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13 Historical Facts About Periods You Didn't Learn In School

Bloody hell.

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1. Some medieval women folded pieces of material to soak up their period blood.

Women in England in the Middle Ages / BuzzFeed

Linen was a particularly popular fabric as it was very absorbent. You'd wash the linen, and then use it again.

2. These early pads were called "clouts" or "rags".

Rogier van der Weyden

Hence the phrase "on the rag". Medieval women didn't wear underwear, so it's thought your rag would be pinned in place, possibly to a girdle that was like a belt.


3. Sometimes your clout would come unpinned and fall on to the floor – to the horror of anyone who saw it.

Jean Miélot, Jean Le Tavernier (illuminator), La Vie et Miracles de Nostre Dame

Christians, especially, viewed periods as deeply suspicious, and called ladies' menstrual cloths "filthy rags" or "monstrous clouts". No doubt they enjoyed the word play of "monstrous" and "menstrous".

4. Some people (let's call them men) thought period blood was poisonous and could cause wine to sour, crops to die, and dogs to go mad.

5. Many "experts" considered periods a monthly illness or disease that needed to be treated.

Hugo Van Der Goes

People still subscribed to the ancient ideas of Hippocrates that women's sedentary lifestyles meant they didn't use up all their blood each month, so they had to expel the leftovers.


8. Red was a common colour for medieval and early modern petticoats – possibly to disguise the period blood stains.

Barthélemy d'Eyck

Periods were known as "flowers", "menstra", "termes", "women's sickness", and "courses".

13. It was said that if you had sex on your period and became pregnant, your child would be born with red hair.

Birth of Jacob and Esau, Hague, Maitre Francois (illuminator), c. 1475

Sex on your period was discouraged. Some people thought period blood was so toxic and poisonous it could burn the skin off a man's penis.

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