In India, millions of menstruators drop out of school and miss out on opportunities in the workforce because of period stigma and a lack of access to menstrual hygiene resources. Many also face restrictions in participating in family life and in practising their faith during their period. These taboos that stem from the idea that menstrual blood is somehow ‘immoral’ or ‘impure’ are unscientific, misogynistic and absurd.

Pickles will not spoil, temples and kitchens will not be contaminated, you can wash your hair, you can play sport/exercise if you wish, you can eat whatever and wherever you choose, you can meet whomever you like, and you can have sex when you’re on your period.

What you do or don’t do while on your period should be a matter of personal choice, not a predetermined and oppressive social script. If you feel like taking a day off, that’s fine; if you don’t feel like exercising, that’s fine. If you’re not into temple visits in any case, that’s fine. If you don’t want to have period sex, no problem. But we deserve to be able to make these choices based on how we feel on any given day, rather than have them made for us by the unscientific and misogynistic restrictions we’re pressurized to adhere to simply because we’re menstruating.

Not all women menstruate. And not everyone who menstruates is a woman. Some cis women are born without a functional uterus and many have conditions due to which the uterus may need to be removed. And one cannot menstruate after menopause anyway. Trans women and trans feminine people do not have a uterus, while trans men and non-binary people with a uterus may experience menstruation.

A period or the lack of it does not singularly define womanhood; gender identity is not contingent on whether or not you menstruate. This needs to be acknowledged.

Using whatever menstrual products work for you is fine – there’s no shame in using or not using a menstrual cup, for example. It’s a great sustainable period product, and no, you can’t ‘lose your virginity’ to a menstrual cup – but it also requires access to clean water to use, which not everyone has – and some people, for whatever reason, might prefer to use more traditional products like pads or tampons, which is fine too. You do you.

“I’m an unmarried woman who just turned 30 and now people are constantly telling me that my ‘biological clock’ is ticking. WTF does that mean? Maybe I do eventually want to have kids. But I’m not ready yet. How much time do I have?” 

— Riddhima

People with ovaries are born with all the eggs their body will ever produce. Unlike with sperm, new eggs are not made during our lifetime. As we get older, the quality and supply of our eggs decline. We eventually run out of eggs, and hence stop getting our periods. This natural cessation of menstruation is called menopause. Kind of like puberty and menarche (the onset of periods), menopause, too, is a process of transition. It usually occurs sometime between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five, but can occur before or after this age range too.

Menopause is often accompanied by symptoms like irregular bleeding, hot flashes and weight gain. These symptoms may begin a few years before one’s last period, and may continue for a few years after.

The stage of hormonal changes that signal the lead up to menopause is called perimenopause, during which periods typically become irregular. Menopause is usually marked by a full year without periods, and post-menopause refers to the years after menopause has occurred. Menopause remains yet another normal bodily function that our society looks upon unfavourably. As an unmarried, childfree woman in my thirties myself, I get told my ‘biological clock is ticking’ all the time too.

Personally, I simply have no interest in having children, and I take offence at the suggestion that my primary purpose in life is unfulfilled if I don’t become a mother, if I don’t ‘reproduce’. I also believe we’ve got to reject the stereotypes around ‘menopausal women’ as ‘over the hill’, as somehow less ‘feminine’, bereft of ‘desirability’. So to hell with my biological clock, as far as I’m concerned.

Still, I do realise that many people do want to have children – and if you do, it’s helpful to understand the menstrual cycle, to acknowledge the inevitability of menopause and to take the decisions you need to in order to fulfil your own aspirations on your own timeline. Have a baby? Freeze your eggs? Adopt? Remain childfree? You get to decide what’s right for you.

Excerpted with permission from The Sex Book: A Joyful Journey of Self-Discovery, Leeza Mangaldas, Harper Collins.