myth #4: Birth control pills regulate your period.
Birth control pills can absolutely be a lifesaver for those who experience serious pain and other symptoms related to hormone imbalance, but it doesn’t actually regulate your period. It addresses your symptoms, but not their root.
While the pill does get you on a regular schedule, your natural period isn’t happening.
As I mentioned above, you don’t ovulate on hormonal birth control and the pills actually suppress your natural cycle (and also depletes some nutrients, among other health risks). The bleeding you experience is called a “withdrawal” bleed and not the result of your uterine lining being shed as with a regular period.
So if you got on the pill because your periods were irregular — common for those who went on it as teens and continued into adulthood — it may be a good time to decide if you want to address the root cause before continuing.
No judgment here! I was on BCP for years and years until recently. My goal is to help you make informed decisions because practitioners in the US tend to really stretch the limits of “informed consent.”
Myth #5: PMS is part of life
I’d like to take this opportunity to change your LIFE! It’s actually not just inevitable that you’re going to feel like absolute garbage during your cycle. You don’t have to look at your period as a monthly curse.
Painful cramps, emotional mood swings, cravings, bloating, insomnia — these are symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, not a normal part of having a period. (Common? Yes. Normal? No.)
Real talk: It’s a tool of the patriarchy to make us believe we’re destined to suffer because if we found out the truth? We’d be TOO powerful! Remember to always ask yourself who profits from your pain.
A healthy menstrual cycle has little to no symptoms. So how do you fix it?
Start with learning about what’s actually happening during your cycle here.
If that all feels overwhelming, I encourage you to reach out to me and we’ll come up with a plan for you.