The media doesn’t do the best job when it comes to telling youths about their bodies. I wasn’t the only one watching The Little Mermaid and wondering why her waist was the same width as her neck. Or watching 25 year-old film actors play teenage characters and wondering what was delaying my C cups and contoured cheekbones.
Fiction aside, even content that is supposed to be factual — in textbooks, advertisements, sex education — usually relies on outdated research carried out primarily by cis-men with vested interests.
Fun fact: Governments funded research in the early 1900s to suggest that women couldn’t participate in the workforce because menstruation weakened them. The same governments propagated exactly the opposite when women were needed in factories while the men went to battle during WW2. After the war ended and the men came back to take their jobs, guess what the “science” about female bodies now said?
So let's get debunking! Here's 6 myths that are best left out of sex education...
1: You Need Intimate Care Products
We’ve got everything from liquid to washes to wet-wipes, and they all look important. But advertisements for them leave out a crucial fact: any cleanser that you could use on the rest of your skin can be used for intimate care.
It's a completely manufactured demand, just about as useless as Gwyneth’s vaginal steaming regimens. Simple tap water and soap-free cleansers will do the trick!
Worse are the products that claim to clean your vaginal canal. Douching is entirely unnecessary and even dangerous. Your vagina has a self-cleaning mechanism:
“It is lined with a mucous membrane that protects against infection (necessary in any part of the body that opens to the outside world), as well as a clever, complex mix of bacteria — also known as vaginal flora…keeping itself safe and hygienic with secretions.” Rose George writes for The Guardian.
And regardless of what some doctors might say, there has been no significant correlation between UTIs and hygiene practices. How often you wipe after peeing has no effect on the likelihood of infections. The only verifiable factor that increases the chances of UTI is sex or excessive masturbation. And sadly, condoms are no help here.
Your best defense against urinary bacteria is staying hydrated. Believe it or not, peeing regularly helps wash off bacteria from the crotch area. So chug that water and pee after sex!
2: PMS Is All In Your Head
Me when I have to answer a boomer who thinks PMS is draamebaazi.
We’ve all heard people dismiss PMS as something that can be overcome with enough will power. But Pre-Menstrual Syndrome is not in your head. It’s a genuine health condition with verifiable symptoms and real-life consequences. And it's not the only menstrual disorder.
Don’t ignore period-related pains; speak to a gynaec ASAP.
Funnest fact: Masturbation is a great reliever of period cramps! It relaxes your muscles and lifts your mood, and sounds a lot more fun than Ibuprofen.
Quiz Time! Is she on or off her period? Answer: No one knows because that’s her business.
PMS is often used as an excuse to keep women out of positions of power. I've heard it more than once that menstruators are not fit for government because we'd start a war at the drop of a hat if it's “that time of the month”. Sigh.
Almost all wars were started by cis-men, but that’s not the most compelling evidence here. Studies have found that male brains experience about as much mood variance as female brains. The difference is that a menstruator's mood swings are concentrated during shark week and a non-menstruator's are more likely to be spread out through the month.
What’s more, menstruators tend to be more self-aware about when they’re prone to mood swings! And yet, we have been using periods to justify typifying women as over-emotional and out of control.
Further, to characterise PMS as just "mood swings" twists the truth. We don't experience an increase in irritability but rather a decrease in tolerance for bullsh*t.
If a PMS-er is mad about something, chances are they were mad about it before as well. The difference is that now, their body needs all their energies for self-care and there’s none to put up with unnecessary stressors. PMS doesn’t make you more sensitive, it doesn’t invalidate your emotions. On the contrary, it’s when you’re truly expressing your more unfiltered thoughts.
3: Virginity Is A Big Deal
Hymens come in many different shapes and sizes. Often, they don’t break but just stretch. So it isn’t necessary that intercourse will make your bleed. If the hymen was a "seal" over the vagina meant to be broken, how would period blood come through?
This makes the idea of virginity a dangerous legend. People all over the world are subject to unscientific and invasive virginity tests as a metric of moral purity. These prove nothing because there is only about a 50% likelihood sexual intercourse will “break” a hymen. What’s more, vigorous exercises/activities such as dancing, swimming, or cycling can have the same effect.
“Breaking” is not the only lie, “loosening” is too. The truth is that the walls of your vagina are elastic — they’ll come back to their original size after expanding.
Pixabay thinks this is a hymen.
Rest assured, using tampons / menstrual cups or having sex with multiple people won't have any permanent effect on tightness. But even if they did, why should it matter? Is a woman’s worth defined by how pleasurable she is to a penis?
It follows that it is a misconception that virgins cannot use tampons or menstrual cups. Girls as young as 13 use both.
4: Plastic Pads are the Best Menstrual Products
In the showdown of menstrual cups vs. tampons vs. pads, cups take the win! They have so many benefits over plastic pads. There are no side-effects if your cup is made of medical grade silicone. They come at various prices and their reusability means they are less expensive than pads in the long run! A typical cup lasts 5-10 years while your plastic pad only lasts 12 hours.
Don't shy away from trying one only because you've never experienced penetration before. You're not alone, everyone’s a lil tight initially. Familiarise yourself with penetration by your own fingers over a few days before inserting the cup for the first time. Remember also to lube up with saliva, or by stimulating yourself, or if that doesn't work then with store-bought water-based lube. It may be daunting at first but its just you. There's nothing to fear from your own body!
Inserting and removing the cup can be tricky but you'll get the hang out if in a few tries! Read the instructions that come along with your menstrual cup or watch this tutorial. Make sure your hands are washed and your nails are cut!
Menstrual cups are also very easy to clean! You can sterilize your cup by bringing a pot of clean water to boil and then leaving your cup in it for 5 minutes. Sterilize before the first time you insert it and then after the last time you take it off that month.
Cups are also much better for the environment. Reducing your carbon footprint is an added win!
However, menstrual cups may not be the best option for you if you have:
pelvic floor injuries
sensory issues with certain textures / smells
Take the best call for your own body! Your health and comfort come first.
I know what you're thinking but tampons and cups cannot get lost inside you! It’s just not physically possible. Our vaginal canals are too tiny. It may seem to be lost for a bit if you can’t locate the stem, but there really isn’t enough space for it to go swimming into the deep sea, never to be found again.
5: You Can Have Unprotected Sex On Your Period
Friends will tell you they never use protection during this time and they’ve never gotten pregnant. Period apps will tell you you’re at a 10% probability of getting pregnant on your period. But 10% is not 0%, and period-conceived babies are more common than you’d think.
Also, periods don’t make you immune to getting STDs. Use protection when having period sex and any other sex!
6: There's Something Wrong With You
And this next one is a big one: intercourse is not meant to be painful! Not even the first time! If you are experiencing pain, your body may not be ready. Try exercising your vaginal opening with your fingers to help understand your own boundaries, and always always always lube up with saliva or stimulation!
And don’t expect to finish when he does. Orgasms occur when enough blood surges to the sensitive parts of the genitalia, which usually surround the clitoris more than the vaginal opening. Only about 18% of women orgasm through penetrative sex. So if you're not enjoying what's happening, you're not alone! There's nothing wrong with you.
Communicate with your partners to find what works for you. Or read up and DIY it on your own! Regardless, foreplay is your best friend!
So go ahead and masturbate or have (protected) sex or do anything else you’ve been avoiding because you were taught to be afraid of your body!
If you want to try the menstrual cup or another eco period product, hop over to NHL's Period Paradise Earth Mission! This is your one-stop-shop guide to making the switch - at your own pace. This Earth Mission is full of incredible menstruators all learning and guiding one another through this journey!
I'm ready to take the plunge and live without these fears based on fiction. Are you?