Almost all of us have read something on the internet or heard something from a friend that turned out to be untrue, especially when it comes to our health.
At school, we're definitely not getting any more sex-ed classes, and you probably rely on information from your friends and from health bloggers or magazines to learn more about what's going on in your body. Although these sources can be helpful at times, unfortunately, the information that's spread isn't always true.
There are plenty of common women's health myths floating around, and figuring out which ones are true and which are just hearsay can get confusing, especially if you don't have a doctor by your side helping you navigate through the facts.
"Mother Knows Best" – there are songs about it, poems devoted to it and inspirational posters confirming it. Well...We love mom, but truth be told, her health advice wasn't always completely accurate either. It can be hard to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction, but it’s time to stop believing these common women’s health myths.
Myth #1: The menstrual cycles of women living together will sync up
This one may come as a huge shock, but who can blame you for believing it? From high school friends to post-college roommates, the belief that women who live together, or spend a significant amount of time together, get their periods at the same time isn’t true.
This is referred to as the McClintock Effect: the "hypothesis that menstruating women secrete pheromones that subtly alter the cycle of other women in close proximity" (Oprah). However, studies have shown that it is just a coincidence. After all, the average menstrual cycle is only 28 days long and most women's periods last 5 to 7 days. According to Patricia Barnes-Svarney, a science writer, the potential for random overlap is very high, likely explaining the apparent "synchronicity".
Myth #2: Douching is the best way to stay fresh
This one likely depends on the relationship you had with your mother growing up, but assuming it was a more open one, you probably heard about douching. Of course, you wanted to stay fresh and take mom's advice, so you easily fell into mom's suggested hygiene routine. And you are not alone. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, 40% of women douche regularly.
What mom didn't know was that pH is the real issue when it comes to freshness and vaginal odor. Douching can throw off pH, and studies show that vaginal issues often occur when vaginal pH is unbalanced.
A healthy vaginal pH is 3.5 to 4.5 and when unbalanced can allow odor-causing microorganisms to flourish. So, traditional douching may unbalance the pH and actually make things worse.
Myth # 3: Wearing a wired bra can increase your risk of breast cancer
This myth has been circulating for many years. But when scientists investigated the link, they couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that wearing wired bras increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.
Some people believe that a bra’s metal underwires restrict the movement of bodily fluids (also known as ‘lymphatic drainage’), which eventually turns them ‘toxic’. The truth is, bodily fluids travel upwards and towards the armpits. The bra you choose to wear will not restrict their flow or cause you any internal damage.
Instead, breast cancer risk factors are associated with your hormones, how old you are, the age you have your first child, breastfeeding, as well as your family history. Speaking to your doctor may help to clarify your risk of developing breast cancer.
Myth #4: You can’t get pregnant during your period
If you’re trying for a baby – or trying to avoid having one – it’s important to know that having sex during your period does not automatically mean you can’t get pregnant.
The typical female menstruation cycle is 28 days long. For many women, their period starts on day one, and ovulation (when the ovary releases an egg for fertilization) occurs around day 14.
However, the day of ovulation varies widely depending on a woman’s individual cycle. You could ovulate on day 12 of a 28-day cycle or day 21 of a 35-day cycle.
Plus, sperm can live inside your body for up to 72 hours (three days), which means having sex during this timeframe doesn’t guarantee your egg won’t be fertilized.
The likelihood is low, but you can never be 100 percent sure that you won’t get pregnant during your period. You should always practice safe sex (unless, of course, you are trying to have a baby!).
For more information about family planning, speak to your doctor.
Myth # 5: All women experience periods in the same way
There are two types of period pain, or dysmenorrhea. The first type is based on muscle contractions in your uterus as it sheds its lining each cycle. Every woman who is having periods will have those contractions, but some won’t feel it (lucky gals).
Others might feel the pain in their abdomen, legs, back and experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea along with it.
But it’s also important to know about the other type of period pain, secondary dysmenorrhea. Benign growths like fibroids and polyps can cause this pain, as can endometriosis (what happens when the tissue lining your uterus grows elsewhere in your abdominal region). Sometimes IUDs (intrauterine devices), used for birth control, can be the culprit of painful periods as well.
The verdict? If your periods are painful, tell your doctor. Maybe it’s nothing, and they’ll send you on your way with a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough and some Naproxen, but maybe you have an underlying health issue that could be addressed to avoid future pain or even infertility.