How Women Across the World Have Managed Periods Throughout History

Women have been managing their periods for thousands of years, but the way they do it has changed as menstruation has become more and more a stigma over time. From rags to tampons, menstrual cups and free bleeding, take a tour of the history of menstrual products on menstrual hygiene day.

Not always a taboo

For most of human history, the concept of menstruation has been very poor.

In ancient times, blood was often negatively thought of as unclean and periods were thought to be a curse.

French historian Nahima Hanafi told AFP that since the 15th century, “women have been applying remedies, for example enemas, doing physical exercises or taking emmenagogue plants,” which helped regulate menstrual cycles.

It was the job of the women in the teen’s family or society to inform her of her menstrual cycle. But they also discussed how it works with men.

“In medieval and modern times, people talk about the menstrual cycle because it is an important health issue that concerns the whole family,” Hanafi said.

For example, noble women catalog their periods in correspondence with their father or uncle.

The historian said that menstruation became a taboo in Europe in the nineteenth century with the rise of the middle class, which led to the emergence of new social mores.

Modesty has become a feminine virtue.

Hanafi said, “In this movement, everything related to the body and sexuality was hidden from the woman’s view, which prevented her from seeing these topics – and talking about them.”

rags with hooks

Throughout history, women have mostly worn skirts or dresses.

The peasant women let the blood flow freely.

Middle-class or high-brow women use the cloth, which is held in place by knots or hooks, to catch the blood.

However, the women had fewer periods per day, because they were more likely to get pregnant.

Girls are used to having their first period after many years in life.

Girls had their period at about 16 years old in 1750, compared to an average of 12.6 years today, according to the French Institute for Demographic Studies.

first products

The first menstrual products began to appear in the late 19th century, particularly in the United States and Britain.

“Early products sold in the US and UK were rough, bulky, and not particularly good,” said Chara Fostral, a Purdue University historian who wrote a book on the history of menstrual hygiene.

Sanitary pads have been widely available since the 1920s, buoyed by mass advertising campaigns as companies targeted a new market. Tampons followed suit in the 1930s.

“A lot of people think that women are not qualified to do a lot of things during menstruation,” Fostral said.

She said period products help women “hide their period and overcome prejudice…that’s why these products have become so attractive.”

The menstrual cup first went on sale in the 1930s, but became widely available in the 2000s.

Reusable sponges and bandages

More options have been made available to women in recent years, including reusable pads, sponges, and menstruation underwear.

“Period products have taken too long to meet a woman’s needs and comfort,” said Elise Thibaut, author of the 2017 book This Is My Blood.

The rise of social media has also seen more discussion and increased awareness about the menstrual cycle. Some advertisements that used the blue liquid for a long time to depict menstrual blood have now turned red.

Are these signs that the stigma surrounding menstruation can go away?

Thibaut said the conversation has changed “in an extraordinary way over the past five years — but in certain circles, certain generations, certain countries.”

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