Across cultures and historical time, menstruation has tended to be perceived as mysterious, dangerous and potentially contaminating. Most world religions place prohibitions on and prescribe codified purity rituals for menstruating women. We surveyed 340 religious and non-religious women from the Rocky Mountain West region of the United States regarding their attitudes and experiences of menstruation. We found that prescriptive religious women rated their periods as more bothersome, embarrassing, shameful, and endorsed more prohibitions, prescriptions and seclusion during menses compared to non-religious women. However, perhaps because their religions openly acknowledge menstruation, and their practice of rituals spotlights menstruation as a special time, religious women also identified a positive aspect of their menstrual cycles not shared by their non-religious counterparts. This was a heightened sense of community with other women. Further, women in committed relationships had more positive experiences of menstruation than single women, and this was especially true for women in prescriptive religions, despite a greater onus placed on them to observe menstrual rituals. This study complicates our understanding of how the practice of codified religious prohibitions and prescriptions around menstruation impacts women’s experience.
Sex Roles – Springer Journals
Published: Feb 28, 2012
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