Menstruation - a historic overview
Menstruation has been a part of women’s life since…well, since the beginning. But have you known that before the 19th century, doctors did not even know that menstruation is a part of a healthy menstrual cycle and thus is linked to ovulation? They thought women had to bleed to ‘cool down’ their emotional, hysterical nature. Other crazy myths about menstruation persisted as well. Some of them are still going strong today.
In India, for example, some people still believe that menstruating women make cows infertile, while in East Africa some say that they destroy the crops. And that is not even half of all the crazy myths about menstruation. Let’s take a look at menstruation and crazy facts about our monthly bleed over the centuries.
Menstruation is a form of ‘dark magic’
In ancient Rome it was thought that menstruating women were dark witches.
According to Pliny the Elder, menstruating women could cause storms and destroy crops. He also thought that menstrual blood drove dogs to madness. Roman women wore bandages and tampons made of wool. In ancient Egypt, women used soaked papyrus and used it as tampons. In the meantime, the ancient Greeks made tampons from pieces of wood with strips of cloth wrapped around them – they also used these for contraception. Just thinking about that makes us cringe.
What has menstruation to do with butter?
Well, 19th century Brits thought that menstruating women would ruin the food. They believed that butter wouldn’t churn and that ham would not absorb salt for curing in a woman’s hands during her menstruation.
In the 1920’s a Viennese scientist believed that menstruating women would prevent the rising of the dough and the fermentation of beer.
It was also believed that during their periods women released plant-destroying substances through their skin, which were called ‘menotoxins’.
Menstrual blood as an aphrodisiac
What is worrying is that some people still believe that this is true. The African folk magic called hoodoo advises you to put menstrual blood in a man’s coffee to make him fall in love with you. Other cultures believed that menstrual blood has magical powers as well.
The First World War revolutionized female hygiene products
Before the 20th century, most Western women probably put rags or homemade bandages in their clothes. Then menstrual belts became the norm – loops of elastic with thick cotton pads to clip on or pin on.
French nurses found that disposable cellulose dressings used on wounded soldiers absorbed blood better than cotton, so they began using them during their periods. Several brands of disposable bandages with similar materials appeared on the market, and in 1921 brands like Kotex were popular in the United States.
In the 1970s, self-adhesive bandages finally became available.
The invention of the modern tampon
In 1929, Dr. Earle Haas developed a cotton plug that was inserted with two cardboard tubes. He patented his “device,” which he registered under the Tampax trademark. The first ones were made with a sewing machine and a compression machine.
Some tribes still do this. In Nepal, despite the ban on this practice in 2005, many women are sent to tiny huts with mud walls while they’re bleeding. This is part of a Hindu tradition, in which menstruating women are isolated because they are considered ‘impure’.
We’re happy that today most of these crazy myths are a thing of the past and that women are slowly learning to honour and love their menstruation and their cycles again.
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