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Can’t take a bath or do you need to stay away from people when you have your period? In various parts of the world, menstrual superstitions are common.
Many of these restrict a woman’s behavior and contribute to discrimination and gender-based taboos. Some, sadly, are even dehumanizing.
Here are some of the superstitions regarding menstrual cycles around the world.
Why Have Periods Been Stigmatized?
For something as natural as menstruation, it’s amazing how many taboos and negative stereotypes exist around it. Periods are often considered a shameful occurrence, and women are considered to be unclean, sinful, and impure during their menstruation cycle.
These taboos originated independently and across different regions. They exist in every corner of the globe. Perhaps the origins were because of the human fear of blood, as postulated by Freud, or because, for early humans, menstruation soiled whatever it came into contact with, as theorized by Allan Court. Scholars don’t agree as to why such taboos exist, and there are many contradictory arguments that try to explain the existence of these superstitions and taboos.
Today, period taboos continue to put women and young girls at risk. In recent years in the West, the stigma of periods has been slowly easing up, as people become more comfortable to talk about them. Advertising campaigns from companies like Thinx and Modibodi have been changing the landscape in terms of period stigma, making it easier to speak about. Hopefully, this is a trend that will continue, and people will become more comfortable with periods and their bodies.
In Poland, women are told not to have sex when they have their period as it will end up killing the partner.
In other cultures, having sex while menstruating will mean having a deformed baby.
Slapping on the First Period
In Israel, a girl must be slapped on the face when she gets her period for the first time. This is done so that the girl will have pretty, rosy cheeks all her life.
Similarly, in the Philippines, girls must wash their face with their period blood the first time they menstruate so that they will have clear skin.
Some cultures believe that smearing the blood of the first menstrual cycle will be good for the face as it will keep acne at bay.
Skip Three Stairs
To make sure that a woman’s period only lasts for three days, she must skip three steps on the staircase.
Stepping on Poop
It is believed that stepping on poop during menstruation will result in a stinky menstrual cycle.
No Watering of Plants
In many communities, those who menstruate should stay away from plants. In other cultures, menstruating women are not allowed to water the plant as this will result in the plant dying.
In India, women who have their period should not touch the holy plant, Tulsi, as the menstrual cycle is considered unholy.
Likewise, menstruating women are prohibited from touching flowers as they will die immediately.
Lime and Lemon Juice
Thai culture believes that women should not leave their used pads exposed in the garbage because if lime juice gets to it, that will be bad luck.
Similarly, squeezing lemon juice or accidentally mixing lemon juice with blood will mean the woman’s death.
In Malaysia, women must wash their pads before disposing of them. Otherwise, they will be haunted by ghosts.
In Brazil, menstruating women are not allowed to walk barefoot, or else they will get painful cramps.
In Venezuela, it is believed that women menstruating should avoid shaving their bikini line or else their skin will be darker.
In other cultures, shaving any part of the body during menstruation is a no-no as it will cause dark and rough skin.
No Horse Riding
Some people in Lithuania believe that women should not ride a horse during their period or else the horse’s back will break.
A woman’s menstruation will cease if she gets angry during her period, according to some cultures.
No Touching of Babies
Many believe that touching a baby when they have a period will leave a mark on the little ones.
Similarly, in other countries, holding babies during menstruation will cause the baby’s tummy to hurt.
No Eating of Sour Food
Sour food is one of the foods that menstruating women should avoid. Eating sour food during one’s period will result in stomach or digestive pains.
No Hard Workouts
Those who have their period should refrain from working out hard or else they will end up being infertile.
No Night Outs
For some, going out at night on the first day of their period is taboo.
Women should refrain from going to the sauna when they are menstruating. This comes from an Old Finnish tradition as saunas during the old days were considered a sacred place.
No Whipping or Baking
Menstruating women in some cultures should refrain from baking a cake as the mixture won’t rise.
Similarly, having your period also means the inability to properly whip cream by hand.
Making mayonnaise is off limits too during your period as it will simply curdle.
In Chinese culture, periods are seen as bad luck. As such, those who menstruate should avoid gambling so as not to lose money.
No Drinking of Red Liquid
Some believe that drinking red liquid will make them bleed more.
No Drinking of Cold Beverage
Those who have their periods should avoid drinking any cold beverage since they will make the period last longer.
No Heavy Dancing
In Mexico, it is believed that dancing in fast rhythms can cause damage to the uterus, so women should refrain from vigorous dancing during their menstruation cycle.
No Washing or Bathing
Women are often told to avoid washing their hair or bathing altogether when they have their period.
For example, in India, it’s believed that washing hair will result in slower menstrual flow, which will affect the woman’s fertility in later years.
Some cultures say that it is necessary for a woman to wash hair on the first day of menstruation to clean themselves. This, however, counters some superstition that says that washing or taking a bath will stop the bleeding and cause health problems.
In Taiwan, blow drying the hair after washing is necessary when girls have their periods.
In Israel, using hot water for showers while menstruating will mean enduring heavy flows in the next few days.
Wait to Perm Your Hair
In some cultures, girls are told to hold off perming their hair until they already have their first period.
Camping when you’re menstruating is believed to be a big no-no as bears will pick up the smell of your blood, thus putting you in danger.
Those menstruating should stay away from the pickling process as touching any of the vegetables will be disastrous. The vegetables would go bad before they even become pickles.
No Touching of Menstruating Women
Davidge writes in Your Period Called, “Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have all negatively portrayed menstruation and its effects on women, describing both periods and menstruators as unclean and impure.”
Many cultures believe that menstruation is unclean, and hence, the woman who has her period should not be touched by anyone. This belief can be found in holy books as well, including the Bible, which states:
“When a woman has a flow of blood from her body, she shall be in a state of menstrual uncleanness for seven days. Anyone who touches her shall be unclean until evening… If a man has sexual relations with her and her monthly flow touches him, he will be unclean for seven days; any bed he lies on will be unclean.” (Leviticus 15: 19-24).
No Visiting the Temple
This belief can also be found in Hinduism, where menstruating women are considered unclean and therefore are unworthy of visiting pious places. Likewise, these women are also prohibited from attending religious functions.
A Big Celebration
In Sri Lanka, when a girl menstruates for the first time, she is called a ‘big girl’ and a Big Girl party is thrown to celebrate her menstruation.
Once the first period is discovered, the girl is first locked away in her bedroom for a period of time, so that men will not see her until her big party. She is kept away from all male members of her house and only tended to by the females of her family, until the time of her special bath.
During this period, there are several superstitions and rules that the girl must adhere to. For example, something made of iron is kept near her at all times to ward off evil spirits, and an astrologer is consulted to find the auspicious time for the girl to have her first bath after the period and to come out of her room. Note that during this entire period of isolation, which can last up to a week, the girl does not shower.
Zinara Rathnayaka writes about her experience in Lacuna Voices, stating, “Sometimes, female cousins and aunts came to see me. Some warned me not to eat meat. Others said oily food was bad. My mother simply told me I couldn’t shower until my party. I felt disgusting, confused, scared and ashamed. Years later, I learnt that these superstitions and myths plague girls’ periods in Sri Lanka.”
These puberty parties served a purpose in the past – they indicated to the rest of the village that the girl was now ready for marriage and was able to accept marriage proposals.
Stay Out of the House
In Nepal, menstruating girls and women in rural regions are asked to stay in separate sheds or even animal sheds located outside their homes. They must stay there for three days or until their menstruation has ended.
This is more popularly known as Chhaupadi. This is the practice of isolating menstruating women as they bring bad luck to the community. There has been increasing community and organizational action against this practice as it’s unsafe and dehumanizing to women. As recently as 2019, a woman and her two infant sons died in a chhaupadi hut in Bajura, Nepal.
Evil or Magical Blood
In some cultures, the period blood is considered either evil or magical. It is believed that women who constantly dispose of their used pad or rag at a road crossing are actually casting magic or an evil eye on others. Those who end up stepping on the used rag or pad will then become the victim of magic or the evil eye.
Superstitions about menstruation are prevalent across all cultures. Some contradict one another and all tend to be discriminatory.
When dealing with period-related superstitions, keep in mind that these are meant to guide you. However, if they are not workable or will discriminate or dehumanize others, then you may want to think twice before engaging them.