Shark Week Burning Questions: Is Swimming During Your Period Dangerous in Any Way?

Photo: Getty Images/Szilagyi Palko EyeEm
I periodically re-watch Jaws, and that animatronic fish gets me every. single. time. When the great white shark takes down that kid and there's all that blood in that water, all I can think is how nothing would be scarier than starting my period mid-swim. It's a thought that bleeds (hah) directly into one of the wackiest sea myths out there: whether or not you should you be extra worried about the threat of…sharks (and, okay, other potential dangers—like ruining your bikini, or sinking like a rock because your cramps are a mess) when it comes to swimming while on your period.

The confusion conjures that cult-beloved Anchorman line about bears being able to smell menstruation, and expert intel leads me to believe the conceit of this shark question—about period blood attracting sharks—should be regarded with humor in equal measure. Read: Even if the sharks could smell the menstruation, they're not extra interested in you because of it.

"There is no medical reason a woman should avoid water or swimming while having a period," says sexual medicine specialist, Dr Serena McKenzie, ND, IF, NCMP and Medical Advisor for Rory. Another related period factoid to keep in mind? Women simply do not produce enough blood while menstruating to attract sharks. I know that sounds crazy on days when your vagina feels like the elevator from The Shining, but it's true. Research shows that on average, a woman loses only 60 milliliters of blood during her period, which only measures out to about a shot glass and a half.

"There is no medical reason a woman should avoid water or swimming while having a period." —sexual medicine naturopath Serena McKenzie, ND

Maybe that's less volume than you would have assumed, but, hey, blood's blood—and it's a bloody mess. "Most women want to avoid a mess in their swimwear, of course, and usually a tampon can provide this protection." Dr. McKenzie adds. This has never personally been an issue for me because I only wear pads and am more than happy to opt out of swimming. But if you, like me, aren't the monthly mascot for Team Tampon, you could certainly still take a dip, because you don't technically need to wear anything in the ocean, pond, or lake water to plug things up. Water doesn't necessarily stop your flow, but the upthrust and gravity change can, for the most part, temporarily stifle things. (But forces like jumping and coughing may lead to some blood coming out onto your suit and into the water.)

The main health concern to consider regarding getting in water during your period actually has nothing to do with blood. "If you are prone to severe cramping, I wouldn't suggest swimming alone if you could start cramping and be unable to swim," Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University, tells me.

So ultimately, if it's your heart's desire to free-bleed in the ocean, go for it, because when it comes to swimming on your period, the only real danger is the status of your new white one-piece.

Uh, is it just me, or do you get drunk faster when you're on your period? And here's what happened when one writer stayed in sync with her partner by sharing period push notifications.

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