Karen Fratti
March 07, 2018 11:39 am

Even the most woke women are plagued by misinformation about their periods. We blame the fact that society still stigmatizes our menstrual cycles, even insisting that women hide our tampons on the way to the bathroom so no one has to think about our natural body functions. So we gather a lot of knowledge about periods on our own and from women we trust, which is why there are still some things we may not know and that gynecologists wish they could tell you about your period.

Period shame and stigma is a global problem that hurts all women. In the U.S., we’re extremely privileged to at least have some sexual health education before we get our periods and, usually, access to a health professional we can talk to. More and more, women seem to feel empowered to talk about their menstrual cycles.

Elsewhere in the world, though, young women are still sent out of their homes to wait out their periods, often without beds or even running water. Myths about menstruating women include that they are “polluted” and can cause food to rot just by touching it, and a recent study done in Kenya found that young women have no idea what’s happening to their bodies during puberty.

Sabrina Rubli of Femme International told the Guardian that a study done by her organization in Nairobi found that 80% of girls had “no idea what their period was” before they got it for the first time.

"The persistent taboo around menstruation means that limited information is available to young women,” she said.

So although we may still have some leftover questions or misconceptions about our periods here in the U.S., most of us know that we can cook food without spoiling it, and even have great sex during our periods. But before we all work to combat dangerous period shame and stigma all over the world, gynecologists would still like us to know a few things about our own cycles.

1You shouldn’t just *deal* with pain.

Period cramps and mild discomfort are something we all have to learn to deal with during our periods. But as women, we all also have to start learning to speak up when we’re in pain when we don’t have to be. Dr. Antoinette Nguyen, an obstetrician/gynecologist and family planning specialist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, tells HelloGiggles, “If your periods are very painful and the pain is not controlled by over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen,” you should go see your doctor.

Dr. Alan Cooperman, medical director at Progyny and OBGYN at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, agrees. He tells HG:

"If you’re experiencing a lot of pain or heavy flows during your period, it’s worth talking to your doctor. It could be nothing, or could be a marker of medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. You should talk to your doctor if you think something is ‘abnormal,’ because at the end of the day, you know your body best."

2You can get pregnant on your period.

Dr. Mark Trolice of the IVF Center in Orlando, Florida explains to HG that it is possible to get pregnant on  your period. He says that the only time conceiving during your period is impossible is if  “a woman has clockwork regular menstrual cycles; irregular cycles can result in misinterpretation of when and if you are ovulating. Also, spotting at the time of ovulation can be normal, therefore intercourse at this time can potentially result in a pregnancy.” So if you don’t want to get preggo, use protection during period sex if you’re not on birth control.

3Whatever you use is your choice.

There’s no “best” way to protect your clothes and stay nice and fresh throughout your period. Cooperman tells HG, “There are a wide variety of female hygiene products available on the market. If using a tampon, be sure to change it regularly, and go with whatever is most comfortable.”

Nguyen agrees. She tells us, “Women should use whatever they feel comfortable with for menstrual hygiene: cups, tampons, or pads. One method isn’t any better.” A lot of women were raised being afraid of using tampons because of toxic shock syndrome, but you really don’t have to be. Nguyen says:

"A tampon can safely be left in place between four to eight hours. With older tampons, there was an extremely rare risk of a serious infection such as Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). However, with today's tampons, the number of cases of menstrual TSS is fewer than 1 in 100,000 women. So while TSS can be fatal, it is very rare."

Dr. Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow, from New York City’s Extend Fertility Clinic, adds, “From a professional heath perspective, there is no preference given to any menstrual products. They all serve their own unique purpose, most importantly of which is individual comfort. Any women having difficulty selecting a product should speak with their gynecologist who can help them find the one that best suits their needs.”

4Not having your period isn’t “lucky.”

While it might feel lucky to skip a few months of your period, that’s a sign that something could be really wrong. Trolice warns, “The lack of a period can result from a hormonal disorder (see PCOS) with risk of uterine cancer, as well as a serious medical problem such as anorexia, brain pituitary growth, or extreme stress with risk of bone loss and possible mortality.”

5You can go to the gyno when you’re on your period.

Although you might feel gross about opening your legs for a doctor while menstruating, you don’t have to cancel those sometimes hard-to-schedule appointments. Well, not all the time, at least.

Cooperman tells HG, “If you’re scheduled to have a pap smear, it would be best to reschedule your appointment since the blood can give you inaccurate results. However, if you’re going to get an IUD, it’s recommended to go while you’re on your period.”

Maslow agrees, telling HG:

"The need to avoid your OBGYN when you have your period is a common misconception. For the most part, there is no reason to reschedule your routine appointment. Nearly all testing and exams can be done with your period. For many of us OBGYNs, we have seen much worse and encourage you to not let your period affect your schedule."

So if you need that checkup pronto and are mid-flow, don’t be embarrassed about it.

6Your period doesn’t “stop and start.”

Nguyen tells HG that a lot of women think their period stops in water and then picks up again. But that’s not the case. “Your period does not stop when you are in the water. The pressure from the water may slow the flow, but your period will continue when you get out of the water,” she says. So if you want to protect your new bikini, don’t assume you won’t bleed while taking a swim or that a leak is impossible.

7No,  your tampons won’t get lost.

Using tampons is scary for some women who think their tampons might float up into their abdomen. But that’s *literally* impossible. Nguyen explains, “Tampons cannot get lost in the vagina. However if one is displaced in the upper vagina, a healthcare professional can help remove it.” So don’t try anything at home.

8Menstrual blood isn’t inherently smelly.

A lot of the shame around periods, and even our vaginas, is somehow tied to smell. Nguyen wants all of us to know that our vaginas and our period blood aren’t inherently “gross,” and that our obsession with making sure we don’t smell can actually make it worse. She tells us:

"Menstrual blood itself doesn't have a particularly bad odor. However, the mixing of naturally occurring vaginal bacteria can have a slight odor. I would recommend changing your pad, tampon, or cup regularly and washing with warm water and soap. Avoid vaginal douches as that can change your pH balance and actually cause more problems."

9There is no such thing as a “normal” period.”

Everyone is different. Maslow explains to HG, “It’s important for women to track their menstrual cycle and determine their ‘normal.’ If women have any significant deviations from their ‘normal,’ it may be time to speak with a gynecologist.” She adds: 

"While menstrual cycle irregularities can occasionally occur, they aren’t usually serious and most women should be experiencing a 'normal' period. This means your menstrual cycle should occur around the same period of each month and last about the same length of time. Sometimes it might be light or heavy, or painful or pain-free, but those minor inconsistencies fall under the broader spectrum of 'normal.' They may even be a result of certain contraception methods."

Remember, if you think something is wrong with your menstrual cycle or just have questions about your cycle, you should always ask your health care provider. The more we talk about our periods and inform ourselves, the less shame and stigma we’ll have around menstruating.

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