“Don’t wash during your periods” and other menstruation myths

The most mystifying of all the bad pieces of advice that we’ve collected this week is the advice about periods: don’t wash your hair, don’t have a shower, don’t touch plants during your periods. Where does this cleanliness ban – which, from your comments, seems to have spread from Italy to India to Scotland – come from?

We need to go back to the time when people bathed in rivers and menstruation blood would have contaminated the water for others (still, no more than all other bodily excretions would!). Also, warm water for bathing was an impossible luxury and cold water would have made period cramps worse.

But really, underlining this and other prohibitions for menstruating women, was the belief that menstruation made a woman impure. Most ancient religions said so.

The Roman naturalist Plini The Elder, who lived between around 23 and 79 AD didn’t help women when he wrote 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, even bronze and iron are at once seized by rust, and a horrible smell fills the air; to taste it drives dogs mad and infects their bites with an incurable poison.” But don’t get angry at the old sod: he got his just deserts when he died in the Vesuvius’ eruption that destroyed Pompeii.

It was only in the 19th century that doctors realised periods were connected with ovulation and were not nature’s way to cool women’s hysterical, emotional nature by letting out… bad blood. As recently as in 1919 a scientist claimed that menstrual blood contained “menotoxin”, allegedly a poison that turned wine into vinegar at a menstruating woman’s touch.

Here are some of the menstruation myths still surviving today which I’ve grouped by country. There are also some other myths specifically around menstrual blood: a remedy for epilepsy, haemorrhoids, warts, gout or common headaches, a demons-scarer and an aphrodisiac. I’ve left them out of my table because, except for the aphrodisiac one – some women have been reported to adding it to their men’s coffee for that purpose – becuase they’ve mostly disappeared.

(The empty boxes in the table only mean that  I don’t have data)
Myths about menstruating women Italy UK India Nepal Mali Rwanda
No swimming X X        
No shower/bath X X        
Must not wash hair X X        
Must not go to the hairdresser (the hairstyle won’t set) X          
Must not dye her hair (the colour won’t stick) X          
Must not wax or her hair will grow faster X          
Must not have sex X X       It can be fatal for the man
Will not get pregnant during periods X X        
Must not exercise X X        
Likely to be attacked by sharks and bears X X        
Must not bake (dough won’t rise, cakes will spoil) X X        
Must not whip creams/mayonnaise or churn butter X          
Must not touch plants or they’ll die X          
Must not cook tomato sauce/cook at all X   X X    
Must not touch pickle or wine or they’ll spoil X   X      
Must not touch babies and children X          
Must not touch people     X      
Must not go to places of worship     X      
Must stay in separate accommodation/huts       X X  
Must not approach bitches and horses or they’ll become agitated              
Must not touch cattle     X X      
Must not let others walk behind her or their teeth will break           X

I know I shouldn’t pull a joke about a serious topic that still causes women much anguish and even prevents girl from going to school, but…

… I just can’t help imagining myself in a secluded area of the house, banned from touching children, cooking, gardening, or dealing with excess bodily hair. Wrapped in a warm plaid and cradling a mug of hot cocoa, I’m reading nice book, waiting for my next meal to be cooked and brought to me by other members of the family.

 Interesting articles on this topic:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/we-need-to-talk-about-periods-9638267.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/health/the-bizarre-myths-about-periods-we-used-to-believe—and-still-d2/

http://metro.co.uk/2015/05/20/history-period-a-look-at-menstruation-through-the-ages-in-15-fascinating-facts-5204085/

https://www.verywell.com/period-myths-2721944

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Elena says:

    Ok, so if, say, there was someone I particularly disliked, all I would have to do would be to first let them follow me to my house and then have sex with them, being perfectly safe from their bites because their teeth would break? 😮

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly right! 🙂

      Like

  2. That list made me laugh. Did people actually turn off their thinking power when they came up with the likes of these? You are right, we have a few of these in India too. But all through my growing-up post puberty years, I flouted them with perfect dedication. And bang on about old Pliny!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right: it feels like a science fiction writer on LSD came up with this list. 🙂

      Like

  3. Tami says:

    Well, throw a thunderstorm into the mix and I would be in heaven just lying in bed for 5 days not doing a damn thing and being waited on without people or pets climbing all over me! All those years I could have been having wonderful mini vacations were sadly wasted!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cheila says:

    What an interesting article!! I live in Portugal and older women, particular my grandmother would tell me that I shouldn’t shower or wash my hair while on my period!! I always thought that was stupid and that it’s a time when a shower is even more needed!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Exactly! I’m glad you like the article and thank you for adding a new country to the list of the ones we know about. I strongly suspect that every country in the world shares at least one periods’ myth.

    Like

  6. amommasview says:

    Isn’t it crazy what has been and still is done to women? We most trigger immense fear in men for them to feel they need to control us constantly in such a way…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s sad the way women are treated by men ( and other women, funnily enough!), especially in some countries. Luckily, there are also many really lovely men around.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. amommasview says:

        Definitely. Found one 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What an intriguing article!!..i like it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m delighted that you like it 😀

      Like

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