Thursday, October 1, 2015
Human Evolution and Women’s Sexuality -- Part II: Women Bleed And There’s No Practical Purpose
By Kristy McCaffrey
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Let’s talk about periods.
At the beginning of a new cycle, the interior of a human uterus appears dead. Slowly, as ovulation approaches, an orchestration of hormones creates a lush farmland. Both estrogen and progesterone levels rise steeply. Blood vessels flourish, growing fat and full. If fertilization doesn’t occur, Mother Nature swiftly discards the entire setup. Estrogen and progesterone begin to slowly retreat, but then plummet drastically. The entire system goes into a death spasm. Within this tomb, a lake of blood forms, and like a dam breaking, gushes forth to the cervix.
Whenever any organ tissue dies and remains in the body, toxic substances are released and threaten the life of the host. For human females, slowly releasing these substances isn’t possible, so a process was needed to rid her body quickly of pathogenic bacteria and poisonous byproducts of cellular death. The solution was the opening of the cervix, uterine cramps to discard the lining, and the elimination of 4-8 tablespoons of blood. A woman’s period has begun.
Back in caveman days, menstrual odor would have been a serious attractor of predators. Add to that the general fear present in the males. A bleeding animal becomes weaker and a hunting male would take this as a sign of impending death. But what about when he caught a glimpse of a bleeding human female? She wasn’t injured and didn’t become weaker. Intercourse would likely leave blood on the penis, adding to a man’s fear of castration. Distance would soon be sought from menstruating females, since their condition was unexplainable and relegated to the realms of magic. This would soon breed fear and resentment toward women.
Establishing rules of conduct, geared mainly around hygiene issues, would have been of high concern to early ancient peoples. Unfortunately, many of these instructions have been used to strip power and autonomy from women over time. Pliny, from the first century, warns men that a menstruating woman can, by her touch, “blast the fruits of the field, sour wine, cloud mirrors, rust iron, and blunt the edges of knives.”
Women have always seemed to intuitively know that during menses a time of rest is required. With the body being so vulnerable, it is nature’s way of protecting a defenseless organism. During a woman’s period, she is more susceptible to uterine infections. Toxic-shock syndrome occurs because a tampon has prevented the discharge of menstrual blood, allowing harmful bacteria to take hold.
Historically, cultures celebrated the onset of menses in a young girl by enacting any number of initiations and rituals. Consistent throughout all of these was to impress on the girl that she was in possession of a great power and responsibility, and she was not to dispense future sexual favors easily for they were quite valuable.
Other mammal species have loads of babies—cubs, kits, puppies and the like—without the loss of significant amounts of blood and protein-rich tissue monthly. In fact, while dogs bleed during their period of heat, they’re also blessed with the ability to lick themselves, thereby recycling that iron trying to escape their bodies.
Overwhelmingly, there is no scientific evidence to support a benefit to human menstruation. What purpose does all this bleeding serve? With so many drawbacks to the human female, why hasn’t natural selection eliminated it long ago?
Don’t miss Part III: What Do Women Want?