Periods are mysterious things—not just because they have a habit of showing up unannounced that one day you decided to wear a white power suit, but because despite being a monthly occurrence for half of the world’s population, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings that surround our menstrual cycles. And there shouldn’t be. Not only are some of the myths out there potentially dangerous, but there’s also the more basic fact that young women should be empowered with an understanding of their body—and their menstrual cycle in particular. Some irregularities in your menstrual cycle are normal, while some can be a sign of a larger problem—but, beyond showing them where to buy tampons and pads, we do very little to educate young women about their periods.
So here are some period myths that need to be busted—and some other facts you should know, because your period doesn’t have to be a mystery.
Myth: You Can’t Get Pregnant On Your Period
You really, really, can. This is one of the most dangerous myths out there. Although in a way it makes sense to think that your period—your uterine lining being shed—is basically the opposite of pregnancy, many people don’t realize that sperm can live inside the body for a long time, even up to five days. So if you have unprotected sex during your period, you can still get pregnant. It’s rare, but it happens.
Fact: Orgasms Can Make Your Period Shorter
You’re welcome. Because your period is your body shedding your uterine lining, the contractions of an orgasm actually make you shed that lining faster—thus, orgasms make your period shorter. Whether they're with a partner or alone, that’s one big benefit.
Myth: You’ll Sync Up With Your Friends
I’ve totally felt like I've fallen into sync with my roommates—or my girlfriend—from time to time, but it turns out that’s mostly in your head. Yes, because different women have different cycle lengths you can feel like you sometimes fall into line with them, but a study found that actual syncing is pretty unlikely.
Fact: Menstrual Cycle Brain Fog Is Real
If you feel a little out of it during your period, that’s not just your imagination. Low estrogen levels during your period can lead to you feeling a little less sharp than normal. And that’s not the only odd behavior you may notice—research has shown that women are more likely to impulsively spend money during certain parts of their cycles, so you may find yourself making decisions that you wouldn’t normally make.
Myth: Heavy Bleeding and Pain Is Just a Part of Being a Woman
You don’t have to suffer in silence. Yes, some women have heavier periods than others and some women have more menstrual cramps, but women’s pain is too often minimized or brushed aside. An extremely heavy or painful period can be a sign of other problems, so reach out to your doctor if you think that something is wrong. Not only that, too much bleeding can cause anemia, an iron deficiency, so it's important that you vocalize if something is wrong.
Fact: Cramps Might Be Improved By Exercise
I know—getting on a treadmill while on your period sounds seriously unappealing, but the endorphins that are released through exercise can also help you fight cramp pain. In fact, a report in the Journal of Family Reproductive Health found that exercise was really effective for some women on their periods trying to deal with cramp pain.
Myth: Your Period Stops in Water
I don’t know where this myth came from, but it’s certainly one that I heard when I was younger. No, your period doesn't stop in water, it may be that you’re just not noticing it as much. The good news? The idea that you shouldn’t swim in the ocean during your period because of sharks is also a myth. According to Our Bodies, Ourselves the menstrual fluid we think of as "period blood" is actually a combo of "cervical mucus, vaginal secretions, mucus and cells and endometrial particles as well as blood (sometimes clotted)." So the shark would have to smell through all those other things to get a whiff of blood. Beyond that, sharks don't actually find human blood appealing, and don't necessarily think of it as food.
Myth: You Can’t Have Sex During Your Period
This one is total BS. Not only do orgasms help menstrual cramps, but many women also experience increased sensitivity during their period, so they can find that the sex actually feels more intense. Yes, it can be messy—but that’s nothing that can’t be dealt with by laying a towel down or having sex in the shower. Plus, some new period products are designed specifically to be worn during sex—and can really help with the mess.
Fact: The Weather Can Affect Your Period
It sounds weird, but it’s true. One study found that during the hot weather in the summer, your ovaries are more active—which can shorten the length of your period by up to a day. There have also been signs that lower thyroid levels during the winter can lead to an increase in heavy periods and more pain, so if you find your winter periods are harder to deal with, then you are not alone.
There are so many myths and so much misinformation that gets spread around about our periods—when what young women need is clear, comprehensive education and advice. Make sure that you do your own research and learn about your menstrual cycle—you have to go through it once a month, after all, so you deserve to know what’s going on.