The History Of Menstruation: How Women Dealt With Their Periods Throughout The Ages

07 September 2018
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The History Of Menstruation: How Women Dealt With Their Periods Throughout The Ages

The History of Menstruation


It is said that females are not considered full-fledged women unless they have their first period. Some had it as early as 10, while some had it in their early teens. Some have regular periods, while some suffer from irregular menstrual cycles.

Nonetheless, having monthly periods is an essential part of womanhood. With that said, having a clean menstrual hygienic routine is crucial especially in women’s health.

Likewise, several companies earn billions of dollars annually from selling menstrual hygienic products such as sanitary pads, tampons, and the like.

On the contrary, many women from poorer countries do not have access to basic menstrual hygienic items such as sanitary pads and tampons.

Instead, a lot of women in poorer countries settle on some kind of makeshift protection to deal with their periods.


Ancient beliefs about menstruation

It is said that little has been documented from history about menstruation. One possible reason was that most scribes who recorded their ancient daily lives back then were males.

Just when you think menstrual hygiene in some countries today are already bad, it may have been worse in the ancient times.

Aside from having no modern access to menstrual sanitary products back then, menstruation carried a stigma in ancient society as well.

Given the lack of knowledge about how our body works back then, menstruation had been a subject of beliefs and superstitions.

Some considered it as holy, while some saw it as a curse. Likewise, menstruating women became associated with sorcery and magic.

Roman author and philosopher, Pliny the Elder, believed that menstruating women can stop hail storms and lightning. On the other hand, Mayans believed that menstruation was the end result of a punishment after the Moon Goddess had a forbidden relationship with the Sun God. Apparently, the Moon Goddess’ blood can transform into different animals, plants, and even diseases.

Moreover, it was also believed that ancient women had lesser blood flow. Likewise, it is said that menopause began as early as 40 years of age. One possible reason was most probably due to the lack of nutrition.

Nonetheless, the main victims of this widespread misinformation were the menstruating women.


How Ancient Women Dealt With their Periods

The early version of tampons was believed to be invented by Egyptians. It is made from papyrus, a plant that was abundant in that area. Greeks reportedly used cotton lint and wrapped it around wood splinters, while Romans used wool.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sara Read, an English Lecturer at the Loughborough University’s School of the Arts, English, and Drama, wrote about how ancient women dealt with their menstruation.

According to Dr. Read, women during the Middle Ages either used rags or other absorbent materials or simply let themselves bleed into their clothes.

To cover up the scent of menstrual blood, medieval women were said to have carried sweet-smelling herbs with them. More so, they also used odd medicines such as powdered toad to lessen menstrual flow.

As for menstrual cramps, medically known as dysmenorrhea, it was also said that the Church did not allow the use of any form of pain relief. Apparently, such painful cramps should be a reminder of Eve’s original sin.


The Dawn of Modern Menstrual Intervention

Towards the turn of the century, women were able to have the chance to be more comfortable during their monthly periods.

More so, several citizens and medical practitioners became concerned with how women handled their menstruations and the potential health risks it brings.

One of the earliest modern forms of menstrual pads was the Hoosier sanitary belt. Invented around the 1880’s, it was composed of a washable pad attached to a belt around the waist.

During that period until the 1920’s, women were able to purchase such pads. Slowly, gone were the days when they bled through their clothes and smelled like dead meat.

Soon, a less bulky version of menstrual pads was commercially-produced. It was known as Lister’s Towels made by global brand Johnson & Johnson. 

Years later, nurses during the First World War began using wood pulp bandages as disposable pads.

The latter proven effective in absorbing menstrual blood flow, and later on became the basis of the early version of Kotex pads.

Decades later, belt-based and bulky pads were replaced with thinner ones and contained adhesives so it can stick on the underwear.

Meanwhile, Dr. Earle Haas invented the first tampon in 1929. It was said to be inspired by a female friend who would tuck a sponge inside her vagina during her menstruation.

Many countries now enjoy the more convenient ways of dealing with menstruation. However, some countries still have a long way to go. Nonetheless, menstruation should not be a thing to be ashamed of.

Instead, proper education about this female phenomenon should be advocated across the world.

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