Women deal with periods for such a significant part of their lives that you’d think they’d be experts on the subject, right? Wrong. Even after years of Aunt Flo’s monthly visits, it’s still difficult to know the difference between fact and some very ubiquitous myths.
Celebrate great health! LIKE BlackDoctor.org on Facebook!
For example, is it true that you can’t swim during your period, or that you should avoid sex? Or that you shouldn’t relax your hair? Or exercise? Are you supposed to have a period every month? Can you get pregnant during your period? And what’s a “normal” cycle?
“Many women are clueless about their menstrual cycles,” says Joyce Weckl, NSM, a certified-nurse midwife with California HealthFirst Physicians in Camarillo, Calif. “But it makes sense. How many women sit around talking about the number of pads they soak through, or exactly how long their cycle lasts for each month?”
If you’re curious about your cycle, here’s the truth behind some of the most confusing myths.
1. Skipping a period means you’re unhealthy.
Healthy women occasionally skip a month or two. That’s because hormones don’t fluctuate much in some women, says Mary Rosser, M.D., an ob-gyn with Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
“You can go up to three months without having a period, and we’re not concerned,” she says.
Doctors, however, prefer premenopausal women have periods at least every three months to make sure the uterus is shedding its lining.
Hormonal birth control – for example, injectable Depo-Provera, the IUD Mirena or the pill Seasonale – is an exception to the three-month rule because the uterine lining is controlled by hormones, so there’s often little or no build-up.
You also can stop periods with birth control pills by skipping the placebo week and starting the next pack immediately.
That safely eliminates withdrawal bleeding, Rosser says.
2. Food cravings are totally hormonal.
Does your period have you reaching for a Hershey’s bar? You’re not alone: About half of American women report craving chocolate, and about half of those say they crave it when their periods start.
Despite the anecdotal evidence, you can’t blame cravings on pre-period hormone fluctuations, according to a 2009 University of Pennsylvania study published in the journal Appetite. When comparing menstruating and post-menopausal women, the researchers found a difference of only 13% in chocolate cravings.
That means even after menopause, many women still have chocolate cravings.
3. You can’t get pregnant on your period.
You can get pregnant, but it’s rare. Pregnancy occurs when you release an egg (ovulate) and that egg is fertilized by sperm. Normally, a period happens when the egg isn’t fertilized, and you shed the lining of your uterus, along with the non-fertilized egg.
But sometimes you can menstruate without ovulation and ovulation can occur without a period. It’s even possible to release an egg during your period, says Rosser.
You could get pregnant anytime until ovulation ends (and even then, you’re not 100% safe without birth control)!
4. You shouldn’t have sex during your period.
There’s no reason to abstain from sex during menstruation, Rosser says. But use a condom during menstruation to guard against sexually transmitted diseases.
“Blood can (transmit) bacteria and sexually transmitted diseases,” Rosser warns.
And to avoid staining the sheets, “use dark-colored sheets and towels,” she says.