These 7 Menstrual Myths Seriously Need To Be Set Straight

Let’s face it, ladies: periods suck. And no, I don’t mean the punctuation; in addition to the Oxford comma and semicolon, I very much appreciate the full stop.

I’m talking about Aunt Flo, the crimson tide, Shark Week, whatever cutesy nickname you’ve given to that time of the month. Sure, it’s an automatic excuse to devour all of the chocolate in your cupboard but, otherwise, it’s a vicious cycle that often knocks your best-laid plans to bloody hell.

Not only do we deal with debilitating cramps around that fateful week, we spend the rest of the month stressing about whether our cycle is on schedule. We even have high-tech fitness trackers to inform us on precisely which day we’re supposed to begin bleeding or ovulating, as if we need a judgey gadget to remind us to worry more.

You know what really provokes our period panic? Social media. I’m looking at you, fear-mongering influencers. Remember when some of us noticed our periods were temporarily delayed after getting our COVID-19 shots, and then a handful of influencers swore that the vaccine was zapping our reproductive systems? Yeah, that happened, and then the most vocal “activists” took the rumor one step further, insisting that our menstrual cycles could be permanently disrupted just by being around a vaccinated person.

While this all sounds absurd, soon enough, discouraged women all over the Internet were sharing their own hormonal horror stories. The myth gained so much traction that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had to release an official statement, reassuring the public that our menstrual cycles could not be affected by someone else’s vaccine status.

But this isn’t an article about vaccines. This is an article about periods, because the truth is that myths about the menstrual cycle — and menopause, and everything in between — have persisted since way before the pandemic; and it’s time to do some debunking.

Even if you consider yourself a skeptic who would never fall for such silliness, chances are you’ve come across at least one of these old wives’ tales and wondered if it wasn’t a tiny bit true (don’t worry, we have, too). That’s why we’ve rounded up a panel of women’s health experts to serve as our sagacious menstrual mythbusters.

Wondering if your cycle-related worry is warranted? Curious to put your period prowess to the test? Don’t worry; our experts wouldn’t pad the truth. Below, they help us bust 7 common myths about the menstrual cycle and beyond — and tell us how we should react to the facts.

Myth #1: All Menstrual Cycles Are 28 Days

Fact: If that neat-sounding number doesn’t resonate with you, it doesn’t mean you’re abnormal or broken. In fact, according to a Nature study of more than 600,000 menstrual cycles, only 13 percent of cycles were exactly 28 days long.

“There can be a great deal of variability from person to person when it comes to menstrual cycles, explains Taniqua Miller, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN with special certification in menopause health. “While 28 days is typically referenced in many books and smartphone apps, menstrual cycles between 21 and 35 days are all considered normal.”

When is it time to worry? “Menstrual cycles that occur outside of those parameters may warrant a workup,” Dr. Miller says. “For example, if menstrual cycles are consistently irregular or greater than 35 days, this may be indicative of thyroid dysfunction, anovulation (when your body is not regularly releasing an egg), and ovulatory conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).” If any of this sounds familiar, it’s probably time to schedule a checkup.

Myth #2: Menstrual Periods Are Supposed To Be Painful and Heavy

Fact: Just like cycle length, the amount of cramping and bleeding can vary per person, and the symptoms can be uncomfortable. But “having periods that prevent you from carrying out your daily activities (like missing work or school) or requiring you to pack an extra bag full of tampons and pads is not normal,” Dr. Miller points out. 

If the pain or cramping is severe — in some cases, to the point of nausea and vomiting — you may have a condition called dysmenorrhea, Dr. Miller explains. Dysmenorrhea, or ‘painful menses,’ is caused by abnormal contractions of the uterus (primary dysmenorrhea) or by an underlying medical condition (secondary dysmenorrhea). 

Fortunately, in many cases, the pain does respond to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or aspirin. “In addition, some may prefer to try a hormonal contraceptive pill with both estrogen and progestin in it to help decrease overall flow of the cycle and help ease this pain,” Dr. Miller says.

As for how to handle super-heavy menstrual flow? “If your menstrual cycles cause bleeding so heavy that you become anemic from losing so much blood, or you have to frequently change your menstrual managements, you should consider seeing your gynecologist for further workup,” Dr. Miller advises. “This may include a pelvic exam to evaluate the size of the uterus or a pelvic ultrasound to look at the structure of the uterus. Sometimes these exams can reveal structural changes in the lining of the uterus that could be contributing to your heavy bleeding.”

Myth #3: PMS Is All In Your Head

Fact: You’re not crazy, and you’re certainly not alone, if you feel like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster leading up to your period. “While some have argued that premenstrual syndrome (PMS) isn’t actually a real syndrome, there are physiologic changes that occur in the menstrual cycle that can predispose some people to experiencing symptoms,” Dr. Miller explains. 

Here’s how it works: “In the last week of the menstrual cycle, if there is no pregnancy, the levels of estrogen and progesterone begin to fall,” describes Dr. Miller. “These falling hormone levels directly impact a neurotransmitter in the brain called serotonin, considered the ‘mood stabilizing’ neurotransmitter.”

“As the serotonin levels fall, there are critical levels in which people experience symptoms of irritability, sadness, and fatigue,” Dr. Miller says. “Once the menstrual cycle starts over (which corresponds to when menstrual bleeding commences), the hormone estrogen starts to rise and so, too, does serotonin. Mood generally improves.”

But what if your moods become so labile that you feel like you’re out of control? “For those who experience symptoms of PMS that disrupt activities of daily life, you may have a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD),” explains Dr. Miller. “In this condition, the symptoms experienced in PMS are amplified, disrupting a person’s ability to function in the time leading up to the menstrual cycle.”

“Some people may even experience suicidal thoughts, which can be very distressing,” Dr. Miller notes. “Thankfully, there are medications that can help ease these symptoms if you are struggling with it.” If this describes you, reach out to a medical professional right away. (For crisis situations, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.)

Myth #4: You Cannot Get Pregnant On Your Period

Fact: You don’t have to skip the period sex, but definitely don’t ditch the condoms (unless, of course, you and your partner are trying to conceive). Although it’s fairly uncommon, there’s still a chance of making a baby while you’re bleeding. 

“If you are someone who has a shorter menstrual cycle (say, 21 days), you likely ovulate early in your cycle. For the case of 21 days, you likely ovulate on day seven,” Dr. Miller says. “Sperm cells can stay in the reproductive tract for up to five days, which means that if you have sex during your period, you could get pregnant.”

Avoiding this risk isn’t rocket science, of course. “The best way to avoid pregnancy is to use a contraceptive option that works for you each time,” advises Dr. Miller.

Myth #5: Perimenopause Only Lasts A Few Months

Fact: Perimenopause, which refers to the transition phase into menopause, is not a quick snapshot that comes and goes, points out Li Huo, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN from Los Angeles. While it’s true that some women are only in this stage for a few months, most women are in perimenopause for three to five years — with some cases lasting up to eight years.

During perimenopause, which usually begins in your mid-40s, estrogen levels decrease and your period becomes more irregular. “It basically signifies a time when the ovaries aren’t ovulating on a regular basis,” Dr. Huo explains. 

“In some months, your cycle will do its thing and be regular. Then, for a couple months, it’ll be quiescent. Then, it’ll fire itself up again a month after that,” she notes. “So, the ovaries wax and wane until [your menstrual cycle] completely shuts down.” Once you haven’t had a period in 12 months, you’ve officially entered menopause.

What’s the big deal about this midlife limbo? Some call this phase a rocky road to menopause because many women experience symptoms like night sweats, libido changes, mood swings, and hot flashes. While you can’t prevent perimenopause from happening, talk to your doctor if your symptoms become so severe that they disrupt your daily life.

Myth #6: Hormone Therapy Is The Only Way To Treat Symptoms Of Perimenopause And Menopause

Fact: Speaking of symptoms, you don’t have to tweak your hormones to treat them. “Most of the time, using a biopsychosocial approach is an optimal way to incorporate many different treatment modalities to improve symptoms,” explains Aleece Fosnight, PA-C, a board-certified physician assistant specializing in sexual medicine, women’s health, and urology. These modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, increasing water intake, dressing in layers, over-the-counter medications, and even prescribed medications like antidepressants, gabapentin, or clonidine, Fosnight says.

If you do wish to pursue hormone therapy, make sure you discuss the benefits and risks with a medical professional. While this estrogen-replacement approach can relieve symptoms and prevent bone loss, it is also associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer.

Myth #7: Menopause Represents A Woman’s Expiration Date

Fact: Menopause doesn’t mark the end of your womanhood — you are more than your youth and fertility! 

“Many women struggle with getting older, and no longer having menstrual cycles causes some women to feel as if their youth is over and they are no longer beautiful or desirable to their partner,” Fosnight notes. “Unfortunately, our culture and society glorifies youth and beauty as the standard, and when reproduction is no longer achievable, women will view this as the end.”

“This is not true at all!” Fosnight urges. “Many women find that this time in their life brings in new changes, and embracing that pregnancy is no longer an option means they can embrace their body and sexual freedom.”

You heard it here, ladies: no matter where you are in your life cycle, you are badass and beautiful. Period.


How many of these menstrual myths did you believe? Want to share your stories about your menstrual cycle or menopause? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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