Menstrual taboo

Menstrual taboo

A Menstrual taboo is any social taboo concerned with menstruation. In some societies it involves menstruation being perceived as unclean or embarrassing, extending even to the mention of menstruation both in public (in the media and advertising) and in private (amongst friends, in the household, and with men).

Different cultures view menstruation differently. Studies have shown nearly all girls in the USA believe that girls should not talk about menstruation with boys, and more than one-third of the girls did not believe that it was appropriate to discuss menstruation with their fathers.[1] The basis of many conduct norms and communication about menstruation in western industrial societies is the belief that menstruation should remain hidden.[2]

In other societies certain menstrual taboos may be practised without the connotation of uncleanness. According to the anthropologists Buckley and Gottlieb cross-cultural study shows that, while taboos about menstruation are nearly universal, a wide range of distinct rules for conduct during menstruation "bespeak quite different, even opposite, purposes and meanings" with meanings that are "ambiguous and often multivalent".[3]


Taboo in Judaic religions

The Bible, in the fifteenth chapter of Leviticus, verses nineteen through thirty, describes how a menstruating woman is to be regarded as ritually unclean. The taboo is so great that not only the woman herself suffers uncleanness, but even "anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening" (New International Version). Some scholars believe that the Christian teachings of this Taboo has fueled the prohibition of women as priests in the Catholic Church. They cite that church law has maintained this prohibition due to "ritual uncleanness."[4]

In Islam, a woman is not allowed to offer prayer or to perform other religious activities like Fasting or circumambulating the Kaaba etc. Sexual intercourse with the husband is strictly prohibited during menstrual periods. However, she can perform all other acts of social life as normal. According to authentic traditions, Prophet Muhammad encouraged menstruating women to come to be present at festive religious services for the two Eid holidays even though they were excused from praying.

In the USA

A substantial majority of U.S. adults and adolescents believe that it is socially unacceptable to discuss menstruation, especially in mixed company. Many believe that it is unacceptable to discuss menstruation even within the family.[5]


One common way that even sanitary-product advertising avoids mentioning menstruation is by pouring a blue liquid on the sanitary item to demonstrate its absorptiveness. This shows the stigma surrounding the blood associated with menstruation. The invention of the tampon in may have been inspired by the taboo, as tampons are more "discreet." Further evidence of the taboo is the creation of a variety of euphemisms for menstruation, including "Aunt Flo", "on the rag" (vulgar), "my friend", or even "the curse." [1]


Movies and television also reflect the taboo nature of menstruation. Typically menstruation as a topic is avoided, except for scenes involving menarche or "first period." For example, as Elizabeth Arveda Kissling explains in her article, "On the Rag on Screen: Menarche in Film and Television," the early 1990s movie, My Girl contains a scene where the main character, Vada, experiences her first period. The explanation given to her by a female role model of what is happening to her is done off camera and the subject is never mentioned again, save when Vada pushes Thomas across the porch telling him, "Don't come back for five to seven days."[6]

In the movie Carrie, the title character has her first period in the school gym shower, and the other girls tease her by throwing tampons and sanitary pads at her. The gym teacher, Miss Collins tries to calm Carrie down, and eventually must explain the concept of menstruation to Carrie (because Carrie's mother had never done so).

Uta Pippig's 1996 Boston Marathon victory

In 1996, during the running of the 100th Boston Marathon, Uta Pippig, the first woman to cross the finish line, had visible menstrual blood and severe menstrual cramps. Commentators on radio and TV were, uncharacteristically, tongue-tied. ... "Physical problems and diarrhea," said some commentators. Others stopped at the phrase "physical problems", ... or "stomach pain"[7] Eileen McNamara's Boston Globe article that said she "bled all the way from Hopkinton to Boston" was subject to mass criticism.

Menstrual suppression

With the recent FDA approval of menstrual suppression medications, researchers have begun to shift their focus to the attitudes of American women toward their periods. One study in particular found that 59% of the women they surveyed reported an interest in not menstruating every month. Of these 1/3 said they were interested in not menstruating at all anymore.[8]


Overcoming this menstrual taboo is a point of contention amongst feminists. The primary argument behind this movement is that if menstruation is normal, there is no reason why the topic should be avoided: "After a while it becomes psychologically disorienting for women to look out at a world where their reality doesn't exist."[9]


In the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal life while menstruating. She must be "purified" before she is allowed to return to her family, which has been presented as a negative view of menstruation.[10] However in some respects Indians view menstruation, especially first menstruation or menarche, as a positive aspect of a girl's life. In South India and also in the Assamese community, girls who experience their menstrual period for the first time are given presents and celebrations to mark this special occasion,[11] though women who are menstruating are not allowed in the household for a period of 3 nights.


  1. ^ Williams, L. R. (1983). "Beliefs and Attitudes of Young Girls Regarding Menstruation." In Menarche, ed. Sharon Golub. Lexington, MA: Lexington.
  2. ^ Laws, S. (1990). Issues of Blood: The Politics of Menstruation. London: Macmillan.
  3. ^ Buckley, T., and Gottlieb, A., eds. (1988). Blood Magic: The Anthropology of Menstruation. Berkeley: University of California Press. (p. 7)
  4. ^ "Women were considered ritually unclean". 
  5. ^ Research & Forecasts, Inc. (1981). The Tampax Report: Summary of Survey Results on a Study of Attitudes towards Menstruation. New York: Research and Forecasts.
  6. ^ Arveda Kissling, Elizabeth (January 2006). "On the rag on screen: menarche in film and television". Sex Roles 
  7. ^ Cahn, Susan; Jean O'Reilly, Susan K. Cahn. Women and Sports in the United States. pg 300. ISBN 1555536719. 
  8. ^ L.C. Andrist et al., LC; Arias, RD; Nucatola, D; Kaunitz, AM; Musselman, BL; Reiter, S; Boulanger, J; Dominguez, L et al. (2004). "Women's and providers' attitudes toward menstrual suppression with extended use of oral contraceptives". Contraception 70 (5): 359–363. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2004.06.008. PMID 15504373 
  9. ^ Houppert, Karen (1999). The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-27366-9. 
  10. ^ Raphael, Melissa (November 22, 2007). "Menstruation". Retrieved 2008-11-02. 
  11. ^ Supriya, Sharon (2007-11-23). "Celebrate Womanhood". OneIndia. Retrieved 2007-12-28. 

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See also

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