For some reason, periods are still an awkward thing to discuss, even though they're a natural process of life. What’s worse is that not talking about periods openly has lead to countless silly myths that people still believe today. I’ll admit, I was today years old when I found out my period won’t make me more prone to shark attacks. Unfortunately, periods are usually only discussed in whispers with your closest friends and sometimes that can lead to a whole lot of misinformation. So, to help us clear up some of those infamous period myths, we consulted Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and really get down to the bloody truth. Here’s everything you thought you knew about periods, but really didn’t.
1. Periods attract sharks in the ocean
Where did this crazy myth come from?! If your mom (or grandma) told you to stay out of the ocean when you have your period, they were a bit 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," explains Dr. Nucatola. Good to know this one is officially not true.
2. Your period stops when you get in the water
Don't fall for this myth, and get yourself into a sticky situation! "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," says Dr. Nucatola. "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." So, if you're hitting a pool party, you’ll still want to grab a tampon or menstrual cup.
3. You're supposed to get your period by [insert age here]
There is no "normal" age to get your first period. Seriously. What is normal, is for you and your friends to get your periods at different times. Most start menstruating anywhere between 9 and 15 years old, often around the time that others in their families got theirs. But, if there's no sign of your period by the time you're 15, it's a good idea to check with your doctor, advises Dr. Nucatola.
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 wouldn'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. You can also bleed even if you're not having your period—it's called spotting and when it happens, it can seem like your period. Even if you're not ovulating when you have sex, sperm can live in your vagina 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 important to still use birth control and condoms when having sex during your period both to prevent pregnancy and to protect against STDs.
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," says Dr. Nucatola. Your period probably won't be on an exact cycle, like every 28 days. Plus, missing a period is even more common in the first year after you start menstruating. It can take from six months to a year for your period to become regular after you first get it. And for some people, it might never be regular. 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 can't 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," says Dr. Nucatola. So, don't freak out, 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. Period.)
7. No one actually gets Toxic Shock Syndrome
It might not be in the news as often as it was back in the early 2000s, but that doesn't mean you should ignore that warning on the tampon box. 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," says Dr. Nucatola. If you accidentally left yours in longer, don't freak out. You're probably fine, but see a doctor right away if you think you might have TSS. "Symptoms of TSS include vomiting, a high fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, sore throat, dizziness, faintness or weakness, and a sunburn-type rash," says Dr. Nucatola.
8. PMS is all in your head
Those mood swings and cravings you feel just before your period arrives? Totally real and totally normal. Phew! Twenty to fifty percent of women have emotional and physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome 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," says Dr. Nucatola. Both exercise and OTC pain meds have been known to lesson the symptoms, but if they are 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," says Dr. Nucatola. "It's fine to use hormonal birth control to lesson the bleeding or stop your period all together." Some skip their periods for health problems, such as anemia or painful cramps, and others just don't want to bleed that month (like because of a vacay or prom night) and that's okay. Just 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 in case.
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 about what you feel most comfortable with. Just make sure to still use a condom to protect against STDs as well as unwanted pregnancy.
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