About half the people in the world get, have gotten, or will get their period at some point in their lives. But despite how normal menstruation is, it can still be a confusing topic. There’s a lot of false information floating around, perpetuated by urban myths and outdated advice from friends and family. And we want to change that.
Different cultures around the world treat menstruation differently. But ultimately, there are certain truths that everyone who menstruates—and even those who don’t—should know. We’re setting the record straight once and for all about 11 common period myths you may have heard but shouldn’t believe.
1Every menstrual cycle lasts 28 days.
Some are longer, some are shorter. Just like every body is different, every menstrual cycle can be different, too. It can change depending on factors like medication, weight, emotions, stress, and travel.
2If your period is irregular, it means something is wrong with you.
After you get your first period, it can take up to a year for it to become regular. And because of the factors mentioned above, many people may never have a regular period and are still perfectly healthy. However, if you’re worried about missing your period, it’s best to talk to a health care professional.
3Only women get their periods.
Some people who don’t identify as women menstruate, too. Transgender men and nonbinary people might get their periods. Menstruation is not just a women’s issue—it’s a human issue.
4You can’t get pregnant on your period.
You can get pregnant at any point during your menstrual cycle, including when you’re on your period. You’re at your most fertile during the ovulation stage, which typically happens about two weeks before the start of your period. But depending on the length of your menstrual cycle, and given that sperm can live inside of you for up to five days, there’s a possibility the sperm could live long enough to coincide with ovulation. To prevent unwanted pregnancy, you should use birth control every single time you have sex, whether you’re on your period or not.
5You shouldn’t use tampons until you’re a certain age.
There’s no age minimum for tampons; anyone old enough to have their period is old enough to use them. Further, they’re not only for people who have had sex, though there is a small chance that using a tampon can cause your hymen to stretch or tear. If you’re having trouble using tampons, talk to your parents or a health care professional. These brands are best for beginners.
6Cloth pads are unsanitary.
As long as you regularly soak and wash your cloth pads, they’re perfectly sanitary. In fact, many people prefer cloth pads to disposable pads because they don’t contain any of the potentially harmful chemicals, like chlorine bleach and pesticide residue, that many disposable pads do.
7Period blood is dirty and different from the blood in your veins.
Period blood may be darker than the blood in your veins, but that doesn’t mean it’s dirty. It’s a mixture of regular blood, vaginal secretion, cervical mucus, and uterine tissue—and most people experience different colors of period blood in every cycle. As a doctor once told us, brown period blood occurs when you have a slower flow, like on lighter days, because it’s “around long enough to get oxidized before exiting the body.”
8Exercising on your period is bad for you.
You might not be up for anything too invigorating, but exercise is actually an effective way to ease menstrual cramps. If you don’t have the energy for strenuous activity, try yoga, a light jog, or even just simple stretches.
9You shouldn’t bathe or wash your hair when you have your period.
Many women grew up hearing that bathing or washing your hair when you’re menstruating is bad for your health, but it’s not true. It’s time to put this old wives’ tale to rest—especially because bathing and maintaining good hygiene habits can make you feel pampered and more relaxed during that time of the month.
10Your period stops when you’re in the water.
If you’ve ever been swimming while on your period, it might feel like being in the water makes it stop. While it is a nice break in the action, your period isn’t actually slowing down or stopping—your period may just temporarily stop flowing outside of your uterus due to the water pressure. It’s best to wear a tampon or a menstrual cup when you’re in the water and menstruating, just in case. And be sure to remove it afterwards to clear out any bacteria that accumulated on the cotton or in the cup while you were in the water.
11Sharks can smell period blood.
You may be nervous about stepping into the ocean during your period. But don’t worry, you’re not a shark magnet. Yes, sharks are attracted to blood, but the amount you might leave in the ocean during menstruation is insignificant. Plus, as PopSci reports, sharks aren’t interested in your period blood, anyway.