How Our Views Have Evolved: Historical Perspectives

  • Roger P. Smith


Menstruation has been treated as everything from an ordinary event to evidence of a “curse.” Menstruating women have been treated as unclean, shunned, exiled, or ridiculed. It was well known that the touch of a menstruating woman would cause baking bread to fall, flowers to wilt, and brass to tarnish. During her period, a Muslim woman is not allowed inside a Mosque and cannot pray or fast during Ramadan. Even the Bible notes that whenever a woman has her menstrual period, she and those who touch her are “ceremonially unclean” for up to 7 days (Leviticus 15:19–33). This is their lot to deal with, preferably well away from the eyes of a male-dominated society. (The word “taboo” itself comes from the Polynesian word tapua which means “menstruation.”) When strong opiate analgesics failed to control the pain of menstrual cramps, it was easier to attribute the disability to being “all in the head” than to admit to a lack of understanding about the underlying pathophysiology. Ironically, some of these vary myths have led to today’s understanding of dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia and have made it possible for us to talk about prevention rather than relief. Indeed, the success of moving from symptoms to pathophysiology, from amelioration to prevention in dysmenorrhea, paved the way for similar efforts in conditions ranging from interstitial cystitis to migraine headaches. Understanding that journey provides valuable perspectives when we deal with patients who still suffer from these conditions.


Greece Rome Menstrual hygiene de Graaf Original sin Egypt Soranus of Ephesus Lydia Pinkham Uterine malposition Menstrual toxin 


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Additional Resources

  1. The museum of menstruation has lots of history on menstruation, menstrual hygiene, and menstrual dysfunction:
  2. An interesting doctoral dissertation on the history of menstrual hygiene in the United States:
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  4. A history of intrauterine pressure measurements can be found at: Smith RP. A brief history of intrauterine pressure measurement. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1984;129(Suppl):1–24.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger P. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

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