It’s not pretty. It’s sometimes painful. And we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that the first time was oh-so embarrassing. Maybe that’s why so many of us shy away from talking—and learning the truth—about our periods.
Time to come clean.
MYTH #1: It's the body's way of cleaning
Just like your digestive system doesn’t need a cleanse, your reproductive one doesn’t either. “The most common misconception I hear from my patients is that a period is a healthy way for the body to ‘cleanse’ itself every month. This sounds lovely, in theory, but is false,” says Maria Sophocles, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and the medical director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton. Menstruation marks the end of a month-long routine during which the body grows a lining of uterine tissue to prepare to potentially host an embryo. Absent of any fertilization, that extra tissue is unnecessary. Once the body realizes this, “hormone levels abruptly drop and the hormonal support to grow the tissue is shed in what clinicians call ‘withdrawal bleed,’” says Sophocles. Similar to donating those sweaters you never wear to Goodwill, think of the process as a way to get rid of extra layers that no longer serve a purpose.
MYTH #2: You have to live with a heavy period
Blowing through that box of tampons quicker than it took to binge the latest Netflix season of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? That doesn’t have to be your destiny until menopause, says Sophocles. “Even if your mom or relatives have heavy [them], heavy periods could be a sign of something awry and they can be evaluated and treated.” Talk to your OB if you’re totally filling more than nine normal-sized pads or tampons during your period.
MYTH #3: It's bad to have sex while menstruating
“It’s perfectly safe to have sex while you are having your period. It may be a little messy or awkward but it is not unsafe or unhealthy,” says Sophocles. It’s a completely personal decision, adds Alyse Kelly-Jones, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn with Novant Health Mintview in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kelly-Jones says, “Don’t assume your partner is put-off by your bleeding. In fact, the blood can serve as a natural lubricant.” Still, she likes to remind her clients who are uncomfortable about the potential mess that “sex isn’t just penis in vagina—it can be clitoral stimulation with a great orgasm and a blow job to top it all off!”
MYTH #4: It's best to avoid inversions and rigorous workouts during your period
Feel free to flip. “Upside-down moves will not affect your period, and having your period will not affect your workout—other than the potential discomfort of cramps,” Sophocles says. Speaking of those lower-abs aches and pains, sweating can actually prevent them from cropping up in the first place. For maximum PMS prevention, aim for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week, including two days of strength training, recommends the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health.
“There’s no reason to adjust your workout during your cycle except if you bleed very heavy and feel more fatigued,” says Kelly-Jones. Consult your doctor if you continue to experience tiredness for several days, as this may be a sign of anemia.
MYTH #5: It's unsafe to swim in the ocean while bleeding
“Sharks are certainly attracted to blood but there is a 9:1 ratio of males to females in terms of shark attacks, so the fact that you’re on your period is likely irrelevant,” says Sophocles. To date, no studies have proven that menstruating females have a higher incidence of shark attacks. “My advice is to enjoy aquatic activities, but consider altering your menstrual cycle (your gynecologist can help you do this) if you’re planning to dive in waters where sharks frequent if you’re uncomfortable with the idea,” she adds.
MYTH #6: Cycles are always 28 days long
Begin your tally on the first day of your next period, and end it on the first day of the following flow. “The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but they can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days,” says Sophocles. While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how many days each and every woman’s cycle must be, it’s wise to track your timing each month, because “having a regular cycle personally is a sign of really good health,” Kelly-Jones says. Talk to your doc if you bleed between periods, if your once regular cycles get off track, or if you have a missed period. “Any of these symptoms could represent hormonal or health problems which can affect your reproductive health,” says Sophocles. Take action if you notice any variation greater than five days, the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends.
MYTH #7: You and your BFF will sync up if you spend enough time together
Folklore says that if you spend enough time with your friends, your flows will become one (well, at least timing-wise). But science says otherwise. It’s not hormones or lunar cycles that cause your periods to overlap, according to a review in the journal Human Reproduction. It’s simply a numbers game. The average onset of menstruation between two women is seven days apart, and since it usually lasts for five days, there’s bound to be some tampon twinning.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US