What is the history of menstruation?
The truth is that there’s very little historical information on how women and society have dealt with their periods.
While in ancient times women’s menstrual blood was seen as magical, the topic has ever since remained a taboo across different cultures. In general, women’s periods tend to be seen by both women and men as something disgusting and shameful, rather than a nature’s gift.
In some rural areas of India, for instance, women are still perceived today as dirty and impure when experiencing their period. Recent period poverty initiatives have tried to revert the stigma and provide proper hygiene and menstrual education for girls and women.
Let’s have a look at some historical and interesting facts about periods.
Periods in Ancient Times
We know very little about how women managed their periods in ancient times. From the information we have, we can say periods were associated with sorcery and magical properties.
In some cultures, these properties were seen as positive and welcoming. Women would be seen as sacred and retreat to places where they could go inward and tap into their intuitive abilities.
In other cultures, however, women going through their period were seen as dangerous and dirty. Their menstrual blood was said to be able to turn itself into poison or even animals such as snakes and insects.
Periods in the Middle Ages
It seems that in the medieval age, women used to bleed into their clothes and use nice-smelling herbs around their necks and waists so that they could disguise the odour of blood.
Mind you that hygiene and cleanliness weren’t exactly a concern or a priority back then. People would wear the same clothes for many days. The fact women bled into their clothes didn’t change that.
Periods in the 19th Century
In the nineteenth century, a german doctor started to raise awareness of how unsanitary and dangerous it was to bleed and use the same piece of clothing for four or eight days in a row.
Around this same time, the Hoosier Sanitary Belt was introduced in the market. As the name suggests, this was a belt-like invention with washable pads that women could use around their waist.
The first disposable and commercial pad would then emerge in 1888, developed by Johnson & Johnson.
Periods in the 20th Century
The first tampon was invented in 1929 by Dr Earle Haas. Oddly enough, women had to purchase this type of product by discretely putting money into a box at the store instead of buying it directly from the salesperson.
As time passed, pads became more absorbent, in order to avoid leaks. They have also become more adapted to women’s underwear and experience.
Access to these products became easier for women in developed countries. Unfortunately, we can’t say the same about impoverished areas and/or developing countries.
Periods in the 21st Century
Although menstrual cups were invented in the 1930s, they only became a hit at the beginning of this century. Their perceived value came essentially from the fact that they are a more ecological alternative to pads and tampons.
Some companies have also answered women’s requests for more organic products and 100% cotton pads are also available today. More recently (2016), menstrual discs have also been introduced into the market. They have the same function as menstrual cups but have a slightly different shape.
These menstruation history facts let us know that we came a long way in matters of reducing stigma and shame associated with periods. Today, women have more alternatives to deal with and manage their menstruation.
We can’t forget that this is not a shared reality by every girl and woman on the planet, but we are beginning to be more conscious of concepts such as period poverty and taking action to increase access to menstrual hygiene products and education.
It is worthwhile to note that there is now more emphasis on developing products that protect both women’s and the environment’s health. More recently, reusable organic pads are becoming a huge success among women and I personally recommend them as a healthier and safer alternative.
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