What Does Menstruation Symbolize?

Outline of nude woman with red shapes in background symbolizing blood main

Menstruation is a monthly process that involves preparing a woman’s body for pregnancy, including having a period. Menstruation has positive and negative symbolism.  It symbolizes maturity, becoming a woman, and being ready to get pregnant. A woman’s period can be positive (no pregnancy) or negative (a failed attempt). Menstruation also has negative connotations, including being impure, embarrassing, and not able to do things men can do.  

Period Slang

There are lots of slang words for “period.”  Some favorites include Aunt Flo, that time of the month, on the rag, crimson tide, shark week, and (for you 1970s movie buffs) Carrie.  

Important things often result in a bunch of ways to talk about.  Important things also have a lot of symbolism.  Menstruation, which is an important part of the life of around half of the population, surely does.  Both good and bad.  

Menstruation: Some Quick Basics 

The importance of menstruation led two law professors to write a good book talking about the many legal implications that arise.  I reviewed it here.  But, what about the basics?  

When people who menstruate, and this includes girls, trans, nonbinary, and queer individuals, reach puberty their bodies start preparing them to have babies.  

Each month, the uterus gets thick, for a potential baby to grow there.  If pregnancy does not happen, the thick lining is no longer necessary.  It breaks down and this results in your period.  

Menstruation is sometimes used interchangeably with “period,” but the first is an overall monthly cycle (the word means “monthly”) and the period is only one part.  

“Becoming A Woman”

Menstruation is a major symbol of growing up.  It is a sign that you are “becoming a woman,” which is sometimes said in somewhat embarrassing tones by your mom.  

Menstruation is a major part of being a teenager.  Girls sometimes impatiently wonder when their first period will come.  It is an important part of maturity.  Moving past childhood.  

Others are upset, not ready to be a woman.  Menstruation can be particularly stressful for trans people. It can be a scary time for those who just know they are not a woman.  Menstruation and other parts of puberty are big moments of decision for them.  

Menstruation can be a religious and spiritual event.  It is an important moment in life that is rightly celebrated and respected for its cultural significance. 

Pregnancy: A Mix Blessing 

Menstruation is part of the female reproductive cycle. This brings the complications of pregnancy.  Menstruation symbolizes the ability to have children.  And also, not having them.

Yes.  Menstruation has a two-sided quality.  The menstruation cycle prepares your body for pregnancy.  Bodily changes, including temperature, can help determine when sex would most likely result in pregnancy.  But, if you have your period, pregnancy did not occur.

[Myth alert: you can get pregnant during your period, but it is rare.]

For some people, not being pregnant is a big relief, “missing my period” is often a scary thing. For others, it is a sign of failure.  It depends on what your wishes at the moment are.  

Myths of Weakness

Menstruation results in various changes in your body. This can include various types of unpleasant reactions, depending on the person.  It can lead to some mood swings.  This leads to talk about women at the “time of the month” being cranky or unable to do things.  

Such stereotypes are somewhat based on reality but are also exaggerated.  The truth of things is that life – for good or ill – generally goes on when women have their period.  

A mom, for instance, might want a day off if their period is stressful, but as those commercials suggest, there is not really a day off when you are a parent.  

Menstruation can symbolize female weakness, but in practice, it is a sign of strength.  

Intimacy and Embarrassment 

Menstruation is an intimate thing and can lead to some embarrassment.  Teens particularly might be embarrassed when they first have their period without protection and it’s obvious to others (red spot on their dress).   We all, however, like to keep certain things private.  

People also make it more embarrassing than necessary, not being able to handle bodily functions without snide comments.  Ignorance also worsens things.  


In the Bible, a woman with a period was considered ritually impure.  This reflects the beliefs in many cultures.  Women often are separated, maybe in a special “red tent.”  

Menstruation continues for many to be “icky,” and people with periods are deemed “dirty” (so we have “female hygiene” products).  This adds to both embarrassment and unequal treatment.

These beliefs help promote sexual inequality.  

Symbolism of Blood 

A woman’s period is particularly taboo because blood is involved.  There are many taboos about blood, which is seen as the source of life, and also dangerous.  

Turning things around, this can make menstruation special. The Cherokee believe that menstrual blood is a source of feminine strength and has the power to destroy enemies.

Gloria Steinem once argued that if men menstruate, it would be a symbol of great warriors.  Well, it still can be.  Those who menstruate definitely have some tough battles to fight.  

Final Thoughts

The book Menstruation Matters talks about how menstruation has become a major industry.  

Your first menstrual products (sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups) are not only a part of growing up.  They are a major industry.  The book also notes treating the needs of menstruation is essential to sexual equality.  A tax on menstrual products can be a symbol of inequality.

The book focuses on menstruation and the law.  Law is about our life.  It is full of symbolism, including how we handle menstruation.  Whatever slang we use when talking about it.

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