For My Girls: Reclaiming Your Period
Originally Published: September 1, 2006
Revised: November 2, 2012
We are constantly bombarded with messages that our menstrual cycles are nasty and bad. Every other commercial on TV seems to advertise vaginal cleaning products and how much we need them. When you enter a grocery or drugstore, there are so many “feminine hygiene” products, suggesting ways to make us smell fresher and feel cleaner.
I’m here to clear up some common misconceptions and let you know the real lowdown on Aunt Flow, aka, your period. In reality, periods are natural and help make us who we are as females.
Myth: You should douche to clean yourself during and after your period.
Our female systems are like self-cleaning ovens. When you douche, you mess with that process. You wash away healthy bacteria, which can cause rashes, irritation and allergic reactions. If you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), douching can also lead to pelvic inflammatory disease by spreading the STD to the uterus and fallopian tubes. Your best bet is to gently wash the vulva (your external sex organs, including the clitoris, the labia and the vaginal opening) with water and mild soap, and leave the douching products in the store!
Myth: You cannot get pregnant if you have sex while you’re on your period.
First of all, it is never a good idea to have unprotected sex. While you are least likely to become pregnant two days before your period starts and the first two days of your period, there is always a risk. Women become pregnant when the sperm penetrates an egg, and then that egg settles down in the uterus. The release of the egg into the uterus is called ovulation. Because ovulation can happen at different times each month, it is hard to know when an egg is traveling down the tube from the ovary to the uterus. Plus, many teen girls have irregular menstrual cycles, and it’s impossible to predict when they are ovulating. So, there is always a risk. If you are having sex, always protect yourself, even if Aunt Flow comes to visit.
Myth: Your period is a curse; it’s God’s vengeance for the sins of all women and girls.
In many religions, women are treated differently when they are on their periods. In conservative sects of religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, women are not allowed to pray, fast, receive communion or take baths during their periods. In biblical times, women even had to spend all their monthly bleeding time together in what became known as the “red tent.” Unfortunately, we live in a world where much that is natural about women is considered evil. Your period is not a curse, though. It is a gift. Without our periods, no one on this earth would exist!
Every other commercial on TV seems to advertise vaginal cleaning products and how much we need them.
Myth: If you wear a tampon, you’re not a virgin anymore.
Not true. You can wear a tampon and still be a virgin. Some girls believe that if the hymen—the thin piece of tissue that partially covers the opening of the vagina—is torn, then they are no longer virgins. But wearing a tampon won’t necessarily tear your hymen. And even if it did, a lot of girls tear their hymens accidentally. Think about athletes. Sometimes a rough sport or even a fall can cause you to tear your hymen. The fact is that wearing a tampon and having sex for the first time have nothing to do with each other. So, if you’re a virgin, wear a tampon if you want to.
Myth: You should not exercise while you’re on your period.
Quite the contrary, exercising while you’re on your period actually helps to relieve menstrual cramps. Cramps are caused when the lining of the uterus (the “endometrium”) begins to break down and release hormones called prostaglandins. These hormones cause the uterine muscles to contract in order to shed the lining. If you exercise a few days before your period, you can lower your levels of prostaglandins. If you keep blood flowing to your pelvic area, you may ease the heavy bloated feeling and reduce the pain. Other ways to reduce pain include placing a warm pad on your abdomen or taking a relaxing warm bath. Find whatever works for you.
Myth: Everyone’s menstrual cycle is exactly the same.
That statement is like saying everyone has the same color eyes. Every woman has a different cycle. The average loss of menstrual fluid varies from woman to woman. On average, women lose about six to nine tablespoons of fluid; however only three of those tablespoons are blood. The other three to six tablespoons are endometrial tissue and cervical mucus. The length of a period ranges between 3 and 10 days. Amazingly, some women who live or work together often have their periods at the same time, even though this does not mean their periods are exactly the same. And a woman’s cycle can change from month to month. Your period can change because of stress, diet, illness, eating disorders, medication, etc.
Myth: PMS is not real.
PMS is, in fact, real. PMS, also known as Premenstrual Syndrome, is a mixture of physical and emotional symptoms that some women experience before menstruation that can have a significant impact on their lives. Some of these symptoms include depression, anger, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, sudden or dramatic mood swings, fatigue, food cravings and decreased interest in usual activities. Physical symptoms include headaches, breast tenderness, bloating, weight gain and muscle aches. So, ignore all those people who tell you to “just get over it.” Doctors recommend getting plenty of exercise to relieve the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS. If PMS gets in the way of you participating in daily activities, you should see your doctor.
Our periods are a great excuse to eat chocolate, relax and put our feet up and tell people how we really feel!
It’s your period, and you have a right to a happy one!
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