What is the origin of the taboo of menstruation in the West?

Qu'elle est l'origine du tabou des règles en Occident ?

The origins of the menstrual taboo are numerous and require a significant historical, geographical and theological study to understand why menstruation is still so stigmatized in 2020 in the West.

Since ancient times, menstruation has been the subject of myths and beliefs to describe it and try to understand its origin when science and medicine were still unable to do so. Menstruation was sometimes described as "sacred", a sign of "well-being" and sometimes as "dangerous" and "a sign of sin", but it was always perceived as "powerful".

In Norse mythology, for example, the deity Thor had to bathe in a river filled with the menstrual blood of a giantess from the matrix of the "Almighty" to attain eternal life.

For Greek mythology, menstrual blood is even considered a powerful and addictive substance, the "supernatural red wine" offered by Hera to the gods.

While among the Maya, menstruation was associated with black magic, and perceived as a punishment. In the Veda, menstruation is even a manifestation of the sin of the god Indra, who had to divide himself into 4 parts to free himself: trees, water, fire and women.

Researchers have then studied the interpretation of menstruation in the texts of different religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Shinto.

Sikhism would be the only religion to bring a very positive approach to the subject in its writings. Thus, this religion considers that menstruation is a biological process offered by God and discrimination against menstruating women is severely condemned. The other religious texts are very similar in the way they conceive menstruation, and therefore women, as impure.

These similarities all indicate that the impurity of menstruation is spiritual and even dangerous. Women are therefore most often isolated, excluded, and forbidden to touch other people, and forbidden to take part in religious practice during their periods. Almost all the texts also indicate the need to take a purifying bath at the end of menstruation, to free oneself from sin.

The researchers therefore believe that religious texts may be the main factor that, over time, has spread the belief that menstruation should be viewed with shame and fear. They also believe that all the mythological, religious and cultural interpretations of the menstrual cycle persist in our societies today and are reflected in many negative behaviors towards menstruation. These behaviors are held by everyone: men and women, regardless of their social background, as well as by the scientific community.

Indeed, the scientific community has also had, not so long ago, a strong influence on this taboo. Many medical researchers, in the first part of the XXth century in the United States, tried to prove scientifically the danger of menstrual flows advanced by the religious texts. They based themselves then on the theory of the toxicity of menotoxins of the menstrual flow. It took an Israeli gynecologist in the 1960s to conduct experiments on sick animals to cut short this sexist theory and prove that it was the bacteria, and not the menstrual blood, that killed them.

If such beliefs could have such a strong impact on a community like the scientific community, which is supposed to be at the forefront of evolution, it is not surprising that their influence still persists in social behavior, education methods and communication.

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