A student of Plato, Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) had a view of women that would be viewed as rather peculiar today. He considered women to be unfinished males, ‘deformed’.
In his Treatise On the Generation of Animals, he viewed menstrual blood as being a lesser sort of semen, writing on male and female secretions:
“…This much is evident: the menstrual fluid is a residue, and it is the analogous thing in females to the semen in males. Its behavior shows that this statement is correct. At the same time of life that semen begins to appear in males and is emitted, the menstrual discharge begins to flow in females, their voice changes and their breasts begin to become conspicuous; and similarly, in the decline of life the power to generate ceases in males and the menstrual discharge ceases in females…”
A novel invention by the Ancient Greeks was a tampon make from a piece of wood entwined with lint wrapped around it; based on written records, these were believed to be used primarily for contraception. I don’t know, but it sounds like those would hurt. No wonder they were used for contraception, as the woman was probably injured afterwards and could not have sexual intercourse, I thought.
The Ancient Egyptians are credited with the invention of disposable tampons made from papyrus that were softened (The Period Blog; Utian, 2008). Tampons were also used by the Byzantine women, who made them out of wool that was softened. I can’t help but wonder if they knew when to pull them out. Did they get toxic shock syndrome back then, from keeping them in too long and acquiring bacteria and then sepsis and then death?
Jump to the 1700’s, where the French considered menstrual blood to be seductive, and also a measure of female fertility (Corbin, 1986). In 1986, Corbin writes:
“…in 18th century France, menses was considered to be ‘impregnated with subtle vapors transmitted by the essence of life. These were particularly seducing, as a woman was ‘dispersing seductive effluvia’ and ‘making an appeal for fertilization.’ Thus societies have celebrated the seductive aroma of menstruation, rather than stifled (it).”
In the early 1800’s, remember that women probably menstruated for less of their lifetime versus now. Menarche started later, at 17 years of age, and women breastfed much longer, they were pregnant more often, menopause started earlier, and they were more likely to be ill or malnourished. Today, the age for a girl’s first period is now 13 years old. The common notion during the 1800's was that menstruation was controlled by lunar phases of the moon (Covington, 2007).
The Period Blog: View The Period Blog here
Alain Corbin. The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Covington, Sharon N. Infertility Counseling. A Comprehensive Handbook for Clinicians, 2nd Edition. Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington DV. Linda Hammer Burns. View Book Here
Other Articles by Dr. Margaret Aranda