Menstruation and Religion

Menstruation and Christianity:

In the Old Testament of the Bible there were Jewish restrictions around menstruating women (in Leviticus 12). Menstruating women were unclean for 7 days and couldn’t have sex with their husbands (men who had a seminal discharge were also considered unclean, until nightfall). A woman had to purify herself after she finished menstruating, until then anything that she touched would be unclean (as would anyone who had touched her, or had been touched by a person who had been in contact with her).

In the Bible, Eve’s curse was pain in childbirth, not menstruation. When Eve disobeys God he tells her, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3). Even though Eve’s curse (in the Bible) was not menstruation, some of the early Christian writers did associate menstruation with women’s sinful nature and Eve’s disobedience. Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) praised menstruating women who chose not to receive communion and stated that, “The menstrous habit in women is no sin, seeing that it occurs naturally; yet that nature itself has been so vitiated as to seem polluted even without human volition.”

During the first 500 years of Christianity menstruation was not considered a curse & there were no restrictions placed on it, however after that some Christian leaders started to see anything to do with sex as bad, including mensturation and pregnancy (read more here). In many churches, menstruating women no longer permitted to enter the church or to take communion. This menstrual taboo was continued by theologians into the Middle Ages.

Menstruating women were not allowed to have sex with their husbands – it was believed that menstrual blood was noxious & would corrupt semen, resulting in the conception of disabled children. Phyisicians in the 16th century (such as Thomas Sanchez and Cardinal Cajetan) began to reject this fear of menstrual blood, and started to view it as harmless. Until quite recently, however, most Christians theologians continued to view sex during menstruation as a sin.

In Christianity, the ‘ritual uncleanness’ of menstruating women soon gave way to the idea that all women (whether menstruating or not) were ‘ritually unclean’, and this idea became part of Catholic Church Law:

In 1140 AD The Law Book of Gratian forbade all women from distributing communion, touching sacred objects, touching or wearing sacred vestments, teaching in church, baptizing people, and from becoming priests or deacons. It also asserted that women were ‘weak of mind’ and not made in the image of God. The Corpus Iuris Canonici (1234 – 1916 AD) prohibited menstruating women from receiving communion. In 1917 the Codex Iuris Canonici still placed heavy restrictions on women (however a specific menstrual restriction was not mentioned): women could not serve Mass or distribute communion, women could not preach or read sacred scripture aloud in church, and women had to be the last choice of minister for baptism. In 1983 many of these prohibitions against women were lifted by the Catholic church (the new Code of Canon Law states that women may preach, lead Mass, and distribute communion).

In modern Christianity there are no restrictions around menstruation except in conservative Orthodox parts of the Catholic church. Menstruating women are still not allowed to take communion in conservative Orthodix Catholic churches (sometimes they are not even allowed enter church). The idea still exists that menstruation makes women ‘unclean’ and this has been used as a reason why women shouldn’t be ordained as priests (they would make the altar ‘unclean’).

Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism & Islam:

Buddhism: I’ve heard that Buddhism has no menstrual restrictions at all (menstruation is just seen as a natural bodily process), however some Buddhist temples do restrict menstruating women from entering them (probably because of the influence that Hinduism has had on Buddhism).

In Judaism, menstrual restrictions are stronger than they are in modern day Christianity, and men are not supposed to have sex with their menstruating wives (Leviticus 12).

In Hinduism, menstruating women are not supposed to enter the temple because they are ‘unclean’, and menstruating women keep away from sacred objects in their homes.

In Islam, menstruating women are not supposed to touch the Quran, enter the Mosque, pray the ‘salat’ (the ritual prayer), or have sex with their husband. They are allowed to meditate or pray in other ways. They may read the Arabic Quran as long as they don’t touch it, or touch and read a translation of the Quran (because the Arabic Quran is the only true Quran). The only specific restriction on menstruating women that is in the Quran itself is that menstruating women should not have sex with their husbands (all the other restrictions are mentioned in various hadiths, which are tools for understanding the Quran).

Are religious menstrual taboos degrading to women?

Personally I find the menstrual taboos and restrictions of some religions really strange, and a bit offensive. I don’t think I should be considered unclean for a sixth of every month simply because I am a woman. I see menstruation as natural and good. I don’t see menstrual blood as something negative/impure that could cause ‘harm’ to sacred objects or places. Menstruation should not separate me from the God who made me.

To me, there is no difference between religious people who place restrictions on all women, and those who place restrictions only on menstruating (‘unclean’) women. I think that both views portray women quite negatively: women are seen as more separated from God and the spiritual world than men are. Women are viewed as less perfect/holy than men because they are more strongly tied to their bodies (menstruation, sexual impurity/sex, pregnancy, childbirth, being a mother). Because women are seen as so strongly tied to their bodies (and therefore to the physical earth), Christianity and other religions have tended to see this as a barrier that prevents women from fully entering the spiritual and holy realm.

I see God as genderless (equally male & female) because  he created both women and men in ‘his’ image. I don’t see why God would make a woman in his image, make her menstruate for a sixth of every month, and then reject her in any way during that time because she was suddenly ‘religiously unclean’. It reminds me of Gloria Steinem’s comment, if men could menstruate “menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event.” I think that if men could menstruate, menstruation would no longer be considered something ‘unclean’ that kept certain people at a greater distance from God.

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58 Responses to Menstruation and Religion

  1. Amy says:

    The reason that some Christian circles prohibit women from teaching to men is because the Bible does state that women are not to teach men. it is supposed to be the man’s job to teach the woman. This does not mean that women are somehow inferior to men because Eve sinned first. But God did create Adam first, and there’s a reason for that. God created Adam first, and Eve was created second…OUT OF Adam, and FOR Adam. Adam was not created out of Eve, Eve was created for Adam. That being said, in God’s eyes, they are both equal. A woman is not going to get less of God’s love or His grace simply because she is female. But a man is supposed to lead the woman; not the other way around.

  2. Francis says:

    I found your article online because I was curious as to why women were made unclean on thier menstrual cycle. I hold that the Bible is the complete revealed word of God. However, alot of the Old testement laws are confusing, and I need to look into them more. Your article was good, but it did not explain my question from Biblical standpoint, only how the church has allowed a law (that possibly may have been for public health concerns of the time, I mean there wasn’t that great of waste management in that time in addition to poor methods of containing the flow; i.e. no tampax) to devalue women, and to that effect this article was informitive.

    One thing did notice about your article was the quote, “I’d love to know why conservative Christians believe that God doesn’t want women to preach.” The only reason we believe this is that it is written in I Timothy, chapter 2.

    “11Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

    It’s very hard scripture, I agree, but it is in the Bible, and that is why Bible believing Christians don’t allow woman preachers, or for women to teach men on spiritual matters. However conservative Christians do not hold that men are more valuable to Christ than women, just that the have been given a different job to do. They are co-heirs to the kingdom.

    Pardon the double post, it was unintentional.

  3. Naomi says:

    Hey, I know this is a bit late but, “Thanks” for writing this article. I was raised in a generation that considered menstration shameful and something “You just don’t talk about, especially in mixed company” and quite frankly I never understood why? Thanks for helping clear things up.

  4. sarah says:

    Your reference to hinduism is correct – though a note should be made. The rules regarding women and menstruation fall under Smriti, not Shruti – Shruti is considered divine, while Smriti is considered “tradition” or “text” – they are inspired by the times one lives in, and are passed down. The practice you are referencing therefore, is not divine law at all – it is an archaic, oppressive one that has unfortunately remained in existence due to other factors, such as general subjugation of women due to patriarchal structures. Shruti includes the Bhagavad Gita – and in it, people are not referred to as men or women, even. They are referred to as souls, and there is no restriction on women being regarded as unclean while menstruating at all. Smriti, tradition, as we all can attest to, regardless of what religion we subscribe to, unfortunately carries with it the stink of male privilege, and other customs. I know the abrahamic religions are especially harsh with this – please note that hinduism has been unfortunately twisted to incorporate this practice that is NOT divinely inspired at all. Luckily for hindus, smriti is mutable – or should be regarded as such since it is literally seen and recognised as a product of the times. Hopefully in future years, such practices will be abolished – it is already true that many other laws derived from smriti-texts are not in practice today.:) this is a good thing. Thanks for your blog. I agree with you, that such practices are ridiculous, that god, if they exist are totally genderless, because anything else alienates an entire gender.

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  6. Priyanka says:

    these are just stupid things to believe in.
    i am an Indian and during menstruation, i am not allowed to go in temples or any sacred place or to touch any sacred objects. nature has gifted this to us females so that we could give birth. And if nature is considered a God too than why is it a sin to have a period or to be a woman. If there ain’t be any woman in this world how would this world full of humans be created. Every great person in this world(i.e. the scientists, engineers, actors, even priests, etc) are created by some woman which is because they menstruated.

  7. I don’t think it makes you unclean or impure beacause it happens to EVERY SINGLE FEMALE and it is a part of nature what makes this world go around :)💛💙💜💚

  8. Miss T says:

    Amen 2 that sister! Its wierd how men tend 2 think God is also a man & there4 they r mightier than all!

  9. Nehad Maaty says:

    I do like the article and do like how you talked about the topic from many views and many aspects which are so true and I do agree with you too.
    Menstruation should not separate me from the God who made me. LIKE and AGREE:)
    Thanks for the article.

  10. It occurred to me that perhaps women were considered unclean by religion due to the fact that relatively leak proof tampons and other feminine articles may have been more scarce in ancient history.

    Thereby insuring that many women would leave a mess wherever they visit? I am a man so this is pure speculation, but seems logical to me.

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  12. facstud says:

    Hey..i can’t jelp but answer some things..i’m an Orthodox Christian..and here -id est in my country – it is still believed (though there are some exceptions -some persons say one thing, other say other thing, uncertainties, etc) that a woman better stays at home than enter the church during period. (thisis the most restrictive thing) I personally think it’s ok to do so..because..even if i don’t exactly understand why and all stuff, it was also said this way in the Old Testament of Bible ; andif we admit that Moses didn’t lie and really spoke to God..i think that should be obeyed.Otherwise, the greates if all saint is Saint Mary, Mother of God..a woman..who also obeyed the Old Testament rules.Jesus also, respected a custom met only in the old law, that the apostles made it not necessary.So, it’s not such a big drama to respect tradition.Ithink that’s the only reason.

  13. neha says:

    Why would God barr anyone from worship?the one who stops us to pray must be the evil not God…!God will always want to be with us….He never can ask not to be near him or not to remeber him 1/6 of a month!!
    We must apply our common sense and believe in him not in whatever we are boasted….!

  14. Monica onespot says:

    I believe and have learned that menestration
    Is a sacred time . It a time women could of beared a child. As a women we have many responsibilities . We can bring that gift of life into this world . Therefore in honour of sacred things we should not bring menastration around other sacred things . Many women get offended by this because of egos , but it is a honour and chance for us to rest during that sacred time . No cooking , no attending spiritual ceremonies ,places or touching spiritual things. You will find a common thread is all faiths , but mankind changed the laws of our creator . Now faiths are all weekened because we continue to wash down those laws .

  15. Magamy says:

    cool..this is making my life. Thank you for your hard work and rigorous study upon the menstruation matters of our lives.

  16. elika says:

    I’m a Muslim woman:) and to be honest I take advantage of my time =)) which means I don’t need to worry about waking up before sunrise to pray and to keep up with my prayers for a couple of days… but there are also hadiths that because of the difficulties women go through, their sins are forgiven:) … so I don’t look at it as a bad thing, I just see it as taking a break lol

    love ur blog btw! have been reading it for the past hour =)

    best of luck dear

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  19. leanne says:

    Women need God moreso at this time due the changes in our bodies and moods etc. We need more compassion and understanding from our partners and colleagues. Although it is not technically a curse it is associated to God’s instructions to Eve when she fell. I believe God is closer to women when suffering monthly menstruation then ever as it is when a new creation has not been given human life. God knows women’s needs and the depth of our sorrow we go through with monthly periods. It’s not just a physical natural act, it is also a spiritual event as I believe women are more prone to being vulnerable and under attack. Our bodies are cleansing itself of a soul not yet born or will be. I thank our creator for making us so complex and deep as he deepens our understanding of our journey and how we need him so much in this world. Although men are to be leaders, women need to know how to support them as we take on all the rest (duties)and also at those times when have our monthly’s.

    • atozinco says:

      Hi Leanne, I agree that women can feel closer to God when they are menstruating. When I have my period I chill out and retreat from the world a bit (because I’m uncomfortable/crampy, tired etc), and I often feel a bit closer to God. My period is a welcome excuse for me to take a break and do nothing. My body is more vulnerable at that time, therefore I rely on God a bit more than usual & I feel humbled by the complex and amazing way that God designed women’s bodies. I think menstrual blood/fluid is very special because it is designed to nurture a baby (it contains stem cells etc). When I have my period it makes me appreciate the intricate and complex fertility cycle that my body is constantly going through, every day of every month, and the possibility that I could have babies in the future. I’m also aware of how sensitive the fertility cycle/process is – if a little thing goes wrong in the process I could struggle to conceive.

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  22. mrs jackson says:

    can i fast during menstruation

  23. Toni Sunderland says:

    I didn’t read all these comments but if you read all of Leviticus 15, you would see that even men are considered unclean when having bodily fluid discharge. The GOD of Israel is HOLY and can not be around sin or uncleanliness. HE loves us so much, he sent HIS own son for our cleansing, if we choose life. These commandments are for our good and for us to be HOLY before THE ONLY HOLY ONE; YAH alone!
    We should notbe offened for thehelp and direction of our Father….

    • vicky says:

      Just to buttress what Neha said will God ban a menstrating woman from worshipping and praying to him (God)! after He’s called Himself Emmanuel God with us and that He God will never leave us nor forsake us. Deuteronomy 31: 6e certainly not but one thing we Christian must know is the fact that the blood of Jesus has cleansed us from every impurity, and when you come before God & plead the blood of Jesus, you are no longer seen as filthy (dirty) but pure in accordance to Hebrew 10:10b from easy to read version. it says and because of what Jesus did, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body. so brethren, Holiness is not what you do it is who you are therefore, be Holiness conscious and not sin conscious for as a man/ woman thinks in his heart so is he/she Proverbs 23:7. because we are no longer under law of moses but under grace as Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. Galatians 3:13. selah.

  24. Kimberly says:

    The Bible is the inspired word of God. However we must be careful and discern between man made rules and Gods complete untainted desire for all, man and woman.

  25. Some Catholic girls do not understand the female cycle is a sin because of the Fall Of Eve

  26. Raine says:

    Leviticus 15:19-30 Yes the issue of blood that a woman has each month is considered unclean, meaning a sin. That is why she has to take sacrifical animals and have them killed for her to atone for her “sin” of having her period. You can’t read it any other away (but selective mind filters do prevent people from seeing things that they don’t wish to which would threaten thier carefully contrived view of the world). Look at the end of that section of scripture:

    Verse 30 “And the priest shall offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering; and the priest shall make an atonement for her before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness”.

    There is so much in the ‘bible’ that has been written by man who used it to control people all throughout the ages. It’s been a very powerful tool of mind control and spiritual manipulation. I was a ‘bible student’ (cross-denomiational) for almost 20 years, and after exahustive study and research of both it and history, I have to say that what you all call ‘the bible’ is not the inspired ‘Word of God’ and it would be so nice if we could all stop being convinced by it to hate ourselves (self loathing/sinner), and hate each other because the other person “believes wrong” (even to the point of JUSTIFYING mass murder), and using it to limit our lives to subservience to a supposed God who calls a woman’s menstruation a ‘sin’. Really? A woman is a unclean sinful thing who needs to be atoned for each month on the 8th day of her cycle, yet it is “ok” for men to spill tons of blood in wars (for the same God) or to sprinkle blood on the alter and on other things to ‘sanctify’ them. So some blood is clean (like animal blood or the blood of carnage for your god to show how awesome he is apparently), yet the menstrual flow is a ‘sin’ and must be attoned for! Hey I have an idea. Let’s all grow up mentally and spiritually and learn to accept that a woman’s menstruation is a normal part of the reproducive cycle that God created for the purpose of having the ability to be “fruitful and multiply”. And in a related scripture, a woman who had a female child was unclean for twice as long as if she has a male baby (see Levit. 12:1-6). And whether male or female, she had to attone for the “sin” of having a baby! This is just female shaming. There is NO scientific reason that having a girl baby makes you unclean twice as much as having a boy. You think maybe if these instructions were from God maybe He would have ‘told’ that to ‘Moses’ as this was being written. Ya know, give him a higher revealation of it all so that they could have knowledge and understanding and not so many fears and phobias? And to help with that ‘unclean’ mess problem, maybe some Divine Instructions on how to make soap and create a water drainage system and such so as to make people be more ‘clean’ and ‘holy’ and therefore ‘acceptable’. The reason it’s not in the Torah (Law) of the bible is because God didn’t inspire it. (I know it can be hard to busrst that bubble for some. So I’ll leave it there). The essence of God is love. Shaming people for bodily functions is not love.

  27. sisimotun says:

    Please I really want to know can I fast during my period?. and also if am fasting and my husband Ask me for SeX What should I do?

  28. Marie says:

    I came across your blog post whilst researching Catholic tradition regarding the reception of Communion during menstruation. Your sources for the sections on Christianity are incorrect and somewhat suspect, coming as they do from a women priest site. For instance, the Catholic 1983 Code of Canon Law does not permit women to celebrate Mass or preach. (They are, however, permitted distribute Communion under certain circumstances. But I don’t want to get too technical here.)

    Anyway, I wanted to point out that the Orthodox are not part of the Catholic Church. (see the schism of 1064) Though one may say that there are “orthodox” Catholics, i.e., those with correct doctrine and praxis. So, while Orthodox tradition still teaches the women should not receive during menstruation, the Catholic Church does not. And, from my reading, some contemporary Orthodox women ignore the tradition and receive the Eucharist.

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  31. suchismita ghadai says:

    I also listen that if it is first day of menstruation and you are not bathing then when u touch the plant it will burnt.But i am not agree with this openion.

  32. lovebug says:

    In Christianity, this was a practice of the Levites (the old testament.) You have to remember, 2000 years ago, there were no tampons and pads, so they seperated the women to keep homes, temples, etc. clean. No one wants to sit in several ladies pool of blood, let’s be honest. Not to mention it was to present disease, because the law also referred to men with discharge. We all know nowadays, discharge is a sign that not all is right down there. God is all knowing, but man is not. This helped people deal with bodily functions they didn’t understand. That’s why Christ created a new law when be came. No longer a set of rules to follow, but an actual changing of the heart.

  33. georgette says:

    I just have to wonder how everyone ELSE knew when a woman was menstruating and to NOT touch her. Did she wear a sign that says, “hands off.. I’m menstruating”? Did she tell everyone? .. and as a matter of physiology, some women only bleed very little, while others bleed very heavily. I suppose, given the lack of items like tampons, that it would be difficult to hide the fact. Does anyone know of any documentation anywhere that explains how women dealt with their “rags” at the time?

  34. paul says:

    all are born to this world through a women. i cannot see why mensuration is considered impure just because there is some bleeding.women are after all our mothers,sisters,wives,aunts,neices etc. so none can consider them impure in this scientific age despite age old primitive beliefs.

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  36. diana says:

    Hi just to clear something up. The Orthodox and Catholic Churches are two different churches. I think you mean conservative Catholic churches. However, I have never known, or read about ANY Catholic churches prohibiting women from entering because of their period. Where did you find this information?
    I’m not too sure about the Orthodox Church, but I don’t think your information about the Catholic church is correct!

  37. Esther says:

    Luvly piece, I personally don’t think it’s cool to restrict women who are observing their periods 4rm any form of worship. If dat is practised based on Leviticus 15, does it mean dat d orthodox churches or Christians dat practice such beliefs still offer sacrifices? If not, then it’s pointless since that’s d only way to cleanse oneself 4rm d impurity. Also, Mathew 9:20 said; d woman wit d blood issue touched d hemp of his garment, does it also mean dat it made Jesus Christ unclean??? Just my thought bcos I really need clarity in dis regards so that my fast during dis periods won’t b a sin…..

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  39. Mido says:

    Islam honors women far more than the Bible in this issue. Islam and the Bible both agree that men must not have sex with their wives who are having their menses. Islam, however, allows for men to be near their wives and to love them and care for them, while the Bible orders it’s male followers (Jews and Christians) to stay away from their wives and to not even come near them.
    In the Bible, anything the woman touches while having her menses becomes unclean, while this is not the case in Islam, because our Prophet peace be upon him used to recite the Noble Quran with his head on his wife’s lap while she was having her menses. The Bible treats the women who are having their menses as a disease that men must stay away from, while the Islam still keeps it’s honor and respect to them.

    For evidence and further details on this topic
    http://www.answering-christianity.com/women_menses.htm

  40. ihatepc says:

    Hasn’t it occured to anybody that in those times soap did not exist, showers with potable water, kotex, and tampons did not exist, and that women during those days and times were really not at their finest in cleanliness.

    Any woman who has had a kotex on for more than 8 hours knows for sure how awful the smell of dried rotten blood is.

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