Every menstruating person can agree that handling pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) is never a fun ride. Although none of our PMS days will ever look exactly the same, we have a pretty general sense of what it’s like during the time leading up to our period. We get bloated, extra tired, and irritable about the smallest things. Oh, and let’s not forget the cramps that come knocking unceremoniously at our door.
Then there’s the fact that our society loves to talk about PMS. We hear jokes about it all the time on TV and in the movies, and there’s never a shortage of articles written on the subject of PMS. However, just because we can talk about this topic for hours, that doesn’t mean we know everything about it – especially when these myths are out roaming around:
Myth #1. There has been scientific research proving that PMS really exists.
PMS is totally, completely, 100% real, right? Well, science may disagree with you on that. During her TED talk “The Good News About PMS,” health expert Robyn Stein DeLuca explained that there has actually been zero research done on the PMS phenomenon. In fact, all the scientific evidence made available to us today has never come to a definitive consensus that PMS physically exists.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that the studies conducted were unreliable. For example, some have been based solely on the memory of past PMS experiences, and others have only surveyed white, middle-class women. DeLuca insisted that there is only enough data out there to justify PMS as a recognizable, psychological and physical condition that affects countless women.
Yet, don’t take that to mean that nobody gets PMS ever. Just know that it might not be as common and prevalent as you think. DeLuca aptly pointed out that a lot of what we believe about PMS is socially constructed.
Myth #2. There is a standardized definition of PMS.
DeLuca pointed out in her TED talk that, in the medical community, there isn’t even a single definition of what PMS is. There are actually more than 150 symptoms associated with PMS, which makes up a vaguely-defined disorder that doesn’t hold enough substance to be officially recognized by experts. DeLuca joked, “With a list of symptoms this long and wide, I could have PMS, you could have PMS, the guy in the third row here could have PMS, my dog could have PMS.”
Also, get a load of this: Studies have shown that PMS symptoms are different in every culture. “Overall, PMS is not only physiologically dependent but culturally dependent. There are studies that show women have different PMS symptoms depending on their country of origin,” reproductive behavior professor Kathryn Clancy told TIME. So it’s impossible to come up with a global, standardized meaning for PMS.
Myth #3. All the crap you’re experiencing right before your period is caused by PMS.
If you feel particularly bloated, for example, right before your period comes, you shouldn’t automatically assume your menstrual cycle is to blame. Interestingly enough, OGBYN Dr. Brooke Jemelka told Verily Mag that your symptoms should be present for at least three consecutive cycles in order for them to be considered PMS-related.
That goes for other typical symptoms as well. Your hankering for chocolate or your immense fatigue might actually be more related to your lifestyle choices, rather than your hormonal changes. It’s best to keep a record of what transpires every month, including your diet, your exercise routine, and your personal relationships. It could actually be these things making you feel down and out – not your PMS.
Myth #4. You’re still PMS-ing after your period arrives.
Let’s get something straight. When you hear someone talking about PMS, it’s not synonymous with what goes on during your period. So if you’re under the impression that your PMS and inexplicable cravings for potato chips are seeping into the first few days of your period, you’re mistaken.
Remember: PMS stands for pre-menstrual syndrome, so you shouldn’t be struggling with PMS symptoms until you stop menstruating. If you think you are, it’s not PMS that’s causing these issues. It’s something else that should definitely be discussed with a doctor.
Myth #5. All women face PMS.
As weird as it sounds, we kind of want it to be true that every woman suffers from PMS. It makes us feel like we’re all in this thing called menstrual life together. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Because the definition of PMS is so weak, it’s hard to say how many women actually deal with it every month.
However, in 2011, the Journal of Women’s Health stated that only 20% of menstruating women have PMS that affects their life enough for them to seek help for it. Plus, there are unicorns — I mean, women — out there who don’t face any of the classic PMS symptoms at all.
Myth #6. PMS makes you do and say crazy things.
Okay, so this myth has been perpetuated by the media in ways that are hilarious initially, but quite demeaning in the long-run. We see it on the big screen all the time. The boyfriend complains to his buddies that his girlfriend is on her period (which is not the same as PMS, as we covered – but hey, this protagonist dude is an idiot), and there’s some kind of scene showing the girlfriend freaking out at him over something ridiculous. Next thing you know, her period is over and she’s back to “normal” again.
That’s not how the menstrual cycle works. In other words: PMS doesn’t turn us into monsters who do insane things. We still have control over our lives, even if we are experiencing aches and pains. The sooner this myth is busted, the sooner others will stop assuming we’re PMS-ing just because we’re bravely speaking their minds.