A girl’s monthly visit from Mother Nature is no longer the massively taboo subject it once was, but it’s fair to say that some of us are still pretty uncomfortable acknowledging it. If they’re being honest, most guys don’t completely know what goes down during that special time in a girl’s calendar (and frankly, they wouldn’t want to!). All they know is that their GF or sister is acting super moody and wants to spend all day curled up with chocolate and chick flicks.
But despite the air of mystery that still surrounds menstruation, we’ve at least evolved not to treat it as some unspeakable evil that must be censored at all costs, at least, most of us have. (To this day, some Native people believe that menstruating women make cows infertile!). Frighteningly, history has had some pretty extreme views about a woman’s natural cycle and it’s forced some ladies to deal with their “monthly shame” in very bizarre ways indeed.
Throughout history, women on their period had to pretty much pretend it wasn’t happening – some while being made to wear things that resembled a kind of medieval torture device! On top of the monthly bloating, nausea, and severe cramping, women also had to contend with the judgement that they were somehow responsible for ruining food, destroying crops, and changing the weather. Periods may still be an irritating and painful time, but spare a thought for the ladies of history. Here are 15 unbelievably gross and unthinkable ways women used to deal with their visit from Aunt Flow.
15. Some Ancient Egyptians Cast Spells With Menstrual Blood (And Drank It)
Say what you want about the people of Ancient Egypt, but they were mighty resourceful. They didn’t even like to see menstrual blood go to waste. Instead, many people kept some of the stuff aside to use for the purposes of sorcery and medical treatments. Far from being viewed as mere bodily waste that must be disposed of, menstrual blood was believed to carry a kind of magic and spiritual significance – the Ancient Egyptians used it to cast spells and even drank the stuff (yep, drank it) as they believed it had medicinal properties.
You’d think that drinking the dead lining of a woman’s uterus is as weird as it gets with the Ancient Egyptians, but brace yourself. Egyptian society believed strongly in the idea that period blood had reviving powers. Since it came from the womb – the place where new life is formed – they held the belief that anything the blood touched could bring new life to it too. Aging women would smear their thighs and sagging breasts in the stuff in the hopes of recapturing their youth. I think I’ve just recaptured my breakfast…
14. Menstrual Cramps Were Treated With Psychiatric Evaluation
As a female of the species, I can confirm that really bad cramps on your period can (briefly) make you feel like you wanna die. It’s a tangible, physical pain that involves parts of our insides tearing away, so the fact that historical physicians thought this was a sign that women needed psychiatric help is both hilarious and scary. According to feminist historians, women who complained of menstrual pain were at one time immediately sent to a psychiatrist on the grounds that their cramps were proof of a “rejection of femininity.”
If there’s any proof that women are feminine, menstruation is a pretty solid indication. The idea that some historical doctors actually believed the opposite was true is beyond bizarre. Menstruation is a natural biological cycle that has been present in women since the dawn of time. Oh, and cramps are a natural symptom of that cycle. History had no time for painkillers it seems. Or compassion from your doctor. Poor ladies.
13. Cure For Cramps? Removing The Ovaries Altogether
Okay, we hate having our time of the month, but we don’t hate it that much. Throughout the Victorian era, some doctors appeared to take the view that it would be better for a woman’s well-being if they didn’t have their ovaries at all! Luckily, this morbid answer to menstrual cramps wasn’t exactly common practice in surgeries of the past but the idea that this is where doctors went straight away is more than a little disturbing.
This supposed “miracle cure” for treating menstrual cramps is the equivalent of curing a few bad headaches with brain surgery. (And we wouldn’t put it past 19th-century doctors to try that either!). When cramps are bad during a woman’s time of the month, they can be debilitating – fainting, vomiting and severe abdominal pain. It’s no walk in the park and painkillers often have little or no effect in the most severe cases. But losing our reproductive organs? We’re good thanks.
12. The 19th Century Menstruation Belt
Yes, this is every bit as uncomfortable and barbaric as it sounds. Any kind of belt that needs to be worn with your private parts for long stretches of time is never gonna be a good thing, and this horrific contraption is no exception. Long before we arrived at the “luxury” of removable pads and sanitary towels, the Victorians thought it would be a good idea to have women wear a restrictive “cup” that women stuffed cloth or linen in the groove of the belt and strapped themselves in. Eww.
A version of the sanitary belt was still being used by some American and European women as recently as the 1970s! As such, it’s given some people an insight into what it was really like to wear them. Some women who were teens in the 1960s have described the belt as “a form of torture” and that going about their day with one felt like they had a “giant wedgie.” And this was an update of the original 19th-century invention. Yikes!
11. Keep The Ashes Of A Toad Near Your…Lower Regions
If leeches were good enough for pretty much every medical complaint back in the day, then toads seem like a reasonable form of treatment for menstrual discomfort, right? At least, this is what some believed in early European society. Women suffering from cramps and other painful period symptoms were instructed to find a toad, boil it down (as you would), and keep its ashes in a pouch next to your lady parts.
Why? Because medieval Europeans were somehow convinced that deceased toad powers could ease menstrual discomfort and even lighten a heavy flow. They believed that the mere presence of a toad would help to cleanse your body of impurities. We’re not too sure why a slimy gross toad was considered the best choice to wash away so-called “impurities” in the body, but there you have it. Another concern for ladies during the time of the month is staying odour-free, so the smell of dead toad powder probably helped to mask that.