4 All-Too-Common Period Myths—Debunked

woman laughing about exercise-related period myths

If your health education stopped around your teen years, there’s a whole lot of important information that may be missing from your knowledge bank.

”Sex ed in your high school health class may have taught you how to put a condom on a banana and that sexually transmitted infections are to be avoided,” says Kate White, MD, MPH, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University. “But it probably didn’t teach you much about a woman’s period.” Because of that glaring omission, menstruation is a topic rife with misconceptions and outright mythology. Below, four of the most common myths—debunked.

Myth #1: You Can’t Get Pregnant If You Have Sex During Your Period

Fact: Although the chances are slim, it is possible to get pregnant if you have unprotected sex during your period. Your chances of becoming pregnant are highest right before and during ovulation, when one of your ovaries releases an egg. If you have a textbook 28-day cycle, this generally means ovulation occurs about two weeks before your next period starts.

But—and this is a big but—because each cycle is different, ovulation can seem to happen at any time, and it can vary from month to month. If you have a cycle that lasts about 35 days, you may ovulate around day 21 of your cycle. If you have a cycle that’s shorter than 21 days, you may ovulate around day seven. Because day one is the first day of your period, that means ovulation and menstruation can technically overlap.

It’s also important to remember that sperm can live inside your body for up to five days after ejaculation, so even if your egg wasn’t around to be fertilized at the time you had sex, there’s a chance fertilization could occur up to a few days after.

Think of it this way: “If you have a 21-day cycle one month, that means you’ll ovulate around day seven,” explains White. “So if the first day of your period is day one, and you think you can have a week of condomless sex and be safe from pregnancy, you might have sex on day four. But because sperm can live for five days, they may still be alive and kicking on day seven when you ovulate.”

Another thing to consider? “The bleeding you assume is a period may not be a period,” says White. “You can have irregular bleeding for so many reasons (polyps, infections), and not all bleeding is menstrual bleeding; just like not all sneezes mean you’re getting sick. People see blood and think, ‘oh, I’m on my period and I’m safe,’ but that kind of thinking can lead you down the wrong path.”

All that said, while pregnancy is still a possibility, and you should take precautions if you’re not trying to conceive, your period doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker when it comes to sex. “It’s totally fine to have sex during your period,” says White. “Some women find that bleeding adds lubrication, making intercourse more comfortable.” And while intercourse alone won’t change how much you bleed overall, White says sex may “shake some loose,” meaning you may experience a heavier flow afterward.

Myth #2: You’re Doomed to Feel Terrible Every Month

Fact: While the majority of women experience occasional PMS, the symptoms don’t have to have a significant impact on your life and can often be controlled with diet and lifestyle modifications. Here are a few ways to manage symptoms:

  • Eat smaller meals more frequently to minimize bloating.
  • Get plenty of sleep to sidestep fatigue.
  • Incorporate yoga or massage to relieve stress.

Some women also report feeling better with the use of certain supplements, but there’s not enough research to back those claims. Keep in mind: Every woman is different, so what works for your sister or friend may not work for you, and vice versa.

Experts aren’t sure what exactly causes PMS, but it could be due to a few different factors including hormonal fluctuations and chemical changes in the brain. If you’re unable to manage your PMS-related problems with lifestyle modifications, you may be part of the 20 to 40 percent of women who have more severe PMS.

If the the symptoms are so intense that they interrupt your everyday life, you may be among the three to eight percent of women who have a severe form of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). In these cases, your doctor may be able to prescribe medications or recommend different types of therapy that can help you cope with the physical and psychological symptoms.

Myth #3: You Should Avoid Exercise During Your Period

Fact: While some women may feel like taking it easy during the first few days of their periods, there’s no medical reason to avoid exercise at any point during your cycle. “Absolutely no harm will come to you or your uterus if you do a rigorous workout during your period,” says White.

So listen to your body. When you do feel ready to exercise, consider incorporating regular, moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of PMS. “Just make sure to take proper precautions,” says White. “You may experience some heavier bleeding during exercise.”

Myth #4: It’s Possible to Ovulate More Than Once Per Cycle

Fact: Although a 2003 study found that the hormonal changes leading up to ovulation can occur multiple times within one cycle, the results don’t indicate that ovulation itself occurs more than once. What is possible? Ovulating more than once in a month (if your cycle is short) and releasing more than one egg during the 12- to 24-hour ovulation window—that’s how fraternal twins occur.

Typically, about 15 to 20 eggs enclosed in follicles start to mature within each ovary every cycle. The growing follicles produce estrogen, which triggers a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH). This surge causes the largest follicle to release its egg (i.e. ovulation).  

26 Comments   Join the Conversation

26 CommentsLeave a comment

    • I know that you can definitely get pregnant at 41. I work labor and delivery and had a 50 yr. old woman delivering once. Maybe track your periods and ovulation to see when your ovulation cycles are to match up your attempts, if you’re trying.

  • I am a 35-year-old female who has not had her period in a little over a year. I’ve had no repercussions due to not having my period. Nothing negative has happened nor has there been any negative issues relating to not having my period. And no other positive, negative, or indifferent changes have been made due to not having my period as of yet. I was curious as to if this is a serious problem or just the simple fact that I’m not having my period. I’ve had no spotting, no cramps, no PMS, & no negative symptoms of me not having my period of any sort. Should I be concerned or should I just chalk this up to being lucky that I’m not having my period and enjoy the time I have till I have my period finally.

    • Did you always get your period every month? Because I always have and if I didn’t get it for like 3 months I would have made a doctor’s appointment to get checked

  • I showed this and other articles to my love and he was very interested. I hope other couples are mature and loving enough to share information and not misinformation! Thank you Fitbit

  • There is something to be said about collection methods and pain symptoms experienced during menstruation;bleach, chlorine,plastics etc surprisingly can have a negative impact.

  • This is great advice! Thanks.

    For info, the word ‘the’ is used twice at the beginning of the last paragraph in myth #2.

  • Umm no idea where you got number four from. You can ovulate more then once per cycle. Its called super ovulation where you can drop two eggs at once. And people who have medical condition can as well… please get your information correct.

    • Only way that can occur is with fraternal twins dear. Lol. You ovulate once per month. If 2 eggs drop it’s within a 12-24 hour time frame.

  • I just started my period tracking app and been having a hard time keeping up with my period bc I switched birth control. I have been bleeding for 2 weeks.

      • Always be aware of the side effects. Taking iron supplements can often cause constipation – as well as nausea, indigestion, gas, and bloating.

        Iron is hard on the digestive tract.
        If you typically have a low fiber intake or already have issues with constipation (however frequent), iron supplements might not be a wonderful idea.
        Red meat is high in iron, so eating more red meat around/during the time of your period is another possible option that might be easier on your digestive tract.

        Do keep in mind, that speaking with a doctor about your concerns is always a good idea.

  • Im new to exercising and my blood flow changed my period used to be thick and heavy blood know it is thin heavy flow! Have anybody experience this before of there periods changing after exercising

    • I use both during the first few days of my period, when my flow is heavy. Then around day 4, I’ll just wear a rampon or a pad, depending on what I’m wearing. Weather you use a pads, tampons, or both – it’s a personal preference.

  • I highly recomend reading the book, ‘Taking Charge of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler. It was a wonderfully informative book, all about natural family planning. Not only that but understanding what’s going on inside of your body, exactly when you’re going to get you period, and exactly when you’re going to ovulate. I’m so glad I read the book. I understand so much more about my body and am never worried about my period or when to have unprotected sex. Definitely no more worring about ‘if’ I’m pregnant or not either. Every woman should read this book.

  • Always be aware of the side effects. Taking iron supplements can often cause constipation – as well as nausea, indigestion, gas, and bloating.

    Iron is hard on the digestive tract.
    If you typically have a low fiber intake or already have issues with constipation (however frequent), iron supplements might not be a wonderful idea.
    Red meat is high in iron, so eating more red meat around/during the time of your period is another possible option that might be easier on your digestive tract.

    Do keep in mind, that speaking with a doctor about your concerns is always a good idea.

  • Thank you Michelle for sharing your knowledge and openness in this matter. Thank you for how well and simply you explained it.

  • My daughter is 19 yrs old & had her 1st period at age 14. But after her 1st period she went almost two years till her next one. Since then she only has her period 2 some years 3 times each year but they last about 2-3 weeks.
    She has never had intercourse and she is to shy to go see a Dr. About this no matter what I suggest. When she was just 4 years old she was molested & the dr.s then told us that the physical damage that was done would make it difficult for her to have children.
    Any tips would be great to get her to see a Dr. Or to let her know what her bodies doing is not the norm without freaking her out more.
    Thanks.

  • I’m 50 and my doctor says I’m going through menopause. My last period was in May. I can’t keep track of my periods anymore because they are so random. Can I still get pregnant and how can I keep track of my periods when I’m going through menopause?

  • I love the women’s health tracker on FitBit but why not let me log my moods and cravings with my symptoms? Maybe just a way to jot a personal note?

  • I’m 43 and my husband and I are trying to have a baby. I have been checking my mucus but I’m not getting pregnant, it has been over 2 years. He does have a low sperm count but nothing to alarming.
    Is there as many risks as Google tells you?

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