Myths abound regarding the un-hygienic nature of menstrual blood.
Have you ever wondered why menstrual blood is seen as “gross” far more than the blood flowing in your veins? Or why the red liquid on a tampon or menstrual pad is so offensive that it's rarely seen on television, even when TV shows squirt gallons of stage blood over the set? If you're like most people, you've grown up with the idea that there's something particularly unsanitary about period blood – even your own. So is there any truth to this idea, and if not, where did it come from and why do we still feel this way?
Sanitary vs Unsanitary
When something is considered “unsanitary,” that means it's germ-ridden or otherwise un-hygienic. Does menstrual blood fit these categories? The simple biological fact is that menstrual blood is no less sanitary than other types of human blood or tissue. Like other blood, it cannot exist outside the body without decomposing, and can carry a blood-borne illness if the woman is already infected with one. But there is nothing about menstrual blood that makes it unsanitary compared to the rest of the body's blood supply.
This idea that period blood is somehow unsafe or germ-y isn't new, however, In fact, it's thousands of years old, dating back to a time when no on really understood menstruation. And in a patriarchal society, anything not understood that pertained specifically to women was treated with suspicion. Here's a brief look at the long history of seeing period blood as unsanitary.
Age Old Traditions
Several passages in the Old Testament refer to a menstruating woman as “unclean,” going so far as to state that anything (or anyone) she comes into contact with during her cycle will become unclean. For hundreds of years afterward, through the Christian era, this taboo regarding women and menstruation (as well as childbirth) remained, with women being considered “unclean” or “impure” during these times. There was even a belief that persisted throughout the middle ages that menstrual blood was so impure that a menstruating woman's touch could actually cause plants to wither and die.
While this misinformation may have started thousands of years in the past, we still see its effects today. Much of the marketing for female healthcare products like tampons, pads, and douches is based around the idea that without these products a women will be… gross. Rather than simply accepting the fact that menstruation can be messy and pads help keep you clean and protected, advertisers take it a step beyond, treating menstruation as something that's intrinsically un-hygienic, and offer their products as a solution.
But in reality, period blood contains no special “uncleanliness” that makes it dangerous or strange. The idea is as ludicrous as the idea that a woman on her period can touch a tree and cause its fruit to fall unripened from its branches. It's an idea that stems from an unscientific fear of the female body and its mysteries, and it's high time we called it what it is: an ancient superstition with no basis in fact or science.