14 Period Myths You Have To Stop Believing

When it comes to menstrual cycles, women have historically been taught to keep it to themselves. Many women often feel ashamed or embarrassed about their periods and steer clear of any discussion about menstruation and their struggles. Others were told to suck it up and suffer in silence — even when their lives were impacted by irregular bleeding or painful period cramps.

The need for secrecy and feelings of shame related to menstruation has a lot to do with misinformation and a lack of open communication. Until recently, conversations about periods landed somewhere between taboo and vulgar, leaving young women no alternative than to believe what they were told by their mothers and other older female figures. Unfortunately, many of these popular period beliefs are nothing but old wives' tales that don't carry much validity.

While periods can sometimes be a pain, the reality is they are a natural part of life and a reminder of the body's intricacies and capabilities. The key to understanding the menstrual cycle and staying on top of your health is to get the facts. Here are a few common period myths debunked.

You can't get pregnant while on your period

A widely held myth is that you can't get pregnant while on your period. Although it may be more unlikely that you will conceive if you choose to have sex during your period, it's definitely not impossible. According to the Cleveland Clinic, conception occurs about 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, which is the body's process of releasing an egg into the fallopian tube to be fertilized. On average, ovulation occurs 14 days before the next menstrual cycle starts. However, like most things, there are exceptions.

The American Pregnancy Association explains that sperm can live inside a woman's body for up to five days. If your natural cycle happens to be on the shorter side, you may begin to ovulate or enter your fertility window soon after your period stops. If you happen to have sex towards the end of your period and sperm is in the fallopian tube when you ovulate, it's possible that you can become pregnant within that timeframe. It's possible to get pregnant five days before and after ovulation.

In short, having sex during your period is not a foolproof way to avoid pregnancy. It may not be as likely, but there's still a chance that it leads to conception. If you're not ready for that next step in your life, discuss birth control options with your doctor rather than take a chance.

Women lose a lot of blood during menstruation

It's easy to assume that women lose a ton of menstrual blood during their periods. After all, they are on their periods for several days every month. If they're constantly losing blood during those few days, menstrual bleeding can potentially add up, right? The truth is that the average woman will only lose about two to three tablespoons of blood over the course of a period lasting four to five days (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). To put that in perspective, two to three tablespoons is about as much liquid as an espresso shot or one to 1.5 ounces.

However, there are some women who suffer from abnormally heavy bleeding during their periods. Referred to as menorrhagia, extreme menstrual bleeding can have an effect on daily routines and even keep women from enjoying activities as usual. Then there are other circumstances that may make periods unusually heavy as well. For example, the first menstrual cycle after giving birth can be particularly intense, with a heavier flow, painful cramping, and bleeding that seems to stop and start again.

It's unsafe to skip a period

With stressful jobs, busy social lives, family obligations, or upcoming romantic vacations on the schedule, many women would choose to skip their periods if they could. It would be one less thing to worry about in the hectic day-to-day that can sometimes feel overwhelming. As it turns out, those who use hormonal birth control pills can.

According to the National Women's Health Network (NWHN), many doctors and OBGYNs consider it safe to use birth control pills to suppress or delay periods. NWHN goes on to say no additional health risks have been found in women who choose to skip their periods by being on continuous cycles of birth control. Typically, women will take a daily birth control pill for three weeks, followed by one week of reminder or "placebo" pills that do not contain any hormones. It is during this fourth week that women will have their periods.

However, your OBGYN may give you the green light to skip that fourth week of hormone-free pills and jump right back into a new pack of birth control pills — essentially skipping your period. Before trying this method, talk to your doctor to make sure it's right for you and the birth control method you use. Despite what you may have heard, there is nothing dangerous about skipping a period for most women.

Only women menstruate

It's no secret that women menstruate. As females start to develop around the age of 12, the ovaries release the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which signal the body to release an egg into the fallopian tubes, build up the lining of the uterus, and then shed it every month if fertilization doesn't happen. This breakdown and shedding of the uterus lining are what causes the monthly bleeding during periods.

What you may not know is that periods are not only a "woman" issue. While it's true that most cisgender women experience monthly menstruation, individuals who identify as trans or non-binary may also have periods, which can be challenging in more ways than one. As shared by NBC News, trans and non-binary people often struggle with body dysphoria when menstruating because they feel their bodies do not align with their gender identity. Also, period hygiene products are often marketed as very feminine, with bright colors and verbiage that can further trigger dysphoria.

Many trans people or non-binary individuals who are on testosterone therapy may eventually stop having periods altogether. However, it does take some time. Dr. Adrian Harrop, a gender-affirmative healthcare provider, and Dr. King Sun Leong, an endocrinologist, told Flo, "in most cases, we would usually expect periods to stop within three months of starting testosterone." Even with hormonal therapy, there are countless people who do not identify as women who have monthly periods.

Irregular periods mean something is definitely wrong

Having sporadic menstrual cycles can be difficult and even worrisome for many people. You may have heard from others that irregular periods could be a sign that something is not quite right with your reproductive system. However, occasional irregularity with your menstrual cycle doesn't always mean there's a major problem.

Slight variations in the length of your period are nothing unusual — particularly when you're experiencing shifts in your hormones during puberty, while breastfeeding, or when entering menopause. You may also notice irregular periods if you use hormonal birth control, regularly include endurance exercises in your fitness routine, have lost a lot of weight very rapidly, or are under a lot of stress. In these cases, irregular periods are typically not an immediate cause for concern and can balance out on their own.

While irregular periods caused by hormonal changes are not uncommon, you should still talk to your doctor or OBGYN if you've skipped several periods, your period is suddenly shorter, or you are experiencing other symptoms, including extreme cramping, large blood clots during periods, unexplained changes in your weight, or feelings of depression. These could be signs of an underlying condition your doctor may need to rule out.

You shouldn't use tampons until you lose your virginity

For many young women, tampons may be a little intimidating, especially given the common misconception that they can take your virginity. For decades, mothers have cautioned their daughters about using tampons and how it might affect their virginity. While tampons are inserted into the vagina as a way to collect menstrual blood, they are small medical devices that are regulated by the FDA. According to Tampax, tampons will usually fit through the natural opening in the hymen that allows period blood to exit.

Whether you are a virgin or not, tampons should fit comfortably and go mostly unnoticed while wearing them. Although the first insertion may initially take some time to get used to, there shouldn't be any pain. If you do experience some discomfort after inserting a tampon, there are a few reasons that may be causing the pain. For example, the tampon may be at the wrong angle, is not all the way in, is not the right size for you, or you forgot to remove the applicator. Try to take the tampon out and replace it using the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

It's also important to understand that you have options when it comes to your period. If you're not comfortable using tampons yet, pads come in all shapes and sizes – from ultra-thin to overnight pads for heavy flow, and all-natural panty liners to reusable pads if you're trying to be environmentally conscious.

Period pain isn't that bad

For some women, period-related pain is minor and doesn't really disrupt their lives at all. For others, menstrual pain is intense and almost unbearable without some type of pain relief. If you are part of the latter category, you may have also fallen victim to the assumption that you're overreacting. Unfortunately, even healthcare professionals can be dismissive of painful periods. Abby Norman, author of Ask Me About My Uterus, shares with Folks, "Pretty much every conversation I had with an older woman, or any book I read, said that cramps were normal and that I just had to put up with it."

Period pain can come in the form of intense menstrual cramps, backaches, headaches, nausea, loose stools, and dizziness. Many women also experience bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. What's more, women who suffer from uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or other conditions can experience more severe versions of these symptoms, which keep them from being active or enjoying life like their peers.

If you experience extreme period pain every month, you're not alone. According to Women's Health Concern, about 5-10% of women endure severe enough pain to impact their lives negatively. Some also suffer through menstrual pain throughout their cycles — even when not on their periods. Just know that period pain is real, and you deserve to be heard. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and possible ways to relieve the monthly discomfort.

Period blood is dirty

It's a common misconception that menstrual blood is somehow dirty or toxic. In fact, many cultures have strict rules regarding menstruating women because they are thought to be impure. An article published in the "Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care" shares some restrictions related to menstruation in India (via the National Library of Medicine). For example, some regions do not allow women on their periods to enter the kitchen, pray, or touch holy books. Others believe that menstruating women can spoil food if they come in contact with it. Another belief is that period blood contains evil spirits that can be used for black magic.

With all that said, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these assumptions. In fact, period flow is no more than regular blood, an unfertilized egg, and the mucus membrane from the uterus (via My Period Is Awesome). You may notice variations in the color of period blood, which has nothing to do with personal hygiene or toxins. As explained by Flo, when any blood comes into contact with oxygen in the air, it starts to oxidize and become darker. This is why blood that's been in your uterus longer can appear dark red or brown towards the end of your period.

You can't go swimming during your period

Many women still assume that they shouldn't go swimming or enjoy a day at the beach if they're on their periods. It's likely you were warned by your mother or other female figures in your life that swimming while menstruating is messy, unclean, and unsafe. There's also the idea that swimming while on your period will make menstrual cramps worse. Luckily, the no-swimming-during-your-period myth can also be debunked.

Although entering a body of water while on your period can potentially be messy, there are more than enough feminine hygiene products on the market that will prevent any leakage. Tampons do an excellent job of absorbing period blood without any mishaps. Menstrual cups should also stay in place to collect blood while swimming when used the right way.

Another issue some people have with swimming while menstruating is the idea that the blood can attract sharks. While sharks are drawn to blood, period blood also contains uterus lining and mucus, which dilute its potency. Also, there is no evidence to show that period blood increases your risk of being attacked by sharks in the ocean. If that's not enough to ease your mind, you can always stay in shallow water where sharks cannot reach.

You shouldn't go camping because period blood attracts bears

If you love the outdoors and camping, your period can possibly put a damper on your plans. However, if you're less than thrilled about your monthly visitor because you're afraid of attracting bears, you can put that fear to rest. While there was a grizzly bear attack in 1967 that left two women dead while one was on her period, there have been no reports since then to support the idea that bears are attracted to menstrual odors (per Live Science).

The North American Bear Center explains that several field tests conducted by researchers did not find any evidence to suggest that black bears were attracted to menstrual blood. Likewise, a survey conducted at the International Conference on Bear Research and Management confirmed that none of the biologists in attendance had heard of a bear attack connected to period blood or hygiene products.

However, this may not be true for polar bears. Studies actually did find that polar bears had a preference for menstrual blood and seal meat when given several options. Luckily, black bears are the most common type of bear found in North America, where you're more likely to camp versus the Arctic Circle or the North Pole.

All menstrual cycles are 28 days

While menstrual cycles all have the same purpose and function, it's clear that individual women are unique when it comes to their periods. In general, the average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days — but not all women perfectly align with that timeline. Normal menstrual cycles can actually last anywhere between 24 and 38 days. In fact, it can be as short as 21 days and still be no cause for concern.

The part of the menstrual cycle known as your "period" is the three to seven days when you shed the lining of the uterus and bleed before the cycle restarts. There are several other steps that make up the entire cycle, including the follicular phase, when estrogen increases and the walls of the uterus thicken. There's also ovulation when the ovary releases an egg, and the luteal phase, which involves the egg traveling to the fallopian tube and preparing for fertilization. Because the length of each phase can differ from person to person, how long it takes for individuals to complete their menstrual cycle can also differ widely.

You should skip workouts while on your period

Just because you're on your period doesn't mean you have to stay in bed and wait it out before you can hit the gym. In fact, physical activity during your period can help alleviate some premenstrual symptoms, including menstrual cramping. Even light exercise, like walking, can help you feel better while on your period. Your body releases endorphins during and after exercise, which act as natural mood boosters. Also, endorphins are natural painkillers that can help with period pain and discomfort.

If you find that you're less than enthusiastic about putting your running shoes on when you're on your period, there's a reason for that. As estrogen and progesterone levels begin to fall at the start of your period, so do your energy levels. However, keep in mind that skipping the workout isn't going to make it any better by "saving" energy. Pushing through and getting some physical activity could actually give you better strength results.

A study published by Umea University found that women who worked out during the first two weeks of their menstrual cycle (which starts with day one of menstruating) had a significant increase in physical performance, including jump height and lean body mass in the legs, when compared to those who worked out in the last two weeks of their cycles. With those results, it may be worth giving exercise during your period a try.

Women's periods synchronize when living together

Another more accepted period myth is that women will synchronize their cycles when they spend a lot of time together. This assumption, which is known as the McClintock Effect, comes from a 1971 study that suggests that female pheromones cause women's bodies to make adjustments that sync up their periods (via Cleveland Clinic). While those study results might point to that conclusion, other researchers have found statistical flaws and other errors in the data. Also, several studies have tried to recreate the same results to no avail.

A review published in "Human Nature" shared data on 186 women living together in dorms for over a year (via Springer Link). The results confirmed that their menstrual cycles did not sync up as the McClintock Effect would suggest. The review also explored another study that found menstrual synchrony was more of a chance than anything else.

Although you may have experienced a synchronization of your period with that of your roommate, sister, or close friend, it's likely a coincidence or a matter of timing. Because most women don't have exactly the same cycle, it leads to the mathematical conclusion that periods will eventually overlap over the course of the year.

You shouldn't talk about period struggles

If you are like the generations of women who came before you, you were taught not to talk about periods or other subjects relating to women's health. However, that attitude has made a noticeable shift in recent years. According to an article in the New York Post, those who fall in the Gen Z generation are more open and willing to talk about menstruation.

Survey results included in the New York Post article show that 86% of Gen Zers do not believe menstruation is a taboo subject. Also, 84% of Gen Zers don't think periods are anything to feel gross about. An impressive 92% also feel that it's okay to alter their day-to-day lives because of period pain or symptoms, which is a far cry from the "suffer in silence" approach many women were taught decades prior.

On top of that, periods have been a national topic as recently as 2022. H.R. 8107 proposed a ban on taxes on the retail sale of menstrual products, including pads, tampons, menstrual cups and discs, and period underwear. Several states have already enacted laws that make menstrual products tax-free to help individuals have more access to these basic necessities.