#Health & Fitness
We Asked Doctors About Period Myths So You Don’t Have To
by Jessica Banks
Periods tend to be shrouded in mystery—yes, even for women. Asking your gynecologist for clarification can be embarrassing, so we did if for you. Check out what they had to say about period myths that commonly circulate among women.
On a woman’s list of things they would rather not do, talking about periods is usually just under actually getting a period . For a lot of women, it’s a time of the month they’d rather pretend doesn’t happen, which means period myths run rampant because nobody wants to talk about them or ask a doctor and find out the truth. Luckily, we have no shame, so we asked Dr. Lauren Streicher, Associate Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and Dr. Sherry Ross, OBGYN, women’s health expert and author of She-ology, all of the burning questions that have been accumulating in women’s minds since the fifth grade. There are a lot of facts and myths about periods out there, and our experts were more than happy to provide clarity.
Menstrual blood is different than regular blood: Myth
It might not look like the stuff that comes out when you cut your finger or scrape your knee, but that doesn’t change what it is. “The difference in endometrial blood is that there are other secretions and tissues that come out, too” says Streicher. “But blood is blood.” However, if your partner thinks oral isn’t sanitary during that time of month, let them know there’s nothing to worry about—as long as you’re infection-free. If they’re squeamish about oral during that time of month, okay, but have the conversation like adults and don’t let them hide behind a non-existent excuse. Besides, blood comes out of the vagina, which probably isn’t where you want their mouth, anyway.
Sex on your period is a no-go: Myth
There’s the assumption that period sex is not only gross, but also painful and unenjoyable for women, which isn’t true at all. Period sex can be messy, so it’s up to each couple to decide if it’s something they want to do, but if you do decide to go for it, odds are, you’re going to like it. Some studies show that sex can actually reduce cramps for women, which sounds like a win-win to us. Also, Ross says orgasms are definitely in reach for women on their periods—and even likely to be better than they normally are. “You can orgasm, and your period might even enhance it since there is more blood flow to the uterus and cervix,” says Ross. “But if you have trouble having an orgasm, it might be more of a mental block affecting your ability to relax and enjoy the moment.”
Odor is abnormal: Myth
As Streicher points out, blood is blood—but blood does have an odor, and it’s nothing to be worried about. She says there is a difference between actual odor and perceived odor. Women are practically born and bred to be self-conscious about their bodies, so it’s no surprise we tend to jump at the slightest sign of abnormality. But odds are whatever odor you’re worried about is normal. “Blood has an odor, but should it smell like a zoo? No. Should it smell like a dead fish? No,” says Streicher. “But a little odor isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Some women might worry their vagina smells off post-period, but Streicher says this is often just an alteration of the vagina’s pH, and unless the smell persists, there’s no need to worry.
All of that blood loss will make you exhausted: Truth (kind of)
It might feel like you’re losing gallons of blood on your heaviest days (or, more likely when you sneeze on day two or three), but Ross says the normal amount of blood loss for a period cycle is 4-12 teaspoons. Most women should be okay, but if you have an abnormally long period or are a heavy bleeder, you very well might be worn out by the end of it. Ross says periods lasting longer than seven days (YIKES) are considered abnormal periods, and having to change your pad or tampon every 30 to 60 minutes for 3 or 4 hours is definitely considered heavy bleeding. If conditions like this persist, your periods are coming less than 21 days apart or are lasting longer than 7 days, Ross recommends contacting your doctor to figure out what’s going on. If it’s a one time thing, we recommend planting yourself on the couch, flicking on Netflix, and eating all the ice cream you need to south your soul (and uterus).
PMS in all in your head: Myth
“PMS is real,” says Streicher. She explains that it’s due to hormones, and can cause women to experience a variety of symptoms, including moodiness, breast tenderness and food cravings. So if you’re achy, fatigued or just plain crabby (and in desperate need of chocolate and chicken wings), feel free to blame PMS—just not all month long. “[PMS] starts after ovulation and goes away at the onset of the period,” Streicher says. One more time for the guys in the back that are rolling their eyes: PMS is real. The pain and the moodiness is not all in our heads. Deal with it.
Cramps can be debilitating: Truth
PMS comes with the territory of being a woman, and unfortunately, so do cramps. Cramps can be rough on anyone who suffers through a period, but women with conditions like endometriosis or uterine fibroids can find menstruation to be absolutely unbearable. Their periods may result in nausea, leg or back pain and cramps that are so severe these women are often doubled over in pain. If you experience any of these severe symptoms, talk to your doctor and figure out what your options might be. For less severe cases, Ross says water and water based foods like strawberries, blueberries and cucumbers may help, as well as calcium-rich foods like cheese, yogurt and milk. Exercise may also help ease the pain. Our favorite cure? Dark chocolate, which luckily made the doctor’s list of helpful foods.
It’s bad not to bleed at all when you’re on birth control: Myth
Many women worry that not getting some kind of period while they’re on birth control might cause damage to their reproductive health, but Streicher says that won’t happen, and that being on the pill can actually improve reproductive health. She insists that women don’t have any medical reason to get a period—and according to history, the pill only causes women to get a “period” because the creators thought the medication would be more widely accepted by women and organizations if they continued to menstruate. Nowadays, doctors often prescribe pills that allow women to skip their periods for months at a time with no repercussions.
You can’t get pregnant while on your period: Myth
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Not being able to get pregnant on your period is a huge and dangerous misconception that has changed the lives of way too many women before they were ready. “All bleeding is not a period,” Streicher says. “A lot of women who aren’t keeping track of their cycle interpret spotting as a light period, and that’s the most fertile time.” Some women have spotting or light bleeding due to a drop in hormones around the time of ovulation, which can lead to HUGE repercussions if a woman misinterprets this as her period. Depending on what your cycle looks like, you might ovulate at the very end of your period, or shortly after—and since sperm can survive up to three days in the vagina, there’s a chance you can get pregnant. Moral of the story: ALWAYS use some reliable form of birth control. Even on your period.
Women poop more on their periods: Truth
Of course this period myth is true—and it’s caused by the same nasty lipids that cause cramps. Ross says they’re called prostaglandins, and if you experience cramps or diarrhea in the first few days of your cycle, they’re the ones to blame. They make the intestines and uterus contract, which is what’s behind your suffering. Ross says other common intestinal symptoms women might experience during their periods are bloating, nausea, or constipation.
Congratulations! You’re now a bona fide period pro, ready to spread the good word about what period myths are true and what’s nothing more than a myth. Seriously though, if you have questions, ask. Your gyno has probably heard (or seen) worse, so your question isn’t going to phase him or her. If anything, the answer will put your mind at ease and make the doctor happy because you asked them instead of WebMD.