With ads for period-proof underwear popping up on city billboards, and lawmakers calling for the repeal of the “tampon tax” on the floor of state legislatures, it’s safe to say that menstrual cycles are no longer a taboo topic. But even though the subject of periods has pushed its way into the national conversation, some myths about women’s monthly cycles are surprisingly persistent. Here are five we want to put to rest once and for all.
Myth 1: It’s Unsafe to Skip Periods
You’ve probably heard that you can skip your period with continuous birth control – taking 21-day cycles of pills back to back without a period break (the week of placebo pills) in between. While this seems like something pretty much every woman on birth control pills would sign on for (why go through the hassle of having a period if you don’t have to?) many women on hormonal birth control still choose to get a period each month.
That’s probably because the idea feels a little worrisome – isn’t there some health reason why we need to shed the uterine lining each month? The short answer: no. When you’re on the pill, you’re not ovulating, so the bleeding you experience isn’t a true period, but an artificial one that the pill’s inventors created so the pill would feel “natural”. Women’s bodies take breaks from bleeding when they’re pregnant and nursing, and taking birth control hormones continuously is similar to this.
One note of caution here: Some types of hormonal birth control are better for skipping periods than others. If you want to skip periods, talk to your healthcare provider to make sure your prescription is a good choice for this. There are certain brands of birth control, like Camrese, that are designed with placebo pill (or “period”) weeks only four times per year.
Myth 2: You Can’t Get Pregnant on Your Period
It’s not common, but it can happen. Ovulation is an unpredictable system, and while peak fertility usually occurs 12 to 16 days before your period, that doesn’t mean you’re completely protected the rest of the time. While the average length of a menstrual cycle 28 days, your individual cycle can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days, plus sperm can live for up to five days. So if you have sex toward the end of your period, and you ovulate early in your cycle, sperm could hang around long enough to fertilize an egg, resulting in pregnancy.
Of course, if you’re on hormonal birth control and taking it as prescribed you don’t need to worry about pregnancy, whether you’re on your period or not. But no one can say never, because a birth control glitch such as missing a day could conceivably coincide with an irregular ovulatory situation.
Myth 3: You Lose a Lot of Blood During Your Period
The idea that women are somehow weak or fragile during their periods is one of the biggest menstrual myths of all time, responsible for way too many women and girls missing out on sports practices and more. Here’s the lowdown: On average, you lose just 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood over the course of an entire period. Even if your periods tend to be on the heavy side, you likely lose 4 tablespoons or less during the entire bleeding period.
If you feel tired or weaker than usual during your period, it’s probably caused by disrupted sleep or mood swings due to hormonal changes, not blood loss. That said, if your flow is extremely heavy — say, going through more than 7 super tampons a day or bleeding heavily for more than seven days straight — or your periods are incredibly painful and OTC pain meds don’t help, you should talk to your doctor to make sure you don’t have an underlying issue such as endometriosis.
Myth 4: Your Period Will ‘Sync’ With Your Roommate’s
While it’s widely believed that women who live together will start getting their periods at the same time, that belief is mostly based on a single 1970s study that has since been debunked — most recently by the period tracking app Clue, which looked at the issue and discovered zero evidence that women’s periods shift to match those of their friends, family, or roommates. If you can swear that it’s happened to you, it’s likely that your cycle matching your roommate’s was a coincidence, not the result of pheromones.
Myth 5: Your Period Will Attract Bears (or Sharks)
Don’t let this myth keep you indoors while your non-menstruating friends go camping or surfing. The idea that bears are attracted to the smell of period blood might stem from a tragic accident in which two women were attacked and killed by grizzly bears back in 1967 while spending time in Glacier National Park. Scientists have studied both grizzly and black bears to see how they react to menstrual odors and, for the most part, found that they ignore the smells completely. All that said, the National Park Service recommends that women wear tampons instead of pads when camping in bear habitat, and seal up their used tampons in plastic bags. Can’t hurt to be cautious when close to 500-pound animals with claws, right?
There appears to be even less truth to the idea that sharks will sniff out blood and beeline for ocean-swimming women. While it’s true that sharks can smell very small amounts of amino acids — including those in blood, sweat, and urine — the scent of a tiny bit of period blood isn’t going to attract a shark to your side.
Have questions about menstruation, birth control, or sexual health in general? You’ll probably find the answer in the Nurx FAQs.
About the Author
Melanie Haiken is an award-winning health, science and travel writer and founder of www.health-conscious-travel.com
More articles that might be helpful:
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.