Myths about periods have persisted for centuries. Case in point: Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24 – 79) wrote in Natural History that contact with menstrual blood “turns new wine sour, crops touched by it become barren, grafts die, seed in gardens are dried up, the fruit of trees fall off, the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory are dulled, hives of bees die …" and on and on he goes.
All of this is, of course, absurd. But what’s even more maddening is that hundreds of years later, myths about periods continue to perplex people — including menstruating women! — which can result in avoiding loved activities and harboring feelings of shame or confusion.
Here we debunk six modern myths, empowering you to live life on your terms — no matter where you are in your menstrual cycle.
Myth #1: You shouldn’t have sex while on your period.
Fact: Period sex myths are common. Research published in 2018 from Clue and the Kinsey Institute Condom Use Research Team (KI-Curt) found that only 15% of respondents engage in their usual sexual activities during menstruation.1 Forty-nine percent said they avoided all genital sexual activity, and 41% focused only on stimulating their partner.1
Experts agree that sex during your period is normal, safe and can even be beneficial. Menstrual blood can act as a natural lubricant, and some say sex can help relieve menstrual cramps. Your uterus contracts and releases hormones during your period that can cause cramps.2 Orgasms cause your uterus to contract and then relax, and that relaxation of the uterus can bring relief. Having sex can also release endorphins, a natural pain reliever.3
Some notes for having sex on your period:
- Consider how heavy your flow is — you may want to use towels or old sheets.
- If you’re wearing a tampon, remember to remove it before having sex.
- Evaluate your protection and contraception plan: you can still get sexually transmitted infections while on your period, and while unlikely, you can get pregnant from having sex while on your period, too. (More on this below.)
Myth #2: You can’t go swimming while on your period
Fact: Sure you can! Instead of a pad, opt for a tampon or period swimwear. Just like period panties, period swimwear is leakproof, fast-drying and can absorb up to three tampons’ worth of blood, depending on the brand.4
Myth #3: You shouldn’t exercise while on your period.
Fact: According to the Office on Women’s Health, a woman’s ability to exercise is not impacted by their menstrual cycle. The Office on Women’s Health did offer one caveat: In endurance events (such as marathons), studies have shown that women who had not started their period yet but had already ovulated had more difficulty exercising in hot and humid weather.5 If you’re engaging in extreme exercise and your period is irregular, talk to your healthcare provider.6
Myth #4: Period blood is gross and unclean.
Fact: Menstrual blood is made up of blood, vaginal fluid, and cells and fluid shed from the uterine endometrial lining.7 It is no different than any other bodily fluid. The perception that menstruation is dirty or something to be ashamed of can lead to cultural and self-isolation. Examples range from women being exiled from their homes during menstruation to women opting out of social gatherings.8 According to the United Nations Population Fund, this can lead to barriers to opportunities, sanitation and health, and heightened vulnerability.
The takeaway? There’s no need to be ashamed of your period. All women should have a right to health, education, work, water, sanitation and non-discrimination during menstruation.8
Myth #5: Your period will attract bears and sharks.
Fact: There is no evidence to suggest this is the case. According to the National Park Service, no known bear attacks have occurred related to menstruation.9 Additionally, there is no evidence that menstruation results in shark attacks.10 So don’t skip that hike or beach day just because you’re on your period.
Myth #6: You can’t get pregnant while on your period.
Fact: It’s less likely, but it can happen! It all depends on when you have sex, contraception use, the length of your menstrual cycle and the length of your period. Tracking your period makes it much easier to know those details off the top of your head, and a dedicated tracking system like the Clearblue® Advanced Period Tracker does lot of the work for you and provides helpful information about your cycle.
You are most likely to get pregnant around the time you ovulate. Although your egg only lives up to 24 hours after it’s released, sperm can live up to five days in your body. So imagine a scenario where you have sex toward the end of your period, the sperm survive in your body for five days and then you ovulate earlier than normal. Suddenly, pregnancy is a possibility. Bottom line: If you don’t want to get pregnant, use contraception — even when you are on your period.
Menstruation is natural, not shameful. Cramps and PMS aside, being on your period shouldn’t prohibit you from doing the activities you love and enjoy. Know what is and isn’t possible, and then make decisions not based on misguided societal taboos but on your needs, wants and desires.
7 questions about your period you’ve never dared to ask
Chances are that you learned the basics about your period sometime ago but not what you really want to know. And what you really want to know, you may be too embarrassed to ask.
Rest assured, you’re not the only one and we've got answers to seven (perfectly normal) period-related questions.
Can I get pregnant during my period?
Although it's unlikely, there is still a small chance you can conceive.
- “Condom use from a female perspective: Clue’s study with KI-CURT,” (April 11, 2018), Clue, https://helloclue.com/articles/sex/condom-survey
- “Painful Periods,” (October 2020), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/painful-periods
- “Endorphins: The brain’s natural pain reliever,” (July 20, 2021), Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/endorphins-the-brains-natural-pain-reliever
- “Swimming and Your Period: Gross or Go For It?” (June 27, 2016), Women’s Health Blog, Penn Medicine, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/womens-health/2016/june/swimming-and-your-period-5-myths-debunked
- “Physical activity and your menstrual cycle,” (February 16, 2021), Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, https://www.womenshealth.gov/getting-active/physical-activity-menstrual-cycle
- “Heavy and Abnormal Periods,” (October 2020), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/heavy-and-abnormal-periods
- Yang, H., Zhou, B., Prinz, M., & Siegel, D. (2012). Proteomic analysis of menstrual blood. Molecular & cellular proteomics : MCP, 11(10), 1024–1035. https://doi.org/10.1074/mcp.M112.018390
- “Menstruation and human rights – Frequently asked questions (June 2021), United Nations Population Fund, https://www.unfpa.org/menstruationfaq
- “Bears and Menstruating Women,” (February 2016), National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/grizzlybear-menstrual-odor.htm
- “Menstruation and Sharks,” (April 16, 2021), International Shark Attack File, Florida Museum, https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/reduce-risk/menstruation/