10 Period Myths That You Definitely Should Not Believe (Like Why You Period Does *Not* Stop in Water)

For some reason, periods are still an awkward thing to discuss, even though they’re a natural and normal part of life. But not talking about periods openly has lead to countless myths that people still believe today. Maybe you've heard that a period made you more prone to shark attacks when swimming in the ocean (like, what?!) or that your period stops in water. (Both very not true.) Or maybe someone told you that a tampon can get lost in you, or that you can’t get pregnant if you have sex during your period. Again, both are false.

When you first get your period, you might feel embarrassed or too awkward to ask your mom or doctor all of your period-related questions (and that’s okay!). You might only feel comfortable chatting with your closest friends or perusing the Internet and social media for answers, but sometimes, that can lead to a whole lot of misinformation. To clear up some of those infamous period myths, we consulted Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Here’s everything you thought you knew about periods, but aren’t actually true.

1. Your period stops in the water

While you can absolutely swim during your time of the month, no, your period does not stop in water. It might feel like your period has paused underwater, but the blood is actually still flowing. “Your period doesn’t slow down or stop in water — it just may not flow outside the vagina because of the counter pressure of the water,” Dr. Nucatola explains. “When you’re in the bathtub or the shower your period does not stop and it’s no different than being in a swimming pool or the ocean.”

This pressure is also known as buoyancy, a term you’ve probably heard in science class. When your body is submerged in a pool, ocean, lake, etc., the force of the water pressure puts the brakes on your flow. That’s why you might not notice so much blood. But when you’re out of the water, your flow will probably resume as normal. So if you’re hitting a pool party and experiencing a heavier flow, you still want to grab a tampon or menstrual cup, since pads and liners won’t absorb blood when submerged in water.

2. You’re more likely to get bit by a shark when you have your period

If your mom, grandma, or anyone told you to stay out of the ocean when you have your period, they were misinformed. Sharks will not smell the blood on you and come attack you. “There is no scientific evidence to suggest that women are more susceptible to shark attacks, or bear attacks for that matter, while menstruating,” Dr. Nucatola affirms. Good to know this far-fetched legend is officially not true.

3. You’re supposed to get your period by [insert age here]

There is no “normal” or set age to get your first period. Seriously. You and your friends will likely all get your periods at different times, and that’s completely normal. Most people with uteruses start menstruating anywhere between 8 and 16 years old, the Cleveland Clinic reports. It’s common that you’ll get your period around the same time that others in your family got theirs. If there’s no sign of your period by the time you’re 15 or 16, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor, Dr. Nucatola advises.

4. You can’t get pregnant when you have your period

While uncommon, it *can* happen. Thanks to health class, you probably know that when you have your period, you aren’t ovulating, so you might think that means you won’t be able to get pregnant. But that’s actually not the case.

Here’s the deal: Your ovulation and your menstrual cycle can be unpredictable, and ovulation can happen before, during, and after the bleeding phase, especially if your period is irregular. Even if you’re not ovulating when you have sex, sperm can live in your body for up to five days, so if an egg is released during that time, it can be fertilized.

Bottom line: You can get pregnant any time you have sex, period or no period. That’s why it’s so important to use some form of contraception and condoms when having sex during your period, both to prevent pregnancy and to protect against sexually transmitted infections.

5. If you miss a period, you’re pregnant

Pregnancy is the most common reason for a missed period, but there are other reasons it could go MIA. “Stress, illness, and changes in weight or nutrition can all affect your menstrual cycle,” Dr. Nucatola explains.

Plus, missing a period is even more common in the first year after you start menstruating. After your first period, it can take from six months to a year for your period to become regular (occurring every 28 days). Still, if you are sexually active and miss a period, see your doctor for a pregnancy test, just to be safe.

6. A tampon can get lost inside of your vagina

Good news: Nothing can get lost in your vagina. Your vagina ends at your cervix and a tampon cannot get beyond that. But if you can’t remember if you removed your tampon or not (it happens!), try lying down and reaching into your vagina with clean fingers. The vagina is only about 3 to 4 inches long (though it can stretch to accommodate vaginal intercourse or having a baby), so chances are, if a tampon’s in there, you’ll be able to feel it.

“If you feel the tampon but absolutely can’t pull it out yourself, your doctor or nurse can help,” Dr. Nucatola says. So, don’t worry or be afraid to use tampons. (And no, using a tampon does not affect your virginity in any way. You can start using tampons any time you feel comfortable.)

7. No one actually gets Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic Shock Syndrome (or TSS) is rare, but it’s still real and very dangerous. Most people get TSS from wearing a high absorbency tampon for days at a time.

“To avoid TSS it’s best to change your tampon every 3 to 4 hours and to use the least absorbent tampon you need,” Dr. Nucatola says. If you accidentally left yours in for longer than that, don’t freak out, you’re probably fine. But change it out as soon as possible, and see a doctor right away if you think you might have symptoms of TSS.

“Symptoms of TSS include vomiting, a high fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, sore throat, dizziness, faintness or weakness, and a sunburn-type rash,” Dr. Nucatola explains.

8. PMS is all in your head

Those mood swings and cravings you feel just before your period arrives? Totally real and totally normal. Twenty to 50 percent of women have emotional and physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) five days before their period starts.

“Symptoms can range from bloating, fatigue, and changes in your appetite, to anxiety, tension, dizziness, and/or tender breasts,” Dr. Nucatola says. Both exercise and over-the-counter pain meds (like Advil, Tylenol, and Motrin) have been known to lessen the symptoms. But if the pain and cramping is really bad, see your doc for other options.

9. It’s unhealthy to skip your period

“There’s no medical reason why you need to get your period every month,” Dr. Nucatola says. Menstruation is not necessary from a physiological standpoint, unless you want to get pregnant. The menstrual cycle sheds the uterine lining to set the body up for egg fertilization, i.e. conception. So if you want to use birth control to skip your period, it’s normally safe to do so, but consult with your doctor about what’s best for you and your health.

“It’s fine to use hormonal birth control to lesson the bleeding or stop your period all together,” Dr. Nucatola explains. Some people skip their periods for health problems, such as anemia or painful cramps, while others just don’t want to bleed that month (like because of a vacay or prom night) and that’s okay. But again, double check with your doctor first. If you are sexually active and use birth control to skip your periods, it’s best to get routine pregnancy tests just to be safe.

10. It’s gross to have sex on your period

As long as you and your partner feel comfortable and use protection, it’s totally fine to have sex during your period. You might even notice you want to have sex more while you’re on your period and that’s totally normal, too.

“Menstruation causes a fluctuation of hormones and increase blood flow which can actually increase arousal,” Dr. Nucatola explains. “Many find that sexual arousal and having an orgasm helps relieve menstrual cramps.” It’s entirely up to you and what you feel most comfortable with. But remember to use a condom. Even on your period, you still need to protect yourselves against sexually transmitted infections as well as unwanted pregnancy.

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