Much of what I’ve heard about “the period” has been through my fifth grade mandatory meeting where they separate girls and boys to talk about “that time” in your life, through an all-girls catholic school (not what you would expect, trust me), and through biology books.
Most people do not really analyze the period, unless, like me, they’re gender studies nerds, biology nerds, or just find the period fascinating or arousing. I might be a little reductionist here saying these things, so correct me if you think otherwise. Most of what I have heard about opinions surrounding it have been two extremes: its vile, a curse or its a monthly thing women get which is beautiful, etc.
Here my aim is to explore the notion of the period, the history of it, and some alternative products. Hopefully later in my posts I might go to explore the language surrounding it vs. the erection and other things such as period parties and the like.
First, I will introduce you to what the period is all about.
“Menstruation is the shedding of the uterine lining (endometrium). It occurs on a regular basis in reproductive age females of certain mammal species. Overt menstruation (where there is bleeding from the vagina) is found primarily in humans and close evolutionary relatives such as chimpanzees. The females of other placental mammal species have estrous cycles, in which the endometrium is reabsorbed by the animal (covert menstruation) at the end of its reproductive cycle. Many zoologists regard this as different from a “true” menstrual cycle.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation)
Eumenorrhea denotes normal, regular menstruation that lasts for a few days (usually 3 to 5 days, but anywhere from 2 to 7 days is considered normal). The average blood loss during menstruation is 35 millilitres with 10-80 mL considered normal; many females also notice shedding of the endometrium lining that appears as tissue mixed with the blood. (Sometimes this is erroneously thought to indicate an early-term miscarriage of an embryo.) An enzyme called plasmin — contained in the endometrium — tends to inhibit the blood from clotting. Because of this blood loss, premenopausal women have higher dietary requirements for iron to prevent iron deficiency. Many women experience uterine cramps, also referred to as dysmenorrhea, during this time, caused largely by the contractions of the uterine muscle as it expels the endometrial blood from the woman’s body. A vast industry has grown to provide drugs to aid in these cramps, as well as sanitary products to help manage menses.
As part of the menstrual cycle
Menstruation is the most visible phase of the menstrual cycle. Menstrual cycles are counted from the first day of menstrual bleeding, because the onset of menstruation corresponds closely with the hormonal cycle.
During pregnancy and for some time after childbirth, menstruation is normally suspended; this state is known as amenorrhoea, i.e. absence of the menstrual cycle. If menstruation has not resumed, fertility is low during lactation. The average length of postpartum amenorrhoea is longer when certain breastfeeding practices are followed; this may be done intentionally as birth control (lactational amenorrhea method).
All placental mammals have a uterine lining that builds up when the animal is fertile, but is dismantled (menstruated) when the animal is infertile. Some anthropologists have questioned the energy cost of rebuilding the endometrium every fertility cycle. However, anthropologist Beverly Strassmann has proposed that the energy savings of not having to continuously maintain the uterine lining more than offsets energy cost of having to rebuild the lining in the next fertility cycle, even in species such as humans where much of the lining is lost through bleeding (overt menstruation) rather than reabsorbed (covert menstruation). However, even in humans, much of it is reabsorbed.
Many have questioned the evolution of overt menstruation in humans and related species, speculating on what advantage there could be to losing blood associated with dismantling the endometrium rather than absorbing it, as most mammals do. The ancient writer Hippocrates considered that menstruation was intended to cleanse the body of “evil humours”, and modern evolutionary biologist Margie Profet contends that the primary function of menstruation is to remove sperm-borne pathogens from the uterus. In support of this hypothesis, she has pointed to the relatively high levels of macrophages in menstrual blood.
Beginning in 1971, some research suggested that menstrual cycles of co-habiting human females became synchronized. A few anthropologists hypothesized that in hunter-gatherer societies, males would go on hunting journeys whilst the females of the tribe were menstruating, speculating that the females would not have been as receptive to sexual relations while menstruating. However, there is currently significant dispute as to whether menstrual synchrony exists.
Humans do, in fact, reabsorb about two-thirds of the endometrium each cycle. Strassmann asserts that overt menstruation occurs not because it is beneficial in itself. Rather, the fetal development of these species requires a more developed endometrium, one which is too thick to completely reabsorb. Strassman correlates species that have overt menstruation to those that have a large uterus relative to the adult female body size.
Culture and menstruation
Common usage refers to menstruation and menses as a period. Aside from its biological purpose, this bleeding serves as a sign that a woman has not become pregnant. (However, this cannot be taken as certainty, as sometimes there is some bleeding in early pregnancy, and some women have irregular cycles.) During the reproductive years, failure to menstruate may provide the first indication to a woman that she may have become pregnant. A woman might say that her “period is late” when an expected menstruation has not started and she might have become pregnant.
Many religions have menstruation-related traditions. These may be bans on certain actions during menstruation (such as intercourse in orthodox Judaism and Islam), or rituals to be performed at the end of each menses (such as the mikvah in Judaism and the ghusl in Islam). Some traditional societies sequester females in residences (“menstrual huts”) that are reserved for that exclusive purpose until the end of their menstrual period.
Since the late 1960s, some women have chosen to prevent menstruation with long-acting hormonal birth control. Injections such as depo-provera became available in the 1960s, progestogen implants such as Norplant in the 1980s and extended cycle combined oral contraceptive pills in the early 2000s.
- See also: Premenstrual Syndrome
In many women, various intense sensations brought about by the involved hormones and by cramping of the uterus can precede or accompany menstruation. Stronger sensations may include significant menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea), abdominal pain, migraine headaches, depression, emotional sensitivity, feeling bloated, and changes in sex drive. Breast discomfort caused by premenstrual water retention or hormone fluctuation is very common. The sensations experienced vary from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle.
Women may experience emotional disturbances associated with menstruation. These range from the irritability popularly associated with Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), to tiredness, or “weepiness” (i.e. tears of emotional closeness). A similar range of emotional effects and mood swings is associated with pregnancy.
The normal menstrual flow follows a “crescendo-decrescendo” pattern; that is, it starts at a moderate level, increases somewhat, and then slowly tapers. Sudden heavy flows or amounts in excess of 80 mL (hypermenorrhea or menorrhagia) may stem from hormonal disturbance, uterine abnormalities, including uterine leiomyoma or cancer, and other causes. Doctors call the opposite phenomenon, of bleeding very little, hypomenorrhea.
The typical woman bleeds for two to seven days at the beginning of each menstrual cycle. Prolonged bleeding (metrorrhagia, also meno-metrorrhagia) no longer shows a clear interval pattern. Dysfunctional uterine bleeding is hormonally caused bleeding abnormalities, typically anovulation. All these bleeding abnormalities need medical attention; they may indicate hormone imbalances, uterine fibroids, or other problems. As pregnant patients may bleed, a pregnancy test forms part of the evaluation of abnormal bleeding.
- Further information: Menstrual product
Most women use something to absorb or catch their menses. There are a number of different methods available.
- Sanitary napkins (Sanitary towels) or pads — Somewhat rectangular pieces of material worn in the underwear to absorb menstrual flow, often with “wings,” pieces that fold around the panties, and/or an adhesive backing to hold the pad in place. Disposable pads may contain wood pulp or gel products, usually with a plastic lining and bleached. Some sanitary napkins, particularly older styles, are held in place by a belt-like apparatus, instead of adhesive or wings.
- Tampons — Disposable cylinders of treated rayon/cotton blends or all-cotton fleece, usually bleached, that are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual flow.
- Padettes — Disposable wads of treated rayon/cotton blend fleece that are placed within the inner labia to absorb menstrual flow.
- Disposable menstrual cups — A firm, flexible cup-shaped device worn inside the vagina to catch menstrual flow. Disposable cups are made of soft plastic.
- Reusable cloth pads are made of cotton (often organic), terrycloth, or flannel, and may be handsewn (from material or reused old clothes and towels) or storebought.
- Menstrual cups — A firm, flexible bell-shaped device worn inside the vagina to catch menstrual flow. Reusable versions include rubber or silicone cups.
- Sea sponges — Natural sponges, worn internally like a tampon to absorb menstrual flow.
- Padded panties — Reusable cloth (usually cotton) underwear with extra absorbent layers sewn in to absorb flow.
- Blanket, towel — (also known as a draw sheet) — large reusable piece of cloth, most often used at night, placed between legs to absorb menstrual flow.
In addition to products to contain the menstrual flow, pharmaceutical companies likewise provide products — commonly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — to relieve menstrual cramps. Some herbs, such as dong quai, raspberry leaf and crampbark, are also claimed to relieve menstrual pain; however there is no documented scientific evidence to prove this.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menstruation)
History of the Period, Tampons, Etc
Upon searching this topic on google, I came up with the result of a Museum on Menstruation. Its quite fabulous and the site features a comic of a conservative family entering the museum. Great for procrastinating.
Here is the site for the museum: http://www.mum.org/
Here is what the History of the Period is all about:
History of the Tampon:
“The earliest commercial tampons were introduced in the United States around the late 1920’s or early 1930’s1, some forty years after commercial pads had been introduced2. Unlike menstrual pads, which have gone through an elaborate evolution over their hundred or so years of commercial production, tampons have remained pretty much the same. While pads went from reusable rags to disposable cotton worn attached to a belt, from bulky rectangular sponge-like things to ultra-thins with wings, tampons have always been wads of cotton or rayon fibers attached to a cord and sometimes inserted with an applicator of one variety or another….”
One amazing lady wrote an article about the history of the tampon through the access to the museum of menstruation and others such as the tampon site. To read more about how the tampon originated, its history in the US, and derivation from Egypt (and other countries), continue to read on here: http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/01/sarahk/hers/school/tampon.html
For more about the history of the tampon, also check out this site: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2252/who-invented-tampons
Resources on the History of Menstruation
I probably will not be able to provide all of the information on the history of it, so here are some books that where you can find out more about your bodies, your partners body, bodies in general, etc:
The Curse : A Cultural History of Menstruation
by Sharra Vostral – Social Science – Lexington Books (2008) – Hardback – 181 pages
This book examines the social and technological history of sanitary napkins and tampons through the lens of passing, and the effects of technology upon women’s experiences of …
by Andrew Shail, Gillian Howie – Menstruation – Palgrave Macmillan (2005) – Book – 298 pages
Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation
… volume dramatically redefines the anthropological study of menstrual customs. It challenges the widespread image of a universal “menstrual taboo” as ….
by John C. (John Charles) Peters, John C. Peters – History – Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library (2006) – Paperback – 180 pages
Girls in Power offers a fascinating and unique look at the social aspects of menstruation in the lives of adolescent girls–and also in the lives of adolescent boys.
An article about Menstrual myths: http://pms.about.com/od/myths/a/menstrual_myths.htm
Some of the myths include:
1. You can’t go swimming during your period.
2. It’s unhealthy to have sex during your period.
3. You won’t get pregnant if you have sex during menstruation
Check this site out for health benefits, options, and for the range of alternative menstrual products: http://www.mjoy.org/menstrual.html
This website provides alternative viewpoints (or so it claims) and shows you how to chart when your period will start, which is definitely useful at times: http://www.menstruation.com.au/periodpages/chartingcycles.html
Further Interesting Reading/Resources
New York Times Article “Radical New View of Menstruation”: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE3DA153EF932A1575AC0A965958260
Fox News “With New Contraceptives, Menstruation becomes optional”: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,196367,00.html
CNN: “Menstruation: Preparing your Preteen”:http://edition.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/FL/00040.html