Allow me to set the scene for you. It’s a Wednesday afternoon at Wirth-Parks Middle School in Cahokia, Illinois. Police have been called to attend to a gruesome discovery by the school’s janitor. An excruciating three hours pass. The coroner is called in. This doesn’t look good. What exactly did that janitor find in the girls’ bathroom? A used menstrual pad. Of course, he didn’t realize that’s what it was at first. The janitor—and apparently the local police—suspected it was actually fetal remains. They even sent it away to get tested at a lab. Spoiler alert: It was just period blood. As crazy as that story is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many men were unable to recognize the sight of period blood. When it comes to menstruation, men are often left in the dark—willingly or otherwise. Not convinced? Then you’d better prepare for a rude awakening. Who knows, you might even learn a thing or two.
1. Period pain comes from the birth canal.
Katie Atkins is a 37-year-old artist with a 31-year-old partner who recently revealed that he didn’t fully understand the deal with period pain. “He thought women got pain inside—like, the ‘lining’ of the sides,” she says. “Basically where a tampon goes. Because he heard the word lining, I guess.” “I burst out with crazy laughter and was like, ‘I’m not laughing AT you, I promise.'” For the record: Periods can cause discomfort in other areas like the lower belly and the back, but the actual cramps are caused by contractions in the uterus. The pain can range anywhere from mild to severe and it is true that some lucky women don’t experience them at all.
2. Period blood can be held in, like urine.
Contrary to popular belief, getting your period is not the same as urinating. Nevertheless, some men believe that it is, in fact, very similar to urinating. How? As this Reddit post posits, women somehow have the ability to hold in their period blood. Which would mean that any woman who accidentally leaks on her clothing, mattress, or any other surface is willfully soiling herself. For the record: Women have absolutely no control over when their period happens. There is no pause button. We wish there were a pause button. Somebody, please, invent a pause button.
3. All women get their periods at the exact same time of the month.
Have you ever noticed that all women everywhere are mysteriously moody, sporting hot water bottles and reluctant to engage in strenuous physical activity at the exact same time every month? Yeah, me neither. This in itself should be enough to make you realize that women aren’t all “synced up” like clockwork, but apparently not. One woman posted on Twitter that her male co-worker thought all women menstruated at the same time at the end of each calendar month. For the record: Every woman is different, and no two women share exactly the same cycle. There has been some research to suggest that women who live together can sometimes “sync up” on their cycles (a process referred to as menstrual synchrony) but the jury is still out on that.
4. Premenstrual syndrome is a myth.
This is one misconception that I personally wish were true. Unfortunately, it isn’t. But that doesn’t stop some men from believing it. Apparently we’re incapable of experiencing either extreme pleasure or pain.
I had the misconception that the media had played up PMS and that it was a bit of an excuse to vent.
Jhey Aymes, a 37-year-old father of two, didn’t buy into the “PMS myth” conspiracy, but he did feel that it was a tad exaggerated. “My first serious girlfriend, who I was with from 16 till 23, had very mild periods and not much mood fluctuation,” he says. “So I had the misconception that the media had played up PMS and that it was a bit of an excuse to vent. I have since had partners who are very debilitated by their cycles and know its a gamut.” Nowadays, Aymes is a father of a toddler and a teenager, and has made sure both his kids are fully educated on menstruation. For the record: Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a broad term that describes the physical and emotional symptoms that can occur a few days before a woman’s menstrual cycle including cramps, mood swings, and headaches. There is actually some debate about whether the cause of PMS is more biological or psychological, but it remains a widely recognized condition in the medical community. A more severe form of PMS called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) does appear in the DSM-5.
5. Period blood attracts grizzly bears.
No, it’s not just an iconic line from Anchorman. Many men are genuinely concerned that being in the presence of a menstruating woman may put them at risk of encountering dangerous wild animals, such as bears or sharks. Supposedly this fear can be traced back to a bear attack in Montana in 1967 which left two women dead, one of whom was having her period at the time. For the record: This misconception is so pervasive that the National Park Service published research to show that no, grizzly bears are not interested in your tampon.
6. You can squeeze blood out of a menstruating woman by hugging her too tightly.
As much as I wish I’d read this on the internet, unfortunately I had to experience this firsthand when a male friend did indeed hug me a little too tightly. I winced and asked him not to do that, as I was having my period. I assumed he would know that I was trying to tell him I was in pain and that a tight hug may hurt me. He immediately released me, a horrified look on his face, before comparing me—in all seriousness—to a sauce bottle. That’s right: He thought that if he squeezed me too tight, he would squeeze the blood out of my body. For the record: Period blood can’t be forced out. As stated above, women don’t have any control over how much blood comes out or when.
7. You can’t get a woman pregnant during her period.
This is one menstruation misconception that even women are guilty of believing (which is dangerous, considering that it can result in, well, pregnancy). For the record: The risk of pregnancy while menstruating is very low but can be higher depending on the length of a woman’s cycle. Sperm also has the ability to survive for quite a long time in the body, so you could end up with a fertilized egg days later, especially if you have a shorter cycle.
8. Every cycle is the same.
Andrew Hann, a 58-year-old carpenter, believes he has a pretty open mind and had always been quite confident in his knowledge of women’s anatomy. But even he admits to once having some misconceptions of his own. “The only misconception I can think of pertaining to a woman’s period is that it was for a day or two,” he says. “Not sure where I got that one, but I found out later that not all women experience the same duration or intensity and that it does affect hormones and mood for up to close to a week.” For the record: There is no “normal” period length. It varies from woman to woman, and the menstrual cycle might occur every 21 to 35 days and last two to seven days. These cycles can be regular (the same length every month) or differ from month to month.
Why do men think these things?
It’s hard to believe that someone who received comprehensive sex education at school could believe any of the things on this list. And yet it seems that some men are learning much of what they know about periods from their significant others. At the same time, they’re failing to understand how differently each woman experiences her cycle. Both Hann and Aymes admitted to showing an interest in learning about physiology from a young age, reading books and asking their parents questions. Hann also believes he received adequate sex education from his public school. As for his friends, he assumes their knowledge of menstruation probably isn’t lacking. “The men I know probably wouldn’t have gaps because we are older now and have had ample time to learn, although there are still some that won’t go near it,” he says. “This is a difficult question because I can’t ever remember talking in detail about it with other men.” Atkins thinks that the gaps in her partner’s knowledge may be caused by his inadequate sex education. “I feel like they didn’t talk too much about things like periods when he was growing up, and he’s too polite to ask,” she said. “He said he was a tiny bit embarrassed and pretty much acknowledged that he didn’t get taught this kind of stuff at school.” And then, of course, there are online communities that actively perpetuate mistruths about women’s bodies and reproduction in order to degrade and shame them. Let’s not mention them by name. Anti-feminists aside, there’s still the issue of men who simply aren’t aware of the scientific facts. Their formal sex ed classes may be long behind them, so how can men be expected to learn what they don’t know? The answer might be honest discussion about menstruation from both men and women.
It’s hard to see your own blind spots.
“It’s hard to see your own blind spots,” says Aymes. “I think that the whole thing has been somewhat normalized but also has a ways to go. I mostly interact with women and have not had many discussions with males about it, but if many women still think it’s ‘gross’ and struggle to express what they need in that time, then I am sure there are men who are confused and perpetuating negative stereotypes.”