A Walk Down Period Lane – Six interesting historical facts you didn’t know about menstruation

A Walk Down Period Lane – Six interesting historical facts you didn’t know about menstruation

Menstruation has been a fact of life since time immemorial. However, one cannot help
but wonder: how did girls and women deal with periods in the olden days? Was there
less menstrual stigma in the past? We’re ancient women forced to free bleed since
menstrual pads hadn’t been invented yet?

#1 Women used to have fewer & lighter periods!

It is believed that since girls and women ate less nutritious food and carried out
laborious tasks in the past, they probably had vitamin deficiencies and experienced
irregular menstrual cycles with lighter bleeding. However, it is healthy to have
regular cycles (i.e., 21-40 days, but 28 days is considered ideal) and eating a
nutritious diet is an important way to ensure normal menstruation.

#2 In ancient India, menstruation was considered auspicious

Given that menstruation is considered taboo or impure in contemporary times, it is
astounding that menstruating girls and women were considered as goddesses in
the ancient era. The remnants of this tradition are found in Assam and parts of
South India, where a girl’s first period or menarche is still celebrated. And
surely, menstruation ought to be celebrated as it denotes fertility and good health.

#3 Menstrual exile or ‘Chhaupadi’ in Nepal

Chhaupadi originates from the Hindu belief that menstruation is a curse on women.
This inhuman practice of shunning menstruating girls and women into huts (which is a
form of untouchability) is prevalent in parts of India as well, and not exclusive to
Nepal. Though Nepal enacted a law in 2017 banning and criminalising Chhaupadi, on
the ground reality, it is tough to change the culture or behaviour of people in an
effective manner.

#4 Ancient Egyptians used papyrus to make ‘tampons’

It is theorised that considering ancient Egyptians used papyrus plant fibres to
create paper, cloth, rope, mats, sails , etc., it is likely that it was used as
menstrual pads or ‘tampons’ by women too.

Menstrual blood was considered both a curse and cure in Europe

While some ancient Romans were convinced that menstruation can cause weather
changes, destroy crops and spoil wine, others in medieval Europe believed that
menstrual blood can cure leprosy and signs of ageing. Go figure!

In medieval Europe, period cramps were said to be ‘reminders of Eve’s original sin’
and women would tie a small pouch filled with toad powder around their waist as pain
relief. Furthermore, they used to wear sweet-smelling herbs around their necks to
mask the ‘smell’ of menstruation.

#6 World War One nurses’ ingenuity and resourcefulness…

American nurses during World War One discovered that using cellucotton in bandages
made for wounded soldiers was an efficient and hygienic way to deal with their
periods. Cellucotton (made from wood pulp) is a highly absorbent material. This is
the story of how the modern disposable menstrual pad came into being.

The historical attitudes towards menstruation, especially the various period myths,
have guided the present-day outlook.There is still a long way to go in terms of
eradicating the silence around menstruation. Admittedly, the expansion of our
scientific understanding of menstruation has led to debunking myths and encouraging

With the gift of hindsight, we can say that the invention of modern menstrual
products (including reusable products such as cloth pads, period cups and period
panties) has made the lives of many girls and women comfortable and productive.

In some ways, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) has changed for the better now, but
in other ways, the socioeconomic inequalities of today prevent underprivileged girls
and women from having healthy periods. Therefore, it is wrong to judge the past as
backward or primitive when tackling the issues of menstruation are difficult even in
the 21st century.