For ages, women folk have dealt with the shame and taboo related to menstruation. Little does the society realize that it is a natural biological phenomenon which gives women the power of procreation. Then why do women suffer in silence while they are ostracized by society? The answer is ignorance. Ignorance about periods is prevalent all over the world.
Ignorance in a multi-belief society like India stems from age old superstitions which continue to have an upper hand over education.This cycle of negative attitude towards women begins in adolescence and plays an important role in shaping their assumptions about periods and reproductive health mechanism.
Socio-cultural restrictions hamper the awareness regarding the importance of menstrual hygiene. This contributes to unsafe menstrual practices which lead to several forms of infections in menstruating women. This situation is more prevalent in rural India where lack of education and low per capita income restrict women’s access to knowledge about the use of sanitary napkins for periods. As per the National Family Health Survey conducted in 2015-2016, only 47% of rural women use sanitary napkins, a figure which rises to 77% for urban women. This clearly depicts the disparity of menstrual awareness among different sections of women in India.
The process of menstruation is complicated, involving the role of several hormones and organs. Even after the best explanation, several questions continue to haunt both women and men of different age groups. Here is a list of ten most frequently asked questions about periods which intrigue many.
- Why Do Periods Occur Every Month?
Periods or menstruation is the normal vaginal bleeding that women experience from menarche. It is a monthly cycle, each of length ranging anywhere from 3-7 days.
As the uterus prepares to receive a fertilized egg, it develops a lining to aid its attachment and nourishment.
An ovum is released from either of the ovaries. Without fertilization, the levels of female hormone fall, signaling the uterus to shed its lining. This shedding is characterized by the discharge of tissues and blood through the vagina. Soon after menstruation, the cycle repeats itself.
2. What Makes Women So Cranky During Periods?
Hormones are responsible for the mood swings that many women experience before or during periods. Periods are not the culprit here. Better known as Premenstrual Syndrome, it causes a mix of symptoms like irritability, sleeplessness, stress, cramps and extreme mood swings.
The origin of PMS is attributed to the flux of levels of Estrogen and Progesterone during the luteal phase of menstrual cycle. At least 5-8% of women around the world suffer from severe PMS.
3. Why is Every Period Different?
Every woman exhibits a different period pattern. Menstruation is dynamic and so no two periods are alike. The same is true for all the periods of an individual. The fluctuations can be experienced in the length of periods, the heaviness of blood flow and the symptoms associated with it.
A variety of factors influencing periods are stress, nutrition, physical activity, contraceptive use and underlying diseases. Irregular periods with intermittent spotting, scanty menstrual flow, shorter periods or heavier blood flow may occur occasionally due to temporary imbalance in body. Extremely heavy periods that cannot be contained by sanitary napkins or long periods of amenorrhea might require medical intervention.
4. Can You Get Infected During Periods?
Yes. Lack of menstrual hygiene is the main culprit behind infections during periods. Access to sanitary napkins for periods, clean water and sanitation are basic rights for women for a healthy period. 
Out of shame and lack of resources, women are forced to use old rags, hay, mud-practically anything that can absorb blood. Such unhygienic practices can lead to urinary tract infection, reproductive tract infection, yeast infections and even sepsis.
Wearing sanitary napkins for more than 4 hours, using unclean sanitary napkins and not cleaning genitals properly could also invite infections.
5. What Makes Sanitary Napkins So Absorbent?
Initially, sanitary napkins were made of cotton-based absorbent bound by gauge and a waterproof lining. These evolved into ultra-thin synthetic sanitary napkins which use Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) with Polyethylene back.
SAP is a petroleum-based product that can absorb liquids many times its weight and convert into gel. SAP is added to a compressed cotton absorbent core to increase its absorption capacity.
6. How to Use Menstrual Cups?
Menstrual cups are a better alternative to synthetic sanitary napkins. It is a reusable menstrual hygiene product, which can effectively deal with leaks as well as the persistent problem of disposal of non-biodegradable sanitary napkins.
Made of silicon, menstrual cup can be inserted in the vagina by folding it in half, with the rim facing upwards. Once inside the vagina, it should be rotated to open it. On average, it can be used for up to 12 hours. For removal, the stem of the cup should be pulled gently to reach the base. Pinching the base can release the seal and the cup can be removed for emptying. It should be washed properly before and after each use.
7. What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic Shock Syndrome is a serious condition that is caused when detrimental bacteria invade a body and release toxins.
TSS is associated with high fever, flu-like symptoms, sunburn rash, dizziness and diarrhea. Categorized under medical emergency, this condition may quickly become life-threatening if neglected.
Prolonged use of tampons or using super-absorbent tampons can trigger symptoms of TSS.
8. Why Do Some Women Experience Cramping During Periods?
Cramps are painful and throbbing sensation experienced by many women during periods. Menstrual cramps are concentrated in the lower abdomen.
During periods, the uterine wall contracts to expel its lining. This contraction is brought about by prostaglandins, which are mediators of inflammatory response. Excess of prostaglandins can cause severe menstrual cramps.
9. Are Plant Based Biodegradable Sanitary Napkins Better Than Synthetic Ones?
Yes, in several ways. Plant-based sanitary napkins are better for women health as well as the environment. With the use of processed natural fibers like banana, organic cotton, bamboo and jute, biodegradable sanitary napkins for periods are being manufactured. SAP is replaced by cellulose-based hydrogel. These sanitary napkins are skin friendly, comfortable and have low carbon footprint.
10. Can Someone Be Pregnant and Yet Have Periods?
No. One cannot menstruate while being pregnant. But some women do experience mild vaginal bleeding during the first trimester of pregnancy. This bleeding is usually not enough to fill sanitary napkins or tampons. Being informed is being aware. The more women learn about periods, easier it is for them to clear the air of myths around periods.