When I first started my period, aged 11, I didn’t really know what was happening. I knew that the blood in my underwear was my period and I’d heard of tampons and pads before, but other than that I was pretty clueless.
The information I was eventually given didn’t help much either. Throughout the course of my school life, I was given one leaflet that said ‘if you start your period at school, go speak to the Nurse’, and a handful of Biology lessons (that I confess I paid little to no attention to ‘cos, well, I hated Biology).
Because of the woeful lack of education, me and my friends had to figure out periods on our own. Which resulted in a lot of bizarre misconceptions about what periods were (I legit didn’t know that a period was when your uterus sheds its lining until I was 21). And it turns out I wasn’t alone. Across the world, people who have periods still don’t really know what the f*ck is going on with their bodies. So in the name of education (and so your Google search history doesn’t have to be filled with ‘is this discharge normal???’ like mine is) here is a (semi) comprehensive guide to periods and the myths surrounding them.
Myth One: Only Women Have Periods
Thanks to the inherently cissexist nature of our current society, most information around periods is incredibly gendered. In fact, in many schools boys and girls are separated during sex ed, because boys don’t have periods, right?
But not all women have periods (trans women, for example, don’t have periods) and not all period-havers are women (trans men and non-binary people can both have periods). Instead of talking about ‘women’, therefore, we should really be talking about ‘people who menstruate’.
Myth Two: Periods Are Dirty
Because of a combination of misogyny and terrible education, there’s a common misconception (held by people of all genders) that periods are dirty. In some parts of the world, people on their period are shunned from society while they are bleeding, due to the belief that periods are unclean and impure.
But periods are a natural part of biology. In fact, far from being unclean, periods can be an indication that your body is healthy. Being underweight, being exceptionally stressed, or being ill can all cause a person’s period to stop, so instead of viewing periods as dirty, we should view them as one of many ways to check in with our bodies.
Myth Three: You Can’t Get Pregnant on Your Period
This is one of the most common period myths around, but whilst the odds of getting pregnant while you’re on your period are incredibly low, they’re not zero.
For a start, vaginal bleeding doesn’t always mean you’re on your period–spotting or bleeding between periods can be common (although you should always go to the doctor if you’re concerned about bleeding), and so it is perfectly possible to be bleeding and at your most fertile point of your cycle.
The other thing to remember is that sperm can live inside you for up to 72 hours after ejaculation. Towards the end of your period, therefore, your chances of becoming pregnant will increase.
So if you’re having sex on your period, always use at least one form of contraception to prevent pregnancy.
Myth Four: You Can’t Have Sex on Your Period
Whilst simultaneously telling people that they can’t get pregnant on their period (thereby implying that having penetrative sex while on your period is a great idea), society also tells us that you can’t have penetrative (or oral) sex while on your period–presumably because periods are ‘gross’ and ‘unclean’.
But period sex is a thing that many people enjoy having, and there’s no reason why you can’t have any kind of sex while bleeding from your vagina. In fact, many people find that their sex drive increases during their period, and orgasms can relieve cramps and other symptoms.
Myth Five: If You’ve Used a Tampon You’re No Longer a Virgin
When I first got my period, I remember frantically Googling whether or not using a tampon would cause me to lose my virginity. Whispered conversations about hymens and ‘cherry popping’ left me very confused about both virginity and tampons, and led to many a sleepless night over whether or not I was a virgin.
Of course, now I know that a) using a tampon is nothing like having penetrative sex and b) VIRGINITY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT, but man I was confused for a while.
There are, of course, many other myths about periods floating around (no, tampon size isn’t to do with your age or weight; no, your period doesn’t ‘stop’ when you’re immersed in water; and no, super painful or irregular periods aren’t normal, no matter what your doctor says) but hopefully this has cleared a few things up for you.
Hopefully, future generations will have wildly better sexual education than I had, and hopefully the taboo around periods will disappear as more and more people are open and vocal about their periods–but until then, remember that when it comes to your period there’s no such thing as a stupid question. We’ve all got to learn somehow.