Why did something as natural as menstruation become a taboo? And why has it been surrounded by stigma since the beginning of recorded history?

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Menstruation is one of the most natural functions in the world. It is a mark of femininity and fertility, and a huge part of life for most women. Yet, for some reason, women are frequently made to feel ashamed or embarrassed simply because they bleed. We’ve come up with words such as “Code red!”, “that time of the month”, “the monthly visitor”, “Auntie Flo”. Why are we unable to just say “period”?

The creation of menstrual taboos took place independently and repeatedly across different peoples and geographies. But scholars don’t agree about why.

The ancient Greeks believed that if a girl’s period was late, blood would accumulate around her heart, and her uterus would wander around her body. This could produce erratic behaviour, from violent swearing to suicidal depression. Right into the 20th century, any inappropriate behaviour or poor mental health in women was termed hysteria, after the Greek word for ‘uterus’.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, naturalist and natural philosopher who died in 79 CE, warned: ‘If a woman strips herself naked while she is menstruating, and walks round a field of wheat, the caterpillars, worms, beetles, and other vermin, will fall from off the ears of corn, bees will forsake their hives if touched by a menstruous woman… linen boiling in the cauldron will turn black, the edge of a razor will become blunted.’ But then he also believed that drinking the blood of a gladiator would cure epilepsy.

Long before the connection between menstruation and fertility was understood, people noticed that periods occur about as often as the Moon waxes and wanes. The Yurok of California believed that if a woman’s menstruation failed to synchronise with the Moon, or with her fellow women, she could balance herself ‘by sitting in the moonlight and talking to the Moon’.

Things were no better in Medieval times: Men thought that just one drop of menstrual blood would burn up their reproductive organ and if you got pregnant while on your period, your child would be possessed by the devil. Even during emergence of modern science, we didn’t give up blaming women for bleeding regularly. Meat rotting faster? Milk not turning into butter? Wound taking forever to heal? A menstruating woman was held responsible for all kinds of witchery.

Are things different now? Not so much. Unfortunately, millions of women still suffer every month from practical, economic and cultural barriers to menstruation. All over the world, they have to bathe separately from their families, are forbidden to cook, meet their friends or share a bed with their husbands. And why are so many women still embarrassed when experiencing a totally healthy, bodily function?

To avoid the term “menstruation”, we’ve come up with 5,000 code words to replace it. It’s time women said it out loud: “I’m on my period! And I am proud to be a woman.” Let’s stop hiding the very process that keeps our species alive, and let’s start talking about it. Let’s understand it. Because your cycle should not be a mystery.

Period tracking apps like Clue use science to help you discover the unique patterns in your menstrual cycle. The scientific data provides personalized insights into your period, PMS, ovulation and fertility.

The great paradox of menstruation is that it can be both proof of womanhood and fertility, and also a source of shame and inconvenience. In recent years, most women’s lives have improved economically, politically and socially. But even though we’re now more comfortable physically during menstruation, we’re still embarrassed to talk about this normal part of our lives.

Let’s end the stigma.